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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

What can be done?

The audience is still here: citizens of Sarajevo line up to see the Europe Today show.

Many people in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina believe the problems faced in the cultural sphere could be solved by the formation of a state ministry responsible for the sector.

Sarajevo cantonal minister Ivica Saric believes this idea should not be abandoned.

"Culture needs to be reformed... I think there is a wanton wastage of funds, as if a home is being heated while all the windows are open."

Haris Pašović
Director, East West Centre

"If we had a million marks, we would have had 300 premieres a year. That's how much enthusiasm we have in this theatre."

Aleksandar Pejaković
Director of the Student Theatre in Banja Luka

Recommendations by directors of cultural institutions

At a conference on May 31 in Sarajevo, around 40 directors of public cultural institutions submitted a written recommendation to the current authorities.The conference took place as part of MESS Sarajevo, the International Theatre Festival.

  1. We are forming the body, entitled “Cultural Initiative” for public cultural institutions to remain active in cultural policy at all levels of authority. The institutions also want to play an active role in the implementation of the adopted document, “Strategy of Cultural Policy of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2008”.
  2. We insist on autonomy in decision-making to ensure the independence of cultural activity and art in society and the state. The democratic, creative character of culture can be strengthened only by following an approach that avoids ideological and political demands.
  3. We demand the urgent resolution of the legal and financial status of cultural institutions founded by Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is in accordance with provision 167 of the Lisbon Agreement and the principles of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of Cultural and Historical Heritage.
  4. We initiate allotting of finances for culture through tax rate at all levels of authority into funds for cultural activity, in order to have more efficient and just allotting of finances.
  5. We pledge our support for a new policy in the field of culture aimed at making the criteria for financing more transparent. We support the creation of a new tax policy which will link economic and cultural interests. This will include special tax benefits to all those who invest in culture and stimulate the creativity of artists, cultural institutions and artistic organisations.
  6. We pledge our support for building and restoring facilities in the field of culture in order to improve work conditions and reach a standard of production and presentation that can be called European.

The EU delegation in Bosnia and Herzegovina will be sent a letter of warning about violations and the failure by the state to implement provisions from the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Annex 2, Item 2 (continuity of legal regulations) regarding cultural institutions of state significance.

This investigation was carried out with support from Swiss Cultural Programme for Western Balkans, within BIRN’s project BICCED.

But the political division between the two entities is such that the formation of a unified ministry is nowhere in sight.

Nevertheless, many are now arguing that something must still be done in the meantime, chiefly to improve communication between ministry officials and cultural workers on critical issues.

These include questions such as how best to develop neglected parts of the country; improve regional co-operation; approach the EU for funds; reward good managers and distribute money fairly.

Ljiljana Labovic-Marinkovic, the director of the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Banja Luka, believes ministries should be linked and cultural institutions should be taught how to apply for funding from Europe.

“If they won’t give us money, they should enable us to obtain money from other sources,” she says.

Jasmila Zbanic, the director, believes it would be good to have a state ministry that handled major cultural projects, strategy, large investments and European funds.

But she would also like to see more action at a local level, with greater encouragement for talent and more attention paid to smaller towns. 

“Culture in the smaller provincial towns is being systematically stifled,” says Zbanic.

“Before the conflict [in the 1990s], each village had a cinema, shows were played in local cultural institutions, cultural and art associations were receiving investment...  There was a central idea of the importance of culture.”

Zbanic compares conditions in the former Yugoslavia in the middle of the last century with current conditions in the region.

“Fifteen years after the World War II, the formerly rural, illiterate country of Yugoslavia had developed an energetic cultural industry. It had won the Nobel Prize for literature and the Oscar for animated film.”

“Fifteen years after the latest war [The Bosnian conflict of 1992-1995], the country that had a highly sophisticated culture has become rural,” she concludes.

Until a broad public debate is launched, the cultural arena is surviving on its last remaining asset – the optimism of its managers.

“I have been doing managerial jobs in culture for more than two decades... There’s always a plan B and beyond, right up to Z,” says Ljiljana Labovic Marinkovic.

“I am a hardened optimist. I believe that the managers of cultural institutions must roll up their sleeves, work hard and take risks!”

This investigation was coordinated and written by Gordana Igric, BIRN regional director.

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