France bans cultural collaboration with Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso
A letter dispatched by the Fance's General Directorates for Cultural Affairs to national drama and choreography centers urgently requests the cessation of all projects involving individuals from the three African countries, as per Le Monde.
The French performing arts sector was profoundly shaken on Thursday, September 14, as the crisis involving France and Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso inflicted damage on an artistic domain that was seeking increased support, Le Monde reported.
"On instructions from the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs," all subsidized cultural institutions were notified that they are required to "suspend, until further notice, all cooperation with the following countries: Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso."
This communication, sent by the General Directorates for Cultural Affairs (DRAC) to the cultural organizations under their jurisdiction, including national drama and choreography centers and national theaters, was subsequently relayed to the Ministry of Culture's secretariat.
'A real catastrophe for France's image'
The suggested actions were exceptionally drastic: "All cooperation projects carried out by your establishments or departments with institutions or nationals of these three countries must be suspended, without delay, and exception. All financial support must also be suspended, including via French structures such as associations. Similarly, no invitations should be extended to any nationals of these countries. As of today, France will no longer issue visas for nationals of these three countries, without exception, and until further notice."
Labeled as "threatening" by the influential National Syndicate for Artistic and Cultural Enterprises Union (SYNDEAC), the directive from the highest authority sent ripples of alarm throughout the cultural community.
"We've never had an injunction like this before," said Bruno Lobé, vice president of the SYNDEAC and director of Le Manège, a national theater in Reims, as quoted by Le Monde.
"France's philosophy toward artists living in countries with which it is in conflict has always been to continue to invite them, without ever breaking off the dialogue. These artists are already prevented from working by their governments. If we add another layer of hardship, it will be a real catastrophe, not only for their survival but also for France's image."
Enforcing the prohibition requested by the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs would establish a precedent. However, it would also expose an inconsistency, as Lobé explicitly pointed out: "At the start of the war in Ukraine, the message was to continue to support Russian artists. That they do not represent Vladimir Putin. What's the difference between a Burkinabe, Malian, or Nigerian artist and a Russian artist?"
The report acknowledged that the ministerial decision raises concerns for artists who frequently travel between both sides of the Mediterranean.
Commenting on the new measure, Hassan Kassi Kouyaté, the Franco-Burkinabé director of the Festival des Francophonies en Limousin, said as quoted by Le Monde that it is not only absurd but also counterproductive.
"As a citizen, I wonder, what has become of the values of France, this country of human rights which signed the Unesco charter? As an artist, I'm surprised: why punish creators who are often the first victims of conflicts? And what about the sudden interference of politics in cultural programming?", he questioned.
Strictly following the instructions in the letter will not only shift the responsibility of political dissent onto artists but will also force theaters and festivals to undertake a complete revision of their season schedules, beginning as soon as tomorrow.
'Which country will be next?'
Patrick Penot, the director of the Sens Interdits international theater festival, which is set to hold its 9th edition from October 14 to 28 in Lyon, expressed his astonishment. He received the notification from DRAC via email this morning. All eight Malian artists, who were scheduled to perform in three theaters across the Lyon area for five shows, have already been granted 10-day visas. Failing to honor these visas would be deemed unacceptable.
"If it turns out that they can leave their country thanks to their visas, are we sure that they will be able to enter France and not be detained by the border police? Have any instructions been given? In his eyes, these new measures sent to cultural structures have a "poisonous" dimension. "If they are maintained, the only question that will remain is: which country will be next?" he questioned.
SYNDEAC has urgently requested a meeting with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and has sent a direct message to the Minister of Culture, Rima Abdul Malak, stressing the necessity for the Ministry of Culture to shift away from a purely diplomatic stance and ultimately advocate for a cultural and artistic policy, as per the report.
The government has clarified that these directives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have been disseminated to all ministries, which, in turn, have communicated them to their stakeholders. This impacts not only artists but also, for instance, students, among others.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has attempted to downplay the extent of this measure, claiming "our intention is not to prohibit all cultural collaboration," even though SYNDEAC criticized the tone of the letters. While public cultural cooperation has indeed been halted, alongside development aid and budgetary support, only artists who have not yet been issued visas would be impacted. Across all three countries, they clarified that "we have ceased visa issuance, as our diplomatic offices are currently unable to handle these requests due to the worsening security conditions."
The big picture
Burkina Faso's council of ministers has lately approved a bill to send a military contingent to Niger, the Burkina24 news portal reported.
According to the report, Ouagadougou approved the draft law authorizing the deployment of a Burkinabe military contingent to Niger, which falls in line with the country's strategic commitments.
The deployment of a military contingent to Niger would contribute to the fight against terrorism, Burkinabe Defense Minister Kassoum Coulibaly said, noting that Niamey's security was closely linked to that of Burkina Faso, the report added.
The coup leaders in Niger agreed to allow Mali and Burkina Faso to deploy armed forces to fend off any potential military aggression against Niamey.
The interim governments of Mali and Burkina Faso issued a joint statement saying the authorities of Burkina Faso and Mali, the two countries warned that any military intervention in Niger to restore deposed President Mohamed Bazoum would constitute a declaration of war against their own countries, adding that the consequences of a military intervention would destabilize the entire Sahel region.
After Burkina Faso and Mali, Niger is the third country in less than three years to be rocked by a military coup.
Just like those African leaders who were toppled by military juntas, Bazoum was also backed by Western powers.