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Milena Dragicevic Sesic, professor of cultural management at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade, says that every culture minister in Serbia has his own focus and it is therefore up to journalists to determine the scope and the reach of cultural policy.
Q: Is there enough time and are there enough experts for a true merger of the culture and telecommunications departments to take place?
A: The number of experts will remain the same, only now they’ll be under the same umbrella. All these people will continue their work. My personal opinion of the whole government reshuffle is that it is about window-dressing, that it has only led to a drop in the number of ministerial seats and maybe, in connection with that, in the number of chauffeurs and offices.
This is a minor change. Structurally everything remains the same. Colleagues working on the protection of cultural heritage or on, say, digitalisation, unfortunately won’t be coming into contact with those working in telecommunications.
I would like to see some interdepartmental projects, but I doubt that this will happen. The merger itself, the concentration, means nothing, nor can anything be carried out it a year... No one is implementing a true unification – one minister has been brought in, one head of office and one chauffeur, everything else stays the same.
Q: So you think that the merging of ministries was not guided by professional needs?
A: There is no logic of professional needs of any kind behind this or any other merger in the government, because if there were than science and, for example, higher education, would have been merged into a single ministry.
However, in this reform it is obvious that the ministries were merged in the same way the ministries were divided among parties. The only exception is the ministry of science, it has been moved to a ministry that is run by the SPS (Socialist Party of Serbia). I don’t know whether this was necessary from a political point of view, but I see no purpose, no reduced costs and no sense in this.
This is maybe where the absurdity of the reshuffle is most noticeable, because this hasn’t even resulted in any major reductions in costs.
Q: Can you give us some examples of successful cultural policy?
A: In Scandinavian countries the entire cultural policy is based on a highly competent administration. In Germany the federal ministry is small, the republic ministries are the most important. Most employees have doctorates and a great deal of importance is given to the administration’s competence, expertise and skills.
There are cultural policies devised in a way that they do not depend on political changes, like the Art Council in Great Britain which, instead of a culture minister, manages cultural policy. The Minister disposes of a budget which amounts to five per cent of the total funds earmarked for culture...
The Art Council allocates 95 per cent of the funds. This is an expert rather than a partisan body to which people are appointed based on their competencies – by means of a competition, for four-year terms in office... This is a real cultural policy: whether you support project A or project B, not whether the minister has opened an exhibition and given a speech – these are protocol matters that the ministers handle, while expert bodies manage the cultural policy.
Q: Is there a cultural policy in Serbia?
A: Of course there is; there is a cultural policy in every country. It can be implicit or explicit. An explicit cultural policy is one defined by the law, while an implicit cultural policy is one that you draw from a real situation, say, based on the distribution of budget funds.
For example: Serbia’s explicit cultural policy at the beginning of the nineties was nationalist. However, looking at the way funds were allocated at the time we can see that the protection of cultural heritage, something that would logically be supported by a nationalist cultural policy, was not well funded, so that cultural policy didn’t help.
Along with the explicit one we also have to take note of the implicit cultural policy, which is the policy in practice.
At present day we have an explicit cultural policy which is contained in the Culture Act. However, in reality, we see that the cultural policy in practice is much narrower, that many spheres of culture are unsupported or unfunded – yet none of this means that we don’t have a cultural policy.
It even has some focal points. For example, unlike its predecessors, the last ministry of culture placed emphasis on the international promotion of Serbia’s culture, so considerable funds from the budget were approved for presenting Serbian culture at the Leipzig Book Fair. These are some new things that were not known to happen in the past.
Every minister has his or her own focus and emphasis, therefore it is up to the journalists to precisely determine the scope and reach of each cultural policy, particularly compared to the one contained in, say, the Culture Act.
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