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Vladan Vukosavljević, Minister Of Culture And Information

Strategy Is The Key

Serbia has never had a defined strategy for cultural policy. The Serbian Ministry of Culture and Information is now finalising a cultural development strategy for the next ten years. When it is completed, the document will be proposed to the Serbian National Assembly for adoption

In many ways a key document for cultural life in Serbia, the Cultural Development Strategy will try to establish a value system, value judgements and deadlines for the passage of laws and regulations, and to define rules to help maintain, revitalise and improve the work of cultural institutions. One of the most important topics and a cause of legitimate concern worldwide when it comes to culture is the protection of world cultural heritage, which is often threatened by wars or terrorist attacks.

The strategy will, therefore, envisage the drafting of an entire set of laws to provide more flexible and efficient protection and conservation of our cultural heritage for future generations. One of the challenges for the Ministry of Culture and Information is to manage the Serbian cultural monuments designated as World Heritage Sites, especially those in Kosovo that have the greatest cultural value for Serbia.

Over 1,300 churches and monasteries on this tiny territory are Grade I Serbian heritage sites. Serbian shrines in Kosovo are included on the List of World Heritage in Danger, which speaks volumes about the reality of the threat they face.

I believe that the world must unite in the awareness that its immovable cultural heritage, regardless of who it was created by or in which epoch, is humanity’s legacy and, as such, must be cared for by the entire global community. The devastation of cultural monuments, whether they are in Palmira, Kosovo, Sudan, Mali or Cambodia, or anywhere else on the planet, is an attack on the core of human civilisation that belongs to the entire world, regardless of race, religion or cultural area.

The 2017 budget bill provides more funds for culture than before. What will your priorities be?

Regarding the use of the budget funds allocated to our ministry, our main task is to finish the adaptation and restoration of the Museum of Contemporary Art and to continue the adaptation, rehabilitation and restoration of the National Museum in Belgrade. We expect work on the Museum of Contemporary Art to be completed in the summer of 2017, with a grand opening on the Day of Museums, 20th October 2017. 

The completion of work on the National Museum is scheduled for the end of January 2018. Of course, another of our priorities is to prepare the programme Novi Sad 2021 – The European Capital of Culture.

One of the most important activities will be tenders to procure equipment and train staff in cultural institutions all over Serbia, as they are needed to digitise the research infrastructure in culture and art.

The Ministry of Culture and Information will also focus on increasing the accessibility of culture and art, and on educating the public, especially vulnerable groups, and on systematic, all-round care for the preservation and development of the Serbian language and linguistic culture. Considerable budget funds are earmarked for building the capacity of the public media outlet RTV Vojvodina, whose facilities were badly damaged in the 1999 NATO bombing and have been out of use ever since.

I believe that the world must unite in the awareness that its immovable cultural heritage, regardless of who it was created by or in which epoch, is humanity’s legacy and, as such, must be cared for by the entire global community

Can we expect systemic changes in the field of culture in Serbia, and can we expect EU support?

The most important systemic change will be the adoption of the Cultural Development Strategy, a document conceived by the Ministry of Culture and Information and drafted by all cultural players in Serbia: the ministry’s departments, cultural institutions, associations, professionals etc.

There is no doubt that opening Chapter 26 as soon as possible is very important to Serbia because both the country and our ministry are particularly interested in strengthening cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue.

We are well aware of the role that culture plays in encouraging creativity and innovation, and of its importance in international relations. Serbia is a member of Creative Europe and the first country outside the European Union to join its MEDIA sub-programme, one of the most important European funds that support the production, distribution and promotion of feature films and documentaries, TV dramas and new media.

Serbia is one of the most successful beneficiaries of Creative Europe. We take pride in the fact that the European Commission often mentions the Creative Europe Desk Serbia as an example of good practice. Cultural organisations and institutions in Serbia are very successful in their applications for various Creative Europe funds, especially those in the MEDIA sub-programme.

How will you support cultural institutions outside Belgrade? Do you advocate decentralisation in cultural policy?

Decentralisation in Serbian cultural policy is imperative and one of the priorities of the Ministry of Culture and Information. Accessibility of cultural content, especially high-quality content, has to be equally available to all and must not be a privilege of city dwellers.

Local governments should play an important role in decentralisation. They have to be able to show that they are aware of their problems, to present them clearly and to start solving them in full cooperation with the ministry.

In 2016 the ministry held a ‘Cities in Focus’ competition, the first of its kind. Over 1.2 million euros was allocated for the realisation of programme activities in six municipalities. While I was visiting Southern Serbia I saw the great potential of cultural institutions there, their willingness to build capacity and interest in a wide variety of cultural programmes. We always remind them that the Ministry of Culture and Information is their partner, advisor and friend, and we encourage them to be active and take part in our competitions.

There has been a lot of talk about the criteria for awarding national pensions. How will you resolve this issue?

First, we will try to establish a clear framework and give it the publicity it deserves considering the sensitivity of the issue. There is no doubt that there are people who have worked hard and who deserve compensation from the state. But there is also no doubt that some past decisions have been quite controversial.

National pensions may be regarded as society’s gratitude for a life’s work and achievements. Whether national pensions should be awarded only to cultural workers is a question that deserves a thorough public consultation, because there are anonymous individuals in other fields, heroes of their time, who have worked hard and with integrity all their lives and whose achievements have stood the test of time, making an impact on the development of social ethics and morale, being an example and deserving some form of compensation from the state. In any case, we will address this issue seriously and studiously. We will not make any rash decisions.

Whether national pensions should be awarded only to cultural workers is a question that deserves a thorough public consultation, because there are anonymous individuals in other fields, heroes of their time, who have worked hard and with integrity all their lives and who deserve some form of compensation from the state

Which projects will promote Serbian culture internationally in 2017?

In 2017 Serbian culture will be presented on the international stage in various ways. Our cultural institutions alone plan some 150 programmes for international exchange, in as many as forty countries. Bilateral cooperation between cultural institutions and participation in important international events will be in focus.

Cultural exchange with China, under the 16+1 cooperation mechanism, has given a new dimension to our cultural scene and opened new channels, not only in China but in Asia as well. Among other things, the exchange envisages visits to China of the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra, the National Museum, the Yugoslav Drama Theatre and others.

There are also events in which Serbia traditionally takes part, such as the Venice Biennial, the Beijing International Art Biennial, exhibitions of modern art in Shanghai, book fairs in Frankfurt and Leipzig, film festivals and many more.

Cooperating with and meeting our obligations towards international organisations, such as UNESCO, the Council of Europe etc., are also important for Serbia’s international cultural cooperation and visibility. The ministry and culture institutions take notice of important dates. Since we commemorate the anniversaries of diplomatic relations with Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Israel in 2017, we will focus on these countries next year. For March, Francophone Month, we plan various programmes dedicated to fostering our historic and cultural connections with the French culture and language.

There are very few Serbian cultural centres abroad. What is being done to improve international cultural cooperation?

We are working to improve the legislative framework as a condition for establishing a new network of culture centres worldwide with a completely new management model. Providing we have the right conditions, in addition to the centre in Paris, we plan to open culture centres in countries with which Serbia has special relations and where there is a mutual interest, primarily in China, Russia and Germany. Opening new cultural centres in Moscow, Beijing and Berlin would not only help to promote Serbian culture but other sectors as well, improving the country’s image and increasing its diplomatic influence, which is the overall objective of cultural diplomacy.

Culture institutions play an important part in the international representation of the country, as they participate actively in international cultural exchange with their homologous partners.

Opening new culture centres in Moscow, Beijing and Berlin would not only help to promote Serbian culture, but also other sectors, improving the country’s image and increasing its diplomatic influence, which is the objective of cultural diplomacy

Furthermore, the ministry encourages international cooperation through open calls to support the mobility of artists and cultural professionals and to co-finance projects that have already received support from international funds, which are all open throughout the year.

I must mention the ministry’s cooperation with foreign cultural centres in Serbia. We have recently signed a new protocol agreement with the British Council and we plan to intensify cooperation with the French Institute, the Italian Cultural Institute, the Goethe Institute and other institutes that support the development of the culture sector in Serbia.

How can the balance between the market and quality be achieved in modern creative work, and especially publishing?

In the modern world or at least its most developed parts, culture and its main foundations are generally thought to be threatened by an outpouring of entertainment and spectacle.

There is no doubt that the market should play a part in the evaluation of artworks, but if culture is completely left to market laws then, on the one hand, we are exposed to the advantages of such principles, like for example the struggle for survival, and, on the other, to the most banal commercialisation.

As a business and creative industry, publishing has to take into consideration the market and business rules. The offer of highly regarded works that often do not have commercial value must be developed to the finest detail. This is done primarily through a cultural policy that encourages the development of readership i.e. building the cultural needs of readers seeking timeless literature and scientific works on the market. Another way is for the government to make a direct impact by co-financing the publishing of capital and valuable works, which the ministry has been doing for years now.

What are the most important cultural heritage digitisation projects?

A department responsible for the development of the digital research infrastructure in culture and art has been established within the Ministry of Culture and Information. The drafting of the necessary strategic and legislative framework has started with the aim of creating conditions for the realisation of priority goals of the Serbian Government. An expert committee responsible for the digitisation of the valuable cultural heritage of Serbia has been established.

Digitisation will also include considerable library holdings, films and archives of our most esteemed institutions. One of the main projects is the digitisation of valuable library holdings that have been designated a cultural good. As for cinematography, the aim is to conserve film archives from 1904 to 1945 and digitise the flammable stock recorded on a nitrate film base.

What, in your opinion, is the role of the media strategy? It has been adopted, but little has been done since.

The Serbian Public Information Development Strategy to 2016 was adopted in 2011 and it expired on 31st December 2015. All items in the accompanying Action Plan have been implemented or are in progress.
A new media strategy is now being drafted. Its primary goal is to try to establish a balance between the legislative framework and technological changes that happen in the media almost on a daily basis.