The Venice Manifesto: “For a European Cultural Citizenship” (draft version)



We, the actors and supporters of the culture and cultural heritage worlds, gathered in Venice from 27 to 30 September 2023, on the occasion of the European Cultural Heritage Summit;

Celebrating, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Europa Nostra, the invaluable role of Culture and Cultural Heritage, both tangible and intangible, for the future of our continent;

Recalling Europa Nostra’s previous campaigns, including the Berlin Call to Action (2018), the Paris Declaration (2019), the Prague Manifesto (2021), and the relevant calls of our partner NGOs;

Deeply concerned about the dramatic effects of the return of war on the European continent, and appalled by so many losses of life and livelihoods, as well as by the attacks against cultural and heritage sites;

Equally preoccupied by the increasing threats to the founding values of the European project, in particular those of peace and solidarity, democracy and human rights, the rule of law, freedom of speech and artistic expression;

Persuaded that culture and cultural heritage, because of their historic, ethical and aesthetic importance, represent more than ever the key forces that link Europeans together, and that this sense of togetherness is all the more crucial at today’s times of fear and uncertainty;

Convinced that culture and heritage unite people beyond borders regardless of their nationality, gender, ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, economic status and other diverse backgrounds;

Committed to combating the increasing effects of the climate crisis, through a joint effort linking sustainability, innovation and inclusivity, and mobilizing forces of culture and heritage to propose new ideas, energy and perspectives for the continent;

Have decided to solemnly launch, in the emblematic city of Venice, and more particularly the exceptional heritage site of the Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista, a Manifesto on “European Cultural Citizenship”.

The Venice Manifesto

Europe and the world are facing profound challenges. The return of war in Europe, the rise of far-right populism, are but some of the risks threatening the very foundations of our democracies and the values that the citizens of our continent have struggled to establish throughout the centuries. Likewise, we are faced with an unprecedented climate emergency, which entails considerable pressure for the preservation of our health, our agriculture, our living environment and our heritage sites, as well as triggering new and profound humanitarian crises.

Following the examples of Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi in their Ventotene Manifesto “For a free and united Europe”, published in June 1941; recalling Winston Churchill’s exhortation in his famous speech at the University of Zurich on 19 September 1946 on the theme “Unite Europe!”; and following the no less important plea by Robert Schuman in his Paris address of 25 March 1952 – “Europe will not be made at once, or according to a single plan; it will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity “-, it is time to put forward a new and resolute idea, linked to a renewed vision for this continent, rooted on the necessary impetus given to culture and cultural heritage in these uncertain times, namely that of a European Cultural Citizenship. A new democratic concept rooted not in the physical political geography of the continent, but self-emancipated and open to all.

The analysis of Europe’s post-World War II history and experience is clear: in assessing the elements needed to rebuild the continent, priority was overwhelmingly given to the economic reconstruction of the continent and the restoration of global trade with the world’s major powers. Far too little reference was given to the fact that Europe’s diverse nations and peoples could be federated around a new ideal, namely their shared culture and cultural heritage. References that were made to citizenship on a continental basis were entrenched in the political and economic character of the post-war European project, overlooking the primordial binding forces of culture and heritage. A European Cultural Citizenship must therefore go beyond the rudimentary limitations of politics and economics, and embrace the spiritual and philosophical roots of Europe’s heritage, tangible and intangible, which is fully part of our shared values.

The picture today, though, is stark. With the world once again under threat by warring powers and our democratic principles based on rule of law equally under attack – across our shared European continent –, it has become more and more evident that the solution can no longer be found in economic considerations only. The evidence is clear – and the experience of the past 70 years has demonstrated – that the European project cannot exist without the support of its citizens, and even more so against their will. Over time, this lack of attention to the human and cultural dimension of the European project has been its main failure. This is why it is high time to put culture and heritage at the very heart of this project. The innovative and positive concept of European Cultural Citizenship must be open to all who believe in the role of culture in transcending the physical and mental borders of our European continent for the benefit of its better and more peaceful future.

Culture and heritage occupy a key role in the history of our continent. Each of its cities, localities and regions, bears traces of a rich artistic and intellectual past. Europe’s long and hazardous history has too often been tumultuous, creating moments of suffering and turmoil. But culture, through its diversity, has always been the element that has made it possible to transcend the state of conflict, ensuring for its people periods of unique well being and progress. Notwithstanding its violent moments, Europe has, since Antiquity, produced generations of builders, artists, musicians, philosophers and scientists, who have travelled, connected and worked together over tangible and intangible barriers. They have inspired people from century to century, in Europe and the rest of the world, shaping progressively a corpus of values that have been and still are a reference point for many nations and peoples across the world. Reflected in every corner by its stunning heritage, few cities other than Venice carry better the signs of this cultural output. Based on this example, a European cultural citizenship must be marked by a joint consciousness of what represents the uniqueness and beauty of this continent, and driven by the conviction that better results are always achieved when they are done together.

Referring to Europe’s uniqueness does not mean that Europe is an island, entangled in its borders: its achievements have repeatedly included a spirit of openness and solidarity, which have contributed to its attractiveness for generations of people coming from across the world. This dimension must be remembered at this particular moment in time, when Europe and its increasingly pluralistic society is facing a long series of crises: environmental, political and social; all of which underline the necessity to unite these diverse generations of people together, through education, culture and heritage.. Further to this, Europe must leverage its culture and heritage to build partnerships with other countries and continents across the globe. The authors and signatories of this Manifesto wish to emphasise that in calling for a European Cultural Citizenship, this does not replace the national, regional or local expressions of our identities. Rather, it reinforces them by recognising and embracing a European dimension to which they are complementary, evidencing firmly and clearly the multi-layered identities that all citizens in Europe enjoy.

At the same time, launching a new cultural form of citizenship also entails, for all Europeans, a new set of responsibilities, which concern us all. It requires action from political leaders at all levels of governance to fully support the idea of a European Cultural Citizenship. It also means that Europe’s citizens must strive to introduce among Europe’s multiple policy agendas and priorities – environmental, digital, social, educational -, a dedicated strand tapping into the key resources provided by the wider sectors of culture and cultural heritage.

In their conclusion to their 1941 Manifesto, Spinelli and Rossi wrote: “Today, in an effort to begin shaping the outlines of the future, those who have understood the reasons for the current crisis in European civilization, and who have therefore inherited the ideals of movements dedicated to raising human dignity, … have begun to meet and seek each other. The road to pursue is neither easy nor certain, but it must be followed and it will be done! ”.

At a time where we need to build together a new narrative for Europe, based on new ideas and initiatives, the authors and signatories of this Venice Manifesto mark a similar commitment, to take up a European Cultural Citizenship, for the defence of our shared values and the future of our continent. We call on all citizens and civil society organisations, as well as decision-makers operating at local, regional, national and European level to contribute to make the principles of this Manifesto a reality.

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