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01.04.2002 | author: Antun Vujic
Cultural Change & Cultural Strategy in Croatia Decision Making and Financial Autonomy
Policies for Culture Journal, April 2002
Antun Vujic
was the Minister of Culture of the Republic of Croatia in the 2000-2004 period.
Croatian culture, or rather, culture in Croatia is on no account synonymous with ethnicity, environment, religion or nation: it has regional, culturological, ethnic and religious, national and international, communicational and multicultural foundations. Croatia's cultural identity, however, has not been obliterated by this diversity, but has, on the contrary, been enriched by it. However, during the long periods that Croatia was part of multinational state entities, including most recently the half-century long Yugoslav socialist system, national identity was a main ingredient to be sought and expressed. The principal national cultural institutions are and were, even at the time of their establishment in the XIX century, closely linked to this very factor.

In the Yugoslav multinational state, which was characterised by powerful and homogeneous ideological and political claims and, as far as communication was concerned (primarily in terms of language), allowed not only cultural particularities and confrontations but inter- permeation too, Croatian culture had a very distinguished place. This was, among other things, due to its "Western" character, as it often saw itself, which caused it to adopt Western-type national political aspirations. In addition, throughout this period, that was occasionally more liberal, but more often than not markedly repressive and totalitarian, culture was paradoxically not merely an area onto which particular party ideological or political will was transposed, but it also represented a considerable, preserved field of creativity, allowing even the expression of critical views on society.

In the context of the so-called Yugoslav socialist model, great cultural diversity and the federal particularities of specific environments (in which polarisations could not always be controlled) were generated.

In the relatively short ten-year period that is now behind us, culture in Croatia therefore evolved under two opposing state and social orders, moving from the Yugoslav (multinational) order, to Croatia's (national) multi-party system. Within the latter system, after the war, the order changed again, in physical as well as in mental terms, to become Croatia's new pluralism in the year 2000. During this period, not only the formal and actual space of Croatian culture changed, but its internal political and value system changed as well.

Regardless of the fact that we ourselves have been the witnesses or even the protagonists of these changes, and that these changes have provoked artistic and other works that have sometimes made intense cultural and political statements, the changes that took place have still not been wholly articulated in the form of artistic reflection or culturological analysis. For this reason, current strategic cultural deliberations remain part of the moving flux of an, as yet, incomplete cultural and social constitution (even if they do represent an attempt at a more integral perception of the position, directions and prospects of the development of Croatian culture).

With due respect to what can be called an orientation towards the autonomy of culture, in how far can we actually speak of cultural policy in the context of the current cultural development strategy? No one can predict future results, to say nothing of their future revaluations, something that is certainly expected in the future of culture, the arts and creativity in general. This rather trite notion places the methodology of developing a ‘cultural policy’ in a rather specific light - namely that the very protection and stimulation of creativity becomes a more significant value than the development of guidelines for the direction of that creativity. In contrast to nonintervention in the creative process itself, strategy can primarily be laid down along the line of planning (in an affirmative environment of professional and public decision-making), as a way of eliminating the
barriers facing cultural creativity and of broadening the measurable space for evaluating the quality of cultural policy as a favourable factor for cultural creativity. After all, if culture is perceived as a developmental force, it should be possible to measure it; in the results of the protection and promotion of cultural heritage as a social (and economic) developmental resource, or in the public (for example: economic or tourist) function of manifested forms of artistic creation, whilst differentiating between what we call culture-as-goal and culture-as-means.

Cultural Pluralism through Independence & Autonomy

The political changes in 2000, which brought the former opposition to power, substantially changed reduced utilitarian perceptions of the desirable relationship between culture & society, at first conceptually on the level of the programmes of the leading parties, and then in gradual steps of practical cultural policy. The point of departure was the assumption that only a liberated, independent relationship (void of political and ideological claims), between cultural activity and the arts, society and the state, allows for the development of their autonomous values. Only through such unadulterated values do culture and the arts truly contribute to overall development. Without this, the gap between the state on the one hand and marginalized alternative culture on the other would be ever greater and alternative art could, for example, assume a position in the narrow public space for cultural and social protest. With due respect to all the diversity, and even breaking of ranks in both periods of Croatia’s more recent history, such was in essence the status of the greater part of Croatian culture.

Dependent on the state, at first both politically and financially, and now at least financially, the relationship between Croatian culture and the state has always been quite intense. The fact that answers are still lacking to questions concerning the construction of the state itself, issues such as new national cultural and multicultural identity and the material and political status of culture, is due to the balance of the new equation. Thus, even today's cultural creative efforts and their social organisation are by necessity burdened with certain value-related and institutional factors which are reflected in culture's dependency on the state. This can be seen as either a positive or negative point for resolving not only culture’s social status, but also its aesthetic and poetic references. Although no one dictates such references any more, in some areas of culture the need to either obtain or renounce them still exists. According to a (Russian) anecdote: old dissidents wonder whom to protest against and new state artists are trying to figure out what has happened to the state commission while in fact neither exist any more.

In a nutshell: the initial assumption is that the role of the state should primarily consist of providing for cultural pluralism by allowing the independence and autonomy of cultural processes, instead of making it a party to these processes. It goes without saying that such a position does not immediately attract a multitude of allies, but it certainly keeps away the undesirable ones.

Liberation of Culture from State Dependency

If a single overall change is clearly to be depicted in today's cultural relations in Croatia, then it is undoubtedly the one described in one of the leading newspapers as the - liberation of culture, liberation of art implying a specific quantitative (measurable) and qualitative (immeasurable) acceleration of the production of books, films, theatre performances, fine arts and musical events and releasing the cultural professions and media production from any form of public coercion. This liberation, however, was not purely spontaneous it was stimulated. In particular, it was not accompanied by the financial independence of culture itself, not for lack of desire but out of necessity in view of the objective economic and other limitations, as well as the still prominently expressed subjective disposition of numerous cultural professionals towards the state. Indeed it seems that a significant quantitative aspect of that liberation is linked to the marked increase in state financial incentives allocated to the numerous cultural programmes, which rose by nearly 50% after the year 2000. In any case, this process was initiated by general political changes that were partly brought about by cultural professionals too.

In less than two years of new democratic changes, Croatian culture has even perhaps exceeded the anticipated “liberation”. This is visible not only in the type and volume of new programmes, ranging from those on cultural industries (revival and enhancement of publishing, new film and film forms), newly initiated or already implemented programmes of cultural infrastructure development of cultural heritage restoration (from approximately 550 to about 650), or the sudden flourishing of new artistic organisations (over one hundred in the registers of the Ministry of Culture), new festivals, or newly conquered alternative locations in cities, on islands, youth culture, comebacks (even extravagant ones) of internal or external, voluntary or involuntary exiles to the culture scene. We have a situation in which alternative and mainstream cultures have almost completely changed places, leading to extremely altered attitudes toward "state culture" itself, if it still exists as such, and for example, turning one's back on institutionalised culture (particularly by the media) or uncritical praise of all that emerges from of the alternative scene which is somewhat of a paradox, although it can be explained.

If we have consequently observed the liberation of culture from dependency on the state in terms of the latter's political claims, we can unfortunately still recognise culture's marked dependency on the state with regard to financing. This form of dependency includes, paradoxically, not only institutionalised but also noninstitutionalised culture which likes to be considered fully independent, even alternative, so that in respect to their cultural, poetic, aesthetic (maybe even political) orientations, institutionalised and non-institutionalised culture still remain considerably within the sphere of state support.

For the first time new cultural activities, individuals and festivals have suddenly rushed to the fore and new departments for cultural development and the culture of youth have been established. For the first time all decisions have been made public on the Ministry's newly created web site or in the periodical Kulturni Razvitak (Cultural Development). In addition and also a novelty, financial resources earmarked for culture have reached over 1% of the state budget, while those intended for programme activities have increased by 48%. Finally, at a time when budgetary restrictions were in place for the administration and public services, culture was not included in the cuts and, contrary to traditional employment trends in such circumstances, not a single job was lost in culture. This speaks not only in favour of positive intentions but also of overcoming the previous conception of culture as a mere consumption item.

Autonomy in Decision-Making & Financing Culture

The Government's overall policy towards the decentralisation of the decision-making process has already transmitted considerable central government authority to local self-governments. The principal foundation of autonomy in culture is decision-making autonomy. The Law on Cultural Councils adopted by the Parliament in 2001, which provides for co-decision making in culture whereby the representatives of various cultural structures in the specific cultural fields make decisions on cultural policy, is most probably the greatest breakthrough towards the autonomy of culture, the strengthening of powers and responsibilities of professionals in culture, as well as the development of social capacities for cultural management. The competence of cultural councils, not only in regard to the allocation of budgetary funds to cultural consumers, but also in regard to the setting of cultural preferences, encompasses all the previous administrative (governmental) powers, presumably, together with transparent public decision-making, inaugurates new relations between culture and the state, geared towards independent culture which is not without social responsibility, but is free from the restraints that falsify its values and which range from political subjugation to client dependency.

The other, equally important foundation of the autonomy of culture is the greatest possible financial autonomy. It is achieved through the introduction of a new tax policy aimed at opening up new financial sources, particularly those which link economic and cultural interests. Firstly, special tax concessions are awarded to those who decide to invest in culture and stimulate the creative efforts of artists or artistic organisations. These concessions on value-added tax, primarily on foreign donations but also freelance artists and artistic organisations, including film-screening services, have undoubtedly had positive effects, manifested in the sudden increase of registered cultural associations and artistic organisations. In addition to traditional books and publications, in line with the advance of modern technology, these tax concessions were broadened to include modern text carriers (CD ROM's, video and audio cassettes and diskettes). Likewise, the effects of the new tax legislation, according to which all donations to culture of "physical and legal persons" are tax deductible, are yet to be measured. What is certain is that these laws are not only along the lines of, but even supersede the most favourable European cultural legislation, and that after their coming into force, the Ministry has already registered the first major investments by some of Croatia's leading companies, from donations to prominent cultural events to art education scholarships.

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