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Romania/ 1. Historical perspective: cultural policies and instruments  

Author: Liviu Chelcea in cooperation with Bianca-Maria Bălşan

From 1945 until 1989 and with a few short periods of relapse (1965-1971), Romania was the theatre for one of the most refined and detailed totalitarian experiments in Eastern Europe. Naturally, culture was one of the most affected fields, as the state grip on individual private lives and collective mentalities alike was all-encompassing.Palace of the Parliament

In 1948, a new regime was established, the People's Republic, which was progressively placed under the single rule of the Romanian Communist Party. During 1948-1949, all the other traditional political parties were brutally disbanded and most of their leaders imprisoned. As a member of Kominform (the international structure of Communist parties for media and culture), COMECON and the Warsaw Pact in the economic and military / strategic fields, Romania started to implement the socialist Zhdanov Doctrine, also known as "socialist realism", at the domestic level. This Doctrine prescribed the obedience of all actors in cultural life towards the new regime, correlated with state control of the whole "cultural chain", from budgetary resources and printing facilities, to the very content of cultural products that had to be adapted and aligned to the new Soviet directed standards.

All media, including television, was placed under close censorship, both through the presence of political propaganda by specialised departments and through the close monitoring of all forms of media content.

This firm grasp on cultural and creative life was accompanied by the progressive multiplication of various administrative entities and structures such as the Propaganda Secretariat of the Communist Party Central Committee and the National Council of Socialist Education and Culture (NCSEC). The public authority pyramid system was reinforced by the political hierarchy, in close communication and often employing the same human and management resources. Therefore, repression of any attempt at underground culture or challenges was increasingly effective and immediate.

There was a short détente, mainly highlighted by propaganda coups (for example related to the visit of foreign leaders to Romania, such as Charles de Gaulle in 1968 and Richard Nixon in 1969). However, in 1971, a new national cultural programme was introduced, known as "the July Platform" inspired by the Maoist "Cultural Revolution". Thus, this new wave of repression began with culture. Romania entered its "cultural dark ages" defined by an almost complete lack of communication and circulation of cultural goods and values to, and from, the Western world and renewed repression towards artists.

Romania's progress cannot be fully understood and evaluated without taking into account the mutation process in the field of collective mentalities in general, of culture and cultural policies in particular. Following the dereliction and control of the whole system and political behavior before 1989, the 1990s presented a frantic and sometimes incoherent succession of trends.

No less than seven different Ministers of Culture took office between 1990 and 1996, in an attempt to steer the course of reforms adequately and coherently. However, contradictory approaches, resistance of old structures and habits and sometimes a lack of initiative and political backup, coupled with a progressive devaluation of culture's rank in the national budgetary system, reduced the steady pace of change. 1996 marked the arrival to governmental affairs of the Romanian Democratic Convention, a coalition of liberals, social-democrats and Christian-democrats. Significant steps towards pragmatism were made in the cultural field.

The problems related to cultural structures and patterns of public policies are mainly related to the tension between the welfare and liberal mission of the state. Therefore, under the impetus of the Council of Europe, a first evaluation review was organised in 1998 to draft clear instruments and criteria for public cultural policies, adapted to the local context, yet coherent with current European standards.

The second, this time domestic, pressure factor was civil society. More specialised structures (e.g. Ecumest) started to appear in a domestic scene which had been dominated for a long time by generalist NGO "holdings", such as the Soros Open Society Network. Their public impact is far more pragmatic and specifically targeted to the real needs of cultural life. Thus, NGOs started to provide an articulated framework for grants, in order to develop local pilot projects of public interest, public awareness and transparency.

Under these symmetrical pressures, the structures of the Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs (MoCRA) had to evolve, in terms of increased transparency and cooperation, as well as meeting the needs of the stakeholders in the domains of policy and decision- making.

Until 1997, the drafting of public cultural policies was exclusively realised on a closed circuit basis, which included MoCRA's civil servants and those responsible to the Ministry. In 1997, a Consultative Council of the Ministry was set up, with the regular participation of representatives of relevant stakeholders.

In 2001, several Regional Cultural Forums were set up, which analysts considered to be similar to the negative NCSEC precedent. The whole debate was largely characterised by civil society as classic post-electoral "lip-service".

In the autumn of 2005, the new popular liberal coalition, The Justice and Truth Alliance, brought a new, increasingly transparent vision of public cultural policies. MoCRA ceased to be a mere cultural operator, administering and distributing public funds and organising events. It aimed to complete the transfer of its competencies related to the financing of cultural programmes and events to arm's length bodies, such as the recently reorganised National Cultural Fund.

The Public Policy Unit within the Ministry of Culture was established under Government Decision no. 775/2005 in order to approve the Regulation on procedures for drafting, monitoring and evaluating public policies at central level. The Public Policy Unit is subordinated to the General Secretary and acts as a separate department within the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage organisational structure. Regarding public policy, The Ministry of Culture and National Heritage has developed procedures related to tasks, monitoring and evaluation of cultural public policies at central level.

Since 2006, three proposals for public policies have been developed and approved: to redefine institutions and companies in the performing arts, to develop the cultural services in rural and small urban areas, and to commences the digitisation of the national cultural resources. Also, the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage drafted the decentralisation strategy for culture and national cultural heritage strategy and participated in the drafting of the National Strategy for Sustainable Development.

Since 2007 progress has been made regarding the implementation and compliance with European Community law and procedures related to recovery and financing opportunities for Romania as a member of the EU.

Since 2009, The Ministry of Culture and National Heritage works on the basis of Government Decision no. 9/2009, which establishes the principles, general objectives and functions of the ministry and its decentralised services, as well as the organisational structure of the central apparatus and the institutions subordinated under the authority of the coordinating Ministry of Culture, Religion and National Heritage. During 2009 a series of proposals were set out for developing a public policy that supports creativity in culture, a strategy aiming to support and stimulate cultural small and medium sized companies and a strategy for increasing the absorption of non-reimbursable external funds (structural and community) for culture. Romania's relationship with the European Union and all EU issues are covered in the Strategic Plan for the Years 2009-2013 of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, including all cultural, audiovisual and related sectors. Thus, the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage ensures our country`s participation in decision making, actions and community programmes, while maintaining the link between European institutions and competent authorities in the cultural field.

Chapter published: 21-08-2012

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