5 Cultural Policy Resources in South East Europe
Last updated: 14.08.2023

HOME  E-library  Articles & Reports  9b. Enlargement & culture
01.04.2002 | author: Corina Suteu
The Importance of a Cultural Approach Towards the Accession Process
Policies for Culture Journal, April 2002
Corina Suteu
is an expert in European cultural policies and cultural management courses, currently president of ECUMEST and head of the Cultural Management Unit (IHT - Nantes).
In his article "EST-OUEST- le dit et le non dit" (1), the Polish historian Francizek Draus points out that Eastern Europe and Western Europe have different perceptions of the accession process. While a Westerner’s concern is directed mainly towards the technical complexity of the process to be engaged, Eastern countries give it much more a meaning of an ‘historical act of justice’ – an ‘acknowledgment of moral duty towards people who went through half a century of communist regimes’.

This ‘high moral perception’ of enlargement is not bringing about a rich and engaged intellectual debate on accession inside the countries of the post communist region. The intellectual class thinks that this is mainly a matter for politicians, and civil societies in Eastern Europe are not really concerned with enlargement either. Therefore, information about this major issue that will surely influence the lives of the Easterners more than anything else in the coming decade remains scarce and vague. The immediate consequences of this are that the public remains ill informed and is thus very vulnerable to the influence of simplistic ideas and demagogic images and can be easily emotionally manipulated. This will surely form a major obstacle to a realistic acceptance of what the accession process will bring to the day to days lives of the citizen.

Another aspect related to the importance of a cultural, humanistic approach towards the accession process becomes relevant when we see the new tensions that have been emerging lately between the accession countries and their EU neighbours. To date no real awareness has been raised, or long term cultural process adopted on a broad scale to address the painful ‘memory’ of either the post-war or post communist era. This is resulting in the awakening of the phanthoms of past events that were temporarily frozen by the cold war. Telling examples like the expulsion of three million Germans and one hundred thousand Hungarians from former Czechoslovakia (the so called Benes decree) after the Second World War, which was ‘not a very long time ago’; or the discussion about the 14 million Germans that had to flee Eastern Europe and the Red Army between 1944-1945 (estimations consider two million dead) have caused the Czech sociologist Vaclav Houzvicka to comment: ‘the perception that Czechs have about the Germans today still corresponds to the image Dutch had about the Germans in 1950 (2). All this needs more than mere legislative and economic harmonisation measures, it obviously requires a process of rebuilding trust through renewed dialogue and cultural cooperation.

Along the same lines, the acceptance of a number of countries in the Eastern region to the Union will undeniably mean the temporary, but definite exclusion of the others. From this point of view the issue of the EURO speaks for itself. Rarely brought openly about, enlargement will mean a shift to the unique monetary order for some Eastern countries, bringing about boosting economic developments for some and stimulating unexpected migratory flows. It is culture alone, if used as a developmental key, which will be able to fill the gaps caused by new forms of isolation and economic poverty.

And where is ‘EU Europe’ in all this. The parliament is working on the European Convention, but the member states are at the same time faced with Berlusconi, Haider and the emergence of strong right wing movements in France and lately the Netherlands. Therefore, we should formulate the question differently and ask ‘in how far is the average EU citizen aware about the enlargement process and how concerned does he feel about it?

Technical EU Enlargement & A Cultural Europe

So, even if enlargement is a mainly ‘technical’ process and a functional instrument for bringing together administrative entities, one should not forget that there is a ‘cultural Europe’, a different space that encompasses both East and West.

During the last five years, we have witnessed, on the Eastern part of the continent, a shifting attitude to the ‘cultural good’ and its status within the socio-economic order. Eastern societies have gradually accepted the importance of heritage preservation, of artistic emergence, the richness and catalysing effect of cultural diversity. They have rediscovered the need for cultural values to be put forward and preserved, as guarantees of individual creativity. These values are now slowly replacing the old ideological approach, so present still after the fall of communism. This is why the awareness of the above-mentioned difference between the ‘technicality’ of the enlargement process and the ‘European cultural dimension of Eastern European integration’ might facilitate the identification of common roots and ground and engage, through adapted means, a dialogue where countries in Eastern Europe would feel less inferior and less excluded.

One of these means is, naturally, cultural policy and the implementation of cultural measures and projects that facilitate and stimulate a grass-root driven accession dynamics. If, for example, the cultural press would be better furnished in Eastern Europe, it could efficiently circulate and explain, in a competent manner what the EU is all about and thus entertains interest, awareness and debate platforms within the intellectual and civil community in the region. But the cultural press suffered dramatically after the communist centralised regime stopped providing subsidies and the new post-communist liberal economic transition installed itself. Should this not become one of the priorities for the Ministries of Culture in the region?

If, at the same time, serious work on the historical, cultural and sociological memory of the region would be engaged, the tensions and conflictual perpetration, as well as the national tendencies would surely be smoothened somewhat. It is only through a cultural and educational approach that this work can have a strong and massive impact on the societies of Eastern Europe. The ‘museum of terror’ that opened in Budapest in February 2002, tracing the history of both fascist and communist years, is, from this point of view, an outstanding example (3).

If, on the other hand, the recently opened regional agencies for administrating the structural funds in South-Eastern Europe would cooperate more with the cultural network of artistic and educative institutions and would give their projects a sustainable development dimension through a more humanistic approach, their results would maybe touch not only a technical improvement of infra-structures, but also a progress of the mentalities in the region.

Last, but not least, trying very hard to develop a new ‘image’ for their civilisations, countries like Bulgaria, Croatia or Estonia have recently engaged in hard marketing operations. Culture is always the core instrument of such operations as ‘Branding Bulgaria’, a project launched by a Bulgarian group of cultural mediators and addressing the Bulgarian commercial and industrial societies working abroad to propose new,
modern images that these economic actors could circulate about the country. Public servants of the cultural sector, as well as civil, independent actors within the region, but also major cultural cooperation agencies in Western Europe should maybe understand rapidly that there is a lot of active and responsible involvement to be taken, so that ‘cultural enlargement’ plays its potential role within the much less poetic process of European accession, that seems, for the time being, too far from reach.


(1) SOCIETAL, no 32, "EST-OUEST, le dit et le non dit", Paris, 2001.
(2) Le Monde, 24 mars 2002, «le Contentieux des Sudétes empoisonne l’Europe Centrale», par Martin Plichta.
(3) See Courier International, mars, 2002.

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