Theatres Are Ideal Spaces for Dialogue. Europe Needs Them Now More Than Ever

Read ETC's statement calling on Europe to protect theatres and public spaces that keep freedom of expression alive.

Europe is a beautiful mess.

It’s 50 countries, 220 indigenous languages, and 750 million people. It’s tiny streets and tramways; bratwurst and moules frites. Thunberg and Cervantes; Klimt and the Acropolis.

And through the European Union, it’s also home to one of the world’s largest — functioning — public administrations. 

But this incredible diversity of peoples, cultures, ideas, and histories is increasingly fractured. The violent shooting of the Slovak Prime Minister shows just how polarised European society has become. Income inequality, censorship, a resurgent far-right and poisonous public debate are leading many people to believe that they can only live well at the expense of others.  

As theatre makers from over 60 major national institutions in 31 European countries, we worry deeply about these trends. We’re concerned by the strategies used by the far right across the continent to consistently threaten and undermine public life and freedom of expression.  

But we also believe that the thousands of theatres around Europe are well-placed to enact the dialogue that can bring communities back together.  

Theatres are ideal places to bring people from different backgrounds together in a productive and peaceful way. They are spaces to be provoked, offended, understood, and empowered, as we process the factors that would turn us towards frenzied confrontation. Their capacity for humour, wonder and imagination connects us on an emotional level – the antidote to drab newscasts and the demagoguery that tears society apart. It’s for this reason that the writer Salman Rushdie decided to make his only German stop in the tour to promote Knife, his memoir about surviving a serious assassination attempt in 2022 – and promoting the power of words – at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin. 

So to European politicians, we say: Recognise our value. Protect and support the role of theatres as a bastion of freedom of expression, and one of the major pillars of democratic values in Europe. 

And to audiences around Europe: vote for dialogue. Vote for a belief that otherness is an essential part of our diversity. When we express different opinions in a safe environment, we can all learn and progress together. 

Everyone in Europe must find a way to engage in consistent, meaningful dialogue. If we don’t, our beautiful mess may cease to exist. 


Signed, on behalf of the European Theatre Convention,



Heidi Wiley, Executive Director, European Theatre Convention (ETC)

Cláudia Belchior, ETC President and Executive General Coordinator at Centro Cultural de Belém, Lisbon/Portugal, Lisbon/Portugal 

Iris Laufenberg, ETC Vice President and Artistic Director at Deutsches Theater, Berlin/Germany 

Norbert Rakowski, ETC Vice President and General Manager and Artistic Director of JK Opole Theatre, Opole/Poland 

Serge Rangoni, ETC Treasurer and General Manager & Artistic Director of Théâtre de Liège/Belgium 

Tom Leick-Burns, ETC Secretary and Artistic Director and General Manager, Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg/Luxembourg 

Barbara Ferrato, ETC Board Member and Head of Artistic, Planning and Development Department at Fondazione del Teatro Stabile di Torino - Teatro Nazionale/Italy 

Paulien Geerlings, ETC Board Member and Head Dramaturge at De Toneelmakerij, Amsterdam/The Netherlands 

Marina Maleni, ETC Board Member and Theatre Development Officer, Cyprus Theatre Organisation (THOC)/Cyprus 

Irene Moundraki, ETC Board Member and Head Dramaturg, Head of Archive, Library and International Collaborations Department, National Theatre of Greece/Greece 




Matthijs Pontier, MEP Candidate, Pirate Party - The Greens

Alda Greoli, MEP Candidate, Les Engagés

Romeo Franz, MEP, Alliance 90/The Greens

Eskild Wikkeling, MEP Candidate, Piratenpartij (Netherlands)

Rob Visser, MEP Candidate, Pirate Party - The Greens

Mirjam van Rijn, MEP Candidate, Pirate Party - The Greens

Melanie Steliou, MEP Candidate, AKEL- THE LEFT- SOCIAL ALLIANCE (The Left/GUE/NGL)

Bożena Przyłuska, MEP Candidate, Nowa Lewica, PL

Saskia Bricmont, MEP, Greens/European Free Alliance

Maria Kola, MEP Candidate, Cyprus Greens-Citizen's Cooperation

(to add your name, please email

Photo © ETC International Theatre Conference 2023 at JK Opole Theatre, Poland  / Przemysław Jendroska

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