The historical development of cultural policy in Slovenia has gone through extreme change. Four distinct periods of transition and development of cultural policy following World War II can be identified, which also reflect the major ideological transformations of recent decades. The first three periods take place during the period when Slovenia was one of the six republics of the ex-Yugoslavia, while the last is connected with Slovenia as an independent democratic state:
- Up to 1953: party-run cultural policy when culture was openly used as a propaganda tool of the Communist machinery;
- 1953-1974: state-run cultural policy characterised by extreme territorial decentralisation with communities that were not independent self-government entities but primary political units that executed governmental tasks;
- 1974-1990: self-management system of devolution when cultural programming was delegated to the self-managing cultural communities and the provision of cultural services to cultural producers that were not part of the administration but separate legal entities; and
- 1990-present: parliamentary democracy, with a return of cultural policy in the hands of public authorities and their state apparatus.
As is true of most small countries, it was through culture that Slovenes constituted themselves not only as a nation but also as a state. It is from this special emphasis on culture that the so-called “Slovenian cultural syndrome” was derived. Thus, it is not surprising that the starting point of the disintegration of Yugoslavia, in the 1980’s, was the Slovenian fear of jeopardising its culture, language and national identity, which was provoked by an attempt by the central government in Belgrade to unify national interests and subordinate them to the Serbian majority, through the mandatory core Yugoslav curriculum of literature and language (“Yugoslav cultural canon”). This fear united professionals, intellectuals and politicians, regardless of their ideological or political orientation. Driven by “centrifugal forces of ethno-politics and ethno-economics” Slovenia became a nation state for the first time in June 1991, when the Eastern Bloc of Cold War started to collapse, which removed the most compelling Western reason for working to keep the Yugoslav state together.
The central role that culture played throughout Slovenia’s history created an atmosphere whereby artists had more “space” to develop their own projects and to organise themselves in independent associationseven during the socialist regime. Although in the years following the Second World War, certain writers and a list of books were removed from public libraries, the state systematically established new cultural institutions, enabled operation of central professional associations and supported the works of artists, recognising the power of culture in creating the new order and showing how flourishing, inspiring and successful it was. With an effective system of administrative measures, the state also “intervened” in their work through administrative measures to suppress problematic journals (for example Beseda (1956), Revija 57 (1958), Perspektive (1964)), or ban suspicious artistic texts (for example Muževna steblika (1967)) or performances (for example Topla greda (1974)) and even to close avant-garde theatres (for example Oder 57). On the other hand, they allowed the establishment and funding of new ones all over again. Since a well-thought and effective system of preliminary censorship was set in place, plays, films, books, and performances were often banned before the opening, or in the middle of rehearsals (an intervention always executed silently and invisibly to the public) and almost no documents or traces survive of these cases. The result was a very small number of Slovenian political decedents and an overwhelming public apparatus that absorbed the majority of the most important intellectuals and artists. The relationship between the political authority and civil society could be therefore defined as a repressive tolerance. There were also some taboos, such as the publications of political immigrants who left the country at the end of the World War II to escape Communist persecution and kept a very intensive cultural life in diaspora.
But there is also a strong social-democratic element to be found emerging with great vigour after 1945, when the masses were to be given access to the arts which had been previously only been accessible to the rich and the disgraced aristocracy. Collectivisation of arts went along with another expression of de-elitisation of art going through the cultural policy, favouring amateur culture, which therefore permitted the setting up of cultural associations. Therefore, three parallel cultural scenes evolved at the end of the 1970s / beginning of the 1980s; often in opposition to each other: established institutional culture supported by the authorities, amateur culture assisted by quasi-governmental umbrella organisations and independent alternative culture tolerated at the margins. Due to the preferential treatment of “progressive”, “socialist” currents, the first two components enjoyed structural funding while the third one got some project funding occasionally.
When most of Europe was creating centralised models for cultural policies during the 1950s and 1960s, Slovenia, like other Yugoslav republics went through a process of decentralisation. Contrary to the “positive image” decentralisation has today, the lack of local money almost destroyed the institutional cultural network in Slovenia and the process was viewed by prominent artists as a facade and a manipulation in order to break cultural nationalism in all six republics of ex-Yugoslavia into harmless units and to enable, via the local level, easier control over “fragmented” culture. Another important feature in the general political scene of the late 1960s was some attempts at liberalism in the economy but the process was associated with the national egoism of the most developed republics; the liberals were slipping from power and became a target of conservative ire.
Although the cultural policy was affected, in the first part of the1970s, by a clash with the liberalism of the late 1960s, the development of cultural policy took a sharp turn when Slovenia was granted more autonomy from the Yugoslav Federation in the area of culture. This era was otherwise known as the period of “self-management” when responsibility for cultural programming was delegated to the cultural communities, where it was debated and created by both producers and consumers of culture. Thus, in the field of cultural policy, political units (the republic and the local communities) were replaced by interest units (cultural communities). Local cultural communities (approximately 60) had a great deal of power in decision-making and resource allocation on the local level. According to the concept of polycentric development, the larger municipalities became cultural centres (ca. 25) and decentralisation remained a key political orientation. Later, national culture finally obtained its place within the Cultural Community of Slovenia and, in the 1980s a national cultural policy platform was created. Considered to be one of the most important periods in Slovene cultural policy history, the Cultural Community of Slovenia and 60 local cultural communities formed a strong administrative apparatus, which raised the level of cultural policy-making, empowered its place in society and created favourable conditions for cultural development. From a functional aspect, the self-management model proved to be ineffective as it was over regulated, centralised and exclusive. The author of the system was himself aware of the increasing conviction of his contemporaries that self- management is at best a formality and at worst a fraud. According to the well known sociologist Josip Županov, the system was considered utopian, with little connection to reality, It experienced economic failure even before political difficulties occurred. The self-management system came to an end in 1989, but the utopian nature of the self-management model was evident already in the middle 1980s, when an economic recession forced the state to take over the local funds for cultural institutions in order to preserve them.
Separate laws for each cultural activity were created as each was “of special social concern”. The main difference between the Western European system of public service and the Socialist regulation in Slovenia is the following:
- the public service system is only an organisational forum for public authorities to organise cultural provision without any ambition to drive out private cultural providers; and
- the socialist model highly regulated cultural activities and entrusted them to the institutional monopoly and the professional initiatives of private organisations, i.e. alternative culture was forced to withdraw into the sphere of amateur culture.
Only in the 1980s did the state allow the possibility for private activities in the sphere of culture and the status of a freelance artist and special register were introduced. Before the introduction of this status, there were only state artists to whom the state provided social security contributions, while tolerating that some technical film workers and translators settled their pension assurance directly with the agency. Similarly, the central artistic associations, which functioned as para-governmental organisations, were also budget-financed. The state in this manner controlled all the organisational forms. Nevertheless, the Association of Slovenian Writers evolved into a driving force for democratic change and independence.
After the death of the charismatic socialist leader Josip Broz Tito, the communist party started to lose its undisputed position. The authorities became insecure and at the same time apprehensive about democratic and social processes striving to achieve independence. They became aware of the actors fuelling these processes originating mainly from the cultural field. Culture was certainly a cradle nurturing these processes. The 1980s were, therefore, the golden years for the Slovenian cultural infrastructure and its artists: from the point of view of artistic freedom and societal financial support.
In spite of the adoption of a new legal framework in 1996 (Exercising of the Public Interest in the Field of Culture Act (now translated as the Act Regulating the Realisation of the Public Interest in the Field of Culture)to replace the self-management cultural model with a democratic paradigm, the cultural system has not yet experienced significant structural changes in terms of shifting from paternalistic to neoliberal discourse. In fact the image of the democratic transition in the arts context was far from the cultural policy trends going on in the 1990s in Western Europe; trends which have been marked by a pervasive managerialist and market reasoning in the public sector that undermined the autonomy of art. On the contrary, the sector’s strong belief in artistic autonomy anticipated the cultural policy inspired by legacies of romanticism and idealism based on certain norms such as “subsidy for arts’ sake” and “funding without strings”. Therefore the democratic transition has never meant any sacrifice of artistic goals to the whims of the democratic majority or neoliberal tendencies. A weak cultural market with underdeveloped support schemes and tax incentives could not present a reliable alternative to the traditional model. Without any additional budgetary injections to place culture in the centre of social development and mobilise its economic potential, the only natural response was a defensive attitude towards changes that resulted in the perpetuation of traditional meanings and functions of culture.
The democratisation of culture in Slovenia had already started with the self-management system. Therefore, the Slovenian cultural policy developed at an incremental pace during the process of transition in the 1990s. In the new situation, when culture lost its ideological and national-legitimisation potential, the transition was therefore reduced to accommodating democratic procedures. The former socialist concept of culture as the area of special social meaning was translated into the democratic concept of public interest for culture, where the responsibility for cultural policy was, after the abolishment of the self-management system in 1990, returned to public authorities. The socio-political governance structure executed through cultural communities was transformed into a representative democracy, where decisions were taken by elected politicians on the national and local levels. The system of juries of peers nominated by a minister to decide on the quality of the artistic propositions was established but with an advisory role, as the final decision rests with the minister. However, the ministers as a rule follow the proposals of the juries. In the situation of the ever smaller project funds this system could also serve as an alibi for the absence of political engagement. The public authorities now equipped with the democrat mandate left the field of culture to become an internal affair of the cultural circles as it lost its previous central role in nation-building. The positive notion of the arm`s length principle has blurred the problem of such political marginalisation of the cultural sector, which consequently became more insular and inward looking. In this situation, the explosive growth of the cultural industries, the digital revolution and the liberal trade pressure found cultural policy and the cultural sector unprepared. After the abolition of the self-management system, there was no explicit cultural policy in Slovenia until the adoption of a new National Programme for Culture 2004-2007. But even afterwards no structural changes have happened.
Therefore all essential systemic transitional changes were brought by the general reforms such as privatisation, local community reform, the public finance system, the tax system and the civil service system. The latest system that was based on the traditional bureaucratic model of all employees as public servants was accepted by both the cultural policy and cultural sector without any hesitation.
The changes can be summarised as follows:
- the privatisation of publishing houses, cinemas and the media;
- the de-nationalisation of some venues previously used for cultural purposes including some cultural monuments that were given back to their former owners (in both cases mainly the Roman Catholic Church);
- new higher taxes on cultural goods and services;
- the reform of local government and the introduction of integral local government budgeting, where the local governments self-define their own priorities;
- attempts to set objectives for programme budgeting and related financing;
- the enforcement of a unified salary system for all civil and public servants, rigid hiring-firing and administratively regulated promotions; and
- overall explosion of auditing activity with constant checking and verification.
Although international foundations such as the Open Society Institute invested some resources in the modernisation of the cultural sector, it was limited to independent cultural projects, organisations and art initiatives. This support has not succeeded in creating the critical mass of organisations and individuals that would have the capacity to initiate new production and dissemination forms and models. When this assistance ended, the Slovenian independent cultural scene found itself in financial insecurity, which remains a parallel structure without serious chance of becoming part of the mainstream. Meanwhile, the mainstream cultural infrastructure, composed of public institutions, preserves the characteristics of state bureaucracy with the system of public servants at the top.
Slovenia began accession negotiations with the European Union in 1996 and became a member state in 2004. The harmonisation of legislation, and its implementation in the field of culture, began mainly in two areas: the harmonisation of media legislation with the European Television Without Frontiers Directive and the introduction of VAT (in accordance with the 6th Directive of the EU) on books and audio-visual material. The latter has had a negative impact on Slovenia’s culture industries. The question regarding the implementation of the Council Directive on Rental and Lending Rights and on Certain Rights Related to Copyright remains open. Slovenia’s position is to maintain library compensation measures in all public libraries and not on authors’ copyright. It was also necessary to amend legislation considered discriminatory for the citizens of EU Member states, i.e. in the field of employment, the establishment of business etc.
The moment of joining the EU could be considered as the end of the transitional period, at least concerning all those areas that fell under acquis communitaire. Although culture represents an area of shared responsibility between member states and the EU, the principle of subsidiarity preserves national sovereignty over non-commercial cultural activities. In spite of the fundamental changes in the political and economic spheres, significant structural transition in the public cultural sector has not occurred yet. Thus, the huge infrastructure of public cultural organisations has remained unexamined, unchanged and unchallenged and doubt regarding its functional and rational operation is further eroding its credibility.
Main features of the current cultural policy model
According to the Act Regulating the Realisation of the Public Interest in the Field of Culture (2002), the main elements of the current cultural policy model are:
- The central role of public authorities in the area of culture: the Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia defines itself as a social state. The further development of cultural goods as public goods and related presumption of public interest for culture are also part of this paradigm;
- Intensive regulation but weak monitoring: there areno regular activities to monitor the implementation of regulation. Existing administrative inspectorial supervision of the performance of statutory and regulative provisions in the area of culture and media by the Inspectorate of the Republic of Slovenia for Culture and Media, a body incorporated within the Ministry, cannot replace regulatory impact assessment as a regular governmental activity;
- Complicated procedures but weak ex-post evaluation: the process and procedures to distribute public funds aimed at increasing transparency and competitiveness are in fact difficult and frustrating for both the cultural administration and for the receivers of public funds. Once the funds are distributed through the public tenders there is no evaluation of whether their objectives were achieved;
- Expert advice on financial decisions: several expert committees for individual disciplines (17) composed of artists and other concerned professionals prepare the proposals for financing,
- Heavy institutionalisation of Slovenian culture: public cultural institutions emerged out of the civic initiatives which began in the 19th century. They were nationalised as a consequence of regular financing received during the first decades of the last century. After the Second World War the communist ideology created a monopoly over professional cultural activities. Due to the neoliberal pressure, and in the sunset of welfare policy, de-etatisation has lost its appeal and institutional status remains the most appreciated format for cultural operation.
- Public cultural institutions are not part of state or local administration: as a legacy of the previous ex Yugoslavian self-management system,all institutions are separate legal entities under public law with full legal and business capacity and their own management structure. Nevertheless, a central system of public servants and budgetary funding procedures define strict frameworks for their operation;
- Multiannual programme financing: in 2004, besides annual project funding, three-year structural financing for NGOs was introduced. Due to the limited financing at both national and local levels the independent cultural sector still lacks recognition and support for its new models of production, innovative work practises and collaboration;
- Decentralised cultural infrastructure: The main concept for cultural development applied after the Second World War was polycentric, and based on approximately 25 traditional cultural centres in Slovenia. Municipalities are in charge of museums, library activities, amateur cultural and art activities and other cultural programmes of local importance. In areas where national minorities live, the municipalities are also obliged to support their cultural activities. There is no intermediate level of government between the state and local authorities yet;
- Policy of extensions: no new construction or any developments in the national cultural infrastructure (even the new National Library project remains unfulfilled for more than a decade); there is only renovation of historical buildings (e.g. Slovenian Philharmonia, Opera House, Modern Gallery, Metelkova premises, Slovenian Kinoteka).
However, there is an explicit political announcement (in the last three national programmes for culture- 2004-2007, 2008-2011 and 2014-2017) regarding the modernisation of the public cultural sector or even the introduction of the new cultural model, but without any concrete results, as every substantial proposal was faced with strong resistance from the field.
The main elements of the allocation of state funds are:
- State funding model: Due to the small cultural market, traditionally paternalistic relations between public authorities and the cultural sector and weak tax incentives for cultural activities highly depend on public funding;
- High fixed part of the annual state budget for culture: Since the majority of state public funds goes to public institutions (ca 70%), new modes of production are financially marginalised (ca 6%);
- Centralised funding of larger municipal institutions: The establishment of local governments, which would independently take decisions on their own priorities, presented a threat to the decentralised concept. Therefore, since the middle of the 1980s, all larger municipal cultural institutions (ca 40 – 12 theatres, the rest are museums) have been state financed. However, local governments independently manage these institutions and appoint directors to their respective councils.
Cultural policy objectives
The general objectives of Slovene cultural policy are determined by the Act Regulating the Realisation of the Public Interest in the Field of Culture (2002). They are: supporting cultural creativity, access to culture, active participation in cultural life, cultural diversity, cultural heritage conservation and development of Slovene cultural identity together with the development of so the called Common Slovenian Cultural Space, which includes Slovenian minorities living in neighbouring countries: Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia. According to this Law, further policy elaboration is left to the National Programme for Culture, defined as a strategic document for the permanent and integral development of Slovenian culture.
The first one was adopted for the period 2004-2007 followed by the second one for the period 2008-2011. The main characteristic of both documents are the abundance of objectives (more than 40) and a lack of priorities and feasible indicators to measure their realisation. More radical changes were promoted in the introductory notes of the National Programme for Culture 2008–2011, which it was hoped would bring about reform of cultural policy and provide more opportunities for creativity in the four year period.
The unstable political situation from 2010 on and related frequent changes of the minister of culture made it impossible to adopt the national programme for culture on time by 2011. One illustrative comment was that in spite of this political handicap the cultural sector did not stop functioning normally. Finally, the Minister of Culture (March 2013 to August 2014) succeeded in finishing the legislative procedure and a new National programme for culture for the period 2014-2017 was adopted in 2013. The programme had the following objectives;
to preserve and develop the Slovenian language; to promote cultural diversity; to ensure access to cultural goods and services; to support artistic creativity and artists; to encourage and promote cultural education in schools; to educate young people for cultural professions; to encourage the culture industries and major investments from business to culture; to encourage the process of digitalisation; to modernise the public cultural sector in terms of better efficiency, openness and autonomy; and to improve the situation of NGOs.
The programme underlines three leading principles, namely excellence, diversity and accessibility, yet all three are of course very loose names for the general cultural policy principles and cannot serve as direction-serving concepts. The main novelties are therefore the introduction of the cultural and creative industries and cultural market discourses and the explicit mention of the labour market in the cultural sector (as a crossover topic covering the public sector, the NGO sector, those self-employed and private companies in culture). It defines the objectives of an increase in employment in NGOs, the private sector and self-employment.
In promoting the new programme, the Minister said it would provide “a compass and a new model for Slovenian culture“. Other main differences between the old and new programmes are the lack of a preamble (the programme for 2014-2017 is based purely on concrete sectorial, intersectorial and crossover measures while the programme of 2008-2011 starts with a longer preamble explaining the main conceptual issues in cultural policy); the lack of a financial plan (the programme for 2014-2017 features only calculations for individual measures and lacks a complete picture); a special final chapter in the programme for 2014-2017 is dedicated to the EU Structural Funds a with short description of the sectors where the funds should be used; and a change in buzzwords, characterising the programmes – while the programme for 2008-2011 was based on syntaxes, such as “intercultural dialogue” and “public-private partnerships”, the programme for 2014-2017 is based on different, “catchy” buzzwords, such as “markets in culture” and “cultural and creative industries”. While it is still too early to judge the success of the 2014-2017 programme, one can easily observe that almost nothing has changed in the field of public-private partnerships in culture (the only really publicly acclaimed project, the renovation of Ljubljana’s old Rog Factory, didn’t manage to get any private partner at all, to be finally supported purely by public resources). Another interesting thing is that the accepted programme for 2014-2017 doesn’t mention the consequences of the financial crisis which echoes the (non-)response to the crisis of past governments.
The envisaged support for the new topics in the programme for 2014-2017 will depend on European cohesion policy funds. The data for 2013 shows that the national funding of the public institutions was, in the time of crisis, on the increase, while the ‘third’ sector remained level. This indicates that it has not been possible to accomplish the Minister’s mandate to fulfil the promise of a “new compass” or new model. The next Minister took office in September 2014 after a premature election.