Conference of the European Ministers of Culture - 20 - 22 October 2003 - Opatija, Croatie 

(To be checked against delivered speech)

Speech by Branislav Lečić, Minister of Culture and Media of Serbia

Opatija, 20 October 2003

Working session 1: Culture and conflicts
From conflict to reconciliation : examples of good practice

It is a global knowledge that a global culture of peace must be based on respect of other cultures, on social and political justice, as welle as on the defense of human rights and ways of living in harmony with the environment. These elements are crucial for establishing more favourable conditions for progress and human development. Because, after all, lasting peace is čolre than just de absence of conflict. It is something on which it should be always worked upon, and which should be built, and rebuilt endlessly. I think that the best example for this is Serbia.

To quote a Nobel Prize Winner in 1991, Aung San Suu Kyl, “Peace, development, and justice are all connected to each other. Ye cannot talk about economic development without talking about peace. How can we expect economic development in a battlefield? It would not be possible.”

Only a decade before the year 2001 it was not an easy period for Serbia, nor for the whole region. The wars in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo have provided the international media with pictures and correspondence of chaos and devastation for which it always blamed Serbia. However, the same international media is now less generous in their coverage of the efforts of people in Serbia in an attempt to create democracy, and new civic and cultural values. The enormous intellectual potential of these people, which we call “a second Serbia”, along with the efforts of a new democratic government, gradually became a guarantee that our nation will eventually turn its focus from the problems of the past to the many possibilities of the future.

Coming from the civil background, I believe more than ever that sustainable peace, economic stability and social development are not possible without radical improvement in all the fields of competence of the Ministry of Culture and Media. We started to develop coherent and integrated strategic approach to strengthened Ministry’s cooperation with the other aspects of the society, highlighting such priorities as culture for education, culture for democracy, creation of cultural networks, cultural diversity, cultural industries, and independent media.

The success of democratic values and the promotion of civil culture in historically troubled and complex country such as Serbia depend a lot on understanding and tolerance of other cultures and religions. Education in culture, in particular through teaching culture of others, human rights and civic education, play an important role in this regard. Such efforts are not only part of the Ministerial work, but also of a vast undertaking that requires the active participation of institutions, civil society, media and in particular, artists and cultural workers.

From the beginning, the work of the Ministry of Culture and Media in Serbia took two main directions: to create a new, modern cultural policy in accordance to the global, or more precisely, European trends; and an attempt to reconstruct and revitalize an amicable and healthy environment for the development and growth of culture in Serbia. Only three years after, there can be no doubt that the new relationships both in the country and in the region are built on the principles of tolerance, respect for cultural, religious, and ethnic pluralism, non-violence and dialogue on all levels.

In order to create a more democratic cultural policy we started to change the conditions of cultural participation. We decided to embrace cultural diversity of our country rather than to work on cultural homogeneity as it was before. At the same time, ye tried to improve our artistic and cultural landscape to reflect the changes of our social landscapes, especially because the international context in which our national policy is developing is also constantly changing.

One of the most difficult aspects of the work, proved to be a new legislation, since our attempt was to improve cultural milieu by legal mechanisms. It was necessary to change and introduce new laws on cultural industries (cinema and publishing), protection of cultural heritage (museums, libraries, and archives), as well as the law on performing arts, in order to bring in new international rules and regulations. The legal framework of Serbia’s cultural policy, however, is typical of a country in transition: the specific laws and regulations in the field of culture are still in the draft process since they should be harmonized with international legislative of EU, Council of Europe and WTO. Furthermore, there are a number of laws, which are indirectly related to culture, including many general and specific regulations of international exchange, financial policy and fiscal system, which are constantly changing. A unanimous action should be implemented at all levels of the society to protect individual creativity and intellectual property and to make public awareness of cultural industry potential. Serbian society is undergoing an exceptionally dramatic and rapid transformation, and further changes, even fundamental in some areas, can be expected in the legal framework of cultural policy, as well.

As far as the issues of decentralization are concerned, we at the Ministry think that it is especially necessary to develop a new cultural infrastructure in a form of national network, which will at the same time preserve the already existing cultural programs, while introducing the new ones. The network of theatres, cultural centers, and halls of culture must be given a new and clearly defined role to bring the culture outside of regular centers. The precondition for this lies in establishing the current and future proprietary status, program activities, ways in which they are financed, and territorial scope of the activities on local level. It is obvious that further measures of decentralization are both possible and necessary, but these will depend on the overall degree of decentralization, notably in financial matters. Any process which draws on local resources and know-how in order to enhance people based quality of life, social justice and environmental care, carried out by local authorities is now welcomed as local development.

Concrete projects on improving cultural life in provinces, festivals, exhibitions, etc., and many aspects of socially related art events for sustainable development have so far been identified as priorities. Some of the small-scale projects are submitted directly to competent committees within the Ministry in each field of culture and arts. In the field of the preservation and promotion of cultural diversity, more than hundred sites have been reconstructed and protected. The Ministry is also working to ensure that the heritage is more fully integrated into the economic and social life of the community and respects the environment. For example, we are now working on reconstructing the National Theatre, Synagogue and an art gallery in the town of Subotica, on the border with Hungary, not only to promote sustainable development, but also to emphasize the rich multicultural heritage and to improve a cultural tourism in this city.

In addition, cultural industries also play a major part in the development of the society. Recently the Serbian government has adopted a global strategy to help sustainable development of small and medium companies, including cinema, publishing and music industries; Through this action, the government has recognized the value (measured by employment) and dynamism (measured by growth) of creativity to its economy. This is especially obvious in the field of cinema, music and publishing, where culture industries contribute to the development of cities, region and nation. For example, the Ministry decided to create an open competition to support film production and enlarged its budget to help development of cinema industry, especially because it was recognized as one of nation’s best exporting products. Ye have also sponsored a number of concerts, under common title Serbia Sounds Global that promoted musical diversity of Serbia, as well as a serial of concerts, entitled Aven Romalen dedicated to Roma music not only in the region, but from the whole world, including Pakistan and India. Both events proved to have enormous success in breaking many prejudices and taboos.

I can easily say that the Serbian society, at the moment, is developed enough to be able to draw lessons from its tragic recent past and is ready to offer to its inhabitants a possibility to create a culture of dialogue, founded both on respect for differences and on recognition of composite, dynamic cultural identity, sustained by shared values. In this light, the Ministry of Culture and Media of Serbia will make sure to continue in contributing further the process of improvement of political, economic, social and cultural conditions. This will primarily be carried through diversifying cultural contents and methods by promoting universally shared values; enhancing artistic and intellectual capacities for participation in the emerging knowledge society; strengthening of cultural networks within and outside the country; protecting cultural diversity and encouraging pluralism among cultures; promoting access to information and means of communication and awareness raising regarding ethical issues, strengthening of independent and pluralist media.