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«COUNTRY REPORT WRITTEN BY: Damien Helly EDITED BY: Yudhishthir Raj Isar GRAPHICS & LAY OUT BY: Guillemette Madinier, Laura Gardes and Maiken Høj ...»

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EDITED BY: Yudhishthir Raj Isar

GRAPHICS & LAY OUT BY: Guillemette Madinier, Laura Gardes and Maiken Høj


The content of this report does not reflect the official opinion of the European Union.

Responsibility for the information and views expressed therein lies entirely with the author(s).

© 2013-2014 Preparatory Action ‘Culture in the EU's External Relations’








State policies and the international dimension of their cultural action-relations with the EU.... 7 Independent cultural stakeholders and their relations with the EU

Relations with the EU, European cultural institutes and agencies

A constrained and uneasy working relationship

Convergence and variety in European approach to Algeria



Annex I: Methodology and list of people consulted

Annex II: EU-Algerian joint programmes and initiatives, run by the Commission Headquarters19 Annex III: The EU Heritage Programme in Algeria




In the wake of long-lasting internal violence in the 1990s, Algeria’s cultural sector is still caught between a government-led ideological approach to culture and a modernised vision of cultural diplomacy.

It is still very much dependent on government structures that are not always aware of rapidly changing cultural dynamics and are reluctant to liberalise what they see, in the wake of the ‘Arab Spring’ mobilisations s in neighbouring countries, as a sensitive sector.

There are few organisations and cultural infrastructures able to support training or creative work in the arts and culture on a significant scale. This hampers the emergence of a new generation of artists and creative people who feel free to express themselves.

Against this background, large-scale state-funded cultural events remain the primary avenue for culture in external relations, apart from limited non-governmental initiatives.

The European Union and its Member States (with France playing a very prominent role in all spheres of EU-Algeria relations) have had to adjust to these conditions in their efforts to develop cultural relations with Algerian partners. Doing so remains a challenge, yet the high level of curiosity about and appetite for European culture in Algerian society, particularly among young people, mean that there is a great deal of scope for cultural reconciliation between the Algerians, the French and the Europeans in general.

–  –  –

Culture in the external relations of Algeria is a sector with enormous potential even though it faces serious political, institutional, demographic and psychological constraints.1 The wounds and scars of the black decade of the 1990s, the weight of already established post-colonial liberation ideology, the power of religious extremism and the authoritarian regime have created a challenging environment for cultural professionals.

The country is under numerous pressures. On the one hand it is resource-rich, but the unequal redistribution of the wealth generated by oil and gas creates considerable frustrations. A large part of the cultural elite was targeted (or lost to emigration) during the black decade, creating a skills and creativity vacuum. Unemployment remains high and because of its demography Algeria risks a youth quake.

Yet the ruling elite is striving to maintain stability in the country despite all these forces of division. In comparison to other Arab countries, the Algerian statist model offers clear funding opportunities as well as institutional support to cultural operators. Although the regime has felt the pressures created by popular uprisings and cultural revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, it has managed to contain unrest and to meet certain aspirations of the cultural sector. It must also be said that to some extent the human price paid by Algerians during the black decade was so high that they preferred frustrating stability to an unpredictable and potentially violent revolution.

The strong role of state structures in Algeria imposes a ‘socialist’ model on policies for culture in external relations. Ultimately the possibility of conducting cultural work depends on the political authorisation of the Minister of Culture, accorded through a very centralised procedure. In reality, however, the Algerian bureaucratic system is too complex for simple centralisation, mixing formal and informal decision-making channels between state structures and civil society and involving numerous stakeholders from other fields, in particular religion and security.

The concepts used in Algeria to speak of culture in external relations relate mostly to cultural diplomacy conceived as nation branding and country promotion. Definitions of culture are officially provided by the Tripoli Charter of 1962 and by the government. Violence and internal conflicts in the 1990s have transformed the role of culture from being a post-independence and liberation tool into an instrument of nation building and a political bulwark against extremism. This has been reflected in a number of official strategic documents and statements by government representatives.2

La culture en Algérie, series on culture in Algeria broadcasted by ARTE in 2011. Online. Available at:


A. Bouteflika, Algiers, Capital of Arab Culture, 2007, quoted in Makhlouf Boukrouh and Ammar Kessab, ‘Algeria’, in Cultural policies in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Syria and Tunisia, Amsterdam: Boekmanstudies, Culture Resource (Al Mawred Al Thaqafy) and European Cultural Foundation, 2010.

–  –  –

preparatory action CULTURE in EU EXTERNAL RELATIONS In recent years, more emphasis seems to have been placed on the role of culture through the promotion of heritage, cultural industries and on the use of culture to build bridges with the rest of the world.3 For the authorities, the challenge is to create and sell a ‘new Algerian brand’ with a view to moving away from the image deficit created by the black decade. It is noteworthy that the very word ‘cooperation’ has been banned from the language used with Europeans, probably because of its perceived colonial flavour and association with past French policies. Notions of cultural exchange, partnership and cultural dialogue are used in preference. Independent cultural operators or experts speak of joint cultural creation, carried out in a spirit of autonomy and freedom.

Culture and external relations are still very much in the hands of a small select circle in public institutions, who are very frequently French speaking. According to our informants, around 90 per cent of financial resources come from the government (or to a lesser extent the regional authorities [wilaya] that have competence in this field). The Ministry of Culture, and the minister in particular, together with the directors of the agencies working under her aegis, control all decisions related to external cultural relations. This centralised and pyramidal system is often criticised for its lack of transparency. Yet, although she has been in the post for over a decade, Minister Khalida Toumi has managed to substantially increase public resources for culture reaching almost 1 per cent of the state budget (0.82 per cent in 2011 at US $ 452 million), and around 400 institutionalised festivals annually.4 International cultural goods and services are often accessed outside government control, through transnational TV channels in the Islamic world and the West but also through pirated audiovisual products that are widely available in the country.5 This is a matter of concern for the government authorities who fear that disenfranchised youth will turn to religious extremism. The regime, some say, needs to reconcile with its young people, and culture can help in that respect.

There are three main groups of stakeholders in the civil society sector working on culture in external relations, all of them demonstrating some willingness and interest to do more in this field: the first is composed of organisations enjoying historical and regular financial support from the authorities and who act in compliance with the government’s ideological line; the second group is made up of operators who have an ambivalent relationship with the government, i.e. they receive public funds but feel constrained by the regime without necessarily daring to speak out; the third group comprises independent structures that prefer, for political reasons, not to depend on Algerian public funding, and are more openly critical of the authorities. Across this spectrum, a number of barriers still exist in Algerian society, creating divides and fragmentation in the field of culture and external relations: there is a gap between the way French and Arab (but also Tamazight) speaking communities view and think about culture (although this gap is shrinking, according to experts and stakeholders who acknowledge A. Bouteflika, A message to artists on the occasion of Artist Day, 2009, quoted in Boukrouh and Kessab, op. cit.

Interview in Algiers, October 2013.

Linda Labandji, ‘Les biens culturels piratés en Algérie: une fenêtre sur l’’ailleurs’, in Tristan Mattelart (ed.), Piratages audiovisuels, De Boeck/INA, 2011, pp.123-138.


preparatory action CULTURE in EU EXTERNAL RELATIONS increasing exchanges between linguistic communities) and gaps between urban and rural areas.6 The persistence of strong regional identity and senses of belonging also hampers Algeria-wide approaches.7 Some language communities are more involved in specific cultural domains: for instance theatre is seen as a field mostly managed in Arabic.8 In the first group of stakeholders mentioned above one can include all state-sponsored international festivals, large scale events and government-subsidised activities and productions that have gone through an institutionalisation process and become part of the regime’s cultural achievements. The second group covers a very wide range of external cultural actions, from travel grants to co-production agreements. The third group is much smaller and includes civil society activists or mobilised citizens.

Algerians have had long cultural relations with Europe, mostly through a history of conquest and occupation. This has had deep implications. The respect for Algerian sovereignty and dignity is a sensitive issue and an imperative often reaffirmed and asserted explicitly. The fact that there is no direct translation of the word ‘European’ into Arabic is telling: the terms used are Roumi (Roman) or Gauri (Westerner, Foreigner, non-believer), depending on the region. However, there are specific terms for the French, the Germans, etc. that are used as well.

Moreover, the cultural link with Europe is very often and most of the time made via, if not dominated by, France, with the exception of the immediate Mediterranean neighbours (Spain and Italy in particular). It is thus essential to distinguish two sets of relations: those with France on the one hand, strongly influenced by controversial and violent colonial memories, and those with the rest of Europe on the other. In all instances though, mobility from and to Algeria is an issue and this places a strain on cultural relations.

The publishing house El-Ikhtilef is often quoted as a reference and as broker between linguistic communities. See at: ‘Carte Blanche: Éditions El Ikhtilef’, Institut français d’Oran. Online. Available at: http://www.if-algerie.com/oran/agendaculturel/carte-blanche-editions-el-ikhtilef.

Habiba Laloui, case study presented at the International Seminar on cultural policies organised by the German Commission

to UNESCO, Hamamet 2012. Online. Available at:


Email exchange with a stakeholder, October 2013.

–  –  –

At state level, in addition to the Ministry of Culture and under its authority, dozens of structures deal with culture in external relations.9 Since 1996 the Algerian State has developed its international cultural connections through traditional cultural diplomacy with UNESCO and the Arab League (six Algerian sites are inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List: the Casbah of Algiers, Oued Mizab, the National Park of Tassili, Qalaa Bani Hamaad, Jamila and Timgad). Yet, according to numerous stakeholders, the regime remains closed and reluctant to engage substantially in free cultural relations with the outside world. Arabic speakers tend to follow current dynamics in cultural hubs located in the Gulf or Lebanon.

The current overall legal framework for cultural action is far from clear. Experts point to two main legal features of the cultural policy system: it is uncertain and it is constraining. Uncertainty is generated from a situation in which laws are either in place but not systematically implemented, or in the making and potentially applicable. This is the case of recent draft legislation on publishing and editing and cinema. This uncertainty puts Algerian and international cultural stakeholders in an ambiguous position of operating either as a structure breaching the law and potentially punishable or as an operator potentially threatened by upcoming legislation. In both cases, cultural work is not sustainable and has to be carried out in an unpredictable environment characterised by indirect censorship and self-censorship, if not direct censorship. This climate of uncertainty ensures that the authorities remain in control of the cultural sector. When the legislation is constraining, external cultural relations are limited in their scope and ambitions: this is for instance the case with the limitations imposed on authorisations given to foreign organisations to plan public cultural events.

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