5 Cultural Policy Resources in South East Europe
Last updated: 23.09.2016

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01.04.2002 | author: Virgil Stefan Nitulescu
Cultural Policies in Romania - An Inside View
"Ablak: Magazine for Central-Europe and the Balkans”, vol 7 (issue 2, 2002), a bi-monthly magazine produced by the Institute for Russian and East European Studies of the University of Amsterdam
Virgil Stefan Nitulescu
is councilor to the Committee for culture, arts, mass-media of the Lower House of the Romanian Parliament.
Before 1990, the Romanian language had two meanings for the word ‘politică’: politics and stratagem. In 1990, under the increasing influence of English in Romania’s day-to-day vocabulary, the direct import of the word policy into Romanian created a situation whereby the second meaning was transformed, step-by-step, into strategy. Now, especially under the influence of “Eurolanguage”, the word policy is frequently used to designate a strategy in almost any field: everyone is claiming the need for a certain policy, in agriculture, in industry, in services, in defence etc and, of course, in culture. By ‘cultură’, a Romanian would understand a very broad field encompassing literature, the arts, cultural heritage, archives, mass media, and cultural industries.

Until 1994, there was no talk in Romania about cultural policies. The communist regime did not use the phrase. They spoke only about socialist culture. In fact, we had no “ministry of culture”, but a half-state, half-Party authority, called “the Council for Socialist Culture and Education”. That is why the Ministry of Culture was one of the first ministries created after the collapse of the regime in December 1989. The new ministry was authorised to create and adopt “strategies” in the different cultural branches. However, only after joining the Council of Europe, in 1993, the ministry’s officials learned about the Council’s programme for evaluating the cultural policies of the members. The first attempt to start an evaluation of Romanian cultural policies took place at the end of 1994. The result was clear: there was no defined cultural policy in Romania. Six years later, an international report (1) and a Romanian report (2) were done under the abovementioned Council of Europe programme, and a ten-year strategy (3) was designed for the Ministry of Culture, using the money provided by the European Commission in the framework of a Phare programme (4). This was the very first coherent strategy for Romanian cultural development. Only a few months later, in January 2001, a new Government reorganised the ministries, creating the Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs. To date the new Ministry has no official strategy. Some non-official documents were created by different public and private organisations in an attempt to provide direction to Romanian culture. None of them can be taken seriously (sometimes, not even by their creators). But there may be some hope: recently the Romanian Steering Committee of the Policies for Culture programme discussed the opportunity of proposing a policy to the Ministry.

Of course, the governments had their programmes too, but they were not devoted to culture. In twelve years of democratic life, Romania had four general elections, nine prime ministers, ten ministers of culture and many others leading the cinematography industry, the archives, the audio-visual council, the public radio, the public television, etc. It is difficult to maintain continuity under these conditions. It is interesting to note that each of the personalities who have tried to manage the cultural authorities and institutions were put under heavy pressure. Some of this pressure was the result of their own educational and cultural background; some was the outcome of cultural debates. Though it is not easy to detect the basic traits of these debates, they existed and they have influenced the whole of Romanian cultural life.

Ideological Struggles – Tradition vs. Modernity

One of the hottest discussions inside cultural circles originated at the end of the 18th century when Romanians started to prepare the creation of their modern national state – a political masterpiece that began in 1859 and ended in 1918, with most of the Romanians as citizens of one independent and unified state. There is an ideological struggle between the traditionalists, who have marked the cultural value of everything that may be claimed as “ancient” and “national”, and the modernists, who are praising “Western” values, trying to keep pace with global events. This struggle had one of its peaks in the inter-war period, when a brilliant generation of creators, including Mircea Eliade and Emil Cioran, embraced the traditionalist view, which, politically speaking was very close to the extreme Right. The communist regime in the fifties denied all “national” values, in the name of “internationalism” (bearing a heavy Soviet accent). As of the midsixties, the communists – exploiting the deep anti-Russian feelings in Romanian society – tried hard (and, judging by today’s debates, have managed) to equate, on the one hand, “Soviet” (which already meant “evil”) with “internationalism” and, on the other hand, “national” (which, of course, was “good”) with “communism”, creating “national communism”. After 1989, many cultural personalities sincerely believed that almost any cultural value that has no detectable roots in Romania is the pure expression of “evil”. This would be the case with “European” (meaning European Union) values, compared with Romanian traditions on the one side, and American (meaning the American popular culture, symbolised by Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Hollywood) values compared with “old” Europe (“Europe of the nations”) on the other. In fact, in the Romanian imagination, these new, external values have taken the place of the late Soviet influences. In some respects, the debate has returned to the pre-World War II stage, although it bears the scars of the experience of national communism. Many artists who were clearly against the official communist culture, because of its foreign essence, consider postmodernist culture to be just as bad for the same reason: it is a foreign product.

Market Economy imposes its Rules

Simultaneously, the market economy has imposed its rules on the cultural field. While financial aid for the state-owned industrial and agricultural enterprises has been maintained, support for cultural life and institutions has been lifted. Because of this, many artists were disappointed by what they obtained (apart from freedom) when communism collapsed: a poor free market in a state-owned economy. Even now, when the situation has changed (most of the economy is in private hands and the cultural institutions have learned how to operate in a competitive milieu), the essence of the debate is still there. Should Romania adopt the model of a de-centralised system of cultural institutions and reform their financing by introducing subsidies for projects and programmes, or should a centralised decision-making system with continued payments be maintained irrespective of the results?

Despite all odds, forced by the market economy and by the adoption of the acquis communautaire, it is clear that the Romanian institutional system is heading towards reform. It is somehow strange that much of the rhetoric that accompanies this moment is against reform, blaming “globalisation” and the Brussels “eurocrats”. However, de-centralisation is a fact and it is more and more the responsibility of the local communities to take care of their institutions.

The number of private cultural enterprises is slowly but steadily increasing. In spite of the dramatic fall of the state budget for culture (for instance, from 0.73% of the GDP, in 1998, to about 0,06%, in 2002), cultural life is vivid and is marked by all kinds of events: book fairs, music, dance, theatre and film festivals, museum and exhibition openings, restorations of historical monuments, etc. Cultural periodicals for all national minorities (19 are officially represented in the Parliament) are published all over the country. Movie premieres take place on the same day as in New York, any new best selling novel is translated into Romanian in the same year, more than 300 private radio stations and over 200 private television stations are on the air, and most of the television monitors have cable (Romania is the most cabled country of Central and Eastern Europe). But it was not and it is not an easy road.

New Laws in a Strange Landscape

The very first two years (1990 and 1991) were marked by attempts to define ‘normality’ in culture and by trying to adapt people and institutions to the disappearance of censorship. The years 1992 and 1993 were marked by stagnation, as if the leaders would not have known (and they didn’t) where to head Romania’s cultural priorities. A slow movement towards recentralisation – the easiest and most familiar way to solve problems – started during these years, and this movement was strengthened in the next three years: reform became a forgotten word. However, it was re-invented during the years 1997 – 2000, when the leaders tried to innovate and reduce the role of the authorities (at least, the central ones) in cultural life. Unfortunately, it seemed that society was not ready for this. Many institutions that have passed into the hands of the local councils have begun a difficult existence, because the local leaders were not proud of, nor interested in “their” cultural institutions. 2001 was a year of dilemmas: how can the cultural institutions be saved, with almost no money and without much political support?

Many people who had made a name themselves during the last decade of communism were called back to leading jobs. It is a strange landscape, as if you would try to “build” capitalism using Marxist workers. Anyway, their tools (the laws) are not Marxist anymore. During the last decade, Romania produced a mass of completely new legislation and adapted to democratic life. Starting with laws introducing respect to the author’s and neighbouring rights and with the law on sponsorship, and ending with laws reserved for different cultural fields (cultural heritage protection, legal reserve, libraries, archives, cinematography, audio-visual, public radio and television), the whole of cultural legislation was changed. Some other laws (for local administration and local public finances) are shaping the new reality. It is true that, sometimes, the authorities lack the will or the power to enforce these laws, but only in Utopia would reforming a society meet no opposition.

After twelve years of disputes, debates, rallies (like that for an independent cinematography in 1990) and hunger strikes (like the one for a non-political public television in 1995), it still seems that Romania has no publicly known cultural policy. At the same time, it is obvious that what is happening is the result of one of the most interesting moments in Romanian cultural history and if, for the older generation, it is still a miracle that freedom of artistic expression and free competition exist, for the younger one, this is only normal. It seems like a perfect time to contemplate the need for cultural policies.


(1) Cultural Policy in Romania. Report of a European group of experts, compiled by Jacques Renard, Strasbourg, 11 October 1999, CC-Cult (99) 33D prov.
(2) La politique culturelle en Roumanie. Rapport national, Strasbourg, le 7 octobre 1999, CC-Cult (99) 33A prov (French only).
(3) Long-term Cultural Strategy for Romania, accessible at: www.eurocult.ro/en/policies/policies.htm
(4) RO9709-01, Institutional Strengthening.

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