Cultural Priorities in Syria
We see the ongoing transformations not only as political, but also cultural at their core. However, we can see that culture is not going to be a priority for decision makers in the upcoming period in Syria, following radical transformations; politicians in charge of leading the transition have many other priorities. Therefore, it is up to independent institutions, activists, and researchers to put culture on the table of the political debates and to increase pressure so that the Syrian people may benefit from the upcoming phase of Syrian history – the reconstruction of Syria’s national identity and personality. It is imperative to include culture among the other transformative elements in the next phase.
The inability to present precise recommendations for Syrian cultural practice shows our inability to redefine its frames, rules, and mechanisms. Moreover, without a defined alternative, it is extremely difficult to justify replacing the old system (something that has already started) with institutions that more accurately reflect current discourse. It hinders our ability to move towards free legislation and a democratic system that protects freedom of speech and strengthens the concept of culture as “a right for every Syrian citizen”. It also shows that as independent actors we are not capable of becoming a real lobby group able to effect change.
Within the context of this project, a survey about the priorities of cultural work was taken in 2013. It aimed to build a knowledge base of the visions and expectations shared by the people concerned regarding change on the cultural level, allowing for agreement of priorities and goals of cultural practice. In September 2013 Ettijahat organised a workshop with four aims: to discuss the results of the survey and accompanied research; to agree on methods of developing an action plan; to publish a document about the general direction of cultural practice; and to start designing pilot projects based on the priorities identified in the above steps.
A research study entitled "The role of culture and arts in reconciliation and civil peace in countries that witnessed severe conflicts" was also completed.
In 2014, Ettijahat published a document on cultural priorities in Syria after a prolonged and intermittent research study that was conducted over roughly a year and a half. This covered a range of secondary research studies as well as field research, including the results of analysis of 120 artists’ and cultural activists’ opinions. The research aims to develop a unifying proposal regarding the present role of arts and culture in Syria, as well as their role in the near future. This will increase the impact of independent arts and culture, particularly on a social and humanitarian level, as well as a cultural one, and in both the immediate and mid-term futures. This in itself is expected to build solidarity between independent artists and cultural activists, which will allow common goals to be established and develop into what could be “an alternative cultural policy”.
The document was based on a range of research studies, of which the main ones were: “Cultural Tools and Production in Times of Crisis: Syria, Iraq and Lebanon”, by Dr. Marie Elias; “The Role of Arts and Culture in Reconciliation and Achievement of Civil Peace in Countries that Witnessed Severe Conflicts”, by researcher Rama Najma; and :”Toward Development of Cultural Infrastructure in Syria”, by the Syrian Centre for Policy Research.