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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

Public institutions are poor, but protected; the crumbs go to everyone else.

The 35-year-old Student Theatre in Banja Luka is housed in premises where damp and mould pose a threat to actors' health.

Both in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Srpska, legislation protects public cultural institutions as budget recipients, regardless of their performance and the quality of their managers.

Jasmila Zbanic: Minimal investment into independent production

“If we analyse how much money from the budget is invested into production itself, we will see that these are minimal investments. Festivals – which I consider exceptionally important for the development of culture in Bosnia and Herzegovina – play a similar role to trade fairs in the economy. But a successful trade fair does not necessarily mean that trade itself is booming.

“The production of theatre shows, films, literature and music production is not stimulated sufficiently. The authors are exposed to the greatest risk of disappearance.

“Each analysis will show that individual authors and independent production had the biggest results and managed to expand their activity outside Bosnia and Herzegovina.”

This explains the bitter mood in the independent sector, whose members fight among themselves at open competitions for the small pot of remaining funds.

They say they want good management and successful work to be rewarded across the cultural arena – and not only among the independents. They also want a review of the policy of giving guaranteed sums to public institutions that swallow up money, while independent producers that are often more successful are left fighting for their survival.

Mario Lukajic, an actor with the City Theatre Jazavac in Banja Luka, a non-profit organisation, says that the venue only narrowly escaped closure after ending up on its financial deathbed late last year.

He compares Jazavac to the National Theatre of the Republic of Srpska, “which has close to 100 employees and whose annual budget is two million marks”.

“The National Theatre had around 150 performances and 30,000 visitors. Then you have Jazavac, which has zero budget and zero employees, and puts on 90 performances and receives 16,000 visitors.”

“I am not saying anything against the National Theatre - this is only a drop in the sea of examples,” says Lukajic.

“But it is obvious that the treatment of culture in the Republic of Srpska is very illogical and something has to be urgently changed,” says Lukajic, who was director of Jazavac until last year.

100 marks per theatre member annually

Aleksandar Pejakovic, the director of the Student Theatre in Banja Luka, says his establishment received 1,250 marks (€640) from the city and 8,800 marks (€4,500) from the ministry last year. The theatre employs 100 people. Dividing the total grant against this figure leaves each employee with 100 marks (€51) every year. Pejakovic adds that his theatre received 11,000 visitors last year. He says his theatre's performance area – a mouldy, dusty basement in downtown Banja Luka – poses a threat to the health of its actors.

The Jazavac company has the rare distinction among local arts organisation of having performed in New York at the “off-off Broadway” La MaMa theatre, famed for its experimental productions.

In the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Sarajevo canton spends some 6.3 million marks (€3.2 million) – the bulk of its culture budget – on the city’s National Theatre, which puts on opera, bal­let and drama productions. The theatre has 226 employees and spends just under 4.3 million marks (€2.2 million) on their salaries and contributions.

The theatre’s director, Gradimir Gojer, says that it is always short of funds for productions. Every year, the theatre premieres two to three dramas, two operas and one or two ballets.

Gojer says that the theatre has avoided running a loss, and that annual figures show it fills about 80 per cent of its seating capacity.

Haris Pasovic

"I don't expect to get money from the state, I don't know why I should. But I expect public funds to be used for something that is relevant to the people, the taxpayers. There is no part of Europe where high culture follows a wholly commercial approach. In every country, public funds finance the arts."

Haris Pašović
Director, East West Centre

Gradimir Gojer

"I haven't seen the state investing any serious money in Haris Pasovic and his shows. Nor have I seen the state investing serious money into, for example, ballet."

Gradimir Gojer
Director of the National Theatre of Sarajevo

Gojer says: “The ballet ensemble before the war had 40 ballet dancers; now they have 20. The drama sector today has around 20 actors, while in the past they had 50. The staffing at our institution has been devastated.”

On the other hand, the independent theatre company East-West Centre, headed by renowned director Haris Pasovic, has only five employees and gets 10 to 20 per cent of its production funds from the state budget.

The Centre secures the rest of its funds by itself. Their latest show, Europe Today, filled Sarajevo’s Zetra venue to the last seat, forcing some in the audience to sit on the floor.

Pasovic thinks it is necessary to reform culture in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“I think there is a wanton wastage of funds, as if a home is being heated while all the windows are open,” he says.

Pasovic says it is unacceptable that internationally celebrated Bosnian artists have to go begging for grants every year.

“Danis Tanovic, a film director and member of several academies, Jasmila Zbanic, a recipient of several awards, Dino Mustafic, Sejla Kameric and Maja Bajevic each year stand in line before the ministry with an application in their hands and wait for someone to give them 10, 20, 30,000... It’s not just humiliating for us, it’s humiliating for this country.”

Gojer, from the National Theatre, said Pasovic was not the only one to lack state funding. “I haven’t seen the state investing any serious money into Haris Pasovic and his shows. Nor have I seen the state investing serious money into, for example, ballet,” he said.

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