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Serbia/ 3.4 International cultural co-operation  

3.4.2 Public actors and cultural diplomacy

Cultural diplomacy is lead independently by each level of government, sporadically, without plan or general concept, mostly based on traditional established links. Even existing contracts are not seen as an obligation for strategic actions, so cultural diplomacy is mostly re-active (responding to demands from abroad). The most important actor in international cultural cooperation is the city of Belgrade, creating and financing the most important international event in Serbia for each domain of art (October Salon / Visual Arts, FEST / Film, BEMUS / Music, BITEF / Theatre, Belgrade Book Fair / Literature), as well as for different generations and types of audiences (Belef / summer festival, The Joy of Europe / children's creativity, etc.). An agreement between the Ministry of Culture and the city of Belgrade has been made that regulates the joint support of the Belgrade festivals of national importance.

The new, most important ambition regarding European integration has been the decision of Belgrade City Council to compete for the title of European Cultural Capital 2020. The Organisational Board has been created and started preparing a candidacy through a series of public debates.

The role of cultural agencies and institutes was extremely important in the first few years of re-opening Serbia to the world, bringing new types of issues within the cultural debate and helping institutional reform. However, only ProHelvetia, through the Swiss Cultural Programme (SCP) in the West Balkans, was still supporting local and regional cultural activities (the local office in Serbia was closed  December 2009), while all the other similar organisations just organise promotional programmes relating to their own culture, or are supporting their own agendas, regardless of real community needs (e.g. the British Council completely closed the library in Belgrade and almost lost its independence in supporting locally relevant projects; the French Cultural Centre severely reduced the budget for Serbia). As a result of the economic crisis, forecasts are even more pessimistic concerning support from the cultural agencies and foreign cultural centres.

It can be said that instruments of international cultural cooperation are not developed and used within certain strategies and programmes. There is no system to enable the long term commitment of public bodies, especially financial (guarantees for the programmes which have to happen in future), which prevents cultural managers from organising big international events or network meetings (although for major sport events, the government is ready to provide such guarantees).

Training is sporadically organised by foreign cultural centres and embassies, in the fields where those embassies decide, or according to NGO or cultural institution initiatives (no Ministry policy involved). This means that the American Embassy organises fundraising training, while Italy is bringing in experts for restoration and conservation, etc. The UNESCO Chair for Cultural Policy and Management at the University of Arts, Belgrade developed a joint Masters programme with two French universities (I.E.P. Grenoble and University Lyon II), and involving other European partners. Another joint Masters programme has been developed and enlisted students for the first time in October 2008 at University of Belgrade: Masters in preventive protection and conservation, contributing to the development of heritage protection professionals.

It is very difficult to make an assessment of trends in public financial support for international cultural co-operation, as there is no specific budget line or current statistical data, and as projects are supported through "disciplinary" categories (so, it is not certain if they had an international component and if they got public financing for this component).

Within the framework of cultural diplomacy, the Ministry of Culture, Media and Information Society organised the promotion of cultural heritage and contemporary art in the multilateral organisations, such as the Council of Europe in Strasbourg (photo exhibition of Serbian landscapes, 2007; concert of Philharmonic Orchestra in Strasbourg, 2007), European Commission (exhibition of Fortresses on the Danube, 2010), UNESCO (exhibition of Fortresses on the Danube, 2011), European Parliament in Brussels (copies of frescoes 2010, paintings of M.P.Barilli, 2011) and, at the end of 2011, in the United Nations in Geneva, there will be an exhibition dedicated to the Nobel prize winner, writer I.Andric. Besides traditional and fine art exhibitions, the Ministry of Culture initiates other forms of art promotion of Serbian culture (e.g. photo exhibition "Land of promises, Serbia", or international concerts of eminent young musicians, etc.).

In 2010 in Brussels, the Museum of Instruments organised a concert and the donation of Serbian traditional mostly wind instruments.

In the last several years, the Ministry of Culture presented a gift of several art works of eminent Serbian artists to international organisations such as the:

  • Council of Europe - sculpture "To Breathe and to Drink", Mrdjan Bajic, 2007 (on the occasion of the Serbian Presidency of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, from May to November 2007);
  • European Commission in Brussels – painting "Rikalo in the Fall", Bora Iljovski, 2008 (on the occasion of the announced signing of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement between Serbia and the European Union); and
  • United Nations in Geneva – painting "Poudriere", Marija Dragojlovic, 2011 (on the occasion of 90 years of diplomatic missions of Serbia to the United Nations).

The exhibition of frescoes from the most significant monasteries in Serbia at the National museum – Frescoes Gallery, initiated by the Ministry of Culture, has already touring for several years throughout Europe. Last year it went to France and Belgium and this year to Italy - Florence, Rome, Viterbo, and the latest information is that several copies will be permanently donated to the famous Church Santa Croce in Florence (grave of Michelangelo and Galileo), at the special request of the Church. A similar request was made by the church of Viterbo. All churches are under the Vatican.

The Serbian Cultural Centre in Paris is another platform for presenting Serbian culture abroad. In late 2014, there was, for the first time, an open call for non-institutional actors to apply for the right to present their works and projects in Paris.

Chapter published: 14-08-2015

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