"But we could also decide to just hear the speakers this evening and then deal with Alderman Gehrels' Outline Policy Document tomorrow evening".
I breathe a sigh of relief as the Committee decides not to go on until two in the morning. But every advantage has its down side, because now I'll have to come back again tomorrow. You see, I didn't come to hear these speakers. I came to hear what the various cultural representatives of the parties would have to say regarding the city council's culture plans. After all, our future hangs on it, as the City of Amsterdam is also planning tough cut-backs on culture.
Actually, I thought at first the chairman was making a joke. But apparently our councillors are used to continuing meetings until the early hours. It's common knowledge that Joop Den Uyl would deliberately carry on negotiating until his opponents were on their last legs and ready for bed, as Joop himself didn't need much sleep. But the stamina of our city representatives proved equally formidable, as they cheerfully heard out all the speakers and asked questions.
Speaking at such a meeting is a good chance for every Amsterdam citizen to voice his or her opinion. Though there is a three-minute limit, each citizen is heard out. Some cultural organisations have made liberal use of this opportunity, drumming up large numbers of speakers who voice the interests of their organisation in slightly different words every time. This is boring and even gets irritating after a while. "Actually, the individual organisations are not under discussion at this stage", interjects a councillor. "At the moment, we're discussing an Outline Policy Document". But the rules are clear: everyone who has put themselves forward is heard out. So we'll be going on until midnight anyway.
A few days earlier, I'd been wondering whether we should speak at the meeting as well. What would be most effective? For instance, some organisations went running straight to the press with unreserved statements when Gehrels' plans were announced, whereas we decided not to do so. You can sometimes exert more influence through silent diplomacy. Moreover, potential sponsors can be put off if they read in the papers that you're in the corner where the blows are being dealt out. So in line with this train of thought, I decided to approach the cultural representatives of the major parties in person, rather than putting myself forward as a speaker. I'm curious as to whether this will be reflected in the debate at all.
Next evening, the same cultural representatives and the alderman are sitting jauntily in the Boekmanzaal again. It's nice to be part of it. Politics is a profession, and there are people here who love that profession. Like the chairman, for instance, who is clearly enjoying being the boss this evening. Or the leader of the opposition, who takes every opportunity to stylishly harass the coalition parties. It's fun to watch. But it's less amusing that not a single party wants to stand up for reducing the cut-backs on the big organisations. There are a couple of other refinements or modifications to be made, but the council will pass the Outline Policy Document next week more or less intact. So like the other twelve big organisations, we are faced with cuts of an average of 12%. The precise figure depends partly on the Amsterdam Arts Council, which will announce its recommendation on the amount of our subsidy in the spring, along with the figures for all the Amsterdam organisations. One thing is certain: these organisations are numerous. So my advice to the Culture Committee is to reserve a whole week to hear the speakers who'll be attending those meetings.< blog archive