Until 2008, there were no government programmes to support trans-national intercultural dialogue, nor any specific government support for the trans-national activities of young people. From 2008 on, there were some small steps by the Ministry of Culture towards the goal of implementation of intercultural dialogue.
The White Paper on Intercultural dialogue of the Council of Europe has been translated and published into the Serbian language. Regarding implementation of the White Paper on Intercultural dialogue, the Ministry worked together with the Working Group for Promoting Cultural Diversity and Intercultural Dialogue made up of well-known artists and experts in the field of intercultural dialogue. Through a public call, leading institutions, organisations and individuals were invited to take part in mapping and affirmation of projects and processes of intercultural dialogue in Serbia. The chosen programmes (10 were selected) affirmed the priorities of European cultural policies in the current Serbian cultural and artistic productions and activities. The programme continues through the permanent activity of the Cultural Centre Rex in Belgrade (http://rexold.b92.net/ikd/node/9).
This highly successful programme, a basically arm’s-length model, was an important sign that decentralisation of decision-making is possible. Despite that, the following year programme was discontinued and initiated long-term plans were cancelled.
A small number of programmes promote talented young people to travel abroad, such as: travel grants for young musicians organised by the Ministry of Culture in 2007 (approx. 6 250 EUR) and a similar Music Talent Fund of the City of Belgrade (40 000 EUR per year), or specific Austrian Embassy mobility grants, awarded to 200 of the best students, to travel within the EU (summer 2006), but there is no policy on promoting language or cross-cultural training.
NGOs are the most active in this field, such as the European Movement and European House, students unions and associations (AEGEE, AISEC…), and activist NGOs such as Stalkers (sociology students) and later Youth Initiative for Human Rights, which organised public dialogue between youth from Pristina and Belgrade at the Belgrade Cultural Centre “Grad” on 27 October 2010. It was broadcasted on B92 Info Channel, and is now accessible on Internet (see: http://www.b92.net/kultura). The festival “Mirdita, dobar dan!”, held in Belgrade every June since 2014, introduces the Belgrade public to the cultural scene of Kosovo, as a cultural contribution of the general aspirations of permanent peace establishment and normalization of relationships between Serbia and Kosovo. The organisers are the Youth Initiatives for human rights and the Civic Initiatives from Belgrade, and Integra NGO from Pristina. The festival still causes a lot of debate and conflict within the nationalist circles of Belgrade. In 2018, the customs police took three Eliza Hoxha’s photographs considered politically provocative to be exhibited in Belgrade. But the artist was let in to participate at the Mirdita festival with her other works.
The University of Arts in Belgrade has regular summer schools and conferences, where partners from neighbouring countries participate in debates and dialogues. The Centre for Cultural De-contamination has organised many open debates and major programmes (in the serials named Delegated Public Space, Testimony, Risk, etc.) linked to controversial social and political issues, rediscovering the truth about the latest wars, war crimes etc. Transitional Justice was one of the most important programmes in this respect, involving academics and students of media and journalism from Kosovo, Macedonia, Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia.
A Seminar on Intercultural dialogue and Cinema was organised within the framework of the Serbian Presidency at the Central European Initiative in Belgrade held from 3-4 October 2011. The overall aim of the meeting was to bring together film experts from the region and outside experts in cinematographic policy to share good practices. It charted the perspectives and development of intercultural dialogue on various levels – from co-production, regional associations and their work to theoretical and academic debates, including the national and regional developmental strategy and cultural policy. Two panels discussed the topic of intercultural mapping in this region, and premises for further development of film art, especially in light of intensifying cooperation and intercultural dialogue. Important impetus for intercultural projects, especially inter-ethnic and cross-border cooperation, were IPA CBC programmes that Serbia signed with five bordering nation states (Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Romania). Through the people to people component, many organisations, particularly in smaller towns and municipalities, got the chance to produce large projects (festivals, summer camps, concerts, workshops…), to collaborate internationally and to raise their capacities.
Intercultural dialogue: actors, strategies, programmes
The main barrier to intercultural dialogue comes both from the mainstream cultural trend, as well as from the minority groups. Promoting Serbian culture as the unifying force of Serbian ethnic unity, the Ministry and the main cultural institutions are hostile to the idea of challenging and undermining fixed identities or overlapping with others – in fact, they are precisely doing the opposite. At the same time, national minorities are often employing self-ghettoization strategies to prevent conflicts but also to fence off resources within their own communities. Hence, they are also not interested in cross-cultural and trans-cultural dimensions, since there is a fear of losing the identity. As a result, despite the adoption of the White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue of the Council of Europe in 2007, the Ministry has not been active in supporting it, especially in the last 5 years.
As with many progressive issues, the civil society has contributed to the issue mainly: the NGO theatres, such as Dah Theatre or the Centre for Cultural Decontamination, Cultural Centre Rex, developed a lot of real intercultural dialogue programmes and projects, from inclusive theatre performances to exhibition projects reviving the life of lost neighbours (the Jewish community in Belgrade) or ignored neighbours (the Roma community), as well as raising awareness and including immigrant communities (refugees from Croatia and Bosnia), some of which have been awarded and become a standard for intercultural projects (e.g. In/Visible City – performed on “bus 26” by Dah theatre). However, with the international funders moving their attention away from dialogue with the creative industries, entrepreneurism, resilience and other issues, CSOs have also decreased their engagement (one obvious and important exclusion are the projects with migrants in 2015 and 2016 – see 2.7).
In the cultural industries, the issue of intercultural conflict, differences etc. have been addressed often, as it has “dramatic” but also “cathartic” aspects. However, it very rarely succeeded in having high artistic results, with the exception of the movies of Goran Paskaljević, Emir Kusturica, Srđan Dragojević and Srđan Karanović (opening up the issues of intercultural dialogue between Serbian and Albanian, Roma or specific social non-integrated groups like the LGBT community). Otherwise, in popular movies, TV serials (24 Hour Marriage and Mixed Marriage on TV Pink), rock and folk music – in both dramatic and humorous ways, the stereotypes, prejudices and different options are presented without clear critical sensitivity.
In Vojvodina, intercultural projects have been somewhat more present, due to the history of multicultural policies and programmes. A project titled the “Promotion of Multiculturalism and Tolerance in Vojvodina” was organised by the Provincial Government, with the main objectives of contributing to promoting the idea of an open democratic society and raising awareness of multilingualism and multiculturalism in Vojvodina and representing them as values of common interest. The main characteristic of this programme was that it involved several Provincial Secretariats and many partners, ranging from research centres and libraries to schools and media. One of the popular parts of the programme was the quiz for pupils in which they learned and presented their intercultural knowledge while competing for prizes. For that occasion, a publication “How much do we know each other” was produced and disseminated. The project covered the organisation and realisation of many sub-projects that promote and produce intercultural dialogue in different areas. It also contributed to specific approaches.
In 2016, intercultural dialogue has been adopted as one of Novi Sad’s main policies in its Strategy for cultural development 2016-2026, as well as one of the main pillars of city’s candidature for the European Capital of Culture. The city’s calls for projects now regularly involve intercultural dialogue as a priority. With the theme of building bridges, Novi Sad has highlighted various relations that need to be established and dialogues that need to be supported – e.g. centre vs. periphery, Serbia vs. EU, professionals vs. amateurs. However, there have been no special calls for intercultural projects, nor has there been an increased presence of such projects.