It is a truism that a nation’s culture cannot be divorced from its social, economic and political circumstances and, in all these areas, Serbia has continued to face severe difficulties since the Democratic Opposition overthrew the Milosevic regime in October 2000. According to a government report, “Serbia emerged from the ashes with the heritage of a dissolved Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) and ten years of despotic and erratic rule, an economy in shambles and a legal and physical infrastructure badly distorted through the neglect and abuse of power.”
The Belgrade Agreement of 2002 established the Federal State of Serbia-Montenegro, which was legally made up of two separate republics: the Republic of Serbia and the Republic of Montenegro, each with its own ministry for culture. Informally, the Republic of Serbia included two autonomous provinces, Vojvodina (northern part of Serbia) and Kosovo; the latter, however, officially remains under the control of a United Nations administration and therefore the Serbian government has no legal influence in Kosovo. The province of Vojvodina has its own Secretariat for Culture and Public Information. The Belgrade Agreement stopped being relevant after the Referendum on 21 May 2006, when Montenegro became an independent nation. This paradoxically meant that, without a stated intention, Serbia also became an independent nation.
Despite the devastation of the nineties, and the difficulties of the present decade, many of the surviving strengths of Serbian cultural life can be seen to be derived from a long tradition of cultural discourse shaping national identity. At the level of infrastructure and management, one can look back to the relative certainties of life under the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia, in which decentralisation and institutional self-government were key characteristics of cultural policy as long ago as the 1960s. These traditional practices are still applicable today and are currently being adapted in response to the new social, economic and political conditions.
The development of cultural policy in Serbia, over the past fifty years, can be examined within six main phases of political change:
Social Realism and a Repressive Cultural Model (1945 – 1953): The first phase can be characterised by social realism copied from Stalin’s model of culture in the former USSR. The function of culture, in an ideological sense, was utilitarian and did not encourage the idea of culture as a field for individual freedom of any sort. Luckily, this phase was brief and was followed by a period of progressive cultural action.
Democracy in Culture (1953 – 1974): Within the second phase, two parallel cultural developments can be identified; one was still under strong state and ideological control, while the other, which was more creative and vivid, slowly gained artistic freedom. By the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s, many new institutions and prestigious international festivals for different art forms had been established. A large network of municipal cultural institutions, such as houses of culture, libraries and cinemas was also created. At the same time, many individual artists were sanctioned and their works (films, theatre plays and productions, books, etc.) were banned. This was not an officially proclaimed policy but was exercised through political and ideological pressure.
Decentralisation and Self-Governance (1974 – 1989): This third phase is particularly known for the specific policy initiatives to decentralise culture throughout the former Yugoslavia. Serbia had some additional particularities concerning its multi-ethnic and multi-cultural character. Two autonomous provinces (Vojvodina and Kosovo) were given full competence over cultural policy as a result of their multi-ethnic and cultural structure. The entire cultural system was transformed during this period. Self-governing communities of interest were introduced and “free labour exchanges” facilitated closer links among cultural institutions and local economies through, for example, theatre communities, private galleries, etc. In the mid-1980s, a strong nationalistic movement emerged among official and unofficial political and cultural institutions, which was especially stimulated by the liberalisation of the media.
Culture of Nationalism (1990 – 2000): Serbia and Montenegro was lacking a general concept or strategy for culture as well as a clear definition of cultural policy. This ambiguity, therefore, marginalised culture as a creative impulse and process in the modernisation of society and emphasised its role as a “keeper” and promoter of national identity. Self-government was abolished as a system, and cultural institutions were returned to state / municipal authority, nominating directors and controlling their activities. The role and contribution of leading cultural NGOs had been vitally important in Serbia. They first became a distinct feature of opposition to the official culture of nationalism and state control in Serbia during the Milosevic years. In fact, it has been claimed that as much as 50% of the resistance to the Milosevic regime, during the 1990s, was manifested through culture and the active struggle on the part of NGOs, independent publishers and artists for a different way of life. This struggle was spread throughout the country. Their actions received significant material assistance from the international community and notably from the Soros Foundation via its Open Society Fund, Serbia.
Culture in Transformation (2001 – 2011): This period is characterized by a series of attempts to set cultural policy on a strategic, democratic and well-planned basis, while at the same time there have been many political turbulences, changes of Ministers and transitional fatigue which have all together undermined and bracketed many of the attempts. Despite the attempts to introduce new order, the policy of this period has been incoherent and chaotic, somewhat due to the fact that the Ministry of Culture has changed its leadership 5 times in 11 years – noticeable all Ministers and main advisors have been male.
A special accent was placed on reforms of the main national cultural institutions and the public sector in general, demanding the introduction of new managerial and marketing techniques. The first evaluation of national cultural policy within the Council of Europe programme had been completed and was approved in November 2002 while the second one has been completed in April 2015.
Taking into account more than 10 years of devastation, extreme centralisation, étatisation and manipulation, the necessary priorities for all levels of public policy-making were: decentralisation and desétatisation of culture; establishing an environment to stimulate the market orientation of cultural institutions and their efficient and effective work; setting a new legal framework for culture (harmonization with European standards); multiculturalism as one of the key characteristics of both Serbian and Montenegrin society and culture; re-establishing regional co-operation and ties; and active co-operation in pre-accession processes to the CoE, EU and WTO.
The cultural policy debate has been fading and many of the attempted changes have proven to be short lived. One of the most emblematic signs of such inability to run a coherent and strategic policy is the case of two of the biggest national museums (The National Museum and Museum of Contemporary Arts) which were in the state of refurbishment for more than a decade because of the lack of leadership and many scandals, which created a big gap between audiences and these institutions. In the same token, the National Cultural Strategy envisioned by the new Law on Culture from 2007 to be adopted in the shortest time possible, has not been adopted until 2018.
Still, a few interesting initiatives can be identified. In 2007, a new Ministry of Culture started to work on new priorities and strategies. Many working groups were created, to establish new laws (General Law on Culture, heritage protection, etc.), or to define new concrete programmes and strategies (digitalisation, decentralisation, cultural research development, etc.) or to introduce certain topics for public debate (politics of memory and remembrance, culture for children, intercultural dialogue, etc.). Public debates were held on drafts of new legislation, with the involvement of the Minister, representatives of the Ministry and experts (mostly cultural professionals), in the first six months of the new government. However, after one year, another new government had been created and a new Minister for Culture was appointed in July 2008.
While open competitions to fund cultural projects have been in operation since 2000, decided by commissions, the first competition for commission members was only launched in September 2006, changing the policy of nominations to the commissions to a more transparent procedure. However, this practice has had different levels of transparency and autonomy depending on the Minister or other external pressures.
Back to national unity (2012-2018): In 2012,a new Minister of Culture has been appointed, for the first time from the Serbian Progressive Party, followed by two other Ministers appointed by the same political option. There are several trends noticeable in this period. Short Ministerial appointments continued, with every Minister trying to leave a strong personal mark (still all male). The dialogue with the independent scene and the private sector, somewhat established in the previous period, was systematically and occasionally undermined. Most notably, in 2013 Minister cancelled a cooperation agreement with the Association Independent Culture Scene of Serbia (ICCS). The ministerial budget has remained very low (0.64% of government budget) despite promises. Finally, it can be noted that the focus was mainly on the “renationalisation” of Serbian institutions on material and immaterial heritage preservation and reorienting institutional cultural sector towards the strengthening of national cultural unity. In this respect, a new policy of memory and remembrance (focusing on the Balkan wars & World War One – wars in which Serbia was a winning party) complement a similar cultural diplomacy policy focusing on Slavic countries (a first agreement on cooperation was signed with Belorussia, in Minsk on 29 October 2012); a new draft of Cultural Strategy (2017) focusing on integration and strengthening “Serbian National Space”; increased support for Serbian Orthodox Church; linguistic measures that promote Cyrillic script and discourage the use of other scripts. Since, 2016. personal changes in public cultural institutions has been evident (at national as well local level). All most cultural institutions at national level have changed members of executive boards as well directors. In many cases, strong and professional cultural workers were changed with person outside cultural field and/or without professional integrity and achievements. Strong pressures on open mind cultural directors/professionals are evident especially on the local level.
Still, in this period, two of the biggest national museums were finally opened, Novi Sad has gained a title of European Capital of Culture and New Strategy for Cultural Development from 2017 to 2027 has been drafted.
Main features of the current cultural policy model
The Serbian model of government is different from the models adopted by the different countries of Eastern Europe due to its legacy of self-government. In this system, there was relative freedom for art production and the majority of cultural institutions were owned by the cities. Since 1980, artists have been given the possibility to organise themselves in groups and to produce and circulate their own work.
It should be taken into account that the present system of institutions, arts groups and even artists had been created and developed throughout the ex-Yugoslavian territory, especially in the City of Belgrade. With the collapse of the ex-Yugoslavia, cultural productions (e.g. films, books, journals, festivals, etc.) lost their audiences, readers and markets. The cultural infrastructure that followed was, hence, too large to survive and demanded (in %) more and more public funds. This was one of the main reasons why there were few protests when the government resumed control of socially owned (self-governed) cultural institutions during the 1990s. Instead, it was considered a step to at least guarantee the survival of existing cultural institutions.
The current cultural policy model has changed slightly: key competence for cultural policy-making and funding is the responsibility of the Ministry of Culture and new procedures were introduced in Serbia in 2001. Last changes in funding procedures were adopted in 2016.
The majority of the Ministry’s budget (69%) goes to supporting cultural institutions (see Table 1).
Table 1 – Allocated budget for cultural activities 2015 – 2018
|Overall budget for cultural activities (din)||7,307,547,000||6.488.947.000||7,883,745,000||7.493.969.000|
|Overall budget for cultural activities (%)||100%||100%||100%||100%|
|Overall budget for cultural activities (EUR)||61,254,000 €||52,928.000 €||63,733,000 €||63.508,000 €|
|National cultural institutions (din)||4,196,390.000||4,209,121,000||4,636,358,000||5,188,636,000|
|National cultural institutions (%)||57.43%||64.87%||58.81%||69.24%|
|National cultural institutions (EUR)||35,175,000 €||34,332,000 €||37,481,000 €||43,971,000 €|
|Capital projects (din)||1,623,348,000||800,000,000||1,526,793,000||314,909.000|
|Capital projects (%)||22.21%||12.33%||19.37%||4.20%|
|Capital projects (EUR)||13,607,000 €||6,525,000 €||12,343,000 €||2,669,000 €|
|Protection of cultural heritage (din)||582,000,000||521,500,000||631,500,000||789.810.000|
|Protection of cultural heritage (%)||7.96%||8.04%||8.01%||10.54%|
|Protection of cultural heritage (EUR)||4,879,000 €||4,254,000 €||5.105.000 €||6.693.000 €|
|Contemporary artistic production (din)||496,986,000||537,000,000||532,000,000||603.300.000|
|Contemporary artistic production (%)||6.80%||8.28%||6.75%||8.05%|
|Contemporary artistic production (EUR)||4,166,000 €||4,380,000 €||4.301.000 €||5.113.000 €|
|International cultural cooperation (din)||155,537,000||178.926.000||314,694,000||378.349.000|
|International cultural cooperation (%)||2.13%||2.76%||3.99%||5.05%|
|International cultural cooperation (EUR)||1,304,000 €||1.460.000 €||2.544.000 €||3.206.000 €|
|Acknowledgments for cultural contr. (din)||253,286,000||242.400.000||242.400.000||218.965.000|
|Acknowledgments for cultural contr. (%)||3.47%||3.74%||3.07%||2.92%|
|Acknowledgments for cultural contr. (EUR)||2,123,000 €||1.977.000 €||1.959.000 €||1.856.000 €|
Source: Cvetičanin (2018)
There are several key calls for project granting: arts and contemporary creativity; media and public information; and cultural heritage. In 2018, in the area of arts, the Ministry has allocated around 3 million EUR to projects in the following 14 areas:
- literary art (production and translation);
- music production (creation, production, interpretation);
- visual and applied arts, design and architecture;
- theatrical arts (creation, production, interpretation);
- digital arts and multimedia;
- performing arts (ballet, folk dance and contemporary dance);
- cinematography and audio-visual creation (film production, workshops and art colonies);
- research and educational projects;
- autochthonous creativity (folklore) and amateur arts;
- cultural activities of national minorities;
- cultural activities of Serbs who live abroad;
- cultural activities for persons with special needs;
- cultural activities of marginalised groups;
- cultural activities for children and youth.
In the field of cultural heritage, the Ministry has allocated 274 million dinars in 2014, and selected 465 projects to be funded. Projects were grouped in the following seven areas, aiming to discovering, collecting, research, documenting, valorising, protection, preservation, interpretation, presentation, management and use of (1) immovable cultural heritage; (2) archaeological heritage; (3) museum heritage; (4) archive materials; (5) intangible cultural heritage; (6) rare and old library materials; (7) as well as for library and information activities.
Most of the money on these calls go to cultural institutions, while civil society organisations received 1.310.000 EUR. We can see from this that the overwhelming majority of the Ministry’s budget is devoted to supporting public cultural infrastructure. When it comes to different fields, most funds were awarded to film (21%), music (20%), theatre (18%) and visual arts (14%), while dance, youth culture, culture for people with special needs and other received less than 10%.
In the field of cultural heritage, the Ministry has allocated supports to the following seven areas, aiming to discovering, collecting, research, documenting, valorising, protection, preservation, interpretation, presentation, management and use of (1) immovable cultural heritage; (2) archaeological heritage; (3) museum heritage; (4) archive materials; (5) intangible cultural heritage; (6) rare and old library materials; (7) as well as for library and information activities. Since 2010 open competition in cultural heritage has been introduced with a yearly budget between 2-2,5 million EUR.
Apart from these key calls, there are also granting schemes for international projects (though mainly translations of Serbian authors and Serbian cultural organisations abroad), buyout for books and visual artworks (the latter was reopened this year after long period, which was warmly welcomed by numerous actors), digitalization of cultural heritage, reconstruction of municipality cultural infrastructure and improving access to cultural contents (programme “Cultural Cities in Focus”). Finally, with the signing of the Creative Europe programme, the Ministry also opened call for co-financing projects that were selected in the programme (up to 30% of local budget for applicant organisations and up to 50% for leading organisations). This support is also viable for other international cultural programmes of UNESCO, EU Council of Europe and other.
The majority of projects take place in Belgrade (43.38%), followed by Novi Sad (10.30%), and 46.32% of projects take place in other cities and municipalities (Požarevac, Čačak, Subotica, Požega, Ruma, Užice, Kragujevac, Leskovac, Pančevo and Omoljica, Gornji Milanovac, Bajina Bašta, Vranje, Gračanica, Smederevo, Bačka Topola, Niš, Kučevo). (Source: Cultural diplomacy: Arts, Festivals and Geopolitics, pp. 337-9.)
Decision-making processes for these open competitions had been transferred to independent commissions. That is why the current cultural policy model is described as a combined etatist-democratic model. There are many different commissions and juries for different competitions in the field of culture and media. Since 2014, the granting mechanism was slightly improved, most of which in 2018 when the Ministry started publishing Jury members’ identities, public argumentation of awarded and refused projects and granted sums. But still, this transparency can be marked as a “formal transparency” obligated by the Law on culture, with almost “copy paste” comments and arguments on projects.
It is important to note that open calls, despite their high value as one of the very few funds for non-institutional actors, have several flaws. First of all, very little amount of funds is distributed through calls (slightly more than 4 per cent of Ministry budget). In the scenario in which cultural organisations would have diversified income streams, this would be fine. However, many organisations are highly dependent upon Ministry. As a result of the vast number of applications (in 2018 it was about 3500 projects), most organisations receive as little as 3000 or 4000 euros. Even with such a small amount, only about half of the projects that apply get selected. Second, calls are vague and unspecified, regarding the amount of funds, goals of the projects or needs of beneficiaries. With such diverse and unfocused approach, it is hard to see how these calls might have any effect on solving numerous problems of cultural sector (lack of skills, lack of audience development, brain drain, etc.). Third, with a sectorial approach (visual arts, music, arts etc.) cooperation between sectors is discouraged and many organisations face problems when developing multidisciplinary projects. Fourth, even the approved project finally might not be funded specially in the case if organisation got several grants form different budget lines. Finally, approved projects are almost never properly evaluated and there is no report made by the Ministry to date that has analysed any kind of impact of the calls.
The National Council for Culture was set up on 25 May 2011 and it brought a kind of optimism in the cultural field, seen as an opportunity for a creation of a more autonomous artist-led cultural policy. In 2010, the Council prepared a version of the National Strategy, however, due to the changes of Ministers, this document never really reached public debate.. Over the years, the relation between the Minister and the Council became tense, the finances for the Council were cancelled, and although the actual Law still foresees a Council, since 2015 it is not functioning – i.e. it has lost its meaning due to the lack of political will to support the work of such arm’s length body. At the beginning of 2016, mandates of the Council members expired and the process of selecting new members is marked by controversial issues and disapprovals of cultural professionals.
Cultural policy objectives
In 2017, the new Ministry of Culture has published a Draft of the Strategy of Cultural Development 2017-2027 – after several decades of lacking such a document – in which many elements of the cultural policy have been made explicit. Although it is largely incoherent due to multiple author teams and many versions upon which it was built, it presents several clear objectives and trajectories of cultural policy.
First, the Ministry is devoted to the development of a “institutional cultural system”, by which is meant the growth, systematization and development of cultural policy and the functioning of public cultural institutions. Among the main measures are: (1) new legislation involving new niche laws (on cultural heritage, archaeology, museums, cinematography, theatre…) as well as amending existing laws which have a great impact on artistic and cultural work (e.g. law on public procurement, law on income taxation, etc.); (2) increased financing both in operational sense (increase from 0,68 to 1,5% is projected by 2026) and in capital investments (building of numerous new museums, theatres and libraries in cities outside Belgrade, new depots for National Library and National archive, etc.); and fostering of public-private partnership and entrepreneurship in culture, as well as increased support for local institutions and organisation to participate in international calls for actions and projects.
The second priority is “responsible human resources development and management in culture” and is aimed at improving the knowledge of local cultural workers, mainly in cultural institutions. Main objectives include permanent education of staff; increased collaboration with universities; increased competition among institutions and adequate awarding system; and informational database system (e-kultura.net) devoted to digitalization of culture and central storing of cultural development related data.
The third and fourth priorities deal with cultural participation, one with equality of participation, the other with the development of cultural needs. They mostly follow EU trends in increasing cultural participation and involve the decentralization of cultural offering, an increased role of local municipalities in providing cultural content and the support for collaboration of cultural institutions and media outlets and educational institutions.
The fifth priority, named “Culture of mutual understanding” follows explicitly the The UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions and includes strengthening organisational capacities for dialogue, support for minority cultures and projects which aim at establishing and promoting dialogue between cultures.
However, the following sixth and seventh priorities are somewhat contradictory to the fifth one. In Promoting Serbian language and Cyrillic script, the legislator is foreseeing all sorts of measures to change the use of language and script in the public realm which is mostly Latin script and increasingly English language. Measures involve: decreased taxation of cultural goods and products in Cyrillic script, suggesting to all television companies to have 50% of subtitles in Cyrillic script, SMS texting in Cyrillic, and obliging all cultural events supported by the Ministry to have logo in Cyrillic script. When it comes to the integration of the “Serbian Cultural Space” (a term first occurring in the Strategy), the Ministry is recognizing the existence of cross-border and cross-continental cultural space tightly linked to Serbian nation and ethnicity, mainly involving Serbian diaspora across the world. Foreign cultural centres are planned to be opened (only one existing so far in Paris); support is aimed at university chairs and departments studying Serbian language; cultural monuments in other countries related to Serbian individuals and culture are to be protected; and cultural activities by Serbs in Serbian language abroad are to be supported.
In relation to the previous policy objectives, much has remained the same: accordance with European values (multiculturalism, diversity, cultural democracy and participation), strengthening the public institutional system, preservation of national heritage, decentralization, etc. Some notions, however, have been added or expressed with more fervor, mostly the ones related to Serbian national identity and unity.
After the Draft of the Strategy was announced (still not voted by the Parliament), there has been a growing fear of conservatism and nationalism on the one hand, while on the other the document seems an overly optimistic and promising collection of desires, often in tension with one another. Especially problematic are the plans of the increased cultural budget which lies at the basis of the document. Since it is still in the making, one cannot judge if these priorities will also be actually practiced, however some activities (discussed later) show that the Ministry is willing to pursue the trends set by the document and discussed so far.