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Report from the course Managing Cultural Transitions: Southeastern Europe 1

This was the fourth in a series of postgraduate courses on 'Redefining Cultural Identities', organized by the Department for Culture and Communication of the Institute for International Relations, Zagreb. It took place at the Inter-University Centre in Dubrovnik, 9-16 May 2004. It was attended by nineteen students and ten lecturers from twelve countries (Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovenia, and USA). In its fourth session the course concentrated on cultural transitions in SEE. The first course in 2000 was devoted to the Multicultural Contexts of the Central European and Mediterranean Regions. It was followed by a course that dealt with the Redefinition of Cultural Identities in Southeastern Europe. The third course entitled Cultural Industries and Technological Convergence concentrated on cultural industries, technological convergence, cultural consumption, and cultural identities in the Southeastern European and Central European countries in transition 2.

'Redefining Cultural Identities' continued with this year's course entitled Managing Cultural Transitions: Southeastern Europe. After a brief introduction that included a short history of the project, the course started with the session on overview of theoretical and conceptual frameworks of cultural transitions. Jiřina Šmejkalova in her lecture Cultural Transitions: Some Conceptual Issues noted that due to globalization processes, triggered through new technologies, cultural transition occurs at different levels all over the world. She concentrated on three theoretical research areas important for studying cultural transitions in the Eastern European (EE) region. These are: East European studies, cultural studies, and the current regional cultural research. During the last decade these areas had to position themselves in relation to Marxism, which was a prevailing theoretical framework of cultural research during socialism and communism. Due to their complex discourses and the connection with Marxism, cultural studies did not evolve as a particular specialization within social studies. However, the key problem of cultural research in the EE is the loss of focus after the dissolution of the former regimes. Transition did not provide a supportive framework for further development and specialization of social studies and humanities.

In the concluding remarks Jiřina Šmejkalova stressed that it is up to contemporary researchers of Southeastern Europe to develop regional cultural research and thus establish cultural studies by going beyond the tradition of East European studies.

In her lecture Cultural Contexts of Transition Processes Nada Švob-Đokić stressed the difficulties of contextualizing cultures and cultural studies in today's world. It is ever more difficult to define culture as it is becoming intertwined with the activities and regulations that are not strictly cultural. Differences between transition vs. transformation were outlined, and it was explained how they relate to cultural context and cultural space. Due to the globalization processes, cultural transitions move cultures from national towards international and global cultural spaces. This sometimes occurs through the establishment of 'integrated cultural zones' that transcend borders and turn cultures into 'liberated' spaces of creation and production. In the contemporary world such zones are mostly urban, regional or continental. They provide space for vivid and intense intercultural relations, strong mutual influences and new creativity. In such environment cultures produce new values in their own right and turn to markets ever more. However, such zones tend to remain concentrated on education rather than on culture (e.g., European higher education space), thus leaving the problem of cultural identification ever more open and individualized.

The lessons of the second day offered an insight into the cultural economics of the SEE region. In the presentation entitled Mapping the Position of Cultural Industries in Southeastern Europe, Jaka Primorac analyzed the field of cultural industries in the region. The key problems encountered during the analysis of the cultural industries in the region are: lack of data; the fact that data that exist are not structured; the existing structured data differ from country to county and this is the reason why comparisons are rather difficult.After separate insights into the existing data on cultural industries – movie industry, book industry, recording industry, and the media - the overall assessment of the situation of cultural industries in SEE was given. All sectors of cultural industries have similar tribulations: problems of distribution in and out of the country, piracy/copyright violations, small-scale production, costs of translation, and the need for regulation of the market. What is needed in cultural industries of the region is the openness towards international cultural industries according to the global economic interdependence.

The art market and the position of the artist in the market was discussed in the workshop Arts and Markets, held by the artist Slaven Tolj, director of Art Radionica Lazareti (Art Workshop Lazareti) based in Dubrovnik. Slaven Tolj outlined the position of the contemporary artists in Southeastern Europe. They are burdened with a number of problems. According to him, the art market in the region, notably in Croatia, does not exist. Minor artists and minor art products are easily sold. The position of the artist is nontransparent and rather difficult. It is interesting that artists rarely react by self-organizing themselves. If they join together, it is more on the basis of artistic style, rather than according to similar economic problems. When networking eventually occurs, implying solutions of economic problems, it unfortunately disappears before the funding for such networking stops. The position of the artist is complicated by the occurrence of 'curator star system', through which artists may be presented in foreign countries, but remain underpaid and sometimes humiliated.

In order to illustrate the work of the Art Radionica Lazareti, a film was made on the basis of an international art project called the 'Island', organized by the Art Radionica Lazareti and the Institute for Contemporary Art in Zagreb.

The third session dealt with the social context of cultural transitions. Vjeran Katunarić presented his 'work-in-progress' entitled After Decentralization: The New Public Culture, in which he outlined some of the key aspects of the new public cultures in SEE, and influences of cultural policies on the rise of a new public culture. One of the problems is that cultural policy is either not clear or too abstract. Cultural policy actors are afraid of confronting the question of the goal of (current) cultural policy. Vjeran Katunarić noted that in SEE the marriage of economy and culture is not a happy one and that neither artists themselves nor cultural workers know how to solve the problems of the triad - art/market/cultural policy. The public culture is changing and the differentiation between old and new public culture is being examined. As a concluding remark Vjeran Katunarić presented James Ensor's painting 'Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889' as an illustration of what he sees as the new public culture model.

The lecture given by Vesna Čopič Culture in Transition: Reconceptualization of the Role of Politics, Experts and Civil Society also examined aspects of old/new public culture. She stressed that we have to think about the change of the overall social sector's policy and not only about the cultural policy. In the context of EU enlargement, cultural policy is not an area of special EU interest. Vesna Čopič presented the key cultural policy differences between the 1980's cultural policy model in Slovenia and the current one, which illustrates the transition that is still under way.

The fourth day of the course was dedicated to cultural policies. The first presentation, Cultural Policies – Needs and Impact Assessments by Delia Mucica, gave guidelines important for the development and creation of cultural policies. After presenting some key objectives of cultural policies as they occur in international cultural policy documents, Delia Mucica noted that there need to be four key principles in cultural policymaking. These principles are subsidiarity, proportionality, transparency and openness and consultation and participation of stakeholders. These principles should be taken into account when detecting the needs and impact assessments of cultural policy – they need to be done by (for example) SWOT analysis apparatus and various other tools and techniques. Cultural policymaking process is a never-ending process as it is always difficult to articulate the current public interest due to the changing socio-economic and cultural environment. Delia Mucica concluded that what is needed in the cultural policymaking process is a logically consistent process linking policy, regulation, cultural activity and their assessments at macro and micro levels.

In the following lecture The Influence of the EU Enlargement on Cultural Policies in Countries in Transition, Nina Obuljen stressed that EU cultural policy exists, although it is not defined separately. This can be highlighted through the model of policy transfer – either across countries/regions, or across disciplines. We have to examine other policies, resolutions, and directives in order to detect the presence of cultural policy issues. A new problem appears there – the EU cultural policy was hijacked by other fields!

When analyzing the issue of EU enlargement, an important question is what consequences are produced by processes that are happening simultaneously, i.e., transition, access to the market economy, enlargement and trade liberalization, and globalization. The impact of the enlargement can be twofold - direct (harmonization, changes of legislation, etc.) and indirect (arising as a consequence of policy transfer). It can be concluded that the formulation of cultural policies in the context of the EU enlargement is rather difficult due to: harmonization of legislation, implementation of new legislation, and most of all due to rather conservative/defensive approach concerning culture and cultural policies of EU.

The questions raised during these two presentations were developed into a workshop entitled Criteria of Evaluation of SEE Cultural Policies to which Nada Švob-Đokić and Nina Obuljen gave a brief introduction 3. It appeared that cultural diversity, as presented in cultural policies of the region, is a rather abstract issue. The participants offered comments or in-views into cultural policies and their implementation in their respective countries. The attention was often concentrated on practices related to observance of cultural diversity and minority/majority relationships.

The cultural communication session opened with the lecture by Dona Kolar Panov entitled Cultural Policy and the Digitalization of Culture. Digitalization has changed the culture field immensely by creating new spaces of communication, organization, sociability and knowledge and information markets. The question of the digital divide is present, but as Dona Kolar-Panov argues, all things considered, it is more a question of an equal access to the same digital resources. In addition, not only that the means of production of culture have been digitalized but the means of preservation of cultural heritage as well. This new situation also opens the problem of preserving and archiving born-digital material, and it also introduces the problem of copyright issues that are not yet clearly defined. Considering the cultural policy and digitalization question, she stresses that in the region there is more or less no cultural policy practiced, just guidelines might be given. This can especially be noted in SEE, as the new technologies (as well as other cultural industries like sports, fashion, tourism, etc.) are never included in national cultural policies. Unfortunately this shows that culture is not recognized as an equal part of economic development. Dona Kolar Panov concluded: 'Digitalization is what culture in the information society is about; it is not only the means of preservation of cultural heritage and the collective memory, or of yesterday's culture, but it is also the means of preservation of the culture and creativity of today'.

Zrinjka Peruško's lecture on Transnational Media Concentration and Its Impact on Cultural and Media Diversity in Southeastern Europe was next on the agenda. Zrinjka Peruško stressed that media diversity and pluralism are the central theme of the contemporary European media policies. The danger of pluralism in the transition context of SEE comes from two sides – from the past (before democratic consolidation) and from the future (after democratic consolidation). In this way one has to examine some of the global trends that influence the SEE region, such as media concentration, technological convergence and hyper-commercialization of media industries. Some of these problems (such as media concentration) are more pronounced in Central and Eastern Europe than in the West. It is interesting that in the SEE region media concentrates in clusters. In order to make changes in this sector, one should develop better monitoring systems for ownership transparency, audience and content concentration. Legal regulations against concentration, monopoly and global liberalizing trends should be developed. Regarding media diversity, for the time being there is no European model for regulating it and no recommendations for it. Nevertheless, it is crucial that policy makers of SEE take into account the ramifications for cultural diversity and pluralism of opinion.

Managing Cultural Transitions: Southeastern Europe ended with a plethora of new themes opened for further discussion and research. The theme on 'Managing Cultural Transitions' will be the main topic of the course next year as well, but the programme will concentrate on the issue of creative industries.

Jaka Primorac



1. This report was first published in Culturelink (2004), Vol.15 (43), 35-40. The proceedings from the first two seminars were published in the Culturelink Joint Publication Series: Redefining Cultural Identities: The Multicultural Context of the Central European and Mediterranean Regions, and Redefining Cultural Identities: Southeastern Europe. A special dossier on the third course Redefining Cultural Identities: Cultural Industries and Technological Convergence was published in Culturelink (2002), vol.13 (37), 113-142.

2. See Culturelink Dossier in: Culturelink - Number 37, Year 2002, Volume 13.

3. Based on the article Comparative Cultural Policy Issues Related to Cultural Diversity in South East Europe that is available on-line at the Policies for Culture web site: http://www.policiesforculture.org/dld/PfC_NSvob-Djokic_SEEDiversity.pdf


Institute for International Relations
Institute for International Relations
Inter-University Centre