Organisation of the national culture portfolio
The main debate in last years was triggered by dissolving the Ministry of Culture and transfer of its competencies to a new, so-called “super-ministry” for education, science, culture and sport. According to the Government of the Republic of Slovenia Act 4/93, 71/94 – ZODPM, 23/96, 47/97, 23/99 – ZSOVA, 119/00, 30/01 – ZODPM-C, 52/02 – ZDU-1, 123/04, 24/05 – UPB1, 109/08, 38/10 – ZUKN, 8/12, 21/13, 47/13 – ZDU-1G, and 65/14), the Ministry of Culture was abolished in February 2012, an incorporation of the culture portfolio into a much bigger Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport. This was part of the programme of the newly elected right-wing government, yet was part of the programme of almost all parties participating in the 2011 parliamentary elections. This was somewhat surprising, since culture has had an important role in Slovenian nation-building and that the Ministry of Culture was a symbol of Slovenian cultural sovereignty from the ex-Yugoslavia. Soon after the independence of Slovenia it became clear that culture lost some of its previous importance. Nevertheless the cultural budget has been more or less successfully protected. The discontinuation raised a heated debate and provoked reactions that go far beyond an organisational issue. In presenting the new cabinet, the right-wing prime minister justified the move with the need for cuts. However, columnist Miha Jenko in the left-liberal daily Delo stated that “The question remains, what it best for small Slovenia. The country must abide by global principles in culture as well as finance. Those working in the culture sector should decide the matter for themselves. Ultimately, however, only the coming years will show who is right: those in favour of abolishing the ministry or those who oppose the move. As an author dealing with budgets and other financial matters, I can only say that combining the cultural portfolio with other areas will not bring any financial savings to speak of.” Therefore, the main financial concern did not relate to the potential savings on behalf of the merge, but to the hypothesis that the area of culture lost its main advocate at the political table. In reaction to the abolition of the culture ministry, the Coordinating Committee for Culture (KOKS) was set up by several influential and important cultural associations in Slovenia – altogether 26 of them, from the Writers’ Association (representing in recent Slovenian history the main public voice concerning nationality, creative freedom and political pluralism) to the Asociacija Society (representing NGOs and independent artists). In response to the government’s move, several protests raised opposition to the government decision http://www.sloveniatimes.com/protests-in-defence-of-culture-ministry which reached its climax during celebrations of the Prešeren’s Day (the Slovenian national cultural celebration which commemorates the day of death of the most celebrated Slovenian poet France Prešeren) on 8 February 2012. Several protest actions by cultural organisations and individuals happened during the celebrations yet it didn’t change the decision.
A negative image of the “new super minister” increased in later weeks when he announced severe cuts for the arm’s length bodies, Slovenian Film Centre and Slovenian Book Agency and discontinuation of the Centre for Contemporary Dance Arts (the institution which was established only in 2011 after long years of negotiations). Minister Žiga Turk became the subject of a second wave of attacks following the announcement of severe austerity cuts in the national cultural budget for 2013, which diminished by 14% (the programmes part). When the new left wing coalition took power after the political crisis in 2013 it re-established the Ministry of Culture as a separate ministry.
Finally, in 2014 a new, left-central oriented government was elected under the leadership of Dr. Miro Cerar. The new Minister of Culture, Julijana Bizjak Mlakar, a mathematician, politician and health care expert and activist, had no previous experience or competency in the field of culture. A strong debate followed her election with many cultural intellectuals strongly objecting to her election. Interestingly, several of the heaviest critics became part of the new team of the Ministry, while the real effects and efficiency of the new crew of remains to be seen.
The absence of a sectorial Strategy for Cultural Heritage Protection
According to the Institute for Protection of Cultural Heritage of Slovenia the implementation of the activity of heritage protection is being troubled mostly by the absence of a Strategy of Heritage Protection. This strategy would have to set the objectives, directions and measures of holistic maintenance of heritage, being the subject of public benefit, on the basis of assessments of heritage endangerment and opportunities for its development. The holistic protection of heritage which is not yet being pursued adequately should be realised in developmental planning and measures of the state, regions and municipalities, so to include heritage in the process of sustainable development while respecting its specific nature and social importance.
Several voices call attention to the weak awareness of some actors about their roles towards protection of cultural heritage, the absence of heritage on the level of the state which would advocate for the public interest of heritage protection and not least the disconnection and sporadic character of civil initiatives and interested public who would be an equal partner to protection institutions especially in valorisation, interpretation and planning of protection interventions.
The Strategy should be prepared by the Ministry of Culture in cooperation with sectors whose tasks reach into the field of heritage protection. Such a strategy would be a foundation for preparation of documents of developmental planning and determination of policies in the field of culture, and include spatial regulation, protection of the environment, protection from natural and other disasters, buildings, the economy, tourism, research and the information society, education, training and lifelong learning. Besides the insufficiently established preventive protection of heritage and lack of awareness of society that the activity of heritage protection is also an activity of the economy, the Institute for Protection of Cultural Heritage of Slovenia also establishes the inappropriate channelling of EU resources into cultural monuments in the Republic of Slovenia. Although the adoption of such a strategy is in accordance with the Cultural Heritage Protection Act it is still uncertain if the first such document that would outline long-term and midterm priorities of protection service activities is going to be prepared.