(To be checked against delivered speech)
Opatija, 20 October 2003
Working session 1: Culture and Conflict
Mrs.Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe,
First of all, on behalf of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Macedonia, and on my personal behalf, I would like to support Council of Europe’s initiative that commenced in February 2003 in Strasbourg, aiming to determine the new role of the European ministers of culture in the initiation of an intercultural dialogue from the aspect of cultural diversity. At the same time, I would like to extend my greetings to my colleague Mr. Antun Vujic, the Croatian Minister of Culture, and Mrs. Naima Balic, his assistant and current chairperson of the Steering Committee for Culture at the Council of Europe, who, together with their team, managed to accomplish the constructive agenda of two conferences: the Sixth Annual Conference of the International Network for Cultural Policies and the current Ministerial Conference, which I am deeply honoured to attend. Not only did the Croatian Ministry of Culture directly support and continue Council of Europe’s initiative, but it also endowed this wonderful town on the Adriatic coast with a dimension of a modern laboratory, where countries jointly participate in the creation of the future cultural policy of Europe.
The diversity and the conflict - understood as an evolution, as well as the dialogue represent directions in the search for identity, the cultural identity of the citizen and the community in the ambience of globalisation. These elements are the cornerstones of the European multiculturalism, which reflects the democratic pluralism of societies. The cultural mentality of modern Europe is striving for establishment of mechanisms that would make possible a harmonious dialogue and peace, which is the most difficult task and the greatest challenge these days.
Diversity (cultural, ethnic, religious etc.) is a vital element and an advantage of the cultural and political history and reality of the Republic of Macedonia. Bearing this in mind, in the complex circumstances of transition, the creation of the cultural policy in Macedonia does not exclude cultural diversity, which is in accordance with the democratic principles of the European societies. As a young country with an unstable democracy, the moment Macedonia started to follow the European models of cultural policy creation, including the new forms of cultural diversity, it became faced with the most difficult situation in its recent history, the armed conflict of 2001. The same year, with the support of the international community, all political parties, primarily Macedonian and Albanian, signed the Ohrid Agreement, the new Constitutional framework that reflected the ethnic mosaic of the country.
Naturally, culture was not spared from the destructive political phenomena in the country. The Ministry of Culture became involved in all relevant programmes for the implementation of the Framework Agreement, which was a priority for the new Government of the Republic of Macedonia. According to the Framework Agreement, in July 2003, the amendments to the Law on Culture were adopted. These were prepared by Macedonians, together with members of the Albanian ethnic community. The Council of the Minister of Culture consists of representatives of diverse ethnic communities. An Office for Advancement and Promotion of Diverse Ethnic Communities was established at the Ministry while representatives of the most numerous minority community in the Republic of Macedonia, which is the Albanian community, hold senior positions in the cultural institutions and the political bodies.
The Ministry actively carries out the Action Plan for implementation of the Agreement for Stabilisation and Association with the European Union, the National strategy for joining the European Union, the National strategy for overcoming stereotypes etc. In cooperation with the European Agency for Reconstruction, the cultural institutions are working on the reconstruction of the cultural and historical monuments that were damaged or demolished during the armed conflict. These are primarily buildings (churches and mosques), symbols of the religious, ethnic and cultural identity of the two communities. In these activities, more often than not, members of the Albanian ethnic community work on the reconstruction of orthodox monasteries and churches and vice versa, as a token of reconciliation. In cooperation with NGOs, the Ministry of Culture supports activities, such as seminars, workshops, exhibitions, theatrical performances, aimed at restoring confidence, establishment of a constructive intercultural dialogue, becoming acquainted with the culture of the ethnic communities, and promoting it in the country and abroad, which at the same time implies a promotion of the culture of the Republic of Macedonia.
However, one has to admit that the media, as one of the strongest weapons and means of the modern times, are unfortunately negatively involved in the entire (post-conflict) process of cultural decontamination in the country, creating an atmosphere that has a negative effect on the shaping of the public opinion, which is a prerequisite for yet another destabilisation in the country.
The new Constitution is not an end, but a beginning; a significant historic moment in the process of creation of a new policy, a new cultural policy, whereby all citizens of the Republic of Macedonia, irrespective of their ethnic and religious affiliation, have the right to participate and be equally responsible in the process of building of a new democratic society. Respecting all human rights is an imperative for harmony, peace and co-existence in the country. This process is even more difficult, bearing in mind that the new political and military eruptions in the country create an unstable reality, thus making the conflict a continuous process. Therefore, one can hardly talk of a post-conflict period and post-conflict reconciliation in Macedonia.
In these complex conditions, it seems culture is the greatest supporter of a humane society. Thanks to its multidimensional structure, its varied manifestations, its flexibility and communicativeness, culture manages to transform the negative side of the conflict into a creation, a strategy, an evolution. Despite the minor budget, which limits the cultural achievements, the Ministry of Culture manages to create and maintain a comparably positive cultural climate. In an economically poor country, as Macedonia is, where culture is not a consumer, but a quality and a criterion, in the post-conflict period the culture is an opportunity for conflict prevention.
It is a fact that in a country that faces serious problems, such as security, economic development, social problems, unemployment, etc., the artistic and cultural production and the realization of the creative potential are not on the priority list of the national strategy. However, on the other hand, it is also a fact that throughout its history and even today, Macedonia could be proud of its culture, its cultural diversity, art, folklore, songs and dance. The positive experiences from the past, in the sense of integration of a large number of cultures on a comparably small territory, represent a real advantage for Macedonia.
The dialogue between the old and the new, between the tradition and the European integrative processes is a part of the solution in the post-conflict period. However, this will be impossible to achieve, unless culture is transferred from the periphery to the centre of the social life, in order to reach social cohesion and sustainable development. In that sense, the support of the Council of Europe and its initiative to give the ministers of culture a new role and responsibilities in the initiation of an intercultural dialogue and conflict management, is more than significant. The complexity of the cultural phenomena encourages their integration in the social structure, inter-departmental cooperation, primarily with the Ministries of Education, Finance, Economy, Environment and Physical Planning etc.
This is the only way we can create a strong strategy for sustainable development, such as to make possible the overcoming and prevention of the negative, destructive features - reflections of the conflict. The more culture is understood as sustainable development by individuals and the society, the more the conflict would mean advancement, overcoming of problems, evolution, discovering and accomplishment of new dimensions of individual and social life.
With their conceptually global dimension, the programmes and projects of the international organisations, such as the Council of Europe, UNESCO, the Central European Initiative, etc., make it possible for the European sense of objectivity to become a part of our national, local strategies and vice versa. For example, the local dimension of the post-conflict political climate in Macedonia might lead to treating culture in percentage terms and to polarization between the majority culture of the Macedonians and the minority culture of the Albanian population, ignoring the cultures of the smaller ethnic communities. Contrary to the understanding of the European countries, whereby the term ‘cultural diversity’ covers all forms of cultural manifestations and expression, as a consequence of the armed conflict, cultural diversity in Macedonia is most frequently defined on an ethnic and religious basis, or even on territorial basis in extreme cases. Therefore the Ministry of Culture has had responsibility to introduce the cultural diversity as more complex phenomena according to the European principals.
Finally, I would only like to add that the Declarations for Cultural Diversity of the Council of Europe (in the year 2000) and of UNESCO (in 2001), along with the prospective UNESCO Convention for Cultural Diversity in 2005 - as legislative frames that would serve as basis for the establishment of a dialogue between the cultural diversities - are especially significant for Macedonia. In this sense, the adoption of the Draft Declaration for intercultural dialogue and conflict management, which integrates the human rights principles, is an essential advantage in the process of creation of a sound democratic climate, as opposed to the deformities resulting from the conflict, which are unfortunately a reality in Macedonia and some of the other countries in the Balkans.