5 Cultural Policy Resources in South East Europe
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10.03.2003 | author: Dan C. Mihailescu
Emerging from a 'culture of darkness' into a 'culture of light': Journalism in contemporary Romania
Policies for Culture Journal, Spring issue 2003
Dan C. Mihailescu
is literary critic and editor of Litere, arte, idei (cultural supplement of the newspaper Cotidianul).
When we deal with post-communist cultural crisis, most complaints are financially rather than spiritually founded. They are based on the administrative crisis, not on the moral-professional crisis of the elites. On the crisis of cultural institutions (yes, real!), not on the crisis of creativity or the acute feeling of social uselessness creators actually experience. Then again, whereas the financial crisis, the drift of the administrative system, the legislative chaos and the deficit of financial and managerial inventiveness are issues which could easily be solved/addressed, the deep crisis experienced by the creative consciousness and the new mediators requires a long-term cure. The same goes for the training of young talent, for the establishment of new priorities and the adaptation to market laws etc. Since we are dealing with several aching parts of an ill body, each part requiring a distinct, difficult (and delicate) process of diagnosis, the applicable cure should also be complex and differentiated. With contrasting hopes and results...

Ailing parts

Obviously, the first aid to be provided as emergency treatment is the material support granted to the creative act: cultural institutions, collective creative emulation (provided by arts unions), a stimulating legislation (regarding copyright and intellectual property in general, sponsorship legislation, laws regarding copyright libraries, museum and theatre laws and so on), the efficient use of public money, of real estate endowments, of pension funds, the training of new media structures, almost without precedent in the communist regime (TV hosts; e-media specialists etc).

- recovering creators’ self-confidence;
- revitalizing the social instinct and the forces able to create long-term cultural strategies;
- restoring cultural elites, and the solidarity of specialized talent;
- resuscitating interdisciplinary work;
- efficient communication between creators and different sectors of society, and a mutually inspiring relationship between the mass media, with its commercial character, and the artistic phenomenon, with its spiritual character;
- involving as many types of audience as possible, re-captivating young people for the forces of intelligence against the overwhelming power of vulgar entertainment and mercantilism;
- exerting a positive influence on inculture (putting primitive psychology to the test) for the sake of true cultural ethos;
- recovering the (enormous) undisputed and productive prestige which art had attained in dictatorship times;

... all these aspects (and others too) require an emergency cure that would presuppose:

1. Inciting, training and promoting cultural mediators – people who constitute true bridges or crossroads, able to harmonize opposite forces and opinions, to ease the flow of communication and so make possible/effective the dialogue between different or opposite positions (between uneducated audience and true culture; between politicians and journalists; between writers and editors, artists and sociologists; between the economic, technical and creative sectors, so far engaged in what seems to be perpetual conflict; between the educational/academic worlds and mass media; between scientists and visual artists; between the Church and lay artists, etc).

By ‘mediators’ we mean connecting-people who could act as human links, from the literary agent to sociologists specialised in opinion polls, from TV/radio hosts to entertainment management and consultancy agencies, to the journalist able to harmonize the commercial, profit-making spirit with erudition, the accessibility and ‘ready-made’ nature of art works with the aesthetic and ethical values of art.

2. Eliminating the improvisation that has been dominating Romania’s cultural perspective for thirteen years and outlining long-term strategies – cultural policies – conceived from top to bottom, but started from the bottom up: from apparently irrelevant or small-scale purposes, strictly utilitarian, to strategies aimed at ‘cultural engineering’.

Vulnerable points. Priorities.

What is the cause of the divisive tensions that have been tearing apart Romanian cultural life, both before and after the collapse of the communist regime?

First of all, the artistic act (be it a book, theatre performance or whatever) lived in fervour, in insurgent hope and exasperation. Suffocated, stifled among the masses, and systematically humiliated by the political regime, the audience (like the author himself, of course) escaped vertically, in an almost ecstatic way. Seeking refuge in culture in this way substantially modified the purely aesthetic or simply entertaining substance of artistic performances or works. Politically subversively charged, experienced as resistance and psychological therapy for the aggression from politics, or as insubordination through the cult of beauty and daydreaming, the cultural act gained huge symbolic proportions, whereas nowadays, in freedom and diversity, regaining normality seems to be a falling into the abyss.

This calm, this return to normality, to the natural gesture of communication, is felt by the artist and creator as a lethal indifference, as a betrayal, as a breaking of all idols. On the one hand, every 40-60 year old journalist, mediator, or specialized critic will cultivate nostalgia for the ‘ghetto harmony’ of yesteryear, in a suicidal refusal to adapt to the new circumstances, and will blame (rhythmically, justifiably, though barrenly) the current explosion of subculture and gang-spirit, without trying either to evaluate the negative, or to create proper tactics to drain negative energies. On the other hand, young journalists, aged 20-25, representatives of the internet generation, cultivate reductionism, up-to-date exclusivism, out of indifference or spite towards Yesterday’s values, and towards local traditions, glorifying the new linguistic stereotypes of globalization. They are partly motivated by a terrible thirst for recognition, but also show an astonishing lack of culture (inculture), ranging from the American pronunciation of French names to mentioning the presence of a certain writer at a book fair, ten years after his death!

The arts unions (in the field of literature, visual arts, music etc) once had substantial funds at their disposal, allowing them to cultivate a system of patronage which proved as profitable, as it was damaging for creativity. Nowadays, these unions limit themselves to either cultivating political power or fantasize about the benefits of unionization. They are run by out of date, senile, embittered, rusting structures, often acting against the interests of the mass of creators whose works they ultimately live from. On the other hand, creators actually no longer consider these unions as the most favourable platform for communication, but as mere bureaucratic institutions. Hence the generally expressed need for reviving the true institutions that were represented in the 1930s in Romania by the literary café, the ‘bohème’, the more or less selective clubs – an apparently minor aspect, but one which could be very influential in a Latin/Mediterranean artistic world.

In a society which considers diversity of beliefs and opinions as ‘atomization’, where individual creators expect government subsidy and prefer collectivization, despising the elites; in a society where even the most humble request for the work of art to be attractive is judged as ‘mercantile cynicism’ and ‘self-prostitution’; where corrupt bureaucracy, aggressive stupidity, dogmatic opacity, shallow festivism, and party patronage are dominant; where public libraries acquire a thousand times fewer books and where a book enters public circulation two years after being published; where book archives keep moving or are shut down at the good will of their owners; where marketing of the performing arts institutions is but a sweet dream; where the agent institutions of Communist times have split into a variety of illegal bureaus, genuine fraud clubs; where museums claim an ‘obligation’ on the part of the Education Ministry to ‘provide them with an audience’, without any efforts to attract one; where, in the life cycle of a book, everyone gets paid (from typewriter to bookstore seller, from driver to proof-reader) ... except for the author. In a country such as this, there is an obvious need for a group of people, a think-tank, to reflect, to monitor and to act, keeping in mind the fact that everything connected with culture is – both directly and indirectly – based on civic education and on the will of integration in the democratic world.

What this group should be, and how it should act, are questions open for discussion and probably much debate.

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