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On the basis of its own experience, Croatia feels that cultural ties like the ones it has formed with its neighbours could help other regions to settle their conflicts. Antun Vujic, Minister for Culture, explains.
Question: The Opatija conference wants to promote a culture of dialogue, capable of overcoming misunderstandings between communities. What are the instruments you want to devise for that purpose?
Antun Vujic: There can be no question of any democratic state’s deciding what people can write, publish or perform. On the contrary, it is vital to make culture genuinely independent of politics and economics - which is the only way to stop it becoming an “ideological weapon”. For example, journalists must be given more independence, and the arts must be subsidised on the basis of quality, nothing else. The instruments we want are not intended to regulate culture, but to let it express itself freely.
Question: Eight years on from the conflict which cost so many lives in south-eastern Europe, Croatia is involved in close cultural co-operation with its neighbours. What forms does that co-operation take?
Antun Vujic: Croatia organises exhibitions and performances in Serbia, and the Serbs do the same in Croatia. Many Serbian artists and performers are old favourites in Croatia, and vice-versa – and we’re making the most of those obvious ties today. Cultural co-operation is helping us to rebuild the bridges. We’re also encouraging joint audiovisual productions, and exchanges in literature and publishing.
Question: The conference wants to promote dialogue between Christians and Muslims: do you have any special message on that?
Antun Vujic: Our near neighbour, Bosnia and Herzegovina, is the only country in the world where three major religions - Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Islam - co-exist. Before the war, the three cultures were secular – people could belong to them without expressing that in religious terms. Today, however, the religious dimensions sometimes seem to be coming out on top again. There is a serious danger that new forms of fundamentalism may appear, and lack of dialogue paves the way for them. Permanent structures for exchange and discussion are the best way of combating fundamentalism, and I would like the whole of Europe to realise how vital that is.
Question: The conference will be discussing “good cultural governance”: do ministers of culture have the funds they need to do the things they want?
Antun Vujic: I challenge you to find a single minister of culture who thinks he has enough money! Our ministers of finance, who decide how much we get, should be far more aware than they are of our importance. Policies apart, we are genuinely responsible for our countries’ cultural identity – and Europe’s too. I don’t mean to criticise the US, but I really don’t think that Europeans want exactly the same kind of culture as Americans. And it is our efforts which will help us to preserve those special features of our culture which mean so much to us.