VLADAN VUKOSAVLJEVIĆ, Culture and Information Minister: Globalization Imposes New Challenges in Culture

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With the annual fund allocation for culture, which amounts to 0.68% of the state budget, Serbia is at the bottom of the list in Europe. The new 2017-2027 Culture Development Strategy is supposed to provide solutions to a series of issues that have never been addressed before with one of them being gradual increase of budget funding for culture

We are talking to the Culture and Information Minister, Vladan Vukosavljević about strategic documents that the Ministry has been working on and their importance for protection of cultural heritage and development of contemporary culture in the light of new global challenges. We are also discussing the expectations relating to the new media strategy which is supposed to be adopted by the year-end.

The Ministry has recently released the draft Strategy for Cultural Development in the Republic of Serbia for the 2017-2027 period. What essentially does this document mean for development of Serbia’s cultural resources?

The 2017-2027 Strategy for Cultural Development in the Republic of Serbia defines priorities and basic values that we ought to protect. The document is actually an umbrella act in the segment of culture that envisages what needs to be done in the next 10 years, including the necessary reforms of various processes, large-scale investments that have to be implemented, and regulation that has to be changed or adopted. The Strategy is accompanied by an action plan that defines in detail the deadlines for passing laws covering certain segments, completion of large-scale investments, and the institutions that will be in charge of the implementation and supervision. Both documents provide solutions to creating conditions for cultural development in a dynamic environment, and for facing the complex challenges of globalization. The introductory part of the draft document showcases the basic issues that have never been tackled or defined before, including defining the Serbian cultural core and the Serbian cultural space, as well as observing certain situations, and planning and projecting for the future. Furthermore, the Strategy consolidates a group of laws and other regulation that would facilitate better and more cohesive cultural life, and cites areas of special importance in culture and the directions for their development.

Why is the government not allocating more money for culture when we can see that the country has been achieving better than expected results in fiscal consolidation?

The culture segment in Serbia receives 0.68% of the state budget annually which puts Serbia near the bottom of the list in Europe. One of the more important segments of the aforementioned Strategy is an intention for Serbia to decide to finally start allocating more funds towards culture. We have suggested for these budget allocations to be bigger, more stable, more specific, clearer and more stimulating. We are going to work towards budget allocations for culture growing 0.1% every year so that, in ten years’ time, they would reach 2% of the state budget.

You have caused uproar in the cultural community when you said that culture sector should be focusing more on funding based on market principles. How much can the state intervene in this, and to what extent culture should be exposed to the classic principles of doing business?

The fact remains that societal models in the world have been changing. The global spirit of times and the change of relations all spheres of society have resulted in the abatement of the model where the state is the sole or the majority providers of funding for cultural activities. Globally speaking, the funding models in culture vary. For instance, the United States has no culture ministry or a theatre that is funded from the state budget, while in China and some other countries most cultural institutions are financed by the state. We need to find a model that suits our conditions, because it is impossible to let only the market rules govern Serbian culture. In some segments we can do this to a greater degree, like, for instance, in contemporary culture, but we can certainly not do this in the segment of protection of cultural heritage which comprises of monasteries, archeological sites, archives, and libraries because private sector has not motif or interest in funding these. In the conditions of total liberalization, the issue remains who would be willing to protect our monasteries, archeological sites, archives, libraries and other cultural heritage, apart from the state. So, we came up with a conclusion that it is much more fitting to apply the neoliberal concept of free market and funding of cultural activities to contemporary culture. Hence, we need to have a dual model and adhere to the laws that are in line with the spirit of this time.

Many countries have been investing huge effort into digitalizing their cultural heritage, and, in this way, make it available to global public. What are we doing in this respect?

The Ministry of Culture and Information and cultural institutions have, for the most part, started with the digitalization of cultural content seven months ago when we founded a department that would deal with this. We have also created conditions for a more systematic and productive digitalization of cultural heritage and contemporary cultural content by signing a cooperation agreement with Telekom Serbia and the Serbian Academy of Science and Art’s Mathematics Institute. Bearing in mind that the world has entered a digital era, Serbia must not lag behind developed countries in this respect and there is no doubt about that. In terms of the region, Serbia does occupy a really good position.

In 2012, Serbia got its first media strategy with the new one currently in the making. What is its purpose considering that we are witnessing how the quality of the media and their financial position have been deteriorating day-on-day?

Our plan is for the task force, founded by the Ministry of Culture and Information, to create a new media strategy that would cover the next five years, and for this document to be adopted by the Serbian authorities by the end of 2017. The aim of this new media strategy is to help in creating a sustainable environment for media to work in, to enable them to get more financial assistance from public resources, and for them to enjoy a fair market game and fair competition. Additionally, its goal is to raise professional standards in media through self-regulation, strengthening of journalist and media associations, and modernization of the media run by national minorities while boosting social dialogue in the media. Recognizing the importance of new media and their development is an important part of this strategy.

Local media have been at peril lately, while the concept of project financing proved to be insufficient in securing quality information for the people in Serbia. What do you think should be changed in the following period?

With the help of its media strategy, the Ministry of Culture and Information is going to propose for the local self-governments to be obligated to financially support local media project via co-financing competition with at least 1%. I have noticed that local governments sometimes tend to avoid this obligation, and in that case the local media is left at the mercy of the free market.

FOREIGN TOURISTS KNOW VERY WELL WHAT THEY WANT TO SEE IN SERBIA

How much can development of tourism help in creating a new financing source for the institutions of culture. How high are they on the list of priorities for people who visit our country?

— Cultural tourism is a branch that is still developing. Cultural institutions are already cooperating with tourist organizations in terms of organizing visits and trips. However, more can be done in that respect. We are going to propose to institutions to be more vocal in advertising since a big potential lies with our population that is not even aware of these tours. Foreign tourists are more specific in this case. When they visit our country they are prepared in advance in terms of getting to know our culture better. Undoubtedly, tourism is one of the better ways for institutions to increase their income.

When are we going to finally have a chance to visit the main museums which have been closed for years?

— The Museum of Contemporary Art is due to be opened on 20th October, while the National Museum in Belgrade is scheduled to be opened in mid-2018.

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