COMPENDIUM CULTURAL POLICIES AND TRENDS IN EUROPE
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Slovenia/ 1. Historical perspective: cultural policies and instruments  

Author: Vesna Copic in cooperation with Andrej Srakar

The historical development of cultural policy in Slovenia has gone through extreme change. Four distinct periods of transition and development of cultural policy following World War II can be identified, which also reflect the major ideological transformations of recent decades. The first three periods take place during the period when Slovenia was one of the six republics of the ex-Yugoslavia, while the last is connected with Slovenia as an independent democratic state:

  • LjubljanaUp to 1953: party-run cultural policy when culture was openly used as a propaganda tool of the Communist machinery;
  • 1953-1974: state-run cultural policy characterised by extreme territorial decentralisation with communities that were not independent self-government entities but primary political units that executed governmental tasks;
  • 1974-1990: self-management system of devolution when cultural programming was delegated to the self-managing cultural communities and the provision of cultural services to cultural producers that were not part of the administration but separate legal entities; and
  • 1990-present: parliamentary democracy, with a return of cultural policy in the hands of public authorities and their state apparatus.

As is true of most small countries, it was through culture that Slovenes constituted themselves not only as a nation but also as a state. It is from this special emphasis on culture that the so-called "Slovenian cultural syndrome" was derived. Thus, it is not surprising that the starting point of the disintegration of Yugoslavia, in the 1980’s, was the Slovenian fear of jeopardising its culture, language and national identity, which was provoked by an attempt by the central government in Belgrade to unify national interests and subordinate them to the Serbian majority, through the mandatory core Yugoslav curriculum of literature and language ("Yugoslav cultural canon"). This fear united professionals, intellectuals and politicians, regardless of their ideological or political orientation. Driven by "centrifugal forces of ethno-politics and ethno-economics" Slovenia became a nation state for the first time in June 1991, when the Eastern Bloc of Cold War started to collapse, which removed the most compelling Western reason for working to keep the Yugoslav state together.

The central role that culture played throughout Slovenia's history created an atmosphere whereby artists had more "space" to develop their own projects and to organise themselves in independent associationseven during the socialist regime. Although in the years following the Second World War, certain writers and a list of books were removed from public libraries, the state systematically established new cultural institutions, enabled operation of central professional associations and supported the works of artists, recognising the power of culture in creating the new order and showing how flourishing, inspiring and successful it was. With an effective system of administrative measures, the state also "intervened" in their work through administrative measures to suppress problematic journals (for example Beseda (1956), Revija 57 (1958), Perspektive (1964)), or ban suspicious artistic texts (for example Muževna steblika (1967)) or performances (for example Topla greda (1974)) and even to close avant-garde theatres (for example Oder 57). On the other hand, they allowed the establishment and funding of new ones all over again. Since a well-thought and effective system of preliminary censorship was set in place, plays, films, books, and performances were often banned before the opening, or in the middle of rehearsals (an intervention always executed silently and invisibly to the public) and almost no documents or traces survive of these cases. The result was a very small number of Slovenian political decedents and an overwhelming public apparatus that absorbed the majority of the most important intellectuals and artists. The relationship between the political authority and civil society could be therefore defined as a repressive tolerance. There were also some taboos, such as the publications of political immigrants who left the country at the end of the World War II to escape Communist persecution and kept a very intensive cultural life in diaspora.

But there is also a strong social-democratic element to be found emerging with great vigour after 1945, when the masses were to be given access to the arts which had been previously only been accessible to the rich and the disgraced aristocracy. Collectivisation of arts went along with another expression of de-elitisation of art going through the cultural policy, favouring amateur culture, which therefore permitted the setting up of cultural associations. Therefore, three parallel cultural scenes evolved at the end of the 1970s / beginning of the 1980s; often in opposition to each other: established institutional culture supported by the authorities, amateur culture assisted by quasi-governmental umbrella organisations and independent alternative culture tolerated at the margins. Due to the preferential treatment of "progressive", "socialist" currents, the first two components enjoyed structural funding while the third one got some project funding occasionally.

When most of Europe was creating centralised models for cultural policies during the 1950s and 1960s, Slovenia, like other Yugoslav republics went through a process of decentralisation. Contrary to the "positive image" decentralisation has today, the lack of local money almost destroyed the institutional cultural network in Slovenia and the process was viewed by prominent artists as a facade and a manipulation in order to break cultural nationalism in all six republics of ex-Yugoslavia into harmless units and to enable, via the local level, easier control over "fragmented" culture. Another important feature in the general political scene of the late 1960s was some attempts at liberalism in the economy but the process was associated with the national egoism of the most developed republics; the liberals were slipping from power and became a target of conservative ire.

Although the cultural policy was affected, in the first part of the1970s, by a clash with the liberalism of the late 1960s, the development of cultural policy took a sharp turn when Slovenia was granted more autonomy from the Yugoslav Federation in the area of culture. This era was otherwise known as the period of "self-management" when responsibility for cultural programming was delegated to the cultural communities, where it was debated and created by both producers and consumers of culture. Thus, in the field of cultural policy, political units (the republic and the local communities) were replaced by interest units (cultural communities). Local cultural communities (approximately 60) had a great deal of power in decision-making and resource allocation on the local level. According to the concept of polycentric development, the larger municipalities became cultural centres (ca. 25) and decentralisation remained a key political orientation. Later, national culture finally obtained its place within the Cultural Community of Slovenia and, in the 1980s a national cultural policy platform was created. Considered to be one of the most important periods in Slovene cultural policy history, the Cultural Community of Slovenia and 60 local cultural communities formed a strong administrative apparatus, which raised the level of cultural policy-making, empowered its place in society and created favourable conditions for cultural development. From a functional aspect, the self-management model proved to be ineffective as it was overregulated, centralised and exclusive. The author of the system was himself aware of the increasing conviction of his contemporaries that self- management is at best a formality and at worst a fraud. According to the well known sociologist Josip Županov, the system was considered utopian, with little connection to reality, It experienced economic failure even before political difficulties occurred. The self-management system came to an end in 1989, but the utopian nature of the self-management model was evident already in the middle 1980s, when an economic recession forced the state to take over the local funds for cultural institutions in order to preserve them.

Separate laws for each cultural activity were created as each was "of special social concern". The main difference between the Western European system of public service and the Socialist regulationin Slovenia is the following:

  • the public service system is only an organisational forum for public authorities to organise cultural provision without any ambition to drive out private cultural providers; and
  • the socialist model highly regulated cultural activities and entrusted them to the institutional monopoly and the professional initiatives of private organisations, i.e. alternative culture was forced to withdraw into the sphere of amateur culture.

Only in the 1980s did the state allow the possibility for private activities in the sphere of culture and the status of a freelance artist and special register were introduced. Before the introduction of this status, there were only state artists to whom the state provided social security contributions, while tolerating that some technical film workers and translators settled their pension assurance directly with the agency. Similarly, the central artistic associations, which functioned as para-governmental organisations, were also budget-financed. The state in this manner controlled all the organisational forms. Nevertheless, the Association of Slovenian Writers evolved into a driving force for democratic change and independence.

After the death of the charismatic socialist leader Josip Broz Tito, the communist party started to lose its undisputed position. The authorities became insecure and at the same time apprehensive about democratic and social processes striving to achieve independence. They became aware of the actors fuelling these processes originating mainly from the cultural field. Culture was certainly a cradle nurturing these processes. The 1980s were, therefore, the golden years for the Slovenian cultural infrastructure and its artists: from the point of view of artistic freedom and societal financial support.

In spite of the adoption of a new legal framework in 1996 (Exercising of the Public Interest in the Field of Culture Act (now translated as the Act Regulating the Realisation of the Public Interest in the Field of Culture)to replace the self-management cultural model with a democratic paradigm, the cultural system has not yet experienced significant structural changes in terms of shifting from paternalistic to neoliberal discourse. In fact the image of the democratic transition in the arts context was far from the cultural policy trends going on in the 1990s in Western Europe; trends which have been marked by a pervasive managerialist and market reasoning in the public sector that undermined the autonomy of art. On the contrary, the sector's strong belief in artistic autonomy anticipated the cultural policy inspired by legacies of romanticism and idealism based on certain norms such as "subsidy for arts' sake" and "funding without strings". Therefore the democratic transition has never meant any sacrifice of artistic goals to the whims of the democratic majority or neoliberal tendencies. A weak cultural market with underdeveloped support schemes and tax incentives could not present a reliable alternative to the traditional model. Without any additional budgetary injections to place culture in the centre of social development and mobilise its economic potential, the only natural response was a defensive attitude towards changes that resulted in the perpetuation of traditional meanings and functions of culture.

The democratisation of culture in Slovenia had already started with the self-management system. Therefore, the Slovenian cultural policy developed at an incremental pace during the process of transition in the 1990s. In the new situation, when culture lost its ideological and national-legitimisation potential, the transition was therefore reduced to accommodating democratic procedures. The former socialist concept of culture as the area of special social meaning was translated into the democratic concept of public interest for culture, where the responsibility for cultural policy was, after the abolishment of the self-management system in 1990, returned to public authorities. The socio-political governance structure executed through cultural communities was transformed into a representative democracy, where decisions were taken by elected politicians on the national and local levels. The system of juries of peers nominated by a minister to decide on the quality of the artistic propositions was established but with an advisory role, as the final decision rests with the minister. However, the ministers as a rule follow the proposals of the juries. In the situation of the ever smaller project funds this system could also serve as an alibi for the absence of political engagement. The public authorities now equipped with the democrat mandate left the field of culture to become an internal affair of the cultural circles as it lost its previous central role in nation-building. The positive notion of the arm`s length principle has blurred the problem of such political marginalisation of the cultural sector, which consequently became more insular and inward looking. In this situation, the explosive growth of the cultural industries, the digital revolution and the liberal trade pressure found cultural policy and the cultural sector unprepared. After the abolition of the self-management system, there was no explicit cultural policy in Slovenia until the adoption of a new National Programme for Culture 2004-2007. But even afterwards no structural changes have happened.

Therefore all essential systemic transitional changes were brought by the general reforms such as privatisation, local community reform, the public finance system, the tax system and the civil service system. The latest system that was based on the traditional bureaucratic model of all employees as public servants was accepted by both the cultural policy and cultural sector without any hesitation.

The changes can be summarised as follows:

  • the privatisation of publishing houses, cinemas and the media;
  • the de-nationalisation of some venues previously used for cultural purposes including some cultural monuments that were given back to their former owners (in both cases mainly the Roman Catholic Church);
  • new higher taxes on cultural goods and services;
  • the reform of local government and the introduction of integral local government budgeting, where the local governments self-define their own priorities;
  • attempts to set objectives for programme budgeting and related financing;
  • the enforcement of a unified salary system for all civil and public servants, rigid hiring-firing and administratively regulated promotions; and
  • overall explosion of auditing activity with constant checking and verification.

Although international foundations such as the Open Society Institute invested some resources in the modernisation of the cultural sector, it was limited to independent cultural projects, organisations and art initiatives. This support has not succeeded in creating the critical mass of organisations and individuals that would have the capacity to initiate new production and dissemination forms and models. When this assistance ended, the Slovenian independent cultural scene found itself in financial insecurity, which remains a parallel structure without serious chance of becoming part of the mainstream. Meanwhile, the mainstream cultural infrastructure, composed of public institutions, preserves the characteristics of state bureaucracy with the system of public servants at the top.

Slovenia began accession negotiations with the European Union in 1996 and became a member state in 2004. The harmonisation of legislation, and its implementation in the field of culture, began mainly in two areas: the harmonisation of media legislation with the European Television Without Frontiers Directive and the introduction of VAT (in accordance with the 6th Directive of the EU) on books and audio-visual material. The latter has had a negative impact on Slovenia's culture industries. The question regarding the implementation of the Council Directive on Rental and Lending Rights and on Certain Rights Related to Copyright remains open. Slovenia's position is to maintain library compensation measures in all public libraries and not on authors' copyright. It was also necessary to amend legislation considered discriminatory for the citizens of EU Member states, i.e. in the field of employment, the establishment of business etc.

The moment of joining the EU could be considered as the end of the transitional period, at least concerning all those areas that fell under acquis communitaire. Although culture represents an area of shared responsibility between member states and the EU, the principle of subsidiarity preserves national sovereignty over non-commercial cultural activities. In spite of the fundamental changes in the political and economic spheres, significant structural transition in the public cultural sector has not occurred yet. Thus, the huge infrastructure of public cultural organisations has remained unexamined, unchanged and unchallenged and doubt regarding its functional and rational operation is further eroding its credibility.


Chapter published: 11-02-2015

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