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In an interview during the Opatija Conference, Serbian Deputy Minister of Culture Aleksandra Jovicevic talks of the need to use culture as a way of understanding the past and avoiding a repetition of the country's recent history.
20 October 2003
Question: Your country has been through difficult times recently. Yet people found ways to express their opposition. Can you tell us how?
Aleksandra Jovicevic: Tito took an interest in the arts and during those times there were more limits to artisitic expression. Paradoxically, Milosevic had very little interest in culture he never opened exhibitions or read a fictional book: his main target for censorship was the universities and the media. Opposition to Milosevic found a voice through popular culture. During the war, there were many anti-war events and most of them began with a documentary film or a theatre performance. People got their information about the atrocities in Bosnia and Herzegovina through art-based documentaries rather than news some of them produced by journalists who had been purged from the national television. The protests gave us a sort of «fictional freedom» and created a bond between the artistic community and the people. Many influential NGOs came into being during that time, and many of them are still active today for instance the Centre for Cultural Decontamination, the Women in Black and the 484 group, which works with refugees.
Question: How has the situation changed now that Serbia and Montenegro is on the democratic path?
Aleksandra Jovicevic: The picture is different in a number of ways. On the one side, artists and performers are now free to express themselves and they no longer have to fear censorship. This means that their work is becoming more mainstream, more conventional. The main problem facing artists these days is the lack of funding for their work. At state level we are creating new laws to give a framework for culture and stressing the importance of cultural diversity recognising that people of different origins must be treated equally. Another great benefit is that our artisits can now travel to other countries Serbian artists are now working abroad, and we have international recognition for our events.
Question: Can culture be used as a way to change society and heal the wounds of the past?
Aleksandra Jovicevic: One of our most important recent projects is to use culture as a way of understanding the past and avoiding a repitition of our recent history. One legacy of state socialism was that people became apathetic and less likely to question the world around them, or demand change. We want to change that attitude, show people the truth about the past and implant the idea of the need for freedom. We are using films, photographic exhibitions, lectures and press articles, and one of our best showcases is a TV campaign: «Culture is written in the heart». It takes children and asks them their idea of artistic freedom and cultural heritage. Some of the answers are very wise and funny, and it gets the message across to the public in a direct and easy to understand manner.