Austerity 2013: How Cuts to Education Could Violate Human Rights


The need for financial rationalization and the constant debate on fiscal reform have been defining the European political agenda for the past couple of years. The factors that have led to this situation are more or less known but the outcomes are very much difficult to be predicted. Since health care, pensions, employment, and education, are changing drastically in the name of austerity, it is inevitable that changes will occur also to our fundamental rights to education, dignity, health treatment and enculturation. Culture will be the focal point of this article since it is still considered an area of human rights — which is neglected, forgotten or even worse ignored for its significance.

Many researchers have underlined the fact that human rights are considered to be extremely political and very impractical, most of the times unrealistic. Particularly, the right to culture is most of the times presented as the outcome of economic growth but never individually as a necessary parameter in our lives. Without a doubt, culture as a right is not just going to school or just visiting a museum exhibition. Additionally, culture is very much intangible to be measured and if qualitative measuring occurs, then longitudinal studies are the ones to yield its significant outcomes (participation, integration, national identity, etc).

The negative effects of austerity on the European cultural sector continue to elude scientists and researchers. Extensive layoffs, problematic economic frameworks and new forms of management and governance are reforming a new era for the sector. In the Mediterranean area the situation is very much demanding since recession and destabilization have turned the importance of culture as a right for the society to a necessary procedure so to increase profit. Economic maceration brings unemployment, thus failures in labor, problematic development and mostly ineffective educational systems. So the violation of the right to culture can also produce a chain reaction to the rights to work, to education, to development and to many other divisions and subdivisions of the human rights agenda.

Is culture just a process of showing exhibits and having people spending time? Can museums be considered solely as institutions that raise revenues and consume public funds? The answer to the above questions is rather obvious: no! For example, an image of a disabled person within a society which does not have a concrete legal framework for protecting people in need, a picture of a "burga" in a religiously homogenized Christian community and finally a photographic exhibition about the effects of war during times of peace, are all pumps of education.

All of the aforesaid themes can be found within a museum, especially when museums are functional, efficient and open to the public. To make the above more specific, let's imagine a child visiting all the aforesaid exhibitions with their parents. This child will be taught that a disabled person needs more access to buildings and that their movement needs the support of an aware and caring society, that women are not always acting, dressing and interacting as the child's mother and finally that the goods that this specific child enjoys (food, shelter, welfare, etc) are not necessarily provided to all and are not necessarily existing everywhere. So if we utilize this child as a future citizen, we can understand how the right to culture and its abolishment can create less informed and integrated societies, and more importantly less sensitive and insightful people.

Austerity might be a temporary measurement for economic stabilization but its effects on social cohesion are very much permanent. If the process is based upon fixing our financial deficiencies by generating cultural disintegration then soon the issues that political authorities will have to solve will not be based on financial sustainability. After all, it is also a matter of culture to understand your societal resources and how to create public value.