The main issue in cultural policy debates today is related to democracy and a lack of participative practices. In what way the Ministry and the government are selecting experts, juries and committees are not transparent and based on excellence, but mostly on loyalty to the governing parties. There is no transparency in the decision making process and the voice of civil society and artists, although vocal, cannot be heard by the majority of people due to a lack of free media. The attempts of civil society to delegate its members to the National Council for Culture and other bodies are usually manipulated. The government would accept delegates from fake NGOs (NGOs created to be able to participate in public calls and to take role in social dialogue “representing” civil society, while in reality they are representing the party in power) or make the process of selection last so long that the body disappears from the public scene – the case of the National Council for culture in 2018. See chapter 5 for more about the criticism regarding distribution of money to projects.
Since 2012, allocation of urban space to investors became an important issue, especially regarding the Belgrade waterfront that endangered and finally completely destroyed Savamala as a new self-organised cultural city district in Belgrade. Many urban movements have been initiated: Do not drown Belgrade, Open about public space, Ministry of Space, etc. All of them collaborated in raising public debates about the misuse of public space, the re-appropriation of cultural spaces through privatisation processes (network of bookshops sold to a butcher; network of cinemas to urban investor, etc.), the disappearance of cultural neighbourhoods and its memories (Slavia as a key Belgrade’s square linked to the working class movements memories), the rise of new monuments for questionable historical figures (such as Alexandar II, Russian tzar; and Heidar Alliev, dictator from Azerbeijan) or completely unknown persons to fulfil wishes of foreign investors (such as a national poet from Kazakhstan).
These issues have generated a lot of political and performance actions, research projects, conferences and publications but, unfortunately, this could not prevent that the public policies ignore the cultural aspects and the demands of civil society. Similar actions are now led to protect the natural heritage of Stara Planina (with support of the Ministry of Ecology, local municipalities, experts from the faculty for biology and the faculty for forestry), but the investors of small hydro-electric plants continue to build as they are backed by the Government.