Switzerland: Zurich cuts theatre’s funds in light of controversial play

3 January 2017

The canton of Zurich cut its 2017 grants by 50,000 Francs (approx. $49,000 USD) to Neumarkt Theatre following the staging of a controversial play by artist Philipp Ruch that mocked publisher and parliamentarian Roger Köppel, member of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), reported on 7 December 2016.

During the play, the public was invited to interact with the performance by cursing the politician in an attempt to “de-Köppel-ize Switzerland” and expel the spirit of Julius Streicher, prominent anti-Semite and director of the German journal “Der Stürmer” during the Second World War, from Köppel’s body.

Köppel initially requested that Zurich city hall – the main funder of Neumarkt Theatre – cut its public funds, but the request was turned down. However, when the SVP brought the matter before the Zurich State Council, the decision was reversed.

Cantonal representatives said the budgetary cut corresponded with the administrative expenses they incurred when handling the matter. Zurich canton’s cultural delegate Madeleine Herzog said the cut happened due to the “unusual” costs not being included in the annual budget, but that the full grant amount would be given to the theatre in 2018.

SVP president Mauro Tuena, criticised the temporary cut and advocated for a permanent grant reduction of the subsidy arguing that “it sends a positive signal to all subsidized companies that taxpayers’ money should not be spent on any kind of nonsense”. Köppel himself said the funding cut was “good news”.

Cutting budgets in the past
This is not the first time that budgetary cuts have been applied in Switzerland as a way to censor art. In 2004, Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn held a performance at the Swiss Cultural Centre in Paris in which he compared Switzerland to an Iraqi prison.

As a result, the Swiss parliament decided to cut one million Francs of funding to Pro Helvetia, a foundation promoting Swiss art and culture that financially supported the performance. Then, as the recent incident with the Neumarkt Theatre, the decision to cut funds was justified to recoup administrative expenses.

“The justification of the caused expenses makes the sanction look legitimate because it seems to have an explanation. But it is still punishment,” Pius Knüsel, Helvetia’s director at the time, said. The former director sees a parallel between the Hirschhorn case and that of the Neumarkt Theatre, saying that both were “extreme cultural manifestations … that triggered very strong reactions.”


» – 7 December 2016
Subventions as censorship instruments?

» The Local – 25 November 2016
Swiss theatre docked funds for mocking populist MP

» – 17 March 2016
Zurich: the Neumarkt Theatre (subsidized) treats UDC’s Roger Köppel as a nazi

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