José Manuel Rodríguez Uribes has had to be the Minister of Culture and Sport when a pandemic forces the confinement of the population and all the shows close, without us knowing if at the end of the quarantine we will dare to share spaces, seats and breathing against the wonder and beauty of opera, dance, concerts, cinema and theater, even in museums, or against the intensity of soccer and other sports. Being a culture minister in a dull country is a test for which no one has prepared … «Every day I try to get used to the idea of everything that has changed… until very recently we thought about budgets, and now we are not so much in that as in not destroying everything ».
That is the situation. We talk on the phone. From his home, the minister is calm and affable, announcing that a second round of videoconferences with the cultural sectors begins on Monday, then with the regional councilors and finally with their European counterparts, on Wednesday. It will take the pulse of a withdrawn industry and seek solutions for when the confinement is over. Other countries have provided liquidity, but the Spanish Government has implemented a policy of guarantees, ERTE and aid for cessation of activity.
—What a change of priorities.
—The unprecedented crisis that affects so many lives has forced us to seclude ourselves at home. It is an unsolvable gap. A paradox, the culture that lives from the public we cannot go to see it. But he is coming home. It is fortunate and deserves great recognition.
—You have received a letter from a hundred National Awards asking for help. Why haven’t you told your plans before?
—In these weeks I have been a discreet minister, because my obligation was to be discreet while we have such a serious health situation. But let no one confuse discretion with a lack of commitment. I have a firm commitment to culture, but it is our priority to fight the virus and ensure that people do not die from this.
—When this phase passes, how will the economy of culture be?
It is not a crisis of specific sectors, so from the Council of Ministers everything has become general, transversal, thinking about the entire economy so as not to leave anyone behind, not even culture. My biggest concern has been that, that there is no exclusion of some sectors of culture.
“It is a very vulnerable sector.”
-Especially. The health crisis forces social distance and strikes in all the industrial sectors that make a living from the public. The uniqueness of the workers, actors, musicians, etc., also hinders the maintenance of the cultural industry. So I send a great message of solidarity, which is the way to solve this pandemic. We will get ahead like this and culture and sport are acting with unselfish generosity and altruism.
—In the letter made public yesterday, you are accused of having lost weeks.
“I understand your feeling.” I remind you that last week I spoke to all sectors. And that fear, which arises from the uncertainty of how we will all get out of this, is understandable. In the Councils of Ministers of the last two weeks we have built a social network that protects everyone and my effort is that culture, due to its uniqueness, its fragility in circumstances like this, would not be harmed. That is the meaning of the ERTE, so that there is no unemployment and resistance for a time, and aid for cessation of activity, which affects the performing arts.
—In your new round of contacts will you also meet with the bullfighting sector?
—Before talking to the regional councilors and the European ministers, I will talk to everyone, first with the cinema, then the performing arts, a book… I speak with everyone. I already talked to them. I am a Minister of Culture and Sports, and even before that I am a lawyer, so I am very committed to the law. Therefore football, bulls, circus are included and my obligation is to attend them. It is true that the bull sector, where there are more vulnerable people such as the banderilleros, has a special regime in Social Security that depends on the activity of the previous year, so by 2020 the situation is still protected. Another thing is the losses, like those of any show that has had to close. My indications are that everything that depends on the Ministry is not canceled, things are postponed and rescheduled.
Do you think that people will enter a theater, a concert at the end of the quarantine? The horizon is terrible.
“There are priorities.” The first, now, is to save lives and stop contagions. The departure will be progressive, we will not go from being at home all to leaving all the next day. But if the health crisis does not last too long, we can return to what we had before, to good budgets and to recover our spirits. It remains to be seen what the health experts will indicate. There will be fear of contact until there is a vaccine. But it can also generate a social demand to return to concerts, to the theater, which we miss so much.
We have learned that the Council of Ministers has been the scene of great tensions over the measures.
“I have read that, but I have not perceived it, although I could not count it either.” It is a duty the secret and if it is not fulfilled it is punished. What I can say is that there has been debate, as something positive. I like being on a Board where my colleagues have ideas that are discussed, valued and then lead to decisions. I see it necessary.
“There have been mistakes.” Should the government do a little self-criticism?
– Self-criticism is always necessary, but there are moments for everything. Now it did not touch singular regulation for the culture, because it touches unity, an answer for all. The time will come for that self-criticism, we must all be together. We all make mistakes, but it is an unprecedented crisis. We are forced to decide every day.
—The crisis has caught us in the middle of a great polarization, unity is not cultivated. And we have all seen the accusations from the members of the coalition against cuts in health made by the PP, which are not exactly calls for unity, especially because there were also cuts in the communities governed by you after the crisis. Do you think politicians should set more example?
“You could say, ‘I am not my brother’s keeper,’ nor responsible for what others outside the government do.” President and Minister Illa speak with messages of unity all the time, because this is a crisis that hurts us as a country. We must be united and not make criticisms that are still distractions, regardless of whether they are grounded or not. Wherever it comes from, I do not share or think that there are unfair protests. We must all be together, parties and administrations, the Spanish have it very clear. Let us work in unity as an ethical requirement.
Do you think President Sánchez has talked with the opposition long enough? They have complained.
-That is different. We have a daily piece of work to attend to emergencies, I do not know how many Councils of Ministers we have, but it is true that one can always think that it is missing. He is attentive to the health crisis. A precious time is coming to share things and stay together. It is one thing to talk more or less and another to have disloyalties. There must be great communication between government and opposition, the crisis is so general that it belongs to everyone.
—The companies have turned to help, and those of culture too.
– Fortunately, there is a great presence of culture in our homes, but there have also been disinterested collaborations in economic terms, on the part of football clubs and cultural sectors. I do not want to announce it because it does not correspond to me but some of the most important digital platforms will help the world of cinema, cameras, workers. The public and the private need that communication in a crisis like this.
“You don’t know how encouraging it is to hear a minister of this government praise the combination of the private and the public in those terms.
-I have it very clear and in culture and sport that combination is essential. Hopefully when this crisis passes we can make regulation of all this.
—Culture has been exemplary in asking everyone to endure confinement. We have all seen the vice president skip confinement on several occasions. Doesn’t this seem reckless and unwise?
—What he replied at the time was that he followed the criteria that the health experts had set for him, beyond the distancing that occurred, to maintain safety and disinfection. This, too, is a sign that this crisis forces us to define each day. When time passes one can think: “I would have done something else”, but right now it does not proceed and it does not make sense, I am the first person who gradually understood what this crisis meant and gradually convinced myself that social isolation was essential. My last massive event was Arco. This crisis examines us all, tests us all every day. Beyond mistakes that we have all been making, the government the first, we will move forward.
—Germany has given the culture unlimited access to liquidity. The minister said a few days ago that after the energy, chemical and financial sectors, the cultural sector was the most strategic. Why Spain, where culture is “our oil”, with 580 million people with a potential audience, does not express this push, with the same emphasis on the strategic commitment of culture?
‘I share the judgment of the German Minister. For the Spanish culture and for the general culture as something fundamental for human societies. Orson Welles said that first life and then cinema. Now we are risking human lives in ICUs across the country. Immediately afterwards there is culture because if not, human life ceases to have the same meaning. But I would discuss the timing of that statement, the timing. We have to focus on the hard two or three weeks that we are living. That does not mean that later we pay attention to the suffering sectors such as culture and sport. It is no coincidence that I resume talks with the sector this week.
“What would be your ideal back to normal?”
—In the end, if this period is shorter, the consequences will be less. When I meet with the sectors and administrations next week we will talk about the different scenarios. From the most optimistic to the worst. You have to have a roadmap both budgetary and regulatory. It depends on how long this stage lasts.
“Is it milder?”
—I would like to go back to the budget design that we had and the regulatory calendar. We have taken advantage of these weeks to finalize some regulations and, above all, the new Heritage Law is very advanced to be presented. We have incorporated the new assets, the underwater, the intangible, the intellectual, in this preliminary draft that must be brought to Congress as soon as we return to parliamentary normality.
—And in what state were the budgets?
—The crisis caught us in the middle of a budget negotiation with the Minister of Finance, a very sensitive woman in the field of culture trying to improve all sectors and what we had been doing was a noticeable improvement over the budgets that we have brought back years ago. I would like to go back to that point, that was my dream. If the crisis continues, we will have to see the new scenarios and I don’t want to do it alone. I want to go with the sectors, with civil society. With the directors of the Autonomous Communities, who have not lost their important powers with the state of alarm. And with European colleagues so that the response to the culture of that day later is as shared as possible and not unilateral. This will help us to be better, that crises serve that purpose as well.
-The problem of the SGAE is very small, seen since the current crisis, but we receive news that they continue to distribute advances …
– It is a problem that I found when arriving and with a judicial procedure and a sanction for breach of information not provided, a month and a half ago. My wish is that they correct these behaviors. The president expresses that will to me, I can tell her that if they do things well, better because we need an entity that manages intellectual property well, but if they do it wrong, the law and the corresponding sanctions will be applied. Our position is clear.
-If the ERTE and the other measures prove to be ineffective or insufficient, would you propose more partners than those of Germany, France, IUtalia, Portugal with specific funds for the cultural industry?
-I don’t know, you have to wait to see how the measures are implemented and how they work. Then we can do what is necessary. We have published two guides to guide companies in the sector in relation to ERTES and direct aid for cessation of activity. I am hopeful that in both areas we can mitigate the effects. I could have made a specific speech in relation to culture but I found it inconsistent with the general response given of 200,000 million to alleviate economic damage, also to culture. It is time to help. Then comes a stage of rebuilding the damaged. There, Culture will have its minister, if I continue to be me, supporting them to rebuild together an essential good – as the German minister says and I also say – of human beings and not only of the Spanish. Culture in the broad sense is a fundamental right. We would not understand human societies without culture. What distinguishes us from other living beings is that capacity for creative activities. But now it’s time to fight the virus. This is not to be forgotten. The debate between economy and health does not make sense because without health there is no economy. It is more serious and responsible to order priorities.