In the past five years, the Serbian cultural heritage field has seen a significant opening and acceptance in international cultural circles. Archaeological sites, cultural heritage monuments, protection institutes and other heritage organisations have been active in the international scene and have been awarded and recognised by international actors.
In 2016, the first cross-border heritage site in the region has been inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage List – Stećci Medieval Tombstone Graveyards. The successful inscription was made possible through the cooperation between the National conservation institutes of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Montenegro. Another international candidature to the WHL is under way for the part of Roman Limes located in Serbia which entails many important heritage sites along the Danube river.
The European Union delegation in Serbia has been active in supporting conservation works of the Golubac fortress. It supported the reconstruction with 6.5 million EUR as well as the relocation of traffic and the construction of the ring road and the visitor’s centre. The reconstruction ran from September 2014 to May 2016 and has turned Golubac into a tourist destination of that region.
In 2016, the Institute for the protection of cultural monuments of the city of Niš has won a Grand Prix EU Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Award for the conservation study on the protection of stone village Gostuša near Pirot. In 2018, three projects from Serbia have been awarded the EU Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Award: Jelena Todorović and Biljana Crvenković for the Research and Cataloguing of the State Art Collection, Aranđelovac Municipality for the renovation of The Pavilion of Prince Miloš at the Bukovička Spaand the the Provincial Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments for preservation of Bač Fortress. The last one was awarded a Grand Prix. In 2018, the European Year of Cultural Heritage, many organisations from Serbia have also been supported as part of the special Creative Europe call – three projects (out of 29 supported in total) have leads from Serbia, while an additional 6 work with a Serbian partner.
Still, despite all the awards and acclaimed reception in the international cultural field, local museums, protection institutes, archives and libraries are faced with rigorous austerity measures which ban further employment in all public institutions. As employees age and retire, institutions across country are understaffed – thus burnouts, fatigue and misconducts are growingly a treat to the heritage field.
One of the most important issues of the cultural heritage system in Serbia is the problem of its financing. An open competition for financing cultural heritage projects was introduced in 2010. Competitions and public calls don’t have a systematic character, nor do they have clear financial criteria, thus, the impact on the cultural heritage system stays invisible.Since 2003, a total of EUR 200 million has been invested in cultural heritage in total, i.e. EUR 16.5 million on average a year. A study on cultural heritage institute network (2016) show that less than 6 million euros of public money is invested in heritage institutes network per year, which is a very problematic amount of funds for any normal functioning of heritage protection system, especially on the national level. Evidently, there is a low level of intersectoral cooperation between different ministries that support heritage protection projects as well as with international bodies. Projects supported by the government and international funds are partial, with a low level of impact on local communities or the heritage system. The local self-governments in Serbia have no fiscal capacity to take part in capital heritage projects: only up to two smaller projects (between EUR 100 000 and 250 000) received investments sporadically from the local level of government. All government levels have independent priorities in supporting heritage protection and there is no overall priority intervention list that can support cooperation and synergy in funding cultural heritage at the different government levels. The existing regulatory framework for heritage protection is also outdated and not harmonized with other laws recently adopted. In 2016, three task forces for writing new laws in heritage protection have been established by the Ministry of Culture. The Ministry produced draft version of new laws on heritage protection, but was not active in public discussions and the process of laws adoption. A new law on urban planning and construction has marginalized a lot of administrative jurisdictions of the cultural heritage institutes. A strong influence by the National alliance for local economic development on regulatory framework and other policies is evident since 2017 (new government appointment). In 2018, the National alliance for local economic development and their team created a new draft proposal for national heritage protection law, outside of any consultations with heritage professionals and other relevant cultural stakeholders.
Significant fluctuations of funds have been discernible year after year, which hinders the completion of projects. There is a lack of programme budgeting, therefore the financing of cultural heritage projects are not based on strategic priorities, but rather on available resources in the current year. The result is that the rehabilitation of a single site taking several years more than what is realistically attainable. Since 2015, the Standing Conference on Cities and Municipality (SKGO) started to build a cooperation network between heritage institutes and local municipalities and institutions. There were several conferences and trainings for local municipalities to understand the principles of sustainable protection and use of cultural heritage as well as cultural heritage’s role in local sustainable development. To solve the issues regarding the local financing of cultural heritage, programme budgeting of cultural heritage was introduced in 2015. The new system of planning the local public finance will ensure better prioritization of cultural heritage projects, planning strategic priorities of financing, evaluation and cooperation between different bodies responsible for this field.
An important issue in heritage policy is unsystematic tourism exploitation of these resources, where no investment is made in conservation, presentation or valorisation of heritage. Very often tourism projects were implemented without professional cooperation with heritage protection agencies. This approach of turning heritage monuments into consumer-oriented entertainment projects is known as a “Disneyfication”, with a huge tourism destruction impact on heritage resources.