5 Cultural Policy Resources in South East Europe
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HOME  E-library  Articles & Reports  3. Legislation for culture
15.05.1999 | author: Vesna Copic
Legislation: A Threat or an Opportunity?
the dossier of the Legislation and cultural policy development international workshop, Sinaia, Romania, June 2000, as background document.
Vesna Copic
is Head of the Policy Development Department inside the Slovenian Ministry of Culture and also lecturing cultural policy and cultural management at the Ljubljana Faculty of Social Sciences.
Law is like a classic. Something that people praise and don't read.
How can one make a law, which people will not only read but also praise?

Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind
Laws should neither be overestimated nor underestimated.

A law should not become a political manifestation or cheap propaganda used in election campaigns, failing to transcend the mere declaration of good faith, while life remains unchanged. Instead, an attempt should be made to find out what a law can achieve and where its power ends. The adoption of laws for the purpose of winning political points for politicians who come and go is the ultimate danger with which progress is faced. A law may not be a formal substitute for an effectively stable and well-regulated financing system, nor is it an alibi for the absence of a development-oriented vision of cultural policy. Law is in fact merely one instrument for the realisation of this vision.

The power and impotence of law
Law should govern only those relations, which can be adequately regulated with legislation.

Laws are instruments of regulation. Their major task is to govern individual relations by dividing the roles among the different stakeholders in the decision-making process on one hand and by enforcing rights and duties on the other i.e. to ensure that only those issues that can be regulated become the subject of law. Laws are therefore regulatory instruments, rather than programmed norms. Laws differ from programmed norms in that they are inevitably associated with legal consequences while programmed norms do not prohibit anything but, rather, they merely highlight specific developmental guidelines. Once programmed documents are provided with a legal form, laws lose their legal power and, along with it, their purpose.

To avoid legislative impotence we should be aware of which issues can be regulated and receive the legal form of law, and which issues are policy oriented, calling for a different form, that of a cultural policy planning document.

Stand by your law
Each law must be accompanied with a plan of activities for effective enforcement.

Legal hygiene requires that only such laws be adopted which can be enforced. The implementation of legislation is as important as its formulation. Here we must draw from:

1. The principle that a good decision is a product (and not a sum) of acceptability and enforceability. As professionally well formulated as a law may be, it will not work if those affected by this law fail to accept it as their own and if the actual situation is not ripe for this kind of legislative solution.
2. The realistic estimate of the material consequences of a specific law (financial, staff, organisational, etc.) and a conscious decision by the government to assume these responsibilities.

Tradition is like shoes – the longer you walk in them, the less they pinch
Law should govern only what is necessary to govern. And what is necessary to be governed?

In countries with a long tradition and continuity specific relations are taken for granted and do not call for separate legalisation. Although it is hard to imagine that this method could be used for regulating, for example, taxation issues, the situation is entirely different in the case of ‘soft’ activities, such as culture. In these environments the system can be upgraded spontaneously and consensually.

This however cannot apply to all post-Socialist countries, in which society was mostly highly regulated. The void, which emerged with the abolition of the former political system, must be filled. Metaphorically speaking, where there is no tradition, legalisation is indispensable and all necessary steps must be taken to make ‘the shoes fit’.

Cultural awareness calls for legal awareness
If we can say that there is a doubt as to whether there is at all a need for special cultural legislation, in view of the fact that specific countries have proven that an enviable cultural level can be achieved even without such legislation, there is no doubt that culture lives in a legislative environment defined by international conventions and general statutes.

The universal legislative story began to be told even before we began to talk about globalisation. The experience gained from the two world wars has driven nation-states to subject their legal sovereignty to the international legal order or, more precisely, to ratified international conventions, such as the Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which in addition to human rights deals with the right to be informed.

The annually adopted budget, legislation governing value added tax, legal relief arising from sponsorship and patronage, copyright legislation, regulation of the public administration, regulation of decentralisation, legislation governing local communities financing, customs legislation, and so on, are likely to affect the fate of culture more than most people think, or are willing to admit that they can. The feeling that the mission of culture is something prosaic and must therefore be transcended beyond reality diminishes the presence of culture’s interests in the areas in which its fate is tailored.

Irrespective of whether we advocate special legislation to govern culture or not, we must raise our legal awareness, which will take advantage of that which practically offers itself on its own on both the international and national levels, and which will ensure a legislative environment which culture will find favourable.

Legislation is an opportunity if we know how to use it.

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