本文原刊載於德國文化政策雜誌Fachzeitschrift Kulturpolitische Mitteilungen：Kulturpolitik als Transformationspolitik（2016年152期）
Wind of change? The role of civil society in cultural governance in Cambodia and Taiwan
Isis Mingli Lee, Kai T. Brennert
In Germany and Europe, the debate is ubiquitous: More civil society, more participation, more dialogue. Mature democracies with – compared to most Asian countries – generous shares of the national budget earmarked for culture have seen the rise of a lively and outspoken civil society demanding their fair share in cultural policy making. In Taiwan and Cambodia, two seemingly very different countries, the democratic eras are much younger. While systemic reform is often slow and tedious, in both places the third sector is increasingly vocal. The approach: Working with, not against government.
The Kingdom of Cambodia, a low-income country neatly tucked in between its economically mightier neighbours Thailand and Vietnam, has developed a substantial industry of national and international NGOs since the early ‘90s. The UN-organised elections in 1993 sparked a steady influx of international aid and the rise of many foreign government as well as civil society interventions. The arts sector, which barely survived during Cambodia’s auto-genocide in the ‘70s, also benefited from the subsequent increase of international attention. Many arts organisations these days have a distinct social mission, such as Epic Arts working on social inclusion and Phare Ponleu Selpak touching on topics of community development and employability. However, the arts ecosystem in Cambodia is not as mature and is yet to produce professional artists unions, cultural observatories and other organisations lobbying cultural policy developments in the Kingdom.
The divide between organisations on the ground and the government is obvious, the influence of civil society actors on policy making severely limited. With arts organisations doing fairly well in securing international gifts, the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts rarely provides much needed grants – probably a result of symptomatic underfunding of the Ministry itself. It is also not surprising that some arts organisations prefer to work around the governmental oversight since the recently adopted National Policy for Culture strongly focuses on traditional culture, slams ‘negative culture’ and mainstreams a set of supposedly national values whilst being rather ambiguous in its formulations. Yet, arts organisations do not have to fear too much professional interference with regard to their work. Often it is the dangerous mix of unqualified civil servants, opaque governance structures, a lack of all kinds of resources, informal practices and a good deal of indifference by a few key individuals that alienate the arts sector. In December 2015, a four-storey mural depicting a female artisan of that very building was raggedly overpainted by the city authorities. Some voices half-jokingly pronounced that the artist ‘didn’t bribe the right people’. What outraged the community and illustrated the apathy towards l’art pour l’art is the reason the city government stated for the removal of the painting: The woman wasn’t worthy to be shown in public quite so prominently. It comes as no surprise that UNESCO’s Culture and Development Indicators Suite (2014) ascertains zero civil society participation in cultural policy making in Cambodia to date. What Cambodia’s cultural policy is in dire need of is dialogue with its own arts community and a better position within the government portfolio.
In addition to international players like UNESCO, there really is only one organisation in Cambodia that actively and proudly takes on the role of spokesperson for the cultural sector, interlocutor of administration and civil society, and advisor to the government. Having been around for almost 20 years, Cambodian Living Arts (CLA) has grown from little traditional arts education NGO to national and international representative of the Cambodian arts environment. CLA seeks to transform the country through the arts and employs diverse means, among which are institutional links to international foundations and governments, professional development opportunities for Cambodian civil servants and cultural leaders, training and market creation activities for local artists as well as funding and networking opportunities. The current project of introducing arts education in schools requires close cooperation with the education and culture ministries and is yet another step in CLA’s own transformation to somewhat of a Cambodian arts council. It is yet to be seen how this development will materialise and what changes it has in place for the future of Cambodian cultural policy.
On the other side of Asia in Taiwan, although the cultural governance is developed upon a democratic foundation, the government is still being challenged for the mechanism of its policy making. Standing on an island across from China and Hong Kong, the sovereignty and international status of Taiwan (the Republic of China) has been an unsettled issue since the Kuomintang (KMT) and the National Government came into power in Taiwan in 1949. Despite disputes, it did not stop Taiwan from developing into the first democratic country in the Chinese-speaking world. On January 16th this year, citizens in Taiwan have just elected the first female president of its history — Dr Tsai Ing-wen, from the oppositional party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The DPP also took full control of the new congress after an overwhelming victory in the legislature election held at the same time.
Rather than seeing it as a political victory, it is more appropriate to define it as a ruthless ‘counterattack’ from the civil society against the ruling KMT, when it failed in negotiating with the civil society in the past decade. The counterattack also reflected on the restless activists’ interventions in cultural affairs from the central to local governments in recent years. For instance, in 2012, the scandal around the misallocation of the art subsidies of ‘Dreamers’ (a stage performance that cost 5mn Euros for the celebration of the Republic of China’s 100th Anniversary) has driven the Chair of the Council of Cultural Affairs (CCA) to step down. It has therefore urged the establishment of the Foundation of Renewal Culture, consisting of cultural activists and curators. They called for autonomy, diversity of art and culture, and organised a public petition to seek support to improve cultural policy.
The dissatisfaction of the private cultural sectors came to a peak in 2014 with the outbreak of the Sunflower Movement on March 18th. 500,000 citizens demonstrated in Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan, to protest against the Cross-strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA). The art and cultural practitioners stood out in the frontline to represent the voice from the cultural industries. The CSSTA is alleged to have posed serious threats to cultural autonomy and cultural diversity in Taiwan since the government conducted no effective cultural impact assessment on related industries before and during the negotiation processes.
The emerging cultural awareness and constant interventions on cultural affairs indicate the need of building a bottom-up policy making approach. However, the public cultural sectors have not been able to coordinate the related policies and resources, and respond to their needs effectively. One of the key reasons is the lack of consistent and persistent ground research on cultural policies and open access for citizens to participate fully in cultural policy making.
On May 16th in 2015, 34 artists, cultural practitioners and academics assembled and announced the inauguration of the Taiwan Association of Cultural Policy Studies (TACPS). The founding of TACPS represents the rise of an independent, professional, yet grassroots think tank of the third sector for Taiwan’s cultural policy research. TACPS is dedicated to informing policies that may cast impacts upon cultural governance in Taiwan. Based on socially embedded and in-depth research and communication, the TACPS hopes to play a critical role in monitoring and evaluating governmental cultural policy practices in different forms of interventions. In addition to being a research body, the TACPS has been acting as a platform to support various cultural issues. Just a week before the election this year, in collaboration with art media, the TACPS held a public forum and gathered representatives from different cultural organisations to review the cultural policies of the presidential candidates. However, cultural policies were still barely discussed by candidates compared to the economic and cross-strait issues. Although the election has come to an end in January, it is just the beginning for the TACPS to play its role in monitoring the new government’s practices on cultural policy.
Shifting mind-sets and the democratisation of cultural governance Despite the vibrant NGO environment in Cambodia, the actual influence of civil society on policy making is very limited. Since the early ‘80s the country is under the power of a regime that prominent members of the opposition like to call a ‘dictatorship’. Cambodia is still waiting for its own version of the democratic shift that has started in Taiwan in 1987 and is likely to move forward to a new stage of reformation now. It might partly be due to ongoing processes of democratisation, the introduction of new means of communication or increasing political awareness in general, but artists and cultural practitioners increasingly engage in social issues, public affairs and demand involvement in policy making. Even though in Cambodia most artists these days are still primarily concerned about simply making a living, the mind-set is shifting. At this January’s conference of the Asia-Pacific Network for Cultural Education and Research (ANCER), Cambodian participants were eagerly asking Taiwanese delegates how they initiated their shift towards cultural policy making with official civil society participation. The general trend of both countries’ cultural sector leans towards aspiring open access, involvement and engagement. Yet, the intruding question is how the cultural sector should react to unresponsive or unqualified actions of the government.
Regardless of the different political systems and international struggles, the third sector of both countries is playing an active role in reforming its cultural governance or aspires to do so. The force from the third sector should be seen as an aid to improving the ecosystem rather than a conflicting power against the government. The inclusion of public opinions and the third sector are essential for building a more reliable and sustainable cultural governance in Taiwan and Cambodia.