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The prevalent fear regarding Serbia’s European candidacy - that Europe will ‘swallow’ Serbia’s culture and force it do dance to its tune – is misplaced.
|Marija Djordjevic, editor of the culture section in the daily Politika newspaper|
When Serbia was awarded candidate status in the European Union on March 1, euro-sceptics wondered whether Serbia would lose its national identity. Would Europe “impose” its cultural values on us and would some powerful film industry profane Ivo Andric or Mesa Selimovic?
A part of the pro-European and most optimistic Serbia expects increased access to international funds for culture, as well as that candidate status, and, some day, membership, will enable precisely what the EU advocates: “unity in diversity”, that is, “assistance to countries to protect their diversity of different cultural expressions”.
Still, in some intellectual circles the prevalent opinion is that Europe has done little to unite the cultures of its peoples and that, in this sense, it has mostly focused on the economy.
Serbian writer Milovan Vitezovic believes the dominant globalism has an arrogant attitude to cultures, depersonalizes them and favours the cultures of those most powerful. Vitezovic notes that the “EU has handed its cultures over to UNESCO, which is a lot but not enough.”
Regarding culture, fear of candidacy is actually fear that Europe will “swallow” Serbia’s culture and force it do dance to its tune.
|Cover of avanguarde "Zenit" Magazine that was published from 1921 to 1926 in Belgrad and Zagreb | Courtesy of National Library of Serbia|
The worry is all projects will have to be adapted to suit the market, that literature or films dealing with issues of substance will not be welcome, that conceptual art is “the art of money laundering”, and that every form of culture will boil down to entertainment and show business.
Questions regarding the preservation of national and cultural identity are not raised only in Serbia. On the Croatian Culture Ministry website the most frequently asked question in connection with Croatia’s future EU membership is how the government plans to preserve Croatia’s national identity. Will accession to the EU bring about changes in cultural policy and how will entry into the EU affect the status of artists?
However, even in the past, Serbian cultural workers have applied for the “Culture” programme by which Brussels funds European cultural projects. For the period 2007–2013, 400 million euro have been earmarked within this programme.
Serbian institutions and the non-governmental sector can apply for cultural programmes for which some 45 million euros are allocated each year for over 300 projects and 9,000 organisations.
Since Serbia joined the programme in 2008 as a potential candidate, it has had the same access to the funds as any EU member country. A total of 78 applications have been sent from Serbia so far, since when Brussels has backed 21 of these projects with 526,025 euro of assistance.
This year Serbia has sent more applications for funding of translations than any other country.
For authentic creators, the safest ticket for the European and international cultural map was always, regardless of the circumstances, individual talent, creation and work.
|Artist Rasa Todosijevic in 1973|
In Serbia there are many artists, playwrights, musicians who are internationally renowned yet very little is known about them here. It is also a paradox that some major cultural figures are recognized here as relevant without their names and work echoing on the international scene.
Serbian culture does not have to present itself as a homogenous collectivity. But Serbia should get closer to European standards and present an original national culture, offer variety and diversity – from the Cyrillic to electronic music. It should offer authentic modern art trends.
The problem is that the local “keepers of tradition” use and describe this term, this “magic word” tradition,with insufficient flexibility and breadth.
Not seldom do we hear that the term “traditional media” used in art as opposed to “the new media”. What seems to be overlooked, however, is that these “new” media are also over half a century old, so their classification as “innovations” is absurd and proof of ignorance.
|Studenica monastery | Photo by T.Janjic|
The first thing associated with traditional values in Serbian culture will no doubt be its medieval cultural heritage, 18th and 19th century folk poetry and literature, and ethno music.
But rarely do we hear that “tradition” also includes historical avant-gardes such as Zenithism, Dadaism or Surrealism.
To this end it would be good to follow the opinion of Natasa Petrinjak of the Croatian Culture Ministry, recently expressed in the daily Politika:
“When it comes to promotion of its culture in the EU, Croatia will insist on presenting its modern art and authors who have been neglected over the past two decades when advantage was given to tradition and heritage,” she said.
“This does not mean that we will neglect caring for our heritage. But modernizing the context, adapting it to the multilingual, multinational and multi-media environment, will precisely be the emphasis of our culture’s promotion in the EU.”
Serbia lacks serious cultural diplomacy, regardless of who will occupy posts in the Ministry of Culture in the coming period of the new government’s formation.
For now Serbia has no clear strategy to promote its culture because the local cultural scene suffers from a feeling of self-sufficiency. This is maybe a consequence of Serbia’s years-long isolation. It is also a reflection of the fact that culture is seen as a kind of a static form. This is why individuals are here to change these established codes.
Marija Djordjevic is an editor of the culture section in the daily Politika newspaper. This article is funded under the BICCED project, supported by the Swiss Cultural Programme.
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