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Expert Meeting

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Cultural Policies and Cultural Development in Southeastern Europe: New Realities and Challenges

Expert Meeting


Zagreb, Croatia, 10-11 September 2004

Final Report

The expert meeting on cultural policy and cultural development, organized by Culturelink in coordination with Department for Culture and Communication at the Institute for International Relations (IMO) in Zagreb, gathered together a pool of regional experts in cultural policy, cultural research and cultural management field in the region. The aim of the meeting was to map out what are the key problems in the field of culture of the Southeastern Europe (SEE), how should they be approached, and what are the new challenges that are being encountered.

The first session was opened by Nada Švob-Đokić, (Culturelink/IMO) who gave a brief introduction to the problematic of cultural transition in the countries of SEE. The identification of the region is still open and unsettled. The concept of 'SEE', that stands for a modernized European region gradually takes the place of 'the Balkans' that stands for a more traditional understanding of the region. Two generations of reforms have been introduced; first generation brought liberalization, stabilization of economies and privatization, political extinction of socialist institutions and introduction of democracy. The second generation of reforms are concentrated on issues of 'good governance': improvement of regulatory apparatus, rendering monetary and fiscal institutions independent, strengthening corporate governance, enhancing the functioning of the judiciary, etc. The 'qualitative' changes are gaining ground now.

In this context, the need to produce cultural policies and strategies at the national levels became obvious. In less than ten years, from 1996 to the present, all countries of the region have elaborated their cultural policies. Now, evaluations, assessments and further research in cultures and cultural transitions are in front of us.

All these developments have led to the need to redefine the region, intra-regional relations and regional (cultural) cooperation. The basis and the background of all future relations should be built through the full acceptance of the diversity of this region particularly reflected in the position of minorities, and through coordination of interests of different cultures, societies and countries. In conclusion, Nada Švob-Đokić stressed, that after about fifteen years of transition the Southeastern European region has changed radically. It has been shaped by the external EU influences, and by local efforts to join the EU. Regional identity is now reflected in the willingness to acknowledge the diversity of the region and promote new frameworks for cooperation that include flexible approaches, coordination and partnership.

In addition, one has to note that after fifteen years countries and cultures of the region are restoring inner links, but on different basis. The cooperation in the region is slowly increasing and the level of expertise in the culture field is rather high. It has to be stressed that the current cooperation is based more on the interpersonal networking rather than on cooperation on the international level. That comes from the fact that people are more ready to consume cultural products coming from the region now than they were just few years ago. To develop an increase in culture industries, what should be established are better links and trade of cultures in the region – we should invest more in changes in communication, new technologies, and in this way put more culture products on the market. This last assumption was shortly debated, as other participants are more skeptical on the perspectives of cultural industries; they see SEE countries too small for this type of industries to develop.

Corina Suteu, (Ecumest, Bucharest) begun her presentation entitled 'Opportunities for Future Cultural Cooperation in the Region: Opportunities and Issues, Dangers and Obstacles' with the notion that not only positive impacts of the future European enlargement are noticeable but also new obstacles. New divisions among countries have been created which also refers on what has been previously said on growing diversities. Her presentation was organized around three points:

  • impact of the EU enlargement in Southeastern Europe (views on the Balkans, role of Turkey);
  • ambiguous foreign policy of the EU in the region; and
  • lack of legal frameworks, etc.

Henceforth, one asks what are our priorities and needs so as to be able to position ourselves in the region, as opposed to the priorities and interests of foreign cultural agencies that are investing in this area. Corina Suteu stresses that the region has to relativise its focus on Western Europe and stress cooperation with the Mediterranean, or with Africa. In connection to this the cultural diversity of the region has to be highlighted, but the key question is how - how to put all these issues into policy? This question is connected to the on-going debate that is present in Western Europe as well as in SEE, and that is the question how do we actually make cultural policies work.

The next topic that was put on debate is a question of how to restore the social capital of countries as the differences between them are becoming larger and larger, not only in between the countries, but also within the countries as well. Some of these differences in social capital already existed, for example between countries of former Yugoslavia and others in the region, as Yugoslavia was more opened to the West. We need to know what is happening – there is a lack of research in the region and on the region. This is evident on the level of cultural research as well as on the level of cultural cooperation. For example, there are many legal frameworks in this region but they are not employed – we actually do our cooperation on an ad hoc basis.

In the framework of her presentation Corina Suteu posed a rather intriguing question as whether we should agree on a cluster of values that are not negotiable. This question stirred up a discussion in the group whether we need to have common values of the region at all? There is nothing wrong with sharing values, and multiple identities are something that is usual in the region. Actually, this is something on what this region can provide expertise; this is a part of knowledge capital that is useful for the analysis of the region as well. The point is that some values should not be imposed on others (e.g., the practice of insisting on one language standard, etc.). What is needed is the coordination and free choice of values; not either blind acceptance or rejection. It was discussed that implicitly we are talking on the strive for the same aspects of values – we would like to live in some continuity as in the West. This reference to the West should not be taken as bad, as it symbolizes stability and continuity. When discussing the ways to achieve this kind of stability and continuity, other participants noted that we should turn more to the regional mobility of people, that is, to regional cooperation not only just horizontally but also vertically.

This line of pragmatic approach to the problem of cultural cooperation can be noted in the presentation by Lidia Varbanova, (Center for Intercultural and Social Development, Montreal) entitled 'Cultural Financing and Cultural Development: Some Reflections on Relevant European Trends and Their Possible Influence in the Region'. She stressed that the key problem, which was noted previously in the discussion, is the diminishing of the funding for the projects from the SEE – funds from UNESCO, CoE, Soros and other international organizations do not support projects in the region as they used to. There is also a serious lack of national and regional alternative financial instruments for support of cultural cooperation. This is a highly important issue - to achieve cultural or any kind of cooperation you have to have resources and a well-developed framework for it. She noted that this is one of the reasons for the orientation of mobility and cultural cooperation to Western Europe, that is, this orientation is not based on ideological basis but on financial. In connection to this, quite paradoxical question occurred; why was cultural cooperation been rather minimal while various foundations backed it up, and it is rising now when this support is diminishing? For cultural development in the region we have to know more about the status of the arts, artists and cultural organizations in the neighboring countries, also: what is our motivation to cooperate and create cross-boarder projects, where the funding is, how the mobility should be organized, and what is the existing infrastructure in SEE - all these issues are problematic. She stressed the importance of the recently launched Laboratory of European Cultural Cooperation, which aims to provide comprehensive, expertly coordinated information, knowledge and services in the interests of cultural cooperation in Europe, to generate new knowledge and enhance collaborative artistic practices in Europe and to serve the European cultural field. The LAB is an initial four-year pilot project (2004-2007) based on a broad partnership platform, led by the European Cultural Foundation and (to be) financed by an alliance of public and private partners.

In addition, Lidia Varbanova stressed the work done by Mark Schuster and Colin Mercer on culture indicators, and she highlighted that its application could be very useful if done at the regional level, as it could help for a better link between research and policy. Other participants agreed on the importance of cultural indicators as one of tools for making strategies and later on for evaluation of culture. Therefore, future cooperation and partnerships should be based on the aims and analysis coming from the region, not outside of it. Research on culture in the region should be done so as to be able to make better assessment of the situation that could result in relevant strategies and action plans.

One of the examples of work done in the region was presented by Marina Đukić, (Center for Permanent Cultural Education (CPEC), Belgrade) with her report 'Cultural Education in the Region: Basic Needs and Possibilities'. She gave and overview of the CPCE programs and what are their aims. Some of their activities include training project managers, marketing and PR persons for work in the field of culture. In this way their main aims were to educate on decentralization of culture, develop training for cultural administrators, and create a network of cultural centers. They aspire to develop into a regional educational center for culture education and consulting, as well as to collaborate with other such centers in the region on capacity building, distant learning programs, MA courses etc.

In the following presentation Violeta Simjanovska, (Multimedia, Skopje) gave an overview of a specific problem in the region and that is - decentralization. In her presentation 'Effects of the Process of Decentralization in the Republic of Macedonia' she stressed that in recent history of Republic of Macedonia there was a perpetual situation of 'to be or not to be' events of which the latest one is decentralization. They started to wrestle with the issue almost ten years ago (Stockholm, 1996) when decentralization was suggested as an advice on future regional development but with no recipe. They are now stuck with a patchwork of laws that create additional problems such as those with new territorial units, fiscal decentralization, and other amortization methods. In the field of culture, The Macedonian Ministry of Culture did kind of decentralization of the cultural institutions by choosing which institution will stay on national level and which will go on local. The way The Ministry of Culture did this selection, was not transparent and without any clear criteria about it. Also this decision was not part of some strategy for cultural development, but only as part of an action plan of the Ministry of Culture, or so called National Program.

The issue of decentralization is not only a problem in Macedonia, other participants stressed, but in other countries as well. Some noted that the reason why decentralization is still not fully applied comes from the fact that without the total transformation of the field to which is applied, the decentralization could result in a total disaster. Others stressed that decentralization is more easily applied in network based organizations such as Clubture in Croatia where, for example, only 20% of events scheduled for the year 2004 were happening in the capital of the country.

In his presentation on 'Intercultural Communication and Mediation in the Region' Sanjin Dragojević, (Faculty of Political Science, Zagreb), stressed the importance of intercultural mediation in the region. This hybrid type of cooperation that establishes and promotes intercultural dialogue through different methods such as artistic activism, socio-cultural animation and media projects, gives an opportunity to bring different cultural groups together through its activities, and in that way establishes dialogue between them. In this line Sanjin Dragojević presented few such projects that are under way in the region. Some of these projects had a special stress on people that are spatially isolated from the society, and others expressed a need for critical regard to ourselves and others in the region.

In the afternoon session Janko Ljumović (Faculty of Drama Arts, Cetinje) gave a presentation entitled 'Cultural Policy of Montenegro between Institutional and Program Approach', where he stresses how cultural policy education, dialogue in the region and work of public administration additional problems in the region. The lack of stress on culture in public administration and lack of education of public administration, as some of key problems in the region, were acknowledged by other participants as well. It was noted that what is more important is the need for transformation of the existing structure – the need for dialogue between 'bottom up' and 'top down' approach was highlighted as well. The region does not lack experts in the analysis on policymaking, but it lacks specialists who are going to implement these new policies and how are they going to be implemented.

The following presentation by Oana Radu, (Ecumest, Bucharest) 'Policies for Culture (PfC): How to Interconnect Cultural Sectors and Actors?' gave a brief sketch of the program done by PfC, and what are its future plans. One of the difficulties that they noted in their work was that when professionals from the region are educated abroad in cultural policy or management field, they could not implement this new acquired knowledge in the region upon their return. The reason is that the situation on the terrain, the mechanisms and contexts are quite different from those in the West. PfC advocates for the participative step-by-step programs that can be applicable in the region. In addition one of the key issues that PfC would advocate for in the future is the mapping out of the situation of research, and to see if something could be done together in the region - it is up to us to analyze our realities, participants stressed.

The following day of the meeting was devoted to discussion on possibilities for future cultural cooperation in the region, and on the need for its evaluation as well. Similar as the day before, the field was approached from very diverse sides - the amendments in cultural policy should be done, education on culture and cultural management ought to be improved, public administration has to be educated on culture issues, and also research on various aspects of culture should be done. Therefore, not only is the research on culture field necessary but the research on cultural cooperation and its improvement is needed as well. Bearing in mind the financial difficulties that are present, what was concluded is that the best model for future cooperation on these issues would be a flexible informal platform (as Circle was - with changing leadership, that makes pressure for different issues in the field of culture from year to year). This platform would advocate for common interests in the research of culture, cultural cooperation and education of researchers from the region. Therefore, there have been two different levels on discussion about future cooperation: discussion on possible projects and the need for coordination. This umbrella of themes would be covered by the work of the platform under a true belief that all these different approaches are complimentary rather than contradictory. There is an urgent need to make the countries of the region mutually visible and to make the right balance between the EU influence and local situation. A model for analyzing our realities should be created, and in this way we should move from the EU more towards the assessment and application of the local knowledge. In this way we should also advocate for the continuation of the existing long-term programs like Policies for Culture, Kultura Nova, etc., and the new ones should be created.

The expert meeting was concluded with plans for future cooperation and coordination. One of the meeting points for the exchange of ideas on the future cultural cooperation will be held at the 'Managing Cultural Transitions' course at Inter University Centre in Dubrovnik in the month of May next year. Until then, the preliminary meetings on models for future cultural cooperation will be held during Belgrade PfC workshop entitled 'Cultural Policy Research in the Countries of South East Europe: Setbacks and Prospects' in the month of October 2004.

For more information, please contact: Jaka Primorac or Aleksandra Uzelac


Institute for International Relations
Institute for International Relations