On 25 March 2019, a trial will begin in relation to a lawsuit which Malta Foundation has filed against the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, as the result of the ministry’s failure to pay the foundation a 300 000 PLN grant-in-aid for the organisation of Malta Festival in 2017. Thanks to the kind support from Helsinki Foundation For Human Rights (HFHR), the Malta Foundation will be represented pro bono by Hogan Lovells law firm.
In 2016, Malta Foundation and the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage signed a 3-year contract which obligated the ministry to annually subsidise the festival with grants-in-aid for organisation purposes. However, in 2017, the ministry refused to pay the grant, because one of the exhibition’s curator was to be Oliver Frljić, a play director and the creator of a performance act entitled ‘The Curse’. The spectacle had sparked controversy in some communities and was accused of deeply hurting the feelings of religious people.
“It’s a legal precedence in Poland, one of the first cases where a grant was not awarded because of a specific artist” says Adam Klepczyński from HFHR. “The Polish constitution guarantees any citizen the freedom of artistic creation and access to cultural products. Culture in Poland is predominantly state-financed. Therefore, refusing a grant can be read as a form of so-called soft censorship” – he adds.
“The trial is about the 300 thousand zlotys which Malta Foundation failed to receive in 2017. But generally, it is about making clear that no minister, driven by any ideological reasons, can fundamentally decide about the shape of a cultural institution or its repertoire. It was the festival’s biggest allies – the audience and the artists – who proved to be its critically important element in 2017. It all began with an auction suggested by Mariusz Wilczynski, but another amazing gesture was the Become the Minister of Culture crowdfunding campaign. Over 1000 people participated, donating the necessary 300 thousand zlotys to support the festival. However, money is not everything, so we’ve decided to appeal to the Ministry’s decision through the court of law. As Malta Foundation, we only want law and justice” – says Michał Merczyński, the festival’s director and the head of Malta Foundation.
“The minister signed a 3-year agreement with Malta Foundation, according to which the festival should receive annual subsidies. Although the foundation met all formal requirements to receive them, the minister failed to fulfil his part of the agreement and refused to transfer the allocated funds on no substantial grounds. All the foundation expects is for the minister to keep his end of the bargain by complying with the contractual obligations. Pacta sunt servada. Contracts are binding, particularly in case of state institutions and the Minister of Culture” – emphasises dr. Wojciech Marchwicki from Hogan Lovells’ Warsaw office.
All decisions by the public authorities within the field of culture should be founded on transparent rules and justified precisely, while any state-supported artistic events must present different points of view.
It is unacceptable to deploy any action aiming to suppress any forms of artistic expression or to prevent some cultural institutions from functioning just because they present perspectives that are not in line with the views of those who represent state power.
The trial is conducted as part of HFHR’s Strategic Litigation Programme, and it will take place on 25 March at 8:30 AM in Regional Court in Warsaw, at 127 Aleje Solidarności street, room 130 (1st floor, corridor H).