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Research 28 Jun 11

Rewarding the best

The authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina are facing growing calls to clarify their strategy for culture amid deepening cuts in the budget for the sector. Across the country, state institutions and the independent sector are demanding that funds for culture be distributed with greater transparency, and to the worthiest recipients. Pročitajte članak na bosanskom / hrvatskom / srpskom jeziku

Reported by: Naida Balic, Zvjezdan Zivkovic and Duska Jurisic from Sarajevo;
Nejra Aganovic from Mostar, Tuzla and Travnik; and Drazen Remikovic from Banja Luka
Kristina "Tina" Coric: "The projects are rarely approved according to concrete proposals in the tender, or on the grounds of quality or track record."

Kristina Coric, also known as Tina, returned from the United States to the divided town of Mostar in 1998. Although the 31-year-old had a scholarship abroad, she says she came back because she wanted to do something for her country.

She is today a successful manager, proud of her team of enthusiasts and volunteers at the Youth Cultural Centre Abrasevic in Mostar.

After the war, the centre was left in ruins. Some two dozen youngsters cleaned up the garbage and revived the venue.

The centre today hosts numerous events - from film screenings in a city that has no cinemas, to exhibitions, meetings and debates in a cafe that is unique for not being ethnically divided.

Despite this, Tina is not satisfied.  The Youth Cultural Centre Abrasevic gets minimal funding from the city’s budget. This year, its annual grant of 12,000 marks (about €6,100) was reduced to 8,000 marks (about €4,090), intended for payment of electricity bills. The centre has not received any money from the Herzegovina and Neretva Canton.

Almost 90 per cent of the centre’s requirements are covered by foreign donations. The centre earns the remaining 10 per cent from the services it offers.

“The budget finances are allocated mostly without any criteria, and the amounts are very small,” says Tina.

“This is why it is not realistic to implement fully the project we applied for. Most of the money goes to the biggest projects which already have ambitious budgets.

“The decisions are often based on personal connections, recommendations from the sidelines and from the world of politics.

“Projects are rarely approved according to concrete proposals in the tender, or on the grounds of quality or track record.”

“Ministries in Bosnia and Herzegovina are like containers connected by a tube in a physics experiment, but they are empty. There is no money.”

Ljiljana Labovic-Marinkovic
Director of the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Banja Luka

The ethnic key, instead of artistic merit, is another important criterion for getting money from the budget.

“Thirteen institutions are financed by the city, and since the city is divided, both sides must be respected and the money is given away according to the ethnic principle,” says Tina.

Despite some differences, similar complaints can be heard across the country in both entities, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Srpska.

The dissatisfaction is present not only in the independent sector, which suffers the most, but also in state cultural institutions, where output suffers because much of the money is spent on salaries and maintenance.

The shrinking budget for culture is forcing many to ask for a more transparent system in which funds go to the most successful, and are withheld from those who are inefficient.

The independent sector is meanwhile becoming more and more embittered because it is often pitted against public institutions, whose funding – though not adequate – is nonetheless greater than theirs, and better guaranteed.

Since the new government in the entity of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina was formed belatedly this spring, cultural workers have been calling for greater clarity.

They expect ministers to create order in the chaotic allocation of finances and to reward successful managers, whatever their background, as part of a clearly defined strategy.

Many cultural workers also wishfully hope for the creation of a ministry of culture at the state level. But this wish is unlikely to be granted at a time of great division between the entities.

“For starters, the new people from the local authorities, the Federation and the canton who make decisions concerning culture should at least organise a meeting or come talk to us,” says Tina Coric.

The primary concern for the new ministers, grappling with an insufficient budget for culture, is to preserve the institutions that they founded.

In dealing with the independent sector, their main concern appears to be to avoid making enemies – so they allocate a little bit of money for everyone.

Until a transparent rewarding mechanism can be found, personal enthusiasm will seemingly remain the prime mover behind successful cultural initiatives in Bosnia and Herzegovina, both in the public and private sector.

“I am not sorry at all that I did not stay in the States. We must work to make it all better, despite everything,” says Tina Coric, optimistically.

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