Syria/ 2. General objectives and principles of cultural policy  

2.2 National definition of culture

Culture as a concept in official rhetoric

Since the 1970s, the concept of culture and the approach adopted by the official cultural institutions in Syria has been directly associated with the official political rhetoric and the conflicts in the region. Culture was thus burdened with responsibilities that do not necessarily constitute part of its essence, however it reflected the environment reveling in Syria at that time. Accordingly, the common culture got various definitions, the most important are:

  • Resistance culture: associated with the national struggle in which Syria had a key role throughout the history of the region.

  • Pan-Arab culture: where politicians in the Syrian cultural environment denied the existence of an independent Syrian culture and instead considered it a vital component adhered to a more comprehensive Arab culture.

  • Syrian culture as a tool to develop public awareness of Arab causes.

  • Culture for development where culture is characterized as: official cultural domination, centralism, complimentary Syrian cultural production.


The time-period of the uprising in Syria has been full of transformations and changes including culture within its national definition. Thus, we should now ask the question:  what is the  definition of national culture? It seems that official institutions in Syria have become aware of the necessity of redefining national culture from their own perspectives. On 10/7/2014 the Ministry of Culture held a conference at the Damascus Opera House titled “The Future of Syria: Belonging… Tolerance… Participation” which tackled the main factors of national belonging and forming a national culture that can maintain the country’s and people’s unity, and create an atmosphere of tolerance and the possibility of participation.

The Dominance of Official Culture: support was directed exclusively at the official culture and all its forms and activities, to the effect that all creative initiatives that are outside the prevailing cultural concepts we reconsidered abnormal elements which emerge and disappear without leaving a clear trace due to the absence of any resources to support them.

Centralization: work mechanisms in the Syrian cultural environment are means to consolidate absolute centralization since the decision-making process is linked to the highest government levels, which leads to inflexibility and bureaucracy at state institutions, that ends in restricting the development of cultural work[1].

Gratuitousness of the Syrian Cultural Product: the cultural and artistic product is considered by the public a service product provided for gratis. This approach aimed to spread official culture and make it accessible to everyone.|

Components of Syrian Culture

There is no clear definition of the Syrian cultural components, but they can be derived through defining the officially recognized components:

The Syndicate of Fine Artists: includes painters, sculptors, interior designers, and advertisement designers.

The Artists Syndicate: includes actors, directors, and the different careers related to performance arts and cinema production, but it does not include artisans (glass, clay, crafts etc.) as they belong to the Craftsmen Union.

Organizational Structure of the Ministry of Culture: This structure includes: Heritage and archaeological sites, book publications, theater, cinema, plastic arts, copyrights, adult education and literacy programs and artistic academic education, in addition to  the development of international cultural relations.

It should be mentioned here that the Syrian official speech gives special importance to heritage as a basic component of human culture. Historical monuments, traditional handcrafts and intangible heritage appear to be essential components of Syrian culture. Many examples can be given here; we notice that the artistic activities at schools focus on folk arts in the first place, in addition to theater, and music. Also, we see that the artistic groups of the Ministry of Culture, which are considered part of its bylaw, are the folk groups, in addition to Busra International Festival for Traditional Dance which is one of the biggest official artistic festivals in Syria besides Damascus International Festival of Theater and Damascus International Film Festival.

[1]        According to the 10th FYP.

Chapter published: 06-05-2016