Czech musicians ask government to throw them a lifeline

'Za živou hudbu' protest, photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek

Several hundred people gathered on Prague’s Old Town Square on Monday to support people in the music industry who face an uncertain future due to ongoing coronavirus restrictions. The industry which employs roughly 130,000 people and has an annual turnover of 20 billion crowns, is now operating at 15 percent capacity with no light at the end of the tunnel.

They were among the first to lose their income during the coronavirus lockdown and many went online to boost the public morale at the height of the crisis, organizing concerts from their living rooms, sending messages of good cheer and a promise of better times to come.

Now many of them are running out of steam and financial reserves as their own future remains highly uncertain.  With almost all big music events and festivals cancelled through the summer and no indication as to when that may change, many are looking around for an alternative source of income. The initiative Za živou hudbu (For Live Music), which organized Monday’s protest event, has called on the government to throw the music industry a lifeline. It says the government should say when large public events will be able to resume and is pushing for the authorities to enable public gatherings of up to 5,000 people as of September. Culture Minister Lubomír Zaorálek told Czech Radio this was out of the question.

Lubomír Zaorálek, photo: Filip Jandourek / Czech Radio

“First let me say that I understand that people want to go back to work, to work in their profession. And we are talking about thousands of people, which is why the government moved to enable smaller-scale cultural events of up to 500 people indoors and 1,000 outdoors. This is more than has been allowed in neighbouring Germany or Austria. We believe it important to sustain at least small-scale events. But the demand for events of 5,000 to 10,000 people in September or October is totally unrealistic. There is no way that can happen. Even as it is, the limits set are borderline in view of the risks. We hope to sustain that policy and it gives at least some musicians the chance to work in their profession.”

The culture minister said that in view of the predictions regarding a second wave of the pandemic in the autumn it was almost certain that large-scale live cultural events would not be permitted before the end of the year. He said that given the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic there was no way the government could make promises about the conditions in which the music industry would be operating in the months to come. And the best it could do, under the circumstances, was to provide financial aid –to whatever extent was possible – in view of the fact that aid was needed everywhere.

“I keep repeating that if this crisis were to devastate our cultural sphere it would be a terrible loss.  We would be outsiders in Europe where other countries are doing a great deal to sustain their cultural sectors. We cannot be as generous as Germany for instance, but we must do everything we can to protect it. And I would say that the cabinet is not deaf to my arguments.”

In June the government earmarked a billion crowns to help sustain festivals, theatres and music clubs through the crisis. However many are yet to see support from the state and even well-established musicians such as Lenka Dusilová say that, given the uncertainty ahead, they see the need to establish an alternative source of income.