Recent political and social conflict poses sharp questions for ’culture’ relating to its values, role, influence and place in the development of democracy and modern society.
In February 2014, the new Minister of Culture announced that the ministry will be restructured and a new national cultural strategy.
Author: Olexandr Butsenko
After the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917, a "Ukrainian People's Republic" was proclaimed and was led by outstanding personalities from the cultural field. However, this first Ukrainian state was short lived. Just four years later, in 1921, Ukraine came under Soviet totalitarian rule which lasted for 70 years.
Although the official Soviet propaganda declared this period the "Golden Age" of national cultures it was in fact characterised by the forced deportation of entire cultural communities (Crimean Tatars, German settlers in Ukraine) and severe repression of the nationalist intelligentsia. As N. Khruschov reported at the special closed XX Congress of the Communist Party of the USSR, Stalin had intended to deport all Ukrainian people. Compared to other territories of the former Soviet Empire, the persecution of the bearers of national ideas in Ukraine was more wide-spread and of greater brutality. Whereas the population of the Ukrainian SSR constituted only about 17% of the total Soviet Union population, the share of Ukrainians among the "prisoners of conscience" in the Soviet GULAGs (concentration and labour camps) was more than 50%.
Shortly after the Second World War and during the first half of the 1950s, Ukrainian cultural policy was subject to the principles of the totalitarian state. This included strict centralism. Cultural institutions acted as intermediaries between the official state ideology and society. Through the ideological departments of the central and local communist party committees, the state decided which kind of culture was necessary for the people, and saw to it that cultural and artistic events remained on the "correct" political course. All artists' associations and unions (writers, painters, theatre workers, and architects) were administrated by the state through respective party units operating within these institutions. Independent artists or artists' organisations could not exist outside of this framework. The state also controlled all amateur arts, popular and other non-professional or voluntary organisations in the cultural field. Private cultural entrepreneurship officially didn't exist.
Regardless of these conditions, great efforts were made to disseminate the achievements of world culture among all strata of the Ukrainian population. A lot of attention was paid to the cultural education of young people and to the development of young talents. There was also broad support for amateur and folk art activities and for book publishing. At the regional level, a vast landscape of cultural infrastructure was created and supported by additional budget subsidies. Their operations were not, however, guided by principles of efficiency or meeting the real needs of the communities involved.
On the 24th August, 1991, the Ukraine became an independent national state, signified by the Parliaments (Verkhovna Rada) approval of the Declaration of Independence of the Ukraine. This Act coupled with the results of the All-Ukrainian Referendum of 1 December 1991, when more than 92% of the citizens voted for independence, put an end to ideological dictatorship and created the conditions necessary for the comprehensive development of a national culture.
There was, however, a drastic decrease in public support for culture due to political instability, the economic crisis, and contradictions between democratic goals and market conditions. The lack of a clear medium-term and long-term cultural development strategy resulted in the creation of ad hoc policies at the central and local levels. They are aimed, in most cases, at preserving the existing situation. This situation, along with declarations about false achievements, has provoked indifference and distrust in a large part among the artistic community towards the government.
Dissatisfaction within Ukrainian society became apparent, especially after the events of the so called "Orange Revolution". During the first "post-Orange" months, many meetings, conferences and round tables were organised by dissatisfied artists and cultural producers. Many appeals, requests and letters to change the situation were adopted and submitted to the President and the government. As a result, some new structures (public boards) were established at the Ministry of Culture and in the Presidential Secretariat.
The Presidential Edict of 24 November 2005, N 1647/2005, proclaimed that "ensuring the enrichment and development of culture and spiritual heritage of the Ukrainian society is one of the high-priority tasks of the Cabinet of Ministers". In accordance with the Edict, the National Board for Cultural Affairs (NBCA) was established as an advisory body by the President of Ukraine. The NBCA was liquidated on 2 April 2010. The Presidential Edict of 2 April 2010, N 469/2010, established a Public Humanitarian Council under the President of Ukraine with the aim "to consider socially significant interests in resolving the most important issues of humanitarian development, to work out proposals for ensuring human and civil rights in education, science, culture and art, public health, intellectual and creative activities, and the introduction of system reforms for achieving compliance with European standards in the protection of such rights".
In May 2007, the Council of Europe adopted the National Report on Cultural Policy in Ukraine (CDCULT(2007)14), along with the Experts' Review (CDCULT(2007)15), becoming the 27th country to complete this procedure for the CoE. (You can find both texts of the National Report and the Experts' Report on http://www.coe.int/t/e/cultural_cooperation/culture/policies/reviews/Ukraine.asp#TopOfPage or on http://www.mincult.gov.ua – Ukrainian versions). The first appraisal of the implementation of the Experts' Report recommendations was completed by the end of 2009 by the Ukrainian Centre for Cultural Studies at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Ukraine, indicating the necessity to revise the report and political approaches.
By the end of 2008, the government adopted the draft Concept of the State targeted programme for innovative development of Ukrainian culture in 2009-2013. The Programme will improve the budget allocation process, increase the share and effectiveness of cultural expenditure, modernise mechanisms for attracting non-budget funds, regulate legislation, and modernise the governance system. Despite the good intentions outlined in the Programme, it is till in draft form, and like the Law of Ukraine on Culture (2011) – see below – could become outdated. In 2012, the Ministry of Culture revised and developed the Concept of the State targeted Programme to 2017 (see also chapter 2.1).
On 14 December 2010, the Ukrainian Parliament adopted the new Law on Culture which was gradually developed and improved since 2005. After being signed by the President of Ukraine on 6 January 2011, the new Law on Culture (№ 2778–VI) replaces the former Fundamentals of the Legislation on Culture of Ukraine (1992, with amendments). The new law determines the legal foundations of cultural activities, regulates social interrelations related to creation, use and protection of cultural values, and defines priorities of public cultural policy. See also above and chapter 2.1, chapter 2.3 and chapter 4.1.
In February 2013, after a partial change of the government as a result of Parliament elections in October 2012, the current ministry of culture was restructured. The new minister, Leonid Novokhat'ko, has outlined the 200th anniversary of the great Ukrainian poet, Taras Shevchenko (1814–1841), in March 2014 as a priority objective of the cultural policy during 2013-2014. He stated also that the main direction of the Ministry of Culture activities will be the development of a humanitarian strategy for 2014-2020. According to the minister, this strategy should be based on the following principles: openness to innovation and reforms; partnership between public and civil society organisations in culture and media; and a programme and result-oriented policy. Among the central policy tasks, the minister stressed accessibility of cultural benefits through projects of social equality in culture; social activity of cultural organisations and development of regional cooperation; and improvement of culture management.
Social and political confrontation in Ukraine started in November 2013, which led to fatal casualties and violence, as well as posing sharp questions for "culture" relating to its. The gap between official and informal culture became apparent and threatened to deepen. Such cultural policy objectives as social solidarity and national cultural integrity gained currency.
At the same time, the resignation of the prime minister in late January 2014 led to a change of government and an expected shift in cultural policy priorities (see also chapter 4.3). On 24 February 2014, the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) of Ukraine made a decision about the resignation of the Minister of Culture together with other members of the former government. On 27 February, a new Cabinet of Ministers was elected by the parliament after previous approval by the popular assembly at Maidan. The new Minister of Culture, the "voice" of the revolution, Ukrainian actor, Mr Nischuk, declared that the whole structure of the former ministry will be changed as well as the national cultural strategy.