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Members' Activities 2012

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Croatian Culture in the European Union

After the long negotiation process between Croatia and the EU, and the signing of the Treaty of Accession of the Republic of Croatia to the European Union, a referendum was held in January 2012, in which Croatian citizens voted to join the European Union. So far, five countries have ratified the EU Accession Treaty: Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Italy and Malta. Publications and studies that have been published during the accession process, discussions, statements by prominent politicians and slogans showed once again that culture remained on the sidelines. If the question of what accession to the EU means for Croatian culture had even been raised, it mainly referred to cultural identity, which is often substituted by national identity in a rather narrow sense. According to Eurobarometer data from December 2011 (Standard Eurobarometer 76), here is what Croatian citizens think about the "loss of cultural identity": while on an average 11-12% of Europeans are worried about this issue, and citizens of post-Communist countries are almost indifferent to the Union's "threat" to their cultural identity (for example only 5% of Polish people express that fear, and in most other countries the average is below 10%), a high 20 % of the population in Croatia expresses the fear of losing its national identity. It is obvious that in this case cultural identity is perceived as a static, primordial phenomenon, and not as a dynamic process that contributes to communication and development, which requires a relational rather than a categorical identity, an identity that corresponds to many and not just a few. Thus, openness to the EU and the world for these 20% of Croatian citizens becomes questionable, maybe even undesirable. Yet, fortunately, these twenty percent does not constitute an identitary majority.

According to Eurobarometer, the picture regarding cultural diversity is somewhat different. Among the answers to the question of what the EU symbolizes to the Croatian citizen personally, mobility, or rather the freedom of movement, work and study, leads the list with 48%, while cultural diversity is still well-placed with 16%, ahead of peace and social security - and almost at the same level as democracy. Today, cultural diversity is a major challenge due to the rapid increase in the multicultural composition of many societies and countries. Stronger migration leads to new cultural expressions, and shows that diversity is constantly renewed and developed. Since cultural diversity is a basic dimension of intercultural dialogue, its protection and promotion are important for the development of Croatia. Nevertheless, cultural diversity should neither be understood as a pretext for cultural heritage in a traditional, conservative sense - cultural heritage is also a wealth, as is identity, which grows steadily owing to works and deeds of past and contemporary generations of creative people alike.

Croatia will participate as a full member in the Creative Europe 2014-2020 programme, which foresees the "smart, sustainable and inclusive growth" of the Member States. Cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue, cultural and creative industries, and culture in external relations of the European Union stand out among the priorities of the programme. As all member states have reached a consensus on these three common aspects, they represent the foundation of the European cultural policy, which is presently in the process of formation. The Creative Europe program emphasizes the economic potential of culture and its real economic benefit, i.e. the optimal potential of the cultural and creative sectors for economic growth. However, this potential should not be limited to the economic dimension in terms of the commodification of everything and everyone, nor should the economic contribution of culture be the only goal of the Creative Europe programme. Croatia is faced with the responsibility of implementing Creative Europe's strategic directions into its own new cultural policy and strategy: the promotion of intercultural dialogue, the development of cultural and creative industries in the broadest sense, and not just those that bring immediate economic benefits, as well as a stronger role of culture in Croatia's external relations.

Civil society in the Member States, gathered around cultural activities, often emphasizes the crucial role of culture in Europe's sustainable development – culture as one of the key priorities for Europe's future. This is the kind of Europe Croatia should always support. For many reasons. When culture and creativity are the top priority, then the harsh and often brutal arguments about the development so far can be easily put aside. The one-sided understanding and practice of economy grants an indefinite advantage to the rich over the poor, profit over use-value, financial capital over capital created by work, stereotype over variations, North over South, West over East, "eternal" metropolis over "eternal" outskirts, marketing, commercials and commodities over life experience and human values that do not have a price tag on them… In a culture in which (even) "small is beautiful", where everyone is in the minority until the time they become the majority through the strength of their charm instead of muscles, where strength of the mind and heart are not measured by inventions of heavy industry and armaments, in such a culture Croatia has a chance to be the first among equals.

Perhaps unlike any other in the world, the European space offers the possibility of such a culture; maybe not just yet, but certainly in the foreseeable future, because "soft power" suits most cultures, nations and people. There are many more "small" Europeans (popolo minuto, as Gianbattista Vico refers to them) than "great ones", regardless of whether they are seeking their new or second home in Europe, due to the fact that not everything we need is at home in just one place.

The fact that nations as communities of equal people are sought in alliances with others and in certain, yet not long-lasting, solitude – which keeps deluding us as seemingly the only source for freedom and authenticity – is indeed something that Croatia has experienced in its past. Austro-Hungarian, Venetian/Italian and Turkish Croatia, Croatia within the first and then second Yugoslavia, and in between as Independent State of Croatia – are all transitional forms of Croatia's (incomplete) existence. By all accounts, the same transitivity is today represented by the independent Croatia, which is so unhappy with its situation – most importantly, its socio-economic situation (high unemployment rate, low salaries), as well as the political one (the government seems put on different costumes but continue to say the same thing, if not exactly in the same words, then in words of the same meaning and consequence for most people). Is Croatia culturally dissatisfied? The answer depends on how we understand culture, and which aspect of it we are discussing. Currently, culture in Croatia is in the background of interests of politics, corporations and the social majority, which is detrimental to the country. Of course, if we regard culture as (only) a symbolic framework of national identity, then its goal was achieved in 1991, with the establishment of the independent state. This, however, is how culture was perceived in Europe mainly in the nineteenth century. This perception was abandoned as dysfunctional in the meanwhile, in order for the (united) Europe to survive within the globalized world that does not have much regard for the weak and small, and even less so for those who are still insecure, questioning their own identity. Therefore, Croatia also has to overcome this situation and, through its cultural thought and production, its strategy and artistic expression, find its place in the common European effort of opening new horizons.

Someone once said that the new European project is unique because it is not planned as an opposition to the Other, an imaginary or real enemy, created by us partly as an excuse for closing our ranks, and partly as a result of the erosion of democracy. Croatia is much more inclined toward those European Union nations which do not plan to pick up arms, so to speak, but rather wish to foster collaboration, peace and understanding with everyone in their surroundings: the Southern Mediterranean basin and beyond, the inner African continent, the other side of the Atlantic, and Asia that is connected to us by the same land mass. The Europe-World once stood for the colonial project of the European aristocracy and its wealthy citizens. Today, it represents the aspiration to development that serves to bring together, rather than separate. Croatia has proven to be able to communicate and cooperate with its neighbours, regardless of the recent past.

Nevertheless, Croatian culture and cultural policy must, like many others - especially those who have long been on the fringes of Europe and the world - pass another test, related to development: how can culture as a "sector" become an intersectorial strategic link, and how can it in the long run help achieve a dream that is at the same time democratic and national, as well as economic in the sense of an economy that is part of society, and not an absolute ruler over society. It is also a political dream, in the sense of the citizens' participation in taking important decisions for Croatia, as well as a cultural-developmental dream, which is to connect cultural creativity (both elite and of a broader population with some cultural taste and talent) with an economy for all, so to speak. Obviously, this is possible within the culture of "soft power" that we have previously outlined, and which Croatia should support in the EU in the long run, and, thus, try to win allies and friends among the member states, of which there are potentially many. And for this reason we need an EU-Croatia.

Biserka Cvjeticanin and Vjeran Katunaric