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Different political opinions and approaches to the organisation of culture in Serbia are impacting on projects and institutions.

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Serbia/ 4. Current issues in cultural policy development and debate  

4.1 Main cultural policy issues and priorities

In January 2001, the new government of Serbia was established and initiated the transition towards the market economy and democracy. At that time, new cultural policy objectives were introduced (see chapter 2.1). New priorities were established, initially stressing the reform of the Ministry structure, creating new procedures and taking urgent action to eliminate the impact of previous policy decisions. Emphasis was placed on institutional reform (new management approaches), analysis and evaluation of the situation of each public institution and each field of art and cultural activity. Absolute priority was to stabilise the field, which meant to work on new legislation.

In 2005, priority was given to the renewal of the cultural infrastructure such as a network of cinemas, network of local libraries and cultural centres. Efforts have been increased to develop new legislation for culture in accordance with European standards.

In 2006, the government accepted a proposal of the Ministry of Finance concerning the realisation of the National Investment Plan in the period of 2006-2011 with the seven areas of priority: education, modernisation of the health care system and environment protection, transportation infrastructure, economic development (employment, entrepreneurship, energy, waterpower engineering, science and tourism), building, improvement in living standards (sport, culture and social care) and advancement of government management. Ministries, local governments, non-governmental organisations and others proposed projects in these fields.

The Ministry of Culture selected 50 priority projects, which were supposed to be supported within the framework of the National Investment Plan in 2006 and 2007.

By the end of 2006, responsibility for allocation and monitoring of the realisation of the National Investment Plan was transferred to the Office for the National Investment Plan, which was closed in 2010. Support to cultural infrastructural projects had a budget of 22.89 million EUR in 2007, which represents 3.2% of the total budget of the National Investment Plan in that year. 80 cultural projects were selected, which were supported through different levels of public authorities: the budget of 18.7 million EUR was allocated to supporting cultural institutions on the state level; a budget of 4.1 million EUR was allocated for provincial institutions; and 73 950 EUR was allocated to cultural institutions in the territory of Kosovo. It would be interested to mention that there was discrepancy between planed and realised budget for cultural projects. For example, in official list of projects which should be supported through National Investment Plan (publish in 2006) the planed budget for cultural projects was 33.34 million EUR and real investment 2007 is about 70% of planed investment (22.89 million EUR). There are still unclear criteria for reducing amount of money dedicated for different projects, especially if we have in mind that annual decision for transfer of money was revised several times in 2007. In 2008 the budget for 26 cultural projects was 7.8 million EUR which represents 1.3% of the total budget of the National Investment Plan in 2008.

Support for cultural projects have a budget of 50 million EUR (in 2006 – 16.57 million EUR and in 2007 – 33.43 million EUR) which represents 3.97 % of the total budget of the National Investment Plan for the period 2006 -2007 (1 649 million EUR).

Since the start of the economic crisis, the majority of investments in culture through the National Investment Plan were either stopped or slowed down, and the situation is not promising for the future of these projects. The strategy for cultural development of the Republic of Serbia should be approved by the Serbian Parliament (expected in 2012), and developed for a period of 10 years.

In 2009, according to more defined policies, the Ministry focused on programmes that should contribute to systemic changes in the cultural field, such as the approval of new laws and regulations (a new Law on Culture from 2009 outlined the reconstruction of the cultural system); support to professional education, especially support to education and training which would facilitate participation of projects from Serbia in European and international competitions.

The sporadic violent and tragic events, as a legacy of the 1990s, still continue in different forms. Violence by criminals hiding behind groups of football supporters, connected with the homophobic nationalistic political groups ("Obraz", "1389") which promote ideas close to fascism, helped by the consequences of the economic crisis, were seen on the streets of Belgrade (an assault on police in stadiums; cancelling of the gay "Pride Parade" in the centre of Belgrade because of threats by nationalistic groups; the murder of a French supporter and assaults on foreigners). These events mobilised society to rethink their values. The cultural sector (especially cultural NGO's) joined these efforts strongly with new, socially engaged programmes and actions. In this respect, the Pride Parade was successfully organised on 10 October 2010 in a Belgrade centre, with extreme mobilisation of the police force, but nationalist extremists succeeded in causing violence and damage to public spaces. However, in 2011 and 2012, the Pride parade was cancelled, as state authorities could not guarantee the safety of participants. Finally, in 2014, the Parade was organised again with a large police presence, however without any open conflict despite the fact that many religious and nationalist groups announced their plans to oppose the event.

Apart from the Parade, in 2013 and 2014, several key events disturbed the cultural field and reinforced some old divides in society as well as opened some new ones. One of those was Belgrade's big urban regeneration project Belgrade Waterfront. Dubbed as a big hope for the Capital, this regeneration project situated in the old district of Savamala (which has grown in a grass-roots manner into a cultural quarter) is heavily promoted by the government. Many controversial urban developments funded by money from the United Emirates already appeared in 2014 and many civil organisations, artists and activists started protesting (for example, this year's Kondenz festival of contemporary dance was devoted to questioning such urban developments and there is a coalition set up against it – Ne davimo Beograd– Do not let Belgrade be drowned). This large scale event has helped to form an anti-capitalist (anti-neoliberal) front in the city, recently backed even by the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences to the surprise of all (mostly leftist activists found themselves side by side with mostly right-wing intellectuals which Academia usually represents). Neo-liberal policies are often perceived as a key trigger of cultural failure in the country. In the 2013 protests of cultural workers, leftist critique was mostly present with calls for the state to support and defend the cultural system from market and commercial contents. Similar anti-capitalist discourse in public policy can be found in the recent Occupy Cinema action in Belgrade in which a group of young activists occupied and re-used the privatised cinema Zvezda (in November 2014).

Another dividing line in the cultural field is an old "Nationalist vs. Pro-European" divide. Several events have shown the relevance of such opposition. In 2013 the previous Minister for Culture supported several controversial projects aimed at promoting conservative national culture (tight collaboration with the Serbian Orthodox Church, Milan Edict, etc.) In the city of Novi Sad, the capital of Vojvodina province, a Cultural Centre has made a sharp turn to conservative policy under new management. Changing the logo from Latin to Cyrillic font and using censorship to defend religious feelings of orthodox believers, new management has sent a clear message of re-traditionalisation. The culmination of this conflict is perhaps the recent (November 2014) change in the Belgrade Culture secretariat - now under conservative and nationalistic leadership. A very unpopular move by the Secretariat was to change the functioning of the October Salon from Annual to Biennial and the mission of exhibiting contemporary European visual arts to showcasing local artists to the world.

Chapter published: 14-08-2015

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