Parliament at odds over punishing Arts Council

Pro Helvetia's director Pius Knüsel is on tenderhooks Keystone

The two houses of parliament disagree over whether to cut the budget of the Arts Council of Switzerland over a controversial exhibition.

This content was published on December 13, 2004 - 17:34

On Wednesday, the Senate again decided in favour of slashing Pro Helvetia's budget, meaning that the issue will now have to go in front of a conciliation committee.

The Senate has now voted three times to shave SFr1 million ($880,000) off Pro Helvetia’s annual budget of SFr34 million.

Senators had argued that an exhibition by artist Thomas Hirschhorn at the Swiss cultural centre in Paris had dragged Switzerland’s “most intimate values” through the mud.

But the House of Representatives has voted on two occasions against the cut, saying artistic freedom is at stake.

A meeting is due to be held on Thursday in a bid to iron out the difference of opinion between the two chambers.

Entitled “Swiss-Swiss Democracy”, the exhibition contains an attack on Justice Minister and rightwing People’s Party figurehead Christoph Blocher. It also takes aim at the country’s system of direct democracy.

One of the provocative images is a sketch of someone lifting his leg to urinate on a poster of Blocher.


People's Party parliamentarian Jean Fattebert told the House on Monday that spending SFr180,000 of government money on such an exhibition could not be justified if it brought the country into disrepute.

Others attacked Pro Helvetia for allowing the event to take place.

But members from the political Left said artistic freedom was at stake. Social Democrat Géraldine Savary called on members to renounce “reprisals not worthy of our parliament”.

In reaction, Pro Helvetia said on Monday that it was satisfied with the House of Representative's decision not to cut its budget.

It added that it hoped that this position would be maintained in future discussions.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The "Swiss-Swiss Democracy" exhibition is taking place at the Swiss Cultural Centre in Paris until January 30, 2005.
Pro Helvetia contributed SFr180,000.
The annual budget of Pro Helvetia is normally SFr34 million.

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In brief

The move to cut Pro Helvetia's budget was put forward by Christian Democrat Peter Bieri following a controversial exhibition in Paris that criticised Swiss democracy.

The Senate on Tuesday voted for a second time to slash the budget by SFr1 million.

The House of Representatives has twice voted against the budget cut.

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