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Slovakia/ 1. Historical perspective: cultural policies and instruments  

Author: Martin Smatlak

In the course of the twentieth century, Slovakia underwent a number of fundamental social and political changes. These changes always had a strong influence on the cultural development and the cultural policy in force in the territory of Slovakia. After the fall of the multi-ethnic Austro-Hungarian monarchy at the end of the First World War, Slovaks had the opportunity to become a state-forming nation. The establishment of the first Czechoslovak Republic on 28 October 1918 created the conditions for the existence of Slovakia in a historically new social and political context. Slovak political leaders approved the Czechoslovak state at the meeting of the Slovak National Council, which adopted the Declaration of the Slovak Nation on 30 October 1918.Bratislava Old Town

The creation of Czechoslovakia was the first time in history that international recognition was given to Slovakia's borders and its capital city - Bratislava. Slovak became the official language of the state, education and the church on the territory of Slovakia. At this time, there was also great development in the institutional base and the value of Slovak culture, art and education - the first Slovak university (Comenius University in Bratislava) was established in 1919; in 1920 the Slovak National Theatre was established; there was also development in Slovak museums (the Slovak Museum was established in Bratislava in 1924) and a number of cultural, artistic and public education societies were established. The largest of them, the Matica Slovenská (Slovak Matica or cultural society), first established during the Slovak national revival in the nineteenth century (1863), renewed its cultural and education activities in 1919 and began the collection of a national library. From the beginning of its existence as a state, Slovakia had to address the issue of its Hungarian minority and their culture. Slovakia was the significantly less economically developed part of the new state and the Slovak economy returned to pre-war production levels only in 1937. Czechoslovakia managed to retain a democratic form of government. Its weakness was the unitary character of the state and the constitutionally-enshrined concept of a unified Czechoslovak nation. This political and cultural concept provoked several nationally-oriented political parties to seek to establish an autonomous status for Slovakia within the common state.

After the international political re-drawing of Czechoslovakia's borders (the Munich Agreement), Slovakia declared its autonomy in October 1938. The Vienna arbitration of 2 November 1938 re-drew the borders of Slovakia and Carpathian Ruthenia in favour of the Kingdom of Hungary. Thereafter, on 14 March 1939, the first independent Slovak Republic was established, albeit strongly dependent on Nazi Germany in both domestic and foreign policy. The nation state based its cultural policy on the national and revivalist trends of the nineteenth century. It emphasised the national dimension of culture and its role as a tool in creating and strengthening national and state identity. The wartime economic boom encouraged the development of the economy and allowed new cultural, scientific and educational institutions to be established. On 1 May 1941, the Slovak National Library was established as a part of the Matica Slovenská. On 2 July 1942, the Slovak parliament voted to establish the Slovak Academy of Sciences and Arts. The media were also developed in accordance with state propaganda - on 16 June 1939, Slovenský Rozhlas (Slovak Radio) was established as a separate broadcaster. The state encouraged the development of film production in Slovakia - on 7 November 1939, the Nástup corporation was established to produce, distribute and develop films. The cultural policy of the independent wartime state was influenced by national ideology and state propaganda, which largely defined the values of Slovak culture in this period.

A counterweight to the official state ideology was the anti-fascist resistance undertaken both within Slovakia and abroad during the Second World War. It led to the restoration of Czechoslovakia after the war as a common state with a parliamentary democracy and an equal social and political status for Slovaks. The Communist Party obtained a strong political position thanks to its role in the resistance and its relationship with the Soviet Union. The decisions of the great powers, after the Second World War, placed Czechoslovakia in the Soviet sphere of influence. The parliamentary elections of 1946 were won by the Communists in the Czech lands and the Democratic Party in Slovakia. Such political differences could not be sustained for long in the post-war environment. The Communist Party gradually radicalised the political scene and staged a coup to seize power in February 1948. The new political regime gradually liquidated civil rights, its political opponents and independent institutions. Czechoslovakia became dependent on the Soviet Union in both its foreign and internal policies. Private ownership of businesses and services in all sectors of the economy and agriculture was terminated. At this time, the basic organisational infrastructure of education and culture in Slovakia was completed. New national cultural institutions were established - the Slovak National Gallery (1948), the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra (1949) and the Slovak Monuments Board (1951). Film studios were gradually established in Bratislava from the 1950s onwards. Arts education also began to develop - in 1949, legislation established two arts academies in Bratislava (the Academy of Music and the Performing Arts, the Academy of Fine Arts) and a network of elementary art schools was gradually developed. Later, the Faculty of Arts of Comenius University undertook research and began to offer education in the theory and history of culture.

During the socialist period, 1948-1989, cultural policy in Czechoslovakia was based mainly on the use of culture as an ideological instrument. The implementation of cultural policy and policy instruments was determined by official government ideology and its need for propaganda. Censorship was applied and selected cultural values were enforced. The management of cultural activities, organisations and professional associations was controlled by the state and the bodies of the Communist Party. The highest authority of the state administration with responsibility for culture was the Ministry with responsibility for Slovakia. Like every other area (ministry) of state administration, culture had a political counterpart or "supervisor" in the corresponding department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Initially, the state administration managed culture in combination with other areas (schools, public education). An independent Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Socialist Republic was established in 1969. At the lower levels of the state administration, culture was the responsibility of the national commissions (local authorities of state administration). The Communist Party ascribed an important role to culture in the development of the "new society and person". The regime gave a special status to the audiovisual media (radio, television, film), traditional folk culture (with the establishment of many folklore groups and events) and public education activities (amateur organisations as an instrument for increasing the availability of culture to broad layers of the population). The national dimension of culture and cultural identity was suppressed and emphasis was placed on socialist internationalism, uniformity in the opinions and values of cultural expression and the educational function of culture. A positive consequence of the communist thesis of bringing culture to the masses was the development of a network of basic art schools, which remains even today an exceptional instrument of cultural policy in the area of arts education and cultural activities for young people.

The main instruments controlling the cultural policy of the socialist state were the resolutions and programming documents of the individual bodies of the Communist Party. Cultural policy was implemented by cultural organisations, leagues and associations controlled by communist censorship. Foreign cooperation in the area of culture focussed almost exclusively on countries in the socialist block or mainly left-oriented cultural expression in Western countries. Freedom of expression in art was suppressed, deforming the evolution of values in culture and its constituent disciplines. The result was an imbalance between the development of the cultural infrastructure and the growth in the state's investment in culture on the one hand, and the censorship and restriction of diversity in cultural values on the other.

The pressure of the ideological limitations led to the creation of various informal cultural associations and unofficial cultural activity. Cultural dissent was much less influential in Slovak society than in Czech lands, where communist repression was much more intensive after the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Informal "alternative" cultural, social and political activities took place on the platform of associations for the protection of nature and landscape, cultural communities and independent art groups or within Christian fellowships. The significance of such activities was mainly the preservation of contact between Slovak cultural and artistic activities and the international (especially Western) cultural context and the creation and presentation of alternative cultural and artistic values.

The fall of the communist dictatorship in 1989 introduced new principles to the functioning of society. In the new social order, the first priority was to establish democratic political structures and state authorities, the transformation of the economy and legislation. In the new democracy, culture was to become an identifier of value that would balance economic and social development. The new status of culture was due to the active participation of some cultural personalities in the political and social changes (Slovak theatre artists and other artists played an important part in rousing the population in November 1989). In the area of cultural policy, the main effects were the lifting of censorship and ideological supervision, freedom in artistic creation, equal rights for a diversity of cultural creation and creators, the introduction of transparent financing for diverse cultural activities and the search for new partnerships through international cooperation. Many previously banned books and films could be distributed and there were many new festivals and cultural events. It became possible for private entrepreneurs to do business in the field of culture (book and music publishing, film, magazines, production and agency activities for culture) and the former state monopoly organisations in these areas were destined for privatisation. Change in the Copyright Act strengthened the rights of authors, performers and producers and brought these rights into line with European standards. In 1991, the state cultural fund Pro Slovakia was established as a new source of financing for cultural activities and projects. The fund was managed by the Ministry of Culture. Despite a number of steps in the right direction and positive decisions, cultural policy did not become a clearly elaborated or enacted priority of the new political elites after November 1989.

A special issue that the Ministry of Culture dealt with at that time was the relationship between the state and the churches and religious societies. The main task was to settle questions of ownership in relation to church real estate, the Act on the Freedom of Religious Belief, and the Act on the Registration of Churches and Religious Societies. The state grant to the activity of churches and religious societies remained part of the budget of the Ministry of Culture.

After the reorganisation of local state administrative authorities (the former national committees), it was necessary to address the question of the financing of local cultural organisations. In 1999, 157 such organisations were brought under the control of the Ministry of Culture and by the start of 1992, 230 cultural organisations had come under the direct management of the ministry. This situation was intended to ensure the preservation of local and regional culture until the transformation of public administration was completed and the tax system had been reformed. One result of this temporary centralisation of financial and organisational management was that transformation processes in culture took place without a systematic framework and sometimes with destructive consequences for culture (for example, the collapse of film production, the deformation of the book market, the stagnation of the public media). Cultural policy was directed towards quick solutions to specific problems; the ministry did not have a long-term development strategy or the necessary financial and human resources to transform the system.

After 1989, the term cultural policy fell out of use for a time in Slovak specialist and political discourse. The cause was mainly the association of this term with the policy of the previous regime and its political manipulation and ideological censorship of culture. The search for new meaning, content and means for cultural policy continues in Slovakia to the present day. In this area, it is also symptomatic that after 1989, very few political parties gave culture its own place in their election manifestos and mainly limited comment to a few general political phrases. Despite the continuing lack of a long term strategy for cultural development and long term priorities for cultural policies, there was a discussion in Slovakia after 1989 of the majority of fundamental issues that had been argued over in European countries in the 1980s and 1990s. This discussion also included differences of opinion which lead to the break up of several professional artistic associations and the establishment of many new interest groups in culture.

After a short period of spontaneous social freedom and enthusiasm for the rapid and peaceful change in the political regime, it was necessary to manage transformation processes and the new state organisation. A milestone in the development of Slovak culture was the adoption of the Constitution of the Slovak Republic (Act 490/1992). For the area of culture, the constitution primarily codified the Slovak language as the state language, guaranteed freedom of expression and the right to information, banned censorship, guaranteed the freedom of scientific research and the arts, gave legal protection to the results of creative intellectual activity and guaranteed the right of access to cultural heritage.

Politics in Czechia and Slovakia developed in different directions and after the elections in 1992, this resulted in the break-up of Czechoslovakia and the establishment of two independent states from 1 January 1993. In contrast to the civic principle of the common state, in independent Slovakia the priority was the national and state principle. This gradually led to increased administrative centralisation in the management of culture and the distribution of finances for cultural activities. The ministry established so-called national methodological centres for the individual areas of culture (theatre, music, galleries, monuments, museums, the audiovisual arts, public education, the media) at a national level and regional cultural centres were established to manage culture at a local level. The Ministry of Culture gave increased legislative attention to questions of the state language and its use (an Act on the State Language and related legislation were passed). The Matica Slovenská acquired an important status and state funding, under a separate law, making it a national public cultural institution. The result of this enhanced status was the gradual transfer of its activities into the political domain. This weakened the previous cultural traditions and values of this historic cultural and educational institution.

After the elections in 1998, there was a sharp change in Slovakia's political orientation. The new government aimed for Slovakia's faster entry into the European Union and NATO and faster transformation processes in the economy and certain other social systems (welfare and social services, health care, the military, and education). A national strategy for long-term sustainable development was adopted. Changes in the structure of cultural organisations took place as a result of the Strategy for the reform of public administration in the Slovak Republic. The Ministry of Culture prepared specific measures for the culture sector based on this strategy in 1999. This involved mainly the reorganisation of state administration related to the protection of monuments and the decentralisation of the ministry's management of 152 cultural organisations. The transfer of these powers to new territorial administrative authorities (self-governing regions - see  chapter 3.2) was completed in 2002.

In cultural policy, there began to be greater approximation of legislation and instruments of cultural policy with European documents and programmes (especially in relation to the audiovisual arts and the media, the protection of cultural heritage and cultural diversity). In 2000, Slovakia joined the European Programme on National Cultural Policy Reviews. The Ministry of Culture prepared a National Report on Cultural Policy, which it officially submitted to the Council of Europe in February 2003. On the basis of this report, the ministry submitted the Strategy for state cultural policy and the action plan for its implementation for discussion to the government in 2004. The rationale for the document states that in the period from 1989 "culture in Slovakia has undergone - in the context of other social changes - continuous changes in the institutional system and gradual stagnation of financial resources, but has not yet produced an overall, formalised vision of the strategy for the development of the cultural sector". The government approved the submitted material in November 2004 as a general framework for long-term cultural development and for further practical measures in the area of cultural policy.

Despite the fact that the main part of the document (the strategy) contained mainly general declarations and opinions, it was the first time that the government of the Slovak Republic had considered material on its cultural strategy. A new definition of cultural policy was added to the political and social context. This emphasised its recognition of responsibility for continuous state support for the cultural development of the country and its population. Terms such as cultural diversity, instruments of cultural policy, monitoring of cultural policy, cultural infrastructure and many others became part of political and academic discussion. The practical implementation of cultural policy was expected, thereby, to produce a long term framework for strategy and promising directions for the development of culture in Slovakia. The adoption of this document allowed the basic objective of cultural policy, which is to change the relationship of society and political structures to culture, to progress in the direction of the reform of the institutional and financial framework of cultural policy in Slovakia.

Chapter published: 16-02-2011

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