The Ministry of Culture is charged with the task of conducting cultural policies, preserving culture and cultural heritage, and developing partnerships in the cultural field. According to the Law on the Protection and Development of Culture, the Council of Ministers, on a proposal from the Minister of Culture, adopts a National Strategy for the Development of Culture for a period of ten years. In March 2019, a Draft Strategy for the Development of the Bulgarian Culture by 2029 was published, whose strategic goals are the preservation of cultural memory and historical heritage, the search for an effective mechanism for financing from the state and municipal budgets, as well as attracting alternative financial sources and the digitalisation of cultural content. This project has not yet been officially approved or secured. In scope, culture is limited to only nine areas covered by the Ministry of Culture – cultural heritage, visual arts, performing arts, books, reading and libraries, amateur arts, audio vision and media, copyright and related arts, international cultural heritage, culture and education.
Since 2018, one of the objectives of the Ministry of Culture appears to be long-term policy to support culture as a national priority. However, this objective has not been met yet as of end 2019.
In recent years, joint financing – by the national and municipal budget – of theatres, opera houses and philharmonic orchestras has been a definite achievement. However, due to the permanent financial problems of the municipalities, it has been difficult to reach agreements with the Ministry of Culture on their contributions, and municipalities do not always keep their part of the deal. That is why developing local cultural policies and strategies still remains a good intention rather than a fact.
Cinema and literature have no state-subsidised structures; state subsidies are rather granted to individual projects on the basis of competitive bidding. It is hard to define an overall model of cultural policy applicable to the sector in Bulgaria. The observations registered after 1989 tend to reveal an eclectic approach and pragmatic decisions, according to the aims of each governmental programme, but not an overall vision characterised by a long term development strategy.
In the course of Bulgaria’s transition to a democracy and market economy, a series of cultural reforms have been conducted in the past ten years, with the following objectives:
• decentralisation of the administration and financing of culture;
• freedom of action and formation of market-oriented attitudes of cultural institutions and artists;
• amendments to cultural legislation designed to meet the new socio-economic challenges;
• establishment of an administrative environment facilitating cultural development and European integration;
• guaranteeing the equality of state, municipal and private cultural institutions; and
• strengthening the role of the non-governmental sector. Decentralisation, regarded as the top priority at the start of transition, has remained a controversial issue both for cultural circles and the general public. At present, there are three sources of conflict: 1) central government and the legislature which, on the one hand, are decentralising the financing and administration of cultural institutions while, on the other, retaining partial control over the latter; 2) local government, which is eager for greater autonomy, but still prefers most of the responsibilities for and financing of culture to be borne by the central government; and 3) NGOs, which are the most active champions of decentralisation, but are still weak in terms of networking and their influence on the legislature and opinion-making.
The fiscal policy pursued by the national government was a centralised model of budget financing with subsidies equally shared among the existing networks and cultural institutions. In a context of economic crisis and budget restrictions, this meant less and less funds for their core activities and doomed some of the structures to de-professionalisation.
At the end of the 1990s, the Ministry of Culture has started financing the cultural activities of these institutions on a competitive basis, which makes it possible to provide differentiated support to the individual cultural institutions, depending on their contribution to culture and the artistic and economic results of their activities. This new way of financing is based on the transfer of part of the state subsidies for cultural institutions to concrete creative projects on the basis of equal treatment of applicants.
Late 19th and early 20th century: The climate for culture was constructed of values and goals towards self-affirmation, harmonisation with European culture, openness to foreign cultural influences, enlightenment and, to some extent, emulation. Cultural institutions were regarded as a means to boost the self-confidence of the nation and assert the values of European culture.
1948: This atmosphere changed when the Communist regime took over. During 45 years of communist rule, cultural policy was characterised by total centralisation of cultural processes within the state administration, ideological monopoly over the promotion of cultural values and the extensive development of totalitarian cultural institutions. The arts were regarded as a means of education and enlightenment rather than entertainment and therefore responsibility for the arts and culture was declared as the exclusive domain of the state. Totalitarian cultural institutions were created covering all spheres of cultural life.
1950-1970: By the early 1950s, the system of state cultural institutions was fully established and running smoothly. Each element of this system was hierarchically subordinated and subject to dual – State and Communist Party – control. The cultural policies pursued at the time were ideologically orthodox, and any form of dissent from the official line was penalised. It was only after 1956 that the echo of Khrushchev’s reforms brought about a certain thaw in the ideological climate, trumpeted by the ruling Bulgarian Communist Party as its “April Policy”, which was promptly abandoned after the Prague Spring in August 1968. The subsequent period of stagnation was extolled as a period of “flowering socialist art”.
1970-1980: There was a move to introduce the so-called “public-cum-state principle” in the administration of culture, which presupposed the involvement of all governing bodies and a radically extended range of people, in decision-making processes. The Bureau and the Presidium of the Committee for Culture were elected bodies, but their heads and members could not take office without the approval of the National Assembly and the State Council. Public participation in cultural debates soon turned into a ritual designed to provide legitimacy to decisions already taken. The promotion of “the public-cum-state principle” as a democratic achievement of Bulgarian cultural policy proved to be a demagogic propaganda campaign: despite the proclaimed participation of governing bodies in culture, the real decision-making took place in the Communist Party. Under the influence of Soviet perestroika (Mikhail Gorbachev’s reform policy) in the mid-1980s, some of the creative unions turned into opposition associations of intellectuals and their 1989 congresses became forums for attacks against the communist system.
1989-2000: Bulgaria’s new cultural policy model was created after 1989. Culture was one of the spheres worst affected by the economic and spiritual crisis during the course of transition. At the same time, the ongoing reforms in society have had a particularly positive impact on culture. During the transition period, cultural development in Bulgaria was in a searching phase and concepts frequently changed. Few activities of the different levels of government were followed up and there was little coordination between these levels. The main responsibilities for financing culture were decentralised and then recentralised. The private business sector had little interest in supporting cultural activities.
1993-2007: Bulgaria became a candidate for EU membership, which entailed substantial legal and administrative reforms towards decentralisation, democratisation, improvement of access, promotion of cultural diversity, protection of copyrights, internationalisation and facilitation of the artists’ mobility, protection and development of cultural heritage and its sustainable use, etcetera; and Bulgaria started its pro-active participation in the work of the key intergovernmental institutions (Council of Europe, UNESCO, CEI etc.) and became an equal player at international scale.
2007: Bulgaria became a full member of the European Union. The synchronisation of the legislation in the field of culture has begun. New regulations are being implemented which clearly define the responsibilities of the different administrative levels of government. Considerable steps forward are being taken by civil society. The third sector is consolidating and the business sector is starting to show signs that they are willing to adopt a new attitude of partnership.
2007-2019: Due to urbanisation, cultural national policy and the related activities and strategies became more focused on the major cities and some municipalities. In 2013, the Sofia Strategy for Culture 2013-2023 was published, followed by the Cultural Strategy of Plovdiv Municipality 2014-2024. In 2014, Sofia was selected by UNESCO as the City of Film and became member of the Creative Cities Network by UNESCO. In 2015, Plovdiv was selected for European Capital of Culture 2019. In 2019, a Draft National Strategy for the Development of Culture 2019-2029 was published.