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25 Dec 12

Battle for Serbian Arts Pensions Puts Selectors on Spot

The huge number of applications for culture pensions, the small number of winners, as well as unclear criteria for selection, are putting pressure on the commission tasked with the selection.

by Jelena Jovanovic
BIRN Belgrade

Some 400 Serbian artists who spent more than two decades working in culture sector eagerly await a decision in January, when a State Commission will decide who gets a national pensions.

Only 50 will be chosen by the commission whose members are appointed each by the Culture Minister.

Nikola Kusovac, former curator of the National Museum

Among them is Nikola Kusovac, former curator of the National Museum who, despite a fruitful career and numerous achievements, failed to obtain a national pension last year.

He was nominated by group of artists, members of ULUS, the most important art association in Serbia.

„It's uncomfortable when you fail, and you have behind you a meaningful selection of works. I felt what it means to be hurt,“ Kusovac said.

Non-Transparent Commission:

Disappointed by previous decisions of the commission that they found unjust, artists have no illusions over the selection process.

The commission members are known to be handpicked by the Culture Minister, although the list of members is formally approved by the government.

Moreover, the commission gives no public explanation of its decisions, which feeds speculation about irregularities.

Artists and representatives of art associations say the commission lacks clear criteria about whether the pensions should be some kind of a reward for artistic excellence or a form of social assistance to poor culture workers who did much for society, but who in old age cannot make ends meet.

The pressure coming from artists, art associations and the public has made Culture Minister Bratislav Petkovic, as well as the new president of the commission, reluctant to give statements about the pensions for culture before the selection is finished.

The ministry only told Balkan Insight that the commission follows all legal procedures in the selection process.

Although the Commission should have representatives from all artistic professional associations, this year there are no representatives from ULUS and ULUPUDS, the Associations of Fine Artists and Association of Fine and Applied Artists.

Nikola Kusovac, who was proposed by ULUS, said that fact will certainly adversely affect visual artists' chances.

Boiling under pressure:

National pensions for creative art or outstanding contribution to culture were established in 2007 on the suggestion of the then culture minister, Vojislav Brajovic.

The sum of 50,000 dinars (around 500 euro) that was set in 2007 has not changed since.

Over five years, more than 400 prominent culture workers obtained the pensions, but many claim that among those who deserved them were other insignificant artists and also performers from show business.

An example of the pressure under which commission works every year is the fate of the former president of the commission, Svetislav Bozic.

Bozic resigned as a president of the commission at the start of work of this year’s commission, in November, when he first saw the huge pile of applications.

Wanting to „protect outstanding art achievments“ Bozic suggested reforming the way that the pensions are awarded, and resigned when he could not get that done. 

He suggested that associations from all areas of culture that send applications to the ministry should make better selections, and thus provide shorter lists of applicants, making it easier to narrow down the choice.

„There is plenty of room for manipulation of the process of giving national pensions, so it is necessary to change the law, [which is part of Law on Culture, adopted in 2010],“ Bozic told Balkan Insight.

Actor Miodrag Radovanovic, the new president of the Commission, in a play "Nebeski odred" | Photo by Emma Szabo, Courtesy of Jugoslovensko dramsko pozoriste

Miodrag Radovanovic, the new president of the Commission, told Balkan insight that Bozic's resignation showed it was „extremely difficult to be in the commission.

„A lot of people apply and have a right to do so, but people should know and accept that there is always someone better, with better results,“ he said.

He also says art associations should make a better selection of applications they send and so make it easier for the commission to choose from among them.

Dijana Milasinovic Maric, curator and art historian from the ULUPUDS, said the criteria for selection as well as the list of members of the commission should be revised.

She denied that art associations put pressure on the commission by not making a proper selection of their members before sending applications.

„Our criteria are clear: life-long and continuous activity, appreciated and valued in the country or abroad, as well as an artist's contribution to a certain discipline,“ Milasinovic Maric said.

She told Balkan Insight that the problem lay in the unclear criteria of the commission as to whether pensions are welfare or a form of national recognition.

„Recognition has sometimes been given to artists with only a small impact and not very significant work instead of to significant artists with a considerable oeuvre… but it must be also stressed, that it was often given to exceptional artists who deserved it,“ Milasinovic Maric observed. 

Recognition or welfare:

She noted that some artists do not need financial donations but still deserve national recognition.

„Maybe we could introduce two categories of national awards - cash grants and national recognitions for significant artists,“ Milasinovic Maric suggested.

Nikola Kusovac also agreed that the pensions should be a way of correcting social injustices.

„It would make sense that national pensions are welfare and that some people who have left their mark on the culture of Serbia in their last days don't living as citizens of the back row who barely make ends meet,“ Kusovac said.

In the past, among the numerous rejected applicants were many well-known and deserving artists, and this fact has attracted the attention of the media and public.

On the other hand there have also been examples of people from show business receiving national pensions.

President of the Association of Dramatic Artists Liljana Djuric agreed that in previous years there were always artists who did not deserve this recognition and applied for it anyway.

However she told Balkan Insight that the Commission should not be critcised for that because it consists of outstanding experts in their fields.

Mirjana Bulatovic, writer and secretary of the Association of Writers of Serbia, agreed that the work of the Commission in making a final assessment is not easyl the same applies to the work of her association when it comes to selecting applicants.

Bulatovic said there is always controversy around the pensions because “in Serbia people do not understand what true art is.

„This award is extremely important and most of the   applications are mainly written for social reasons while tributes and honor come second,“ she says.

Bulatovic thinks the Commission should be braver, and reject all proposals that are not well founded.

„It would be easier for them if our lists were shorter,“ she said adding that some credited writers were left without national pension for several years.

Kusovac agrees. „I cannot justify some of the decisions that commissions made in the past, because they awarded persons who in my opinion did not contribute to Serbian culture, and cannot stand alongside those who left a real trace behind them.“

This article is funded under the BICCED project, supported by the Swiss Cultural Programme.

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