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From bridging funding gaps to completing unfinished reconstruction jobs – not to mention trying to establish cooperation with other ministries – incoming culture minister Bratislav Petkovic faces a mountain of challenges.
Bratislav Petkovic, a playwright, owner of one of the oldest patisseries in Belgrade and of the Modern Garage theatre, and a collector of old automobiles, faces a challenge, having become Serbia's latest Minister of Culture, Media and the Diaspora on July 30.
Experts on cultural policy say he needs to get to grips with the work of the previous administration while addressing issues that weren’t on the previous minister’s agenda.
Among the urgent priorities, according to them, is bringing forward an important document, the “Strategy of cultural development”, which was envisaged by the 2009 Law on Culture and whose introduction is almost twoyears behind schedule.
Culture experts say Petkovic needs also to start establishing broad cooperation between different ministries and the National Culture Council to finish the draft strategy and secure its implementation, mostly by finding ways to finance its solutions.
At the same time, he will have to bear in mind that 2012 will be a year of budget cuts, so state funds for culture, as well as local budgets for culture in cities and municipalities, will be tight.
Experts also believe the cultural budget needs to be maximized by reforming culture laws and tax regulations as well as by exerting better control of money intended for public competitions.
More money also needs to be sought abroad by establishing new international cooperation projects as well as by promoting cultural production, especially of movies, turning it into a more profitable industry.
Finally, Serbia also needs a special law on theatres, creating a firmer legal basis for the functioning of the theatre network, as well as a law on publishing to regulate and promote the book market, they say.
Loose ends need tying up:
The change in ministerial ranks since Serbia’s last general election in May has left numerous loose ends in the country’s neglected culture sector.
Petkovic, a member of the new ruling Serbian Progressive Party, SNS, has replaced Predrag Markovic, a member of the small pro-business G17 party.
The ministry has also changed its remit. Besides culture and media, whereas the previous minister was in charge of telecommunications, this third sector has now been replaced with care for the Serbian diaspora.
Culture watchers say the last ministry failed to address key issues in cultural policy, starting with the strategy document envisaged by the 2009 Law on Culture.
An important document for the sector, it defines development priorities in all areas of culture for the next ten years.
Although the team in charge of the strategy finished the draft last year, Serbia’s Culture Council still hasn’t discussed it, let alone adopted it.
From the start, the drafting process was marked with hiccups as several experts in charge of drafting the strategy left the team appointed by the ministry.
But solving all the numerous problems that have piled up over the years will require much more money that the state budget currently provides.
Reconstruction of the National Museum, which has been delayed for a whole decade, is one headache, as is finishing reconstruction of the Museum of Contemporary art.
The National Library also needs a second reconstruction, as the previous job failed to include the creation of underground storage. As a result, the building has run out of space for books, some of which are in poor condition.
The theatre network, especially in smaller towns and cities, is in dire straits while big city theatres in Belgrade also require reform.
Same problems as Cambodia:
|Milena Dragicevic Sesic, an expert on cultural policies at the University of Belgrade|
Milena Dragicevic Sesic, an expert on culture who recently worked in a UNESCO mission researching reforms to Cambodian culture policy, notes similarities between the two countries, especially when it comes to discontinuity in the work of culture ministries, led by various ministers.
“When a culture minister in Cambodia leaves his post, he cleans up his office and the new one starts in an empty desk, with no continuity,» she says.
«New staff don't talk about projects of the previous minister because they are afraid that their new chief might think they're praising his predecessor,» she adds.
Dragicevic Sesic says that getting the National Culture Council started, formed under the Law on Culture of 2009, and establishing co-operation with other ministries and authorities to create an efficient culture policy, should be priorities.
Looking to France:
Milena Dragicevic Sesic says Serbia could draw useful lessons from France, where cultural establishments are commonly financed jointly by the city, region and the state, with each donor sharing about a third of the costs.
"This way, a house of culture is obliged to organize programs all over the local region that invested in its construction. At the same time, the investment on the part of the state diminishes the cost to the city where house of culture is located,» she says.
The new minister must also address the current practice, which holds that only those authorities that are directly competent for various culture institutions take any care of them, she adds.
At the moment, she explains, "If the city government has authority over a cultural institution, then it exclusively deals with it. It's the same if the state is the founder; in that case, neither the city nor the municipality takes any interest."
Authorities that are not direct founders of museums, galleries and libraries barely seem aware of their importance, she says.
“The Museum of Contemporary Art, for example, comes under the competence of [the state of] Serbia, but the City of Belgrade should be interested in the success of this institution as well," she maintains.
A related problem is the disinterest of other ministries in institutions that come under the competence of the Culture Ministry.
“The new minister has to initiate cooperation between different ministries,» she says, “because cultural work is significant not only for culture, but also for tourism, the economy and the school system."
Find more funding:
Experts, meanwhile, believe that the overall budget for culture could be increased through better controls of funds allocated for culture, encouraging new streams of financing and improving international cooperation.
|Dimitrije Vujadinovic, director of the Balkankult foundation|
Dimitrije Vujadinovic, director of the Balkankult foundation, a local NGO, talks of the need for more transparent evaluation of projects financed by Culture Ministry.
“If somebody obtains ministerial funding for some project, he is obliged to prove that he spent that money on it.
“But, as reports on the success of project are written by the same person who uses the funds, there is no independent evaluation from the ministry,» he notes.
“This means that I can write up the best things about the success of my project in order to get more money for next year and nobody from ministry will check up on me,» Vujadinovic warns.
The second priority, he adds, is to encourage new streams of financing for culture, which don't only come from the state.
"In a democratic society, it is customary to obtain private funds to finance culture and art. But, in that case, the state has less control over investments,» Vujadinovic notes.
|Vesna Milosavljevic, director of Seecult.org|
Meanwhile, Vesna Milosavljevic, director of Seecult, a portal for culture in Southeast Europe, warns that a lot of actors in culture and art are at the end of their resources.
She thinks the law needs changing to increase the overall size of the pot of money available for culture.
“That includes not only changing the Law on Culture, but also other laws linked to it, such as reforms to tax regulations,» she says.
A key word in increasing investment, in her opinion, is greater cooperation with funders outside the country.
“Most of the international foundations that support culture and art have quit Serbia,» she recalls, «so the only chance that remains is to try to obtain more European funds.»
Culture needs to be profitable:
Dragicevic Sesic says another key priority is the development of creative arts with a view to their becoming more marketable and profitable.
Some Serbian cultural products are already popular in the region, such as movies, she notes.
“When I was in Sofia few years ago, Bulgarians were flocking to see the Serbian movie 'Kad porastem biću Kengur ['When I Grow Up, I'll Be a Kangaroo'),» she recalls, «even though it is based on local [Serbian] story about the Vozdovac suburb of Belgrade.»
The regional success of another movie, «Parada», this year is another example. But, national culture policy need not be based only on cinematography, she adds.
“Unlike movies, Serbian literature is not 'visible' in the region, so we need to educate publishers to professionalise the book market,» she says.
“Today, they are self-taught. How can they sell the copyright for their books, if they have had no chance to learn more about it?» she asks.
Such education could be organised in the National Centre for Books, another institution envisaged by Law on Publishing that has yet to be established.
“National [literature] centres elsewhere the Balkans, such as in Romania, engage in promoting their national literature worldwide. They export the work of local writers,» she notes.
Jovan Cirilov, veteran of Serbia's theatre world, agrees that the new minister will have “to struggle for as big a culture budget as possible» in difficult cirumstances.
The new minister, he notes, has pledged to support a variety of views in theatre in Serbia, despite his much criticised statement that art ought to be "patriotic".
Cirilov was referring to Petkovic’s statement, made a few weeks before he was appointed minister, in which he criticized some of the trends in Serbian theatre, singling out the controversial play about Serbia's late Prime Minister «Zoran Djindjic», staged by a Croatian director, Oliver Frljic.
“When Petkovic previously said that 'art has to be patriotic', I told him that I agreed, but only in the sense that we consider [German anti-fascist writer] Bertolt Brech a [German] patriot.
“Brecht had to struggle against the Nazis' dangerous chauvinism,» he notes.
But, he adds, the new minister deserves to be given the benefit of the doubt for now.
“You can say a lot of things until you're in the actual post - and still speak differently once you are named culture minister,» he continues.
After being named minister, Petkovic told the B92 TV station that Serbia needed a new law on theatre.
About this and other issues, the minister is expected to start to talk in detail in September, according to the ministerial press department.
Answering a request for an interview, they told Balkan Insight that the minister intends to get to grips with his department before starting to communicate with the media.
Speaking of priorities in culture policy, Cirilov adds with one final piece of advice for the new man in the hot seat.
“The goal of ministers is not to be more successful than their predecessors, but to do something important for culture in the country in the given situation,” he concludes.
This article is funded under the BICCED project, supported by the Swiss Cultural Programme.
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