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FYR of Macedonia/ 1. Historical perspective: cultural policies and instruments  

Author: Zlatko Teodosievski

After World War II, the Republic of Macedonia[1] became part of the Yugoslav Federation; therefore, its cultural policy was subject to the state ideology of building up a socialist culture. Over the past sixty years, cultural policy went through three main development stages:Skopje Old Turkish Bridge

  • a centralist and state-run period which lasted from 1946 until the mid-1950s;
  • a transitional period that lasted until 1974 and contained some elements of decentralisation; and
  • from 1975 onwards, a phase of self-management began which defined national and municipal responsibilities for culture including decision making and funding.

After 1945, the role of the government in culture was vastly extended. New institutions were established, programmes were set up to train qualified staff to run these institutions and the culture and the arts were popularised. In the past, Macedonian culture hardly had an opportunity to flourish as its own national culture. It is therefore understandable that there was a certain amount of national and romantic spirit throughout this period.

Following a long period of strict centralism, Macedonia entered, like other Yugoslav Republics, a period of self-management in the mid-1970s which offered certain opportunities to develop democratic elements, similar to that of other European countries. Municipal cultural institutions were created and were completely financed by the 31 individual local communities. While promising in theory, steps towards decentralisation became "suffocated" by bureaucratic incompetence, lack of professionalism and a thicket of regulations. In the 1990s, after the country gained independence from Yugoslavia, the cultural policy once again became politically and administratively centralised. The municipalities lost all the competencies they had gained in the field of culture.

There was no explicit cultural policy document which outlined a specific strategy and / or goals of cultural development, and therefore, one could hardly speak of a consistent cultural policy after 1990. The Constitution and the 1998 Law on Culture provided a certain global orientation toward culture including provisions for civil rights and freedoms, minority rights, the obligation of the government to support and develop culture, etc. However, in practice, there is still a combination of the old and new pragmatism and ad hoc temporary solutions. Today, the term culture is still equated with the term art.

As early as 1945, Macedonia has been organised as a multicultural country. The Ministry of Culture financed the activities of institutions such as the Theatre of Nationalities (Turkish and Albanian Drama, established in 1947), as well as several cultural associations (amateur and professional), vocal and dance folk groups, etc. Daily newspapers and weekly magazines, monthly children's magazines and radio and TV programmes were available in the respective languages of different cultural communities. Writers, artists, actors, musicians etc., of all the nationalities (Albanians, Turks, Serbs, Romans etc.) were members of the same professional associations together with the Macedonians.

After 1990, the once "homogeneous" society started to slowly disintegrate. It turned out that some communities (especially Albanian) were not satisfied with the overall cultural policy in the past or with state support and provisions for cultural minorities. Certainly, the process of democratisation has encouraged the communication of different views and perspectives, also with regard to the culture of minority communities. It has also helped to point out mistakes made in the past. For example, many private publishing companies were established (over 80% of them Albanian) in a very short period of time after 1990 in order to compensate for the lack of books in the languages of different minority groups. Numerous private radio and TV stations were opened and started to broadcast programmes in minority languages (most of them Albanian and Roma). Several new festivals were established to promote the culture of minority groups. Several new associations and NGOs started to work etc. The Ministry of Culture financially supported most of these activities (except radio and TV).

On the other hand, this approach led to almost complete cultural separation along ethnic lines such as the creation of a foundation for the Association of Albanian Publishers and Association of Albanian Writers. Demands were also made to split up the Theatre of Nationalities into an Albanian Theatre and Turkish Theatre etc.

The ethnic conflict in 2001 (re-)opened certain multicultural questions and the treatment of minority rights (primarily of the Albanian ethnic population) in the field of culture. Following the conflict and the institution of the Ohrid Framework Agreement, the Constitution was amended with some specific provisions for the different cultural communities (see also chapter 4.2.8). Some experts say that "the Ohrid Framework Agreement is a new vision for a Third Republic, which is to be radically different from the first one established with ASNOM (Antifascist Parliament of the Peoples Liberation of Macedonia) in 1944, and the second one, inaugurated with the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia". It means specifically that the constitutional amendments from 2001 establish citizenship in the country for all nationalities or ethnic groups living on its territory and adopting its Constitution – the Macedonian people and parts of Albanian, Turkish, Serbian, Roma, and Bosnian people. In this context, some experts say that Macedonian traditions should be kept up and, consequently, the country should become "the pilot-state of 21st century multiculturalism".

[1] In accordance with UN Resolutions 817 and 845 /1993, "the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" is currently being used by the Council of Europe and the European Union as the provisional designation of the country in official and internal documents. Except in the historical parts of the present (non-official) text, this designation is referred to, even if abbreviated in some places for editorial reasons.

Chapter published: 06-10-2015

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