The Fight goes on – a short history excursion and a petition.

Few people outside of Germany realize that the cultural politics in our country have seen a kind of paradigm change that is not dissimilar to what happened in Netherlands in the last years. The result is an increased threat against cultural institutions. Opera houses and theatres as well as orchestras are more and more often becoming targets for cutting-down measures – granted, we still have a lot of them, but if the current trend continues this will change dramatically.

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The political parties have been increasingly indifferent or even hostile on the subject, and the media sometimes seem to support the wrong image of culture as an elitist pastime that is not of our times anymore. In this context the amount of public outrage against the forced fusion of two of Germany’s most renowned radio orchestras (Freiburg and Baden-Baden) can be seen as something of a miracle. So far the campaign has been quite a success, and surely Peter Boudgoust – the director of the SWR (South West German Radio) – has not foreseen that his role an instigator of this fusion would be greeted with such massive criticism.

The German Radio Orchestras have a proud tradition and have been involved in the furthering, commissioning and premiering of new musical works since their founding. Both the Freiburg and Baden-Baden orchestra have an excellent track record in this area, and therefore the resistance against the fusion also became an international affair, as premiering works of international composers is a regular activity of these ensembles.

A short historical explanation: The orchestras and the so-called “Öffentlich-Rechtlichen” (“public” and intrinsically non-commercial) Radio-and TV stations in Germany are financially supported not by tax money (like in some other countries) but a monthly fee, the “Rundfunkgebühr” (radio fee) that used to be paid per “Gerät” (radios or TV’s) owned by households. It was not uncommon to get unannounced visits by controllers of the “GEZ” (Gebühreneinzugszentrale – a typical German monster word meaning “center for the collection of fees”) checking how many TV sets you owned and if you were actually paying the fee.

In the age of internet, download and streaming this Orwellian model of “The GEZ is watching you” became increasingly outdated, so a couple of years ago it was decided to change the fee to a “per household” quota, regardless of how many “Geräte” you owned, thereby simplifying the process of fee collection and reducing the need for controlling. This reform is now in effect, and the changes in income it would bring were subject to a lot of speculation.

The “Gebührenreform” (radio fee reform) had been used as an argument for more cutting-down measures in all German radio stations, also for the fusion. Even before the reform  the public stations increasingly acted like the private (commercial) stations, constantly watching for ratings and competing with the entertainment programs of the private stations. In fact today there is less difference in the programming of a TV station like the ZDF (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen, a public station) and a station like RTL (a private station). Cultural Radio and TV – arts shows, music shows, radio and TV-plays  – were often dumbed down or removed completely. They still exist, and of course there are a lot of people in public  TV and Radio which still are succesfully putting out excellent work. But it definitely has become more difficult for them.  Contemporary Classical Music also became a side show, sometimes being broadcast at 4 a.m. in the morning (or not at all anymore).

This was considered a harsh blow, as most of us still remember a time when things very different, when prime time TV broadcast premieres of Stockhausen and Boulez, and it was not uncommon to have an arts show or cultural live event being broadcast at a time were people actually could watch it.

One could argue endlessly if these changes reflect natural developments in our society or if the weakening of culture in the public image is a result of broadcasting policy. Fact is that the current stance does not try to fulfill the so-called “Kulturauftrag” (“cultural mission”, that the public stations have by way of law) as it used to.

But back to the fusion of Freiburg and Baden-Baden. Imagine the surprise in the public when the first statistics for the fee reform showed that not only the income would be more than before, but that there would be a considerable surplus in the years to come. There are even current plans to reduce the monthly fee, which would be a first in the history of media funding by the public. Of course this sheds a strange light on the former argumentation, even though the people responsible continue to claim that none of this money reaches them, and that they have to dramatically save money at the moment. Sometimes the necessity for cutting-down measures is brought up with such a conviction, that one might start to believe that Germany currently is at the verge of a complete financial collapse, which seems….odd, to say the least. But if money that is collected to support our public stations does not reach these very stations – where does it exactly go then? This mystery is yet unexplained, and even most people working in these stations (where cutting-down measures also resulted in the loss of jobs) cannot understand the arguments of most of their superiors.

But now I would like to give the word to my esteemed composer colleague Hans Zender, who is one of the people organizing the fight against the fusion. There might actually be hope to prevent it by force of public will, and this is what he has to say:

Dear sirs, madams, esteemed colleagues, dear friends!

The fight against the Südwestrundfunk’s plans to merge the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg (SO) with the Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR (RSO) did not abate following the publication of the composers‘ and conductors‘ open letters last year – rather, the protest has intensified and spread.

The organisation „Friends and Supporters of the SWR-SO“ has made an appeal to Winfried Kretschmann, the minister president of Baden-Württemberg, asking him to take active steps towards preserving the existence of the SO, and this appeal has already been signed by more than 20.000 citizens of the German ‚Bundesland‘. Politicians are also starting to finally take notice of this important problem: last weekend, a non-partisan declaration against the SWR merger was made public, signed by 40 members of the federal (Bundestag) as well as the provincial parliaments (baden-württembergischer Landtag).

But the fight is not confined to Germany’s borders: there have been numerous international protests against the SWR’s merger plans. The composer Franck Bedrossian has started a petition, aimed at all culturally engaged people worldwide, demanding that the SWR take back its merger decision. Unfortunately, this petition has not yet garnered the attention it deserves. This is why I am urging you: please, if you have not yet done so, sign the international petition to save the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg, and forward this email or copy the following link and send it to your colleagues, friends, and acquaintances. This is a matter of great urgency and importance. Every signature counts!

Here is the link to the petition, which can be signed right away:
http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/swr-s%C3%BCdwestrundfunk-international-petition-against-swr-orchestra-fusion-2

Many, many thanks for your help!

Yours sincerely,

Hans Zender

Mesdames et messieurs, chers collègues, chers amis!

La résistance tient bon contre les plans qu’ont la Südwestrundfunk de fusionner le SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg (SO) avec le Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR (RSO). Suite à la publication l’année dernière de deux lettres ouvertes, une signée par des chefs d’orchestre et l’autre par des compositeurs, la résistance s’est même intensifiée et a gagné en ampleur.

L’organisation des „Amis du SWR SO“ a lancé un appel à Winfried Kretschmann, le ministre président du Land de Baden-Württemberg, lui demandant de s’occuper activement d’assurer l’existence continuée du SO, et cet appel a déjà été signé par plus de 20.000 citoyens et citoyennes dudit Land. Les politiciens, eux aussi, commencent enfin à s’occuper de ce sujet si important: le weekend dernier, une déclaration contre la fusion, signée par 40 membres des parlements fédéral (Bundestag) et provincial (Landtag Baden-Württemberg), tous provenant de l’état de Baden mais de diverses affiliations politiques, a été rendue publique.

Mais ce n’est pas qu’en Allemagne que s’élèvent les voix contre ces plans destructifs: il y a beaucoup de mécontentement et de résistance au niveau international. Le compositeur Franck Bedrossian a initié une pétition, adressée à tous les mélomanes et intéressés en politique culturelle, et demandant que la SWR révise sa décision de fusionner ses orchestres.  Malheureusement, cette pétition n’a pas encore reçu l’attention qu’elle mériterait. C’est pour cela que je vous demande: si vous ne l’avez pas encore fait, signez la pétition pour le maintien du SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg, et faites suivre ce courriel ou copiez et envoyer le link suivant à vos collègues, amis et connaissances! C’est un sujet d’une importance suprême et chaque signature compte.

Vous trouverez ici la pétition et pourrez signer tout de suite:
http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/swr-s%C3%BCdwestrundfunk-international-petition-against-swr-orchestra-fusion-2

Merci beaucoup et bien à vous,
Votre

Hans Zender

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