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Bos/Hrv/Srp 03 Dec 12

Serbia's Feuding Artists Take Fight to Ministry

Civil war is raging inside Serbia's oldest fine arts guild – but rebel hopes of ministerial action may be disappointed.

Jelena Jovanovic
BIRN Belgrade
Cvijeta Zuzoric pavilion | Courtesy of ULUS

Since September, the Association of Serbian Visual Artists, ULUS, the oldest such guild in the country, has had not one management and assembly but two

Both the official management and the rebels who have formed parallel management say the other side has usurped power at ULUS and should be excluded.

Members of the parallel board accuse the official management of breaking Serbia's labour law, of crime and corruption, and of nepotism in awarding studios and scheduling exhibitions.

The revels have also filed their complaints with the Ministry of Justice say they want the official management penalised as soon as possible.

While it is a fact is that the among the ULUS's many members, only a small minority supports the parallel Assembly, they still expect the Ministry of Justice to investigate their charges.

On the other hand, the board claims that everything functions as it should inside the ULUS, and the artists who held Extraordinary Assembly only want to grab power.

The ULUS was a true engine for the popularization of art in Belgrade throughout the 20th century. With 2,500 members, it is the biggest art association in the country.

ULUS takes legal care of its members, provides social insurance for them and organises exhibitions in its spaces, the ULUS Art Gallery and the Cvijeta Zuzoric pavilion.

The association also creates, develops and provides the material basis for the development of the fine arts in Serbia.

But many members have long felt dissatisfied with their position and with the marginal position of culture in society. These existential problems add weight to their recent accusations against the ULUS management.

The official management was elected on October 2011. Unsatisfied with their work, some 80 artists filed a petition in May 2012 to the Board, demanding an Extraordinary Assembly.

When their petition went unanswered, they made use of a clause in the ULUS statute to form a parallel assembly on September.

This assembly then voted to replace the official Board with the artists Mirjana Denkov, Zdravko Vajagic, Dragoslav Krnajski, Natasa Ivanic and Anica Vucetic.

For a start, this body then decided that all future decisions and legal actions of the official authorities would be considered invalid.

At its last session in November 17, they also replaced the Art Council and other bodies.

Meanwhile, the parallel management has sent its documents to the Ministry of Justice, allegedly proving the existence of crime, corruption and nepotism in ULUS, as well as proof that the labour law had been broken.

In turn, the official management and the board denies the legitimacy of the new Assembly and has also excluded the initiators of the parallel Assembly from the ULUS.

Artists excluded from ULUS have since lost their benefits as members, losing opportunities to organize exhibitions.

The artists who called the extraordinary assembly claim they were forced to act to protect the association and its members from an arbitrary management, which they said had violated many rules, codes of conduct and ethical norms.

Dragoslav Krnajski, a member of the parallel executive council, said the official Board did not abide by the decisions of the

Assembly and the procedures it adopted concerning its own election in October 2011.

«Regulations say that if all the organs of the body are not completed, a new Assembly should be held within 30 days, which wasn't done,» he said.

«The obligation is also to make a record, because the board of directors and other organs may not be constituted without the record; this puts the election of the Assembly into dispute,» Krnajski added, asserting that this was proof that the Board broke the law.

«Positions of power in ULUS were abused; studios were given to artists who were relatives and cousins, and it was the same with exhibitions,» Krnajski continued.

However, the ULUS leadership claims that the unsatisfied artists have resorted to lies to deceive the public and members of the Association.

Vukasin Milovic, Chairman of the Board of ULUS, said the rebels' accusations were untrue, and that the parallel Assembly  doesn’t have the support of the membership.

He maintains that a small group of artists «have used the tough financial situation at ULUS to make a problem.

«First, they did not meet the statutory obligation to collect the support of 5 per cent of the membership, which is necessary to schedule a special assembly,» he noted.

«They did it by themselves, convening an extraordinary assembly at which only a small number of people were present.

«They were making decisions with 14 or 15 votes. It was a game, a frivolous play, although they believe in it,» Milovic added.

Krnajski, on the other hand, says more members of ULUS would have supported them had they not feared to lose studios and exhibitions at galleries by participating in the parallel Assembly.

«If you know that a lot of things depends on the ULUS management, then there are direct elements and instruments that may influence people and put them into a position of asking themselves whether they should engage,» Krnajski said.

Krnajski said the parallel ULUS management will continue its actions to bring about the democratisation of the Association of Fine Artists.

«We would like to see some kind of dispersal of the management association to a number of different bodies, which would be independent be directly responsible to the members,» he explained.

«This would mean the democratization of ULUS and prevent the misuse of certain positions, as it is case now,» he added.

Krnajski said putting this topic into public focus would also benefit the association, making the public more aware of the problem and increasing the chances of resolving it.

“It's obvious that the Association cannot protect the rights of artists if it violates basic ethical norms and even the principles on which it was established,” he concluded.

However, the Ministry of Culture has told Balkan Insight that its scope for intervention in the dispute is small. It says it cannot interfere in the internal relations of ULUS.  

«This is a civil association, and the Ministry cannot enter into the internal matters of an association of citizens.

«Cultural organizations, associations and institutions founded by the state, town or city, should have guaranteed autonomy in their actions,» a statement reads.

Meanwhile Darinka Pop Mitić, an artist from Belgrade who is not member of ULUS, said the situation in ULUS is a symptom of the general crisis in society, and the situation needs to be viewed from a broader perspective.

«Visual artists in Serbia have no adequate pensions and health insurance and live on incomes below the minimum level,» she noted.

«If you add in the fact that Serbia is a country with a high percentage of taxes and contributions on part-time contracts, the situation becomes yet more dramatic,» she added.

In this difficult situation, she says the need now is for solidarity among all the members of ULUS.

«Most members of the Association have big existential problems and, because of that, finding new forms of solidarity must be the first task for all members of ULUS,» she said.

«Otherwise this conflict is going to look like a fight between two badgers over the same hill,” she concluded.

This article is funded under the BICCED project, supported by the Swiss Cultural Programme.

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