Sunday, 15 September 2013

Sustainable Funding of the Arts and Guinness

Elevated to status of sainthood, Arthur Guinness and his newly formulated 'Arthur's Day' is the deleterious celebration of a man who created the social lubricant of Irish people. Next Thursday will provide the gentle reminder of who is keeping us down and letting us pay for the experience. Additional frivolities have been brought to the corporate embellishment by this year's 'Arthur Guinness Projects'; a scheme run under the banner of 'Championing the talent and creativity of Ireland', allows hopeful, creative people to be in with the chance of winning funding from the burgeoning pockets of Diageo. The requirement being that they have their friends, colleagues and community vote online to show true commitment to the Dear Leader of Irish society.

The positives for Guinness are clear: their brand is associated with young talent, further ensuring that Guinness stays alive in the Irish psyche. The project takes advantage of the lack of funding being provided to the Irish Arts Council. Successive cuts have taken place to the council's budget, damaging the hopes of an Ireland to be known for its imaginative dreams, rather than for poor financial market regulation.

All the while, various projects further enrich the cultural wealth of Ireland, such as the annual Westport Arts Festival and next Friday's Culture Night without corporate branding. While their funding has primarily come from the state, these projects receive sponsorship from local businesses. They remain true to their artistic ambitions: provide the means for art to flourish organically. Sustainable development of the arts, and art funding as it has been up until now, have been locally funded artists creating and performing among their communities. While the fears voiced by Una Mullalley and Emer O'Toole are reasonable responses to the encroachment by a large multinational on culture and national identity, they have forgotten the fundamental nature of art to human psychology and development. What Guinness will not be able to achieve is any embodied connection with art. The projects emerging from the voting competition will achieve far more with the help of funding and will be seen for what they are: projects that would have worked without any connection to Diageo. The fund will certainly aid projects' development and decrease the effort involved in sourcing financing for the drivers behind the projects.

Culturally-valuable art will continue to be sustained and supported by the Irish community, regardless of corporate sponsorship because, as a group, Irish people hold art, culture and heritage dear to their hearts. Our make-up and vibrancy as a nation comes from our shared belief that self-expression and exploration of identity is full of merit. The engagement with the world around us will be as thorough with or without an attempt by a drinks manufacturer to sidle its way into new areas, especially as pressure mounts to end sponsorship of sporting events by alcohol companies.

The vibrancy of Ireland's heritage will continue to develop from determined individuals living out their ambitions. For young, social entrepreneurs to take benefit from a private company's shrewd business plan makes perfect sense. For Diageo however, the project appears as a vain and insecure attempt at strengthening their marketing power.

'When money's tight and is hard to get,
And your horse has also ran.
When all you have's a heap of debt,
A pint of plain is your only man'.

Flann O'Brien, 'At Swim-Two-Birds', (1939)

While Flann's wistful poem of pints of plain getting us through tough times, Arthur Guinness will not be providing the lasting legacy of art in Ireland.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Chemical Weapons are a Precursor to Genocide

Calls for international intervention in Syria have been called for since the breakdown of recognisable government and the outbreak of civil war almost two years ago. The international community has stood by and watched as Syria disintegrated into a failed state with a fleeing population and an internationally armed and financed insurgency. These issues were previously reported on by Skríobh here and here.

The use of chemical weapons was described as Barrack Obama in August of last year as the decisive action that would 'change his calculus' in the United States' stance on the war in Syria and was thought to be reflective of the global stance towards the conflict. Since then, the stream of violence, targeting of civilians and war crimes have been recorded by both sides of the conflict. The United Nations have been steadfast in their resolution to delay intervention, by Chinese and Russian veto and a resounding public apprehension. In Britain, the fear of public dissatisfaction with the drawn-out and unpopular war in Afghanistan and the French government's fear of furthering claims of neo-colonialism since its quelling of an insurgency movement in Mali.

Public discourse has been loudest on the subject of intervention by the international community. However, the current international legal framework gives rise to a number of clear limits to the relationship between states. Under the United Nations Charter, which all recognised states are party to, is that each nation is its own sovereign state, capable and free to deal with its own domestic affairs as it sees fit. Historically, intervention has been the usurping of small, developing nations by the global superpowers such as the United States of America and Russia. These illegal actions damage the quality of governance, democracy and the free development of independent nations.

In the Syrian context, initial public protest and social reform are part of an emerging, more liberal Middle Eastern outlook sparked by the 'Arab Spring'. In a grand scale, public protests being met with authoritarian government force do not warrant international intervention. Isolated cases of police brutality, such as firing into crowds or the targeting of political groups by government-backed militias do not meet the threshold of warranting outside involvement. Even with the spread of weaponry through a nation, the armed uprising and outbreak of civil war is seen as within the scope of the independence of each nation. While individual tragedies may occur in this armed conflict, such as the death of civilians in airstrikes or destruction of important infrastructure, these acts can be easily be argued by the government as inadvertent or collateral damage in the quelling of armed uprising. Where this threshold changes is when there is a prolonged, government-sanctioned attack on an identifiable group of people. This occurs when isolated or sporadic deaths move in the direction of sustained targeting. These are crimes against humanity.

There is a spectrum of international law, varying from the denial of some human rights to the most heinous acts of genocide. The use of chemical weapons in a non-evacuated area shows an intention to specifically target non-combatants and would have limited military value. It is the most basic denial of the right to life and shows wanton disregard for the shared humanity of all people. It is the precursor to carrying out a genocide. For the United Nations, it takes such an act or the intention to carry out such an act that breaches this threshold. At this stage the use of force is a proportionate response. In the aftermath of NATO airstrikes in Kosovo, Kofi Annan said "It is indeed tragic that diplomacy has failed, but there are times when the use of force is legitimate in the pursuit of peace".

International involvement will invariably bring further suffering to the people of Syria. In doing so, there will be a need to deny both sides the possibility of carrying out further attacks, followed by the suppression of armed conflict and the beginning of peace-keeping operations. Social and political reform can only take place when the basic building-blocks of civilisation are put back in place, when refugees can return to their homes and attempt to put life back together. The peace-process will involve the decommissioning of both sides' weaponry to prevent further proliferation of arms and skills to neighbouring nations. The violence in Syria can be contained through appropriate military action in combination with the provision of humanitarian assistance. The Al-Assad regime has shown flagrant disregard for the value of human life and it is for the United Nations to act in a concerted effort to protect and provide for the shared values of its members.