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22.11.2001 | author: Andrea Zlatar
Advocating culture - The role of the media in the promotion of new cultural values
the dossier of the Advocating Culture international workshop, Zagreb, November 2001, as background document.
Andrea Zlatar
is associate professor at the Department of Comparative literature, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Zagreb and member of Zagreb City Assembly’s Culture Committee
INTRODUCTORY REMARKS: Changes in Croatian culture in the 90s

I) The idea of bourgeois culture: the middle class between the "élite" and the "common people"

If there is anything in which we can equate the efforts of the socialist-communist system and the right-oriented totalitarian parties, it is without doubt the intolerance towards the independent intellectual, the bourgeois individual. Because of syntagms such as "bourgeois individual" and " bourgeois culture" one could have served sentence in the 50s, while in the 70s and the 80s publishing of his/her works would have been made difficult and his/her presence in public life restricted. In most cases, bourgeois culture survived during the socialist-communist period as a habit, often becoming one of the norms of (petty) bourgeois life, guarding privacy from the jaws of the totalitarian ideology. In socialism, bourgeois culture was recognisable in regular visits to the opera as the symbolic peak of the (petty) bourgeois culture, it was sheltered in apartments decorated in " bourgeois " style and protected through the high-style habits of the everyday culture of life. Nevertheless, this form of culture is attractive for a sociological analyses of the protection (or even preservation) of urban life in socialist countries where the process of the destruction of the middle-class lasted for decades, never leading to the "final solution of the bourgeois question". The analyses of the role of the middle-class in the production and reception of culture in socialist and post-socialist countries is furthermore impeded by the impossibility to draw analogy with the development of bourgeois culture and resistance to it in the form of alternative culture taking place in some capitalist countries in the 50s. Particularly interesting is the way a special type of bourgeois culture in the socialist Yugoslavia was constituted – I have in mind the culture-oriented generation of '68. They were, as a generation, the "children of partisan generals", who entered the public space implementing the bourgeois/anti-bourgeois relationship taken from the model of the western revolution of '68. It was completely obvious that this analogy could not have been complete because the fundamental centre of political power – the Communist Party and its ideology - could not have been directly attacked. Besides, the reaction of the Party (Tito) was wise: they embraced the generation of '68 and used the situation to "clean" its own ranks. The consequences of the year 1968 were crucial for the constitution of avant-garde/alternative art in Yugoslavia in the 80s. Its protagonists were the ex-generation of '68, and the avant-garde/alternative art became an élite cultural product with strong support from the Communist-Party state. The attribute "bourgeois" could obviously not have been used. Even in post-socialist countries alternative culture often becomes a constituent element of "élite bourgeois culture" essentially resistant to the totalitarian type of the social system shattering and denying a right to individuality.

In Croatia of the 90s, "bourgeois culture" again became, similar to during the socialist period, a harbour or a refuge where resistance was fostered to the dominant unifying ideology of the national all-encompassing-unity. The shortest cultural equation of the 90s in Croatia would be: bourgeois versus populist, where the notion of individualism is crucial in defining the bourgeois. A special problem of middle-class intellectuals in the last decade was the fact that they received the political changes of the 90s unprepared and in a naive way: the last thing they expected was that they will again have to fight against totalitarian, populist and anti-intellectual tendencies in society. The mechanisms of resistance that the socialism-surviving middle-class was inoculated with started to break down in the early 90s. The formation of the Croatian state and war circumstances generated a totalitarian feeling of unity and, in most cases, created an affirmative identification in the sphere of national.

Nevertheless, the 90s brought something new to Croatia – a new social élite recruited from the members of the political élite, who slipped into the bourgeois attire, mostly presented through status symbols: clothes, private possessions and luxury cars. The new élite also needed paintings on the walls of their villas; and since it needed public places to show off, theatres and galleries were used for that purpose. Culture was being exploited and used in a way resembling socialist model, since the political élite of those times equally needed its "abstract painters" and used to take the first rows on the opening nights. The new élite, on the other hand, appropriated the semantic field of the bourgeois, what the previous élite could not have done and was not allowed to do for ideological reasons.

The destruction mechanisms of modern bourgeois individuality in the 90's differed from the old ones: although not openly declared, since the bourgeois was promoted as value, in reality, the middle class was being impoverished, socially degraded and marginalized. The new "system of values" was the one established on the bases of pragmatic experience: in the new order it was possible to steal and kill without being punished, it was possible to become rich overnight, it was possible to buy social privileges, a reputation and a university degree, acquaintance with artists and a seat in the Presidential box, newspaper interviews and appearances in TV-shows.

The mental framework of the HDZ - Croatian Democratic Union authority was in its essence distinctly and openly anti-intellectualistic. (1)

The elementary system of middle class values, in which know-how and professionalism are a guarantee for a job, and where professionally done work brings money – had been destroyed. The most horrible consequence of the transitional period and the war is not the material impoverishment of Croatian society, but the destruction of the value-system that was functional in particular areas of human activity.

The average citizen remained unprotected against transitional transformations, shocked by early-capitalism acts of plundering and without a possibility to find a place where he could protect his individual bourgeois privacy. The area of culture that for decades served as a resistance place to the ruling communist ideology also ceased to exist as such. Or maybe culture was that place, since it does not exist but as resistance to the reality and the existing? The survival of culture as a public activity accessible to all became questionable since the primary means HDZ as a ruling party used to protect itself, was exactly the refusal of public space to all who thought differently. To all who did not participate with all their heart in the proclaimed "spiritual renewal" with a fundamental aim to subjugate culture, turning it into an instrument of the state ideology based on the idea of national and Catholic unity, ethnic and religious "purity" and aptness.

The "alternative cultural scene" of the 90s is therefore how I call the area of all cultural and artistic initiatives that – unconnected mutually – happened without state financing and support of culture. We are talking about a series of isolated, we could say "private" projects (in the best sense of the word, private keeping the meaning of individual and independent) without a common denominator in a poetic, aesthetic and ideological sense. This definition of "alternative culture", derived from the reality, fundamentally differs from the artistically conceived and socially networked alternative scene in the West. What unites all those aesthetically and qualitatively different projects (from art-workshops to publishing projects, from contemporary dance to independent film productions) is an attempt to establish aesthetically regulating value-systems that would help valorise the products of the Croatian artistic and cultural scene in the contemporary international context. We are talking about a process in its beginning stage, a process of establishing value criteria that connect us synchronously, horizontally, in the context of contemporary cultural production, but that should simultaneously function in a diachronous way, establishing a relation with cultural tradition and respectable aesthetic value-systems that were established in Croatian culture, particularly in two moments of the 20th century – in the 30s and the 60s. One of the problems that today's young Croatian cultural scene has to face is the fact – mainly because of total resistance towards everything coming from heritage, in the last decade the heritage was ideologically postulated as the only good – that all relations and connections inside Croatian artistic and cultural tradition are shattered, that all generational bridges are destroyed and that every generation starts for itself from the beginning the work of re-establishing values. As if nothing existed before. For culture, in whose immanency is the idea of tradition, in the long-turn, this cannot be a good thing.

II) National culture and globalisation: the media transition of the "old" and the "new" cultural values

It appears as if there are two cultures in Croatia since the 90s, two separate spheres of culture that are neither in contact with each other, nor exclude each other. The only form of their contact is a conflict – a clash that leaves both sides doubtless about their standpoints, and even surer that each of them is the only one in the right. The first one is a culture that I will call ethno-centric and neo-conservative, informed about the past and auto-referential. This culture is autistic and xenophobic although, paradoxically, it often refers to the common European roots when its own mythical origins are questioned. The motto of this culture can be found in one of the nationalistic kitsch hits from the beginning of the 90s: Croatia since the 7th century. This culture, to be more precise, is a radical result of the cultural politics of HDZ and was best declared (and still is) in the cultural weekly Hrvatsko slovo. (2)

The other culture is that of independent intellectuals, writers and critics, who put forward their stands in Feral, Arkzin, Vijenac and Zarez. (3) This culture is contemporary and modern, it tries to consider the present and to be critical against it, it is open and communication-thirsty and it measures and compares its own achievements with close and more distant neighbours. It is a culture of translations, a culture of connections and a culture of changes. It asks questions and does not always expect the right answers. It is a culture of provocation and not of affirmation.
These two cultures are woven into the bases of Croatian society. On one side there are those who reject all that "comes from abroad", who oppose communication and changes. These are not only older generations, what could be presumed at first thought, but – as in many other countries of Middle and East Europe – a group of people who cannot adapt culturally. The second group consists of those who without restraint embrace all that comes from abroad, mostly young people, who successfully adapt to the demands of the new age. Kazimierz Krzysztofek, from the Polish Institute for culture, who calls this phenomenon cultural dualism (4) in which the parallelism of two cultures, two systems of values, is manifested, has also discussed this phenomenon. The new system comes from the market economy and brings along the idea of an open society, asking from culture to establish a cultural market as a natural continuation of the market of mass culture. The second system is older, it does not accept the ideas of the cultural market and it entirely relies on the system of state welfare when it comes to financing culture.

Croatian culture in the 90s as a matter of fact fluctuated between these two extreme poles, one marked by the globalisation trend and the other showing tendencies to confine to ethnocentric, self-sufficient concepts. We could say that everyday culture in Croatia is rather "universal" and "global": the average citizen considers himself personally integrated in Europe through Barilla pasta and Lotto sneakers. He inclines, what is more, towards real globalisation and multicultural trends – eats Chinese food, drives Japanese cars, drinks Coca-Cola and Australian wines. This particular citizen is not an ideal reader of the previously described Hrvatsko slovo. He reads Rushdie and Kureishi, follows European film, and gets wild on Buena Vista Social Club music. The question on the national identity of culture and the preservation/expression of the national identity through culture today is, however, more and more in the centre of theoretical discussions dealing with the phenomena of multiculturalism and the effects of globalisation on national cultures. Croatian culture of the 90s was burdened by the heritage of the past, the grafted idea that during long centuries culture was place/space where the idea of Croatian statehood, the inner essence of Croatian nation, was protected and bequeathed. Long centuries without a state in legal sense conduced the mythologisation of the cultural sphere as a privileged media for the transition of national essence and burdened a large part of contemporary Croatian cultural production with questions from the past. For, Croatian culture has never had the right to deal with itself, its own topics, poetical and aesthetical questions, but always had to worry about the other, the First, to be correct: namely how to protect the Language, how to save the History and how to constitute the Nation. It is almost incredible how even today these questions, even unconsciously, burden the youngest generations of authors, who were never forgiven dealing with trivial topics and genres models by the official critics of the 90s that through the state media constantly imposed interiorised demands for every product of culture to deal with questions essential for the community, with big themes of concern to all of the nation.

III) The Media and culture: cases and excesses

The status of culture in Croatian society since the 90s can be detected from the relation of the media, both state and the so-called independent media, to cultural events and programmes. The fundamental distinction of the media presentation of culture in the 90s (this situation exists, prolonged, even today) was an almost exclusive approach to culture as a (political) case or a (scandalous) excess. Culture, in the first place, entered the media as an event with political aspects, if possible spiced with private scandalous details, preferably linked to well known personalities. In daily papers and political weeklies, cultural topics could appropriate somewhat larger space, or get a prestigious interview form, not because of their inherent aesthetic value but because of political circumstances linked to an event or a person. The interest in "private" often crossed the limits of journalistic ethics and curried favour with the lowest passions of the audience, thirsty for yellow-press scandals. Actors, poets, writers and painters would get the media coverage dependent upon whether and what kind of political stands they publicly expressed. Since the media of the 90s were politically polarized, in simple terms, on two groups, on the "nationally constructive" (5) media and the independent media, cultural materials also entered these two groups according to two criteria: the nationally constructive media covered nationally constructive artists and representative manifestations, while the independent media gave space to so-called independent intellectuals and artists who did not show sympathies for the HDZ rule but openly criticized it. What happened to those in between? In public, there was not room for them. The 90s by no means had taste for nuances and did not accept a possibility of the existence of an interspace. The tension between the authorities and the opposition in the last three years escalated to a point where almost every artist/intellectual was asked to directly and clearly express his/her own political orientation. It was assumed that those who were silent or "undecided" in fact implicitly supported the survival of the ruling party.

One of the negative effects of such polarization on cultural scene was reflected in the loss of personal critical principles and criteria. What we condemned in HDZ at the beginning of the 90s – the promotion of valueless artistic programmes in the name of " nationally constructive" and "homeland-loving" message, in the second part of the decade became the practice of the opposition media. In the independent press, and therefore organs in opposition, a huge publicity was given to artistic acts of those individuals, whose political preferences were unquestionably in opposition, placing the criteria of the aesthetic and artistic values in the second plan.

Žarko Puhovski, a philosopher and political scientist best described this situation, equally perceptible in the journals for culture (6), in his speech at the public debate on the media and culture , saying that the critique in Croatia became "artificial" (serving its own purpose), and that the artistic production was subordinated to the political dictates. A healthier situation both for the critique and the art would exist if art was concerned with art, and if the critique in its analyses analysed contextual circumstances, ideological encumbrance and political implications of the works of art.
This is particularly important if we ascertain that the so-called small-edition media, daily papers and journals, succumbed to the pragmatic ordinance of the daily politics and gave up their space to petty-political stands. The question is what is the "political" impact of such a media conduct: in any case it is a question of a continuing manipulation with culture for political goals and for the promotion of clearly marked political ideas. Today, in the reverse sense, we have examples when the political etiquette (the extreme right one, as for example in the case of the writer Ivan Aralica who spoke in favour of the war of Croats against Muslims) is used as propaganda on the market. I have in mind the last scandal-case over the promotion of Aralica's book on the national bookstand on the Frankfurt fair. The journalistic and the media dust that was raised, even when it was aimed against Aralica and the promotion of his blasphemous book, exclusively helped the promotion of the right stands. All book lists show that titles from the field of political memoirist writing, as well as the works of politically marked authors are bestsellers. This proves that politics have direct consequences on the book market however small it may be in Croatia.

Negative examples of "advocating culture"

There were many negative examples in the process of advocating culture in the media in the last decade. The extreme cases were the examples of the satanisation of certain individuals and the use of the language of hate. The best-known case was the case of the "Witches from Rio" where Croatian women writers and journalists in the large-edition weekly "Globus" in an anonymous text – table (produced by a so-called investigation squad) were demonised as state enemies, mostly on the criteria of nationality and "anti-Croatian orientation". Dubravka Ugrešić, Slavenka Drakulić, Vesna Kesić, Jelena Lovrić and Rada Iveković, were through a systematic and long-lasting media campaign thrown out of the public space, while their normal professional life was rendered impossible. A similar campaign in the early 90s was conducted against, at that time, the best Croatian actress Mira Furlan. The consequences were very efficient: only two out of six women remained in Croatia, and only one of them is active in larger public sphere.

It should be stressed that during that period there was an independent media space ("Feral", for example) where different voices could have been heard, the voices of the "proclaimed enemy", although the range and the influence of those media were far less important compared to large-edition political weeklies and especially to the electronic media. Although this question cannot be opened on this occasion, a special problem in Croatia in the sense of advocating culture through the media is the fact that there are no long-range electronic media that would function as the "public media" and present cultural programmes. On state television cultural programmes are reduced to some two hours weekly in rather unattractive times.
Another interesting example of negative promotion is the media coverage of Dubrovnik summer festival in the season of 2000, when the media in conflict with each other because of political reasons rose the temperature of the clash between the leading people of the Festival to the point were the artistic quality of the Festival itself became unimportant and the whole clash resulted in the defeat of the audience by the politics. (Vido Bogdanović remained the mayor of Dubrovnik, and S.P. Novak was not confirmed the artistic manager of the Festival).

Positive examples of "advocating culture"

One of the rare positive examples of advocating culture is the action of intellectuals to defend the Third programme of the Croatian Radio, an eminently intellectual and artistic programme. However, the media poorly covered the campaign that was only given attention in low-edition media ("Zarez") where eminent individuals gathered and raised their voice against the loss of independence of a cultural radio programme. A true lobbying for this media space went thorough private channels, by private lobbying of the politicians who decided about the conflict.
Another example (or, another examples) we could mention are the cases of the media promotion of the so-called alternative art, "new" and "contemporary" as opposed to "old" and "traditional". Such divisions clearly show a political sign on both sides. The Media promotion of the "new art" is rather successful in the short run, but without long-range effects.

Cases for discussion:

FAK-writers (writers who are in the same time journalists promoting themselves)
Musical biennale, Eurokaz – an organised media promotion on the criteria of "new" art that is in itself "better" and "more valuable"
Andy Warhole exhibition – first media spectacle with a support of strong sponsors (VIPnet) with high box office receipts for the gallery, but in the same time with a shift in the real aesthetic values
In all these cases we can outline the media discourse: cult performance, fine arts event of the season, scandal, artistic provocation, innovation.

Theoretical comment:

Boris Groys: "Contemporary kind of censorship of the artistic production is based on the notion of "new" and "innovation". If previously in the artistic critique we were saying "We don't need this because it's not good", today we say," We don't need this, because it is not new or innovative enough". The innovative has been equated with the creative. A negative mark in the media runs: "This has already been seen/heard/read"

Culturelink: Dynamics of Communication and Cultural Change. The Role of Networks, (ed. B. Cvjetičanin), Zagreb l996.
Culturelink: The Cultural Identity od Central Europe (ed. N. Švob-Đokić), Zagreb 1997.
Giddens, Anthony: The Consequences of Modernity, Stanford University 1990.
Kulturna politika Republike Hrvatske, Nacionalni izvještaj, Zagreb 1998.


(1) One of the famous statements from that period is a statement by Ivan Milas (HDZ - Croatian Democratic Union), the so-called "keeper of the state seal", who in the midst of Sabor (the Croatian Parliament) asked: "How much does a kilo of brain cost?" and replied immediately by himself: "A kilo of brain costs – 2,5 DM". The political populism was demonstrated on a daily basis in an aggressive form of downright anti-intellectualism.
(2) Hrvatsko slovo has been published since 1994, when it was started, with a substantial financial help from the state, by the Croatian Writers' Society, as a sort of "spiritual" counterbalance to the activities of the Croatian P.E.N. and the independent Vijenac that was started by Matica hrvatska (Croatian cultural society) in 1993 during the chairmanship of Vlado Gotovac, future leader of the Liberal Party. Hrvatsko slovo repeatedly used racist discourse and language of hate. The paper was, among other things, financed through direct purchase by the Ministry of Defence and was printed in the state printing-house. Since 1999 the Croatian Writers' Society has not been signed as the publisher.
(3) Zarez was started in 1999 after a group of editors and co-operators because of political pressures, as well as different kinds of indirect or direct censorship left Vijenac published by Matica hrvatska. The conflict in Matica culminated after the decision of the board not to allow the publishing of a photograph of a Muslim camp inmate from the Croatian camp Dretelj. Zarez was started with the help from foreign foundations, with a goal to bring about a space of culture where critical discourse could be shaped and discussions opened on all questions in the society.
(4) "The New Role of the Cultural Factor in the European Processes”, Culturelink, special issue: Dynamics of Communication and Cultural Change. The Role of Networks, Zagreb, 1996.
(5) The term "national construction" and the adjective "nationally constructive" appeared at the beginning of the 90s as a linguistic sign for semantic identification of the sate and the concrete political power (namely, HDZ-Croatian Democratic Union). Those who were for HDZ were automatically "nationally constructive" and therefore for the Croatian state, while those who criticized HDZ were accused of being against the Croatian state since there was no semantic distinction between state and authorities nor between state and homeland. Both artists and intellectuals were proclaimed "nationally constructive" – namely those who were involved in the project of so-called "spiritual revival".
(6) The debate took place in Croatian journalist centre in February 2000, and the transcript of the debate was published in March 2000 in Zarez, a bi-weekly for cultural and social events.

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