Culture is an important part of regional cooperation around the Baltic Sea. The CBSS work in the field of culture includes cultural heritage, contemporary culture and the promotion of regional identity. The CBSS addresses cultural cooperation through two specialised bodies, ARS BALTICA and the Cultural Heritage Monitoring group, which report to the Ministers of Culture of the Baltic Sea Region, as well as through various regional partnerships.
The Conferences of Ministers of Culture give political guidance and take decisions on strategic policy issues and initiatives. The Conferences of Ministers of Culture have been held since 1993. In between the Ministerial Conferences, cooperation is coordinated by Senior Officials who meet at least once a year in the country holding the CBSS presidency.
The beginnings of Council of the Baltic Sea States intergovernmental cultural cooperation were marked by the 1st Conference of the CBSS Ministers of Culture in Saltsjöbaden, Sweden on 10-11 May, 1993. The ministers recognised the close connection between Baltic Sea countries, based in many respects on common historical and cultural development, and express a wish and intention to widen cultural cooperation within the Baltic region. The Ministers hence declared a mutual intention to recognise and eliminate existing obstacles for wider cultural cooperation among the countries, to promote cultural projects aiming at widening knowledge and understanding among the countries, especially through the framework of ARS BALTICA, and to strengthen the exchange of information on cultural life, at all levels.
The 2nd Conference of the CBSS Ministers of Culture was held in Tallinn in 1995, with an agreed aim to work, through the relevant domestic and international organisations, towards eliminating the existing structural and practical obstacles to the free flow of cultural exchange in the Baltic Sea region.
The Ministers of Culture of the Baltic Sea States met for the third time in Lübeck on September 21 – 23, 1997, and stressed the importance of strengthening the common identity among the Baltic Sea States. At the third conference, special attention was paid to cultural heritage, which was seen as an important part of the environment and an important factor for economic and social development. At the invitation of Sweden, a special working group on Cultural Heritage was thus to be established. The ministerial in Lübeck was also the first one to raise the potential of the use of “net communication (i.a. INTERNET)” for the further development of cultural cooperation.
At the 4th Conference of the CBSS Ministers of Culture in Gdansk in 1999, the Ministers, after taking note of a report from the working group on Cultural Heritage, agreed on further development along the lines presented in the plan for safeguarding and developing common cultural heritage in the Baltic Sea region under the guidance of a Cultural Heritage Monitoring Group.
The 5th Conference of the CBSS Ministers of Culture in Copenhagen in 2001 stressed the wish to relate regional cultural co-operation to the work carried out in the EU and multilateral organisations, particularly the Council of Europe and UNESCO. The main theme of the conference in Copenhagen remained on cultural heritage in a broad sense, with the ministers expressing interest in cooperation on underwater cultural heritage in particular.
The Ministers stressed the importance of creating and reinforcing the cultural infrastructure, in particular the informational infrastructure as a necessity for integration and intercultural communication, at the 6th Conference of the CBSS Ministers of Culture in St Petersburg in 2003. The conference also acknowledge the continued work of the Monitoring Group for Cultural Heritage and ARS BALTICA. The 7th Conference of the CBSS Ministers of Culture continued this theme, commending the work of the Cultural Heritage Group and ARS BALTICA, as well as raising the profile of the work on underwater cultural heritage.
The Ministers for Culture of the Baltic Sea States met in Riga, Latvia, on 16 – 17 October 2008 for their 8th Conference. In the light of new political frameworks, such as the expansion of the European Union in 2004, the discussions of the Ministers focused on improving the structures and contents of the Baltic Sea region cultural cooperation, as well as on examining the possible role of the Ministerial Conference in the construction of a Northern Dimension Cultural Partnership and in the contribution to an EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea region. Here the ministers decided to focus future cultural collaboration on long-term objectives, where structured co-operation and networking can bring a clear added value and successful results could be reached by joint efforts of all interested countries.
In Riga the ministers set the following long-term objectives for intergovernmental cooperation on cultural issues: safeguarding cultural heritage, paying particular attention to the enhancement of accessibility to cultural heritage, especially for children and young people; promoting cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue and exchange; enhancing the impact of cultural sectors on the development of the creative economy. The underlying principles of these objectives were the promotion of regional identity and strengthening the contribution of culture to sustainable development and competitiveness of the Baltic Sea region within Europe and beyond.
The 9th CBSS Ministers of Culture meeting took place in Gdansk, Poland, on 16 September 2015 and it was the highlight of the “Culture Gathering” conference, held under the CBSS Polish Presidency priority “Creativity”. It was the first high-level meeting on culture since 2008, with the Ministers discussions focusing on the role of culture in building a future vision for the Baltic Sea Region, and it’s effects on other fields, such as education. The meeting was opened by the Polish Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Prof. Małgorzata Omilanowska, who chaired the meeting on behalf of the Polish Presidency of the Council of the Baltic Sea States. Ministerial Conclusions from Gdansk can be accessed here.