EU Cultural Policy as a Legitimacy Tool? EU Enlargement and the Case of Turkey

The UACES Network |

A scholarship report by Giulia Casartelli.


Thanks to the UACES scholarship, I have been able to conduct fieldwork in Istanbul, in April and May 2021, in the context of my PhD project in European and International Studies at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.

The research is conducted in a Political Science department, but it is strongly interdisciplinary, due to my academic and professional background. I hold a BSc in Cultural Management (Bocconi University, Milan), an MA in Anthropology (Bicocca University, Milan) and an MA in Southeast European Studies (National and Kapodistrian University, Athens). Furthermore, in the past ten years, I have worked in art galleries, non-governmental organisations and cultural institutions in India, South Africa and Italy, observing the problematic use of identity-defining adjectives (such as ‘Indian’ and ‘African’, for example) in combination to the terms ‘art’ and ‘culture’. This has been the spark that initiated a research on European culture and identity, in the context of EU cultural policy.

My PhD investigates European institutions’ attempt at ‘constructing’ Europe and Europeans by means of cultural policies. Looking at the case of Turkey’s EU candidacy and of its recent related cultural initiatives, the project questions the value of current EU cultural policies as tools of integration for European citizens, problematising their employment as creators of mythopoietic narratives on identity, coping with the Union’s symbolic deficit resulting from years of doux commerce.

Now that the old objectives of ‘peace and prosperity’ have lost their appeal for European citizens, the Union is undoubtedly facing the need to define new narratives and symbols ‘in creating normative and cognitive foundations for governing’ (Della Sala, 2010: 2). Cultural policies can play a decisive role in developing this common ground, acting as ‘technologies of subjectivation’ (Foucault, 1991). Whether and how the myths of shared European culture and identity are at all meaningful terms in the creation of these narrative foundations is the objective of my analysis.

The case of Turkey, depicted for century as culturally ‘other’ from Europe, is particularly meaningful to reflect on when and how culture became such a crucial element within the academic and institutional debate about a European identity; it allows to develop a broader reflection on the fundamental nature of the European political project, facing the crucial issue of what holds Europe together. This is particularly relevant in times of legitimacy crisis and widespread ‘Euroscepticism’.

To conduct my investigation, I have selected six cultural initiatives taking place form 1975 until 2018 in Turkey or having a thematic connection with it: the European Year of Architectural Heritage (Turkey, 1975); the ‘Anatolian Civilization’ exhibition (Istanbul, 1983); ‘Europe, a Common Heritage’ campaign (Turkey, 2000); ‘Urban Realities: Focus Istanbul’ contemporary art exhibition (Berlin, 2005); Istanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture; 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage (Turkey).

My fieldwork Istanbul has been essential to conduct research on the case studies. It allowed me to consult the archives identified during the preparatory work: in particular, the Ferit F. Şahenk Hall, (part of the archive of SALT Research Center) and the personal archive of the contemporary art curator Beral Madra, storing press material, official correspondence, catalogues, and audio records of the preparatory meetings of several events.

Furthermore, during my stay, I had the chance to interview in depth many of my interlocutors from the art community, involved in the initiatives under scrutiny: the artists Ali Kazma, Hera Büyüktaşcıyan, Gülsün Karamustafa and Leyla Gediz; the curator and director of the visual art session of Istanbul European Capital of Culture 2010, Beral Madra; Barış Altan, Secretary General of Europa Nostra Turkey.