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Explainer: France not boycotting African artists, assures Culture Minister Rima Abdul-Malak

French Culture Minister Rima Abdul-Malak has clarified that France is not boycotting three African countries, in the wake of a divisive letter sent to cultural institutions
French Culture Minister Rima Abdul-Malak has clarified that France is not boycotting three African countries, in the wake of a divisive letter sent to cultural institutions Copyright Michel Spingler/AP
Copyright Michel Spingler/AP
By David Mouriquand
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Explainer: French Cultural Minister Rima Abdul-Malak has clarified that “France has always been an open and welcoming nation for artists”, in the wake of a divisive letter sent out this week ordering cultural institutions to suspend all cooperation with Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.

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A letter sent out earlier this week by the French General Directorates for Cultural Affairs (DRAC), addressed to national drama and choreography centres, caused widespread furore within the country's cultural community. 

The letter called for an immediate halt to all projects involving nationals from Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, in the wake of the crisis between France and the three Sahelian countries.

Subsidized cultural establishments were told on Wednesday 13 September by the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs that they would have to "suspend, until further notice, all cooperation with the following countries: Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso."

"All cooperation projects carried out by your establishments or departments with institutions or nationals of these three countries must be suspended, without delay, and without exception. All financial support must also be suspended, including via French structures such as associations,” stated the communiqué. “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."

The French cultural community and the National Syndicate for Artistic and Cultural Enterprises union (SYNDEAC) were up in arms about this unprecedented break of dialogue with countries where coups d'états have been staged in recent months. The radical measures represented the intrusive influence of politics in cultural programming and a dent in France’s policy of international artistic solidarity - in particular a damaging blow to the 2005 UNESCO Convention "on the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions".

SYNDEAC released a statement saying that this letter made "no sense from an artistic point of view, and is a major mistake from a political point of view.” The union also highlighted that a ban on artists and their works in the wake of other international crises has never been an issue, citing Russia as a recent example.

The Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs pointed out that “there have never been any Russian attacks on a French embassy" and that projects that were already underway would not be affected.

We never boycott artists from anywhere.
French Cultural Minister Rima Abdul-Malak

Now, the French Cultural Minister Rima Abdul-Malak has hit back by saying that France does not intend to cut cultural ties with the three countries.

"I am extremely attached to the cultural ties that exist since long ago between those countries and France," Abdul-Malak told RTL radio on Friday 15 September. "But now there is a very specific security context, and it extremely deteriorated in Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali."

"France has always been an open and welcoming nation for artists, so this is not a shift in policy. It's an adaptation to an extremely deteriorated security context," continued the minister. "France had to minimize its staff in embassies and consulates and close visa services. So physically, it is impossible to deliver visas to artists and any individual coming from those countries to France ... We never boycott artists from anywhere."

She added that she had asked her ministry to send out "clarifications" to the entertainment businesses, adding that only new projects that would require travel visas for artists.

Niger’s government was overthrown in a military coup on 26 July, when General Abdourahamane Tchiani led a military intervention that ousted President Mohamed Bazoum. The military took power in neighbouring Burkina Faso in 2022 and Mali's military has also been fighting a rebel alliance since August, which has led France to ban visas and halt development aid for all three countries.

Additional sources • RTL, Liberation

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