When speaking of cultural issues for the region of South-Eastern Europe it is absolutely necessary to apply a differentiated approach to universalities or to different approaches towards the culture of the individual countries, the issues of direct or indirect control of cultural production, and thus the issues of addressing the desired public and artistic forms.
This results from the fact that when defining what we believe are the most relevant categories of cultural policies, we are often tempted to neglect the subjectivity and history of a certain culture in favor of a more global model. This of course has sometimes its advantages, especially taking into consideration the misuse of culture over the last decade of this century during the Yugoslav dissolution, when culture has been used by the political elite as one of the major vehicles for the spread of nationalistic ideas and often quite unconcealed forms of chauvinism.
Additionally, the region has witnessed over the past decade a great transformation of the established values, following the change of the political and economic framework, which has of course itself severely influenced the social structures. The entire region has been fragmented. The political elites on the Balkans have found themselves trapped in a situation today in which they are unable to redefine their societies and solve the problems derived from the shift of systems, such as low rates of production, high rates of unemployment, emigration of intellectuals. The education policies have remained stiffened and have been unable to follow international standards. The freedom of the press has been attacked in some cases directly by shutting down oppositional printed or electronic media.
Fortunately, the role of culture may be directed to the opposite side of the pendulum, by articulately supplying creative responses to social issues and promoting civil cohesion, regardless of the confrontations on the axis between cultural analysis and cultural praxis. This is of course largely aided by the fact that over the last decade of the twentieth century, even though shyly in the beginning, the concept of civil society has made its way into the former socialist countries of Central and Eastern Europe, including the Balkan countries. During the nineties, South-Eastern Europe has witnessed the increasing role of non-governmental organizations in comparison to the state and private sectors. In the beginning of the nineties this has been largely assisted by the Open Society Institutes, but the concept was later picked up by organizations such as the European Cultural Foundation, European programs like PHARE, and even by governmental agencies like the Swiss Pro Helvetia and the governmentally sponsored association KulturKontakt from Austria.
As much as new important players, including different Foundations, have appeared, and as much as the NGO sector has been strengthened, it is quite evident that the relationship between the NGOs and the governmental sectors has been, in many cases, at least problematic. Once opened, the corpus of questions related to civil society prompts the question of its development in South-Eastern Europe. It is imperative to ask whether this new thinking is able to reflect the changing political and economic realities. What is more, is civil society able to assist in a thoughtful reorganization of the Balkans in which cultures interact with one another in constructing a new socio-economic system?
Finally, are there ways to assist in building alternative positions and identities in culture? The principal issue remains whether alternative forms of subjectivity may be created and legitimized in South-Eastern Europe? It is our duty to ask ourselves questions about consistent ideologies and alternative forms of subjectivity, since they are essential in the struggle for changes. Even though in theory we are abandoning universalities, in practice they may well assist the changes in the cultural situation of the region, as they have a mutual code based on a permanent cultural revolution, of which we become witnesses through the use of simultaneous reflexive connections.
Two views will determine the outcome: the view from within (the policies within the states and within the region) and the view from the outside (or the policy of the international community toward the region). The recurrent connection between the two would be characterized by the cultural policies towards marginalized groups within our region, and the marginalization of the region itself. It is my firm belief that should dialogue on this line be established, our cultures would have the possibility to transform.
In analyzing the strategic objectives of the cultural policies of the countries of South-Eastern Europe, one cannot speak of systematic and coherent cultural policies of the now independent countries, but rather of different approaches to the complex problems the region is facing. We may begin by asserting that the place of culture today, despite its role highly supportive of the nationalistic regimes in the Balkans during the conflict, stands far lower than in the eighties. For example, even the most developed country in the region, the Republic of Slovenia, has reduced its investment in culture from 1.02 per cent in 1989, to 0.72 per cent in 1992, even though in 1992 the Ministry of Culture issued a strategic development program of cultural policy in which it is clearly stated that the Republic undertakes to spend 1.50 per cent of its gross national product on culture. In the Republic of Bulgaria, we can also see a drastic fall of the culture budget with respect to gross domestic product. In the Bulgarian case the decline of investment in culture is even more drastic, since it fell from 1.28 per cent in 1988 to 0.56 per cent in 1995.
It is characteristic of the region in general that there is uncertainty about the financial capacity of the government (state and local) and governmental agencies to cover culture budgets. This uncertainty is accentuated by the decrease of funds allocated to culture by non-governmental organizations and foundations (one such example are the Open Society Institutes as the biggest independent benefactor in the region). Additionally, cultural institutions are over-sized and unable to adjust to the novel times, and the performance of their programs is low. This is both due to the already mentioned crisis in financing and to organizational reasons.
This has resulted in a very low level of artistic production, and it is a general characteristic of all countries of the region that the role of arts and culture in the development of society is underestimated.
The situation requires an essentially new definition of the position of culture and the arts in the region, a new approach to the issues of cultural policy and models of cultural organization (decision-making, administration, and management), as well as a new legislation in the cultural sphere.
Such a systematic approach to the opportunities and difficulties in the sphere of culture is a pre-requisite for the development of the region. For example, the legislation and fiscal policy in the field of culture should be adapted to European standards in order to stimulate cultural production.
Perhaps the most important task is to redefine our vision regarding the thoughtful reorganization of the Balkans in order for cultures to interact beneficially with one another. The region will only be reconstructed it cultural ties are reestablished within South-Eastern Europe and a Balkan cultural profile is developed by improving the awareness for common problems and common resources. Furthermore, one could say that a great feeling of isolation is present, which makes it important to improve the process of communication with the European cultural scenes and resources. It is worth pointing out that there is no functioning art market for artists in the region, so that steps towards establishing (financial, infrastructure) conditions for its creation would only be welcomed.
The thoughtful use of Information Technology, lacking in the region, could assist in establishing and maintaining the highest possible synergy between cultural subjects in the region, thus increasing the contribution to the Balkan societies. IT would be of assistance in the communication networks linking the region, by ensuring constant data transfer between the interested culture workers and institutions.
Finally, it is no secret that the region needs greater support from the international community in the sphere of culture.
In order to devise a strategy of common mechanisms that will function on the ground, we need to put into practice methodology models that benefit the cultural, educational, civil, media, and development systems.
The network principle should be implemented to the highest possible extent. By this I mean the actual creation of functional and independent Networks that will facilitate communication, opportunities, exchange and sharing of information and resources among artists, researchers, curators, and institutions. The aim of these Networks should be to identify common Balkan concerns and strengthen the ties among the individuals sharing their diverse experiences in responding to the complex challenges. The Networks are to raise the public awareness of shared issues in the social, political, economic and cultural transition in society by providing a creative space for discussion and debate in a regional context. This synergy will be accomplished by formal and informal ways of connecting cultural agencies or institutions through different computerized systems, e.g., Internet systems, common databases, protocols, etc.
It is essential to foster in society the understanding of complexities. If we succeed in this, we will succeed in creating a balance between the different cultures on the Balkans.
The idea of civil society should be firmly positioned in culture and education.
The place of culture industries will have to be strengthened, with the aim of benefiting the reconstruction process. In this respect, the interested Balkan cultural industries should engage in launching Pan-Balkan systems, which will themselves become a medium attracting multinational business.
The governments in South-Eastern Europe should be pressured by the domestic and international community into increasing the public funding for culture, and into more active co-operation with the NGOs.
The independent cultural institutions together with the Ministries for Culture of the region should form a joint Culture Board that has to bear the responsibility for implementing the transformation platform.
The Culture Board should take the responsibility of defining common actions towards European funding bodies for long-term support of culture in South-Eastern Europe. The more developed countries should be aware that the dream of creating a unified Europe, in which people are still exploring the possibilities of a community that transcends national borders, could to a relatively high extent be supported by means of developing the Balkans.