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30.07.2002 | author: Ludmila Ivaschina
Cultural policies in Russia: The Siberian Dimension
Policies for Culture Journal, July 2002
Ludmila Ivaschina
Cultural Manager, Novosibirsk
The collapse of the USSR brought about economic and social reforms, which had its effects also on cultural developments and the cultural policy of the country, as well of the cities and the regions. But these reforms came and are coming from the centre and are implemented according to old methods and practices. Only to some extent, for better or worse are they realised on the local level, in some areas more intensively than in others, as in Nizhni Novgorod for example.

The region of Novosibirsk is part of the Siberian federal district, a territory comprising 16 regions of the Russian Federation with a population of 22,4 mln. Novosibirsk is the administrative centre, being favourably located as a large transport junction. Novosibirsk has a solid basis for the realisation of intensive socio-economic reforms: a strong industry (defence establishment), the largest transport junction and a scientific centre (Academic township). In Novosibirsk basic concepts and programs of urban development have already been developed and adopted for the first time in many years, such as the “Concept of socio-economic development of the city for the first decades of the XXI century", or "Choice of strategic priorities for steady development of Novosibirsk in a medium-term and long-term outlook".

In the pre-reconstruction (perestroika) period, the city’s economy and social policies were traditionally based on industrial manufacturing, which was dominated by the defence industry, but also on fundamental science and higher education. During the last few years property redistribution, the slackening of the defence establishment, breakdowns in interregional economic ties brought about by the USSR’s disintegration, sharp cuts in state funding of science and higher education and changes in the federal government’s regional and urban policies have resulted in an essential deformation of local economic development. The 90-s saw the dramatic fall of production mainly in industries fundamental to Novosibirsk, such as mechanical engineering and a disorganised monetary system and imperfect taxation caused lower investment activity in industry and urban economy. The decline experienced by the defence establishment has resulted in practically a complete absence of demand for scientific research and development in the military field, which was carried out by the Novosibirsk centre of science, design offices and planning organisations. And the recession in the city’s basic industries has immediately affected local social policies: the citizens’ standard of life has decreased, unemployment has grown, negative demographic processes have amplified and health indicators of city dwellers have worsened. The local industry of Novosibirsk has lost about 200 thousand specialists, who have either changed their occupation or become unemployed.

However, despite the fall of industrial manufacturing a number of industries focused on the consumer market have developed. The wholesale and retail trade sector is growing and a market infrastructure has been called into being. Despite the brain drain, the city still has enough resources to promote software development. Scientists sometimes call Novosibirsk Academic town "silicon taiga". Software firms are springing up like mushrooms, numerous Moscow and foreign software companies are opening affiliations here.

Civil Society

Socially, the notion of civil society is increasing. The non-profit 3rd sector is gradually developing. A short period of 15 years has witnessed only the very beginning of institutional reorganisation. Dozens of non-profit partnerships and NGOs are being registered in the city every year. In 2002 the number of NGOs has reached 3000. However, neither the private sector, civic organisations nor urban communities are yet adequately involved in planning and policy activities, i.e. participatory democracy in Novosibirsk is still in its early days. Civic organisations have not yet become a consolidated, public, mass movement. Most of them have not shaped a clear-cut policy and strategy to bring their operations to a city level. They are solitary operators and each functions in its own particular field. The public movement of citizens takes place on the basis of the Federal Laws: “Law on Social Organisations” (May, 1995), “Law on Charity Activities and Organisations” (August, 1995), Law on Non-Commercial Organisations (January, 1996) and “Law on National Cultural Autonomy”.

Yet the “3rd sector” is beginning to mobilise itself. At present some cooperation between NGOs and state structures is taking place – with the city administration in particular. Re-presentatives of city public associations have been members of councils, commissions and institutional committees of the city administration. But still NGO’s are not able to affect public policy and decision-making, let alone financial flows. Those engaged in the 3rd sector are mostly socially forsaken and unprotected.

Since 1994 a Siberian Civil Initiatives Support Centre has been functioning, which today unites the infrastructure of resource centres for NGOs in 12 Siberian cities. The centre has developed a methodology of collaboration of NGOs with government officials (executive and legislative). But their mandate does not include the cultural sphere. There are more than 500 cultural NGOs in Novosibirsk (there is no exact number of them because no special database exists in the field). Their managers are experienced professionals who have been involved in the implementation of international projects, increasing their knowledge and skills in project management, marketing, and communication with partners on an international level, as well as raising money from international foundations (Open Society Institute, Ford Foundation, Goethe Institute). They work with new technologies and have a technical basis (internet, equipment). Most of the cultural NGOs are focused on their creative activities. They are isolated, not fully organised and not aware of the important role they can play in the cultural policy-making process locally. Non-profit cultural organisations are not aware of modern methods of civil society development (involvement in legislation and regulation development, coalition building and organisation of advocacy campaigns, etc.)

According to a survey conducted in the framework of the project “Protection of rights and interests of non-profit cultural organisations” implemented by Novosibirsk City Non-Governmental Organisation "Leader's Club" 2002, the following obstacles to sustainable development of non-profit cultural organisations in both Siberia and Russia were identified: the legislation regulating the activities of non-profit cultural organisations contains conflicting regulations – The Tax Code adopted in 2001 and other regulations have abolished many privileges for non-profit cultural organisations. Business taxation impedes funding of statutory activities of non-profit cultural organisations. Non-profit cultural organisations do not have enough knowledge and experience of legal protection (thus they do not exercise one of their constitutional rights for judicial protection); lack of funding hampers the involvement of qualified professionals. According to the survey’s results only 2 of 300 surveyed organisations had had the opportunity to defend their rights in Court. Therefore non-profit cultural organisations sustain losses (various illegal penalties, claims, etc.)

Cultural Policy

The present cultural policy is characterised by the following:

1. Residual (left-over) principle of financing. In addition there are practically no other additional non-state financial sources (public or private sponsorship).
2. Outdated legislative basis: interactions of different participants of cultural processes have not been regulated; the Law on Sponsorship has not been accepted yet, and etc.
3. No transparency. It can be seen in all aspects of cultural governance. Among others, lack of transparency is still kept due to the tradition of distribution of finance within administrative vertical lines.
4. Following the directives of the Ministry of Culture
5. No flexible vertical management
6. Lack of mechanisms of horizontal integration hampers the development of the cultural sector.
7. Lack of project-based /programmatic approach.
8. Lack of strategic planning.
9. Non-state sectors are not involved in decision-making.

However, the local authorities cannot ignore the NGO’s activities. For example, NGO professionals have been invited to lecture at the Siberian Academy of Civil Service and now their course has become a part of the Academy’s programme. Since 1995 departments dealing with NGOs have been established in the Municipal and the Regional Authorities and have developed official programs for collaboration. But there have been no changes in the activities of the municipal or regional Committee of Culture. In 2000-2002 a tender for “socially sound projects” was announced by the municipal authorities. Although the amount of grants was rather limited, 22 projects were supported. Most of the projects dealt with the improvement of social surroundings in the city and only one was related to culture: the “Siberian Dramatists Creative Laboratory “ carried out by the Association of Independent Theatres of Siberia and the Urals.

In general the inter-action between non-profit cultural organisations and local authorities still remains quite formal. More often than not officials agree to become “co-funders” of certain projects (festivals for example) by lending their “label” to the advertisements. But they are not always present at the openings of the events, nor do they give much financial support. In comparison with Soviet times, however, when no independent initiative was allowed, this kind of collaboration can be considered as a step forward.

The Future?

So, what could be done to change and develop local cultural policy in Novosibirsk and give it a new democratic dimension? The first thing to start with is to conduct research into the non-profit organisations in Novosibirsk and to create a database on cultural NGOs and organisations. It would help to create a distinct picture of the independent cultural sector and its activities and to reveal the most active managers and professionals who could become the core of a team for further joint activities in the field. By using the experience accumulated in the framework of the Policies for Culture programme (in Romanian and Bulgarian Action Projects for example) and with the help of their experts, it would be possible to start discussions on a city level on the topic of local cultural policy, bringing together official policy makers and representatives of civil society. It is high time to do so, because they need to realise the importance of the cultural impact in the development of democratic society by re-forming the existing cultural policy to take into account new economic and cultural surroundings (new tendencies of contemporary culture) in the period of decentralisation. Cultural NGOs are to be made aware of their strengths; they need training in how to communicate with the local authorities; and to create models of how to become involved in decision-making processes. The officials in their turn are also to take part in trainings to stimulate the independent sector to contribute to re-designing the policies of their city.

It is of great importance to develop a forum aimed at:
• Revealing new tendencies and needs common to most of the cultural NGOs of Novosibirsk;
• Developing the criteria of local cultural strategy in new conditions;
• Creating a Cultural Coalition of non-profit organisations, facilitating NGO involvement into regional cultural policy development.

The Policies for Culture programme can be considered a great consultative basis to start the process of re-thinking cultural policy issues in Siberia, encouraging participative policy-making and developing a real working relationship between the independent cultural sector and local officials in the process of developing new cultural strategy in the city.

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