5 Cultural Policy Resources in South East Europe
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HOME  E-library  Articles & Reports  5. Decentralisation
30.07.2002 | author: Constantin Cheianu
Sad Achievements
Policies for Culture Journal, July 2002
Constantin Cheianu
is editor at Sud-Est Magazine, Chisinau
On August 27, 2001 the Republic of Moldova celebrated the 10th anniversary of its independence, which provided as good an opportunity as any other to collect some statistics. These unfortunately showed more failures than achievements.

Moldova is now the poorest country in Europe (the average wage is 30-40 USD a month, while the minimal living costs amount to 100 USD). For a number of years now the country has been balancing at the edge of an abyss and, in February 2001, as a result of parliamentary elections, the country fell back into the arms of the Communists (becoming the sole country to be governed by a Communist majority in the whole of Central and Eastern Europe), which obtained 70% of seats in the Parliament. This reality can be explained historically (Moldova has never been an independent state), politically (re-annexed, in 1944, to the Soviet Union, the country lost practically all its elite) and economically (approximately 80% of Moldovan economy has been dependent on the Soviet space and 95% of its energy resources are imported).

This historical fate and the geopolitical situation – of being situated “on the outskirts” of “mainstream” events, led to the handicaps which have impeded Moldova to outline and strengthen its identity and to develop strong elites. The cultural sector has been the worst affected by the general economic disaster of the recent years: State support covers only 20-30% of the cultural institutions’ needs, the salaries of professionals in the field of culture are the lowest in Moldova (the salary of a librarian in a rural area is 15 USD) and many are not paid regularly, with unpaid periods sometimes lasting up to nine months. Subsequently, a large number of professionals have left the country and is working illegally in Israel, Turkey or in Western Europe. Theatres, libraries and cultural centres are falling into dilapidation and technical equipment is 40-50 years old. One of the most important architectural monuments of the country, the National Museum of Fine Arts, was closed eight years ago and in all this time, not the slightest renovation works have been started, because there are no financial means to do this.

This does not mean that the Republic of Moldova lacks important artistic resources and a cultural system. The Opera and Ballet Theatre of Chisinau and the “Eugene Ionesco” theatre present their productions on important stages around the world, Moldovan painters are exhibiting their works in important European galleries, young local authors are being translated into many languages.

Totalitarian Heritage and Challenging Reforms

Moldova inherited from the totalitarian regime a cultural system and a cultural infrastructure which cover the whole country, from the capital to the smallest village. In former times almost every village had a library, a cultural centre, a bookshop, sometimes a museum. All of these were subordinated to the regional department of culture which was subordinate to the Ministry of Culture, controlled by the Central Committee of the Communist Party. With the fall of the Communist Party only the top of the pyramid disappeared, the rest of the “body” went on functioning and, in its major parts, is functioning until now.

The beginning of economic reforms and especially privatisation has triggered an important process of redistribution of financial sources and of investments. In Moldova, as well as in other countries of this region, the activities and the businesses which bring immediate and important profits are flourishing, most of them situated at the edge of legality or beyond it – oil import, goods traffic, traffic of women and so on. This trend has influenced favourably the emergence of a very strong underground, criminal economy (in accordance with unofficial data its profits are equal to three times the budget of the country) and of widespread corruption, which is maybe the most frightening in all this. The victims of these developments are the fields that do not bring immediate profit or are non-profit in essence –agriculture, education, health care and, naturally, culture (especially the regional cultural institutions). The budget for culture, instead of growing, is decreasing every year (7 mln USD in 1997 and 1,8 mln USD in 1999) and, if in 1996 it represented 0,56% of the gross domestic product, in 2001 it was only 0,20% of the GDP. The network of bookshops in rural areas has been destroyed almost completely, the number of libraries has dropped from 1938 (in 1996) to 1417 (in 1999), almost half of the cultural centres have closed their doors or have been transformed into bars and dancing halls. Until the early nineties, theatres and orchestras of Chisinau were obliged to make tours and show performances in villages, because in the rural area professional art was non-existent and art functioned on the level of amateur groups. But since then these practices have ceased, because of the degradation of the cultural centres and because of the elevated costs of accommodation and transportation.

Despite the fact that the mass media in Moldova has frequently alerted the public opinion to these dangerous evolutions, the situation of culture and cultural policies has never been, in these last ten years, the subject of official strategic documents or the theme of important debates or reunions. With only two exceptions: In September 2001 the Association “New Alternative”, jointly with the Ministry of Culture and the City Hall of Chisinau, organised an international symposium focused on the issues of cultural decentralisation. In October of the same year National Debates were held on “The Cultural Policy of the Republic of Moldova”, developed by specialists from Moldova and by experts of the Council of Europe. Still, the conclusions and recommendations of these two reunions have not had the slightest impact on the Moldovan authorities – until now the reports related to the cultural policy of our country, have not even been published.

The decentralisation process in the Republic of Moldova has been strongly influenced by the correlation between the centre and the regions. One fifth of the country’s inhabitants live in Chisinau, the capital city, and the economical resources are also concentrated here. The rest of population lives in small towns (30,000 – 50,000 inhabitants) and in villages (5,000 –15,000 inhabitants). In 1999 this situation led the Moldovan authorities to implement a territorial-administrative reform which replaced the 49 regions and approximately 1600 rural localities with 11 districts, 4 municipalities and 629 villages.

Decentralisation and Culture

This reform has offered a more important autonomy to territorial units and the regions have become more independent in their economic and cultural activities, but the situation is worsening nevertheless. The districts have enormous difficulties in building their own budgets – the dominant economy is agriculture, which needs and demands important investments. Taking this difficult situation into consideration, the Ministry of Culture has asked for a double subordination of the district departments of culture – both local and central, a solution that has generated various contradictions. Despite the fact that the cultural departments function in regions that have their own special characteristics, they are obliged to observe general regulations, approved by the Ministry of Culture. They are also obliged by the Ministry to approve the program of activities of all the cultural institutions of the region and “to ensure the implementation of all the decisions of the Government and of the dispositions of the Ministry”. With the return of the Communists to power these “centralising” tendencies are getting even stronger. Presently, neither the Ministry of Culture, nor the local authorities have financial means to support cultural activities in the regions, the invested sums being purely symbolical. The distribution of subventions on both levels – local and central – is also vicious. The cultural budget is established by the employees of the Ministry in total secrecy, no “outsiders “ – such as experts in this field – are admitted to advise, the criteria of distribution are unknown and thus, the little money available is distributed not according to criteria of valuable projects, but on the principles of “equity” or “clients servicing”. Moreover, the heads of the regional departments of culture are, for the major part, the same who held these positions in old Soviet structures and, as a general rule, they just waiting for instructions and money to appear from “above”, from the Ministry or the local authorities, without manifesting any initiative or any attempt to look for new approaches or new ideas.

Things are slightly better in the capital. A more intense economic activity has led to a larger autonomy from central authorities on all levels, including the cultural one. In recent years new libraries, theatres, and cultural centres have been opened in Chisinau. But even the municipal authorities are manifesting a certain “departmental egoism” – despite the fact that the larger part of the cultural institutions of the country function on the territory of the municipality of Chisinau, the City Hall supports exclusively the municipal institutions. Exactly as the Ministry of Culture, which is refusing support to any municipal institution. In the municipal authorities one finds the same denial of any transparency concerning how budgets are set up and distributed.

Being a special historical and geopolitical case, the Republic of Moldova is “excelling” in all fields, including the field of culture. After achieving an important number of “sad records” in the region – poverty, traffic of women, corruption, Moldova couldn’t help achieving another one – the smallest possible support given to culture.

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