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How is our world changing?
artificial intelligence begins
global companies have a monopoly
we communicate virtually in networks
flood of rebellious information
we are starting to live to 100
Where should cultural policy go?
promote immediate real communication between people
create new narrations that interest us
teach the ability to understand and critically appreciate the world around
enable adaptive thinking, something that transcends hitherto recognized horizons
focus on cross-cultural competence in a diverse cultural world
If we do not know what should be in the competence of the modern Ministry of Culture, then here is a guide.
Twenty years ago, I would have hesitantly signed something like this: we need culture to cultivate the public space, to promote democracy and civilization. The purpose of culture is to create and defend the values of society, to co-shape democracy, to educate, and so on, and in a similar way I would argue why we need more money for cultural projects, institutions, and the work of artists. The problems with this ideal of culture are many. In this essay, I will mention only two. The first is simply called the problem of the definition of culture, the second is the problem of culture and democracy. My remarks will be sketchy. However, their aim is clear – to remind us that cultural policy is about politics in the first place.
What is culture?
Culture represents learned and acquired behavioural patterns and beliefs common to a social, ethnic or other group. It can also be a culture specific to humanity in general or a part of it, developed, for example, at a specific time, which we call, for example, a civilization. We practice, acknowledge and recognize culture as symbols, language, norms, values and human creations of material form. This is culture in the most general sense. It is the product of great social changes, even evolution, and is manifested in everyday life.
However, we usually understand the culture, which we usually refer to as the culture that it cultivates and educates, in a narrower sense, as an art of a few, mediated towards a large part of other members of culture or society. We believe that the development of this cultivated culture over time brings social and economic benefits. By developing such culture as an exceptional human production in such an ideal spirit, we are helping to increase tolerance for diversity and the quality of life of individuals and communities.
While twenty or thirty years ago it was clear that we needed the support of culture that has this civilizational mission, ten or fifteen years ago we began to add that not every formally high culture fulfils this ideal civilizational mission. For example, like Marxist dogmatists, some free-market successors of Marxist materialism once forced us, by their ignorance, to defend culture as an alternative to debilitating the impact of the market. We have forgotten a bit that even a national theatre or schools after the establishment of the Czechoslovak Republic were not established in order to be effective in terms of value for money, but for the creation and cultivation of citizens.
In other words, our culture was not quite prepared for the effects of a culture of economic calculations in terms of weighting costs and profits, but held firm to a number of community relationships and ideas, including the nation, village, and religion. Thus, our general culture has parameters that we are often prone to overlook from the elitist heights of a narrowly understood culture. In addition to the definition of everyday and high culture, there is also a second problem, which concerns the democratic parameter of culture.
A few weeks ago, my friend of many years, a prominent social science analyst, confessed in a company to his love for the popular television show “The Earth Sings”. Even my almost seven-year-old son, so far little burdened by his parents’ values, likes to watch it. However, two weeks ago – I assume it was under the influence of a wider movement to return to the roots – they had an annual photo shoot in the kindergarten. Some of the parents – well-to-do middle-class inhabitants of Bratislava satellites, managers and educated women – demanded photographs in folk costumes, although no one had come up with such an idea during almost four years of going to the kindergarten.
It is not intellectual arrogance to admit that folklore in such a post-agrarian television concept is a small-town (beware, not a village!) kitsch. Nevertheless, it reflects the general taste of the natives. Its commercial use, as observed in the massive popularity of rustic patterns in the Internet generation, is certainly beyond the aesthetics of culture as a tool for cultivating and civilizing masses. Many proponents of the massive movement for authentic folklore probably agree with this – that folklore they practice for peace of mind in the local environment, and which risks losing its authenticity every time it appears on stage. What does cultural policy have to do with this?
The readers of this magazine maintain the prevailing opinion is that culture is associated with high art, civilization or uniqueness, and therefore that it is scarce in our society. It has the pedagogical view that culture is good when it is recognized by cultural officials, experts and scholars in the same way in mass democracy as, for example, market choice or national kitch?
In our latitudes, we have so far developed two models of the relationship between broader “folk” (small town) culture and politics. The first is a romantic and nationally inspired defence of everything related to a purposefully selected agrarian tradition. The second model – also created and fed by intellectuals – sees in Slovak rustics a manifestation of idiotism and parochialism, which, due to complicated modernization, we cannot get rid of even in the twenty-first century.
Therefore, if we can admit that culture is elitist and privileged and that cultural policy is not democratic in relation to popular taste and seeks assimilation into concrete (simply put) middle-class to elitist ideas about culture, get to work! But let us be aware that “the others” are not idle. It is not as we thought until recently that we have a civilization and an opinion of what culture is and the people will adapt to it. Culture is once again, most of all, an ideological, political struggle.
Juraj Buzalka, social anthropologist
TASR (Slovak Republic‘s press agency) press release – “Yesterday the Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Republic definitively ceased to exist”.
The director of the Slovak National Theatre is confused and asks whom he should invite to events related to the celebration of 100 years of the theatre. He does not get an answer, so he takes precaution to invite all of the government, the old and the new one, but no one is coming. Panic. The managers of cultural and artistic organizations in the previous competence of the Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Republic immediately meet and resolve pragmatic issues related to the content and validity of their founding documents. Who the hell will fund them? The cultural community signs an urgent appeal to the sponsors. Unfortunately, we do not have a law on cultural sponsorship. Panic. The new representative of the Ministry of Finance of the Slovak Republic, whom no one has seen in the opera, reassures: “We can realize financial transfers intended for their operation and budgeted capital expenditures for all organizations and funds, originally established by the Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Republic within the set deadlines“. Nobody trusts him. The management of art councils and fund, where every artist should have their own account, is stubbornly silent.
What do we have the Slovak Academy of Sciences for?, one of the arguments sounds. The transfer of competencies of the Department of State Language of the Ministry of Culture and cooperating institutions can be smooth, because “there is no need to duplicate”! Young experts from “Value for Money” also came to this conclusion at the Ministry of Finance. All complaints will be handled promptly by authorized SAS staff.
The Ministry of Transport and Construction will harmoniously integrate the Cultural Heritage Department under the responsibility of tourism. “I don’t see any problem with that, because in statistical reporting we have almost never divided culture and tourism,” says the new minister, whom no one really knows. However, conservationists are rioting because it threatens their ongoing and upcoming research. “Conservation of monuments is not just a presentation of places and objects of tourist interest,” they scream on the networks, “let’s not forget the historical collections of museums and galleries, library collections, archives”! The Minister of Transport admits that he will probably need an in-depth audit of these activities in order to be able to identify which of them represent primarily economic benefits, which is a priority of the new government, and will carefully monitor the return on other possible investments. Otherwise, unproductive activities will finally be abolished.
“We implement intangible cultural heritage and cultural awareness activities as part of the standard teaching of students and pupils and, of course, as part of extracurricular activities, which means that we should be able to redistribute cultural vouchers”, said a new deputy Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport offers a solution. “The first step will be to create a special fund for our precious folk art, where we will move this agenda.” Does he want to depoliticize folklorism? – worried voices of the professional public are asking. “These issues,” the minister reassures, “are in the process of being resolved.” But what about the NationL Education Centre, these are secured jobs, where will we find work, people say panicking in the SNP square.
The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for Investment and Informatization is willing to take on the agenda of data collection and statistics in the cultural sector. “Their further processing will take place on the order given by the Statistical Office of the Slovak Republic according to the needs of the sector,” says the spokesman of the Office in his statement. There was no such high interest in the analyzes in the sector on the part of the Ministry of Culture to necessitate carrying them out without an order. They also take responsibility for the intellectual property agenda. Intellectual property issues, or the copyright law, however, must pass under the responsibility of the Office of the Government of the Slovak Republic, because the ownership and property of creators is a corrupt environment and the Prime Minister wants to oversee it in his long-term program “Away with corruption!”
“One of the most significant changes we have achieved with the abolition of the ministry,” says the coalition leader, “is finally the complete separation of church and state. Priests will simply come to the district committees in the district towns every month to get their payment. In this way, we have avoided constant and long-lasting discussions in the society”, the new Prime Minister proudly informs on the RTVS television programme. Church dignitaries did not send their official statements by the deadline. Unofficially, they allegedly express dissatisfaction with this unforeseen situation.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic finally and definitively takes over all projects of international cultural cooperation. The cultural community is, of course, again dissatisfied and points to the fact that in this way cultural projects will be managed only formally and there will be no responsibility for the quality of their content. A spokesman for the Government of the Slovak Republic stated that this had not been the case so far. “And the agenda of the creative industry will still be negotiated with the relevant departments,” he added reassuringly.
He concludes: “We took this step mainly because the Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Republic did not meet our economic, educational and ecological, perhaps even political expectations. It did not create a space for public discussion about what culture means to us, to our hard-working people, our society, and that is why culture in general was forgotten. At this turbulent moment, as we are facing much greater challenges, we must realize the seriousness of the situation and state that we have no idea yet what we have lost with the abolition of the Ministry. We do not even know how many activities and activities we have not yet covered during the redistribution. With this decisive step, we have only fulfilled the attitudes of the previous government and our worried people and society over the last 30 years. We assure the public that we will reintroduce the financing of the Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Republic only if a real and strong social order comes from the society. Last but not least, the desperate state of public finances left to us by the previous government also leads us to taking this step, and with this step we will save one job of a car driver and two secretary positions. Saving is our second priority”, the spokesman for the Government of the Slovak Republic aded in loud silence.
I look out of the window and there it is, flickering at the speed of lightning, the 21st century, the year 2020. And then I take a look inside and there is no end to my wondering. As if we were standing somewhere at a train stop. The train has departed, not a minute or two, but a long time ago, leaving us stuck there in a shabby place, waiting for Godot. This is exactly how I would describe the pathetic state of the current research in the field of culture.
To put it in a context, the word culture is first and foremost. Oh … the word carries such a heavy karma here in Slovakia. If it was a person and if I was that person, I would pack my suitcase and go somewhere else, perhaps to breathe som cultural oxygen. Because culture is something so disallowed, abused, and despised, that it is unbelievable if we realize that we live in an advanced civilized society. The most incomprehensible thing is that there are people who want to make culture their livelihood, who would like to study it and even do research in the field of culture. What for? Such an elitist and practically unusable discipline? There are other fields that will do, having culture as their marginal part.
Despite my apparent pessimism, I know that there are people in Slovakia who are serious about it, who have dedicated their lives to it, who really belong among those who know and who do not just pretend it. It is not enough, though. Where did we get stuck? In culture, which is a huge source of knowledge and which we can examine as such, we can study the relations between cultures, the so-called interculture, pop culture, subcultures, processes in culture, cultural policy, … and yes, individual foreign (other than our own) cultures … oh, such a broad, huge space. Only if we were not afraid of it and only if we did not have goosebumps having heard the word foreign / contemporary culture.
I am trying it. To convince that it has a meaning, that there are entire departments elsewhere in the world and just one person – a single expert in our country; that we do not have books on topics that are covered in whole editions elsewhere. That we have built a wall around us, we have become icebound; that we abolish what is still surviving with no remorse, trying to trip it up. There is a lack of systematic training of doctoral students, future researchers who would like to research, but there is no place or no money for them to do so, or they have to pay for their desire to study and research. Because money in education simply evaporates faster than water in the hot sun.
I do not know exactly how things like these work elsewhere, at other Slovak universities, I want to keep my illusions and believe that they provide better conditions for researchers, that there is another university that creates conditions for solid research, accepts their results and does not force them to publish the results and aim only for Current Contents, WoS and similar “categories” in which we researchers think and dream about. Indeed, we already publish only at the “level” of the world‘s best rated journals, no awkward domestic conferences, no domestic publications, we are better than at Oxford and Harvard combined. Our knowledge produced at our excellent workplaces with top equipment with professionally not-undersized work teams, we need to publish only, but only, in SciMag quartile 1! So that … and now the blast is coming, we do not spread knowledge, keep science alive, come up with fundamental findings, we are only doing it to make money. For our salaries, for our workplaces, for ourselves. We are like hamsters running in a wheel which will not be able to keep on forever. Because, I do not know how about others, but I do not have the conditions like at a prestigious university, and my research is more about the famous Slovak trait that I can use intelligently what I have available. The world is quite fascinated by that.
And as I look out of that window, I think to myself I will try to do it my way. That culture is worth it. I am looking for opportunities, using my knowledge and expertise in foreign languages and cultures, and it works. Suddenly I have research projects with foreign universities that cause wrinkles to our slightly too classic system, but it brings me joy. We too can and know how to do science, research, in an area that has more potential than we can imagine. My colleagues from abroad do not know that I am struggling with problems that do not exist for them, I have to deal with things that should be automated, and my work team is mostly just me and an enthusiastic colleague who does not want to leave me in the lurch. But we can still achieve results, even those in those great journals, but not to make money. We are looking for meaning in that. Because culture has to make sense.
I don’t know why culture is Cinderella, I am waiting for the day when someone comes, not necessarily a prince at all, some ordinary human being is enough, and then more and more of them, saying they take culture as it is, that it has its value and they want to make friends with it. Because what makes research in the field of culture fail is the fact that other disciplines take it as a competition and not as a friend. So I just hope that one day Cinderella will be able to live in conditions where real results will take precedence over fleeting impressions and feelings, where the system will not only produce quantity, but also give the results a deeper meaning. There is no need to stop trying.
The fact that the spread of coronavirus and COVID-19 has reached our doorstep is unquestionable. Many countries, including Slovakia, have taken “hard” preventive measures and we see an increased fear of a pandemic not only in the news, but also in hospitals, pharmacies and, last but not least, in queues at groceries and ski lifts. Governments have cancelled all mass events, which led to the interruption of the football Champions League or the premature termination of top hockey leagues, for example in Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Norway, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, without knowing the winners of the season. NBA basketball stars LeBron James and Stephen Curry also called on the league management to end the season early after a coronavirus infection was confirmed in one of the players.
However, the consequences of coronavirus also have a huge impact on culture. In addition to the fact that cultural events are being cancelled, it is important to be aware of the consequences of these measures. Cinemas cancel screenings and postpone the premieres of upcoming and much-anticipated films. A great example is the postponement of the world premiere of the new James Bond film with the distinctive subtitle No Time To Die from April to November. The disease left out no Hollywood stars and found one of the greates, Tom Hanks and his wife who ended up in an Australian hospital. The largest video game conference, E3, which takes place every June in Los Angeles and at which new generations of Xbox and Playstation game consoles were to be announced this year, has been cancelled altogether. Instead, some gaming companies are considering an online conference. Even Pope Francis has announced that he will not appear in the window this time, but would rather stream online so as not to attract crowds of people to St. Peter’s Square.
The non-profit Americans for the Arts had to make a difficult decision and cancel the National Arts Action Summit in Washington, D.C., in late March. All performances on Broadway in New York are also suspended. French theatre companies, which operate on the principle of touring theatres, had to cancel the planned tour of the country. A French web portal La Scène, which specializes in performing arts in France, has published an article in which you can find a list of festivals and events that have been suspended or cancelled.
The wave of cancellations has struck Slovak cultural organizations too, and only now everyone begins to realize that for most of them it will have fatal consequences. The Košice cultural centre, Tabačka Kulturfabrik, operates as a non-profit organization which, in addition to cultural events, covers part of its costs by operating a bar, bistro and renting premises. The cancellation of planned events will have a major impact on the financial situation, not only in terms of covering operating costs, but may also complicate the implementation of projects funded by the Arts Council (FPU). The manager of the Úsmev Cinema in Košice, Barbora Tóthová, told Denník N that “the closure of the cinema and bar puts us in a serious financial situation and can cause existential problems.” The General Manager of the Slovak National Theatre and the head of the SND Drama Peter Kováč said that without spectators there is a loss of revenue of 100,000 euros every weeek. The Pôtoň Theatre has currently cancelled seven events and three all-day events for a total of about 600-700 participants as part of the Psota na Slovensku (Hardship in Slovakia) project. At the same time, they cancelled all events and screenings at their central site in Bátovce.
In the Czech Republic, the Association of Independent Theatres of the Czech Republic turned to the Ministry of Culture with an open letter requesting the opening of negotiations on how to compensate for damage suffered by the independent performing arts sector following the introduction of emergency measures against the spread of the epidemic. Most of the staff in independent theatres, whether artistic, technical or managerial, have no emloyment contracts. The incomes of these employees are, as in Slovakia, directly proportional to the number of performances played. On the divadlo.cz web portal you can find changes in the programmes and statements of all Czech theatres in connection with the adoption of preventive measures. After negotiations with the Association of Independent Theatres of the Czech Republic, the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic commissioned the Institute of Arts – Theater Institute (IDU) to map the impacts of emergency measures through a short survey in the form of a questionnaire from which further steps will follow. The Czech Minister of Culture, Lubomír Zaorálek, assured the cultural community that he is aware of all the complications and will pay full attention to the situation. In the meantime, the Donio.cz charitable collections platform has launched a call to “save Czech culture”.
The Singapore Secretary of State for Culture has announced that the government is allocating $ 1.6 million to the cultural sector in connection with coronavirus-related measures. Germany has pledged financial assistance to the arts organizations and artists whose preventive measures have hit hardest. Hong Kong is working with the artist community to launch an online platform that will offer access to galleries or live online broadcasts of cultural events. A number of public institutions have begun to work with governments to evaluate and coordinate the possible consequences and different scenarios that could affect the cultural sector and grant recipients. The American Smithsonian Institution Magazine has published an article referring to the current exhibition entitled Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connected World, which highlights the important role of museums in combating disinformation and making available information that demystifies the emergence and spread of new diseases. Some museums have even made virtual tours available, including museums in Italy, Spain, France, Britain and the Americas. Various banks are also responding to the situation in the world, offering the option of postponing mortgage and loan repayments for several months. TV operators are gradually announcing that children’s stations as well as other paid channels have been unblocked for all clients, and Microsoft is offering companies a free Office 365 offer for half a year.
We see that the situation caused by the coronavirus has really bad consequences for the cultural sector. There is a reason why a pandemic has been declared by the World Health Organization (WHO). The Slovak National Theatre is hit by one blow after another on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of its founding. As a result of the crisis, it called for a “lifebuoy” and calls on its supporters to consider claiming a refund for cancelled performances and to visit the theatre as soon as it will become possible. It was inspired by a similar challenge from Hungary, which is spreading on social networks. It may be premature to talk about statistics at the moment and it is difficult to predict how the situation will develop. Nevertheless, we see that governments in some countries are taking steps that count on the support of the cultural sector. The Arts Council (FPU) has issued guidelines regarding the cancellation or change of dates for events or other projects directly caused by this situation: however, this is an extremely challenging situation for organizers of any cultural event, from the preparation of the Istropolitana Project international theatre festival, which is organised by the Faculty of Theatre of the Academy of Performing Arts, to the activities of local amateur ensembles.
In addition, the Slovak Republic is in the period after the parliamentary elections, with a new government being formed, but the current one should already act. The whole situation looks all the more frightening when we realize that the Ministry of Culture was one of the ministries that could be described as an “unwanted bride”.
We have already entered the sixth five-year plan, which was not planned for us by the Communist Party. Although we had a style of governance here that was at least somewhat reminiscent of the glory of the days before November 1989For twelve years – with a break, fortunately, today, censorship and the imposition of taste are fundamentally thinned by democratic elections. Instead of the party’s leading role and the central position of the Ministry of Culture, governance in this sector has gradually shifted to local governments. There is a small problem in the regions that there is a lack of people educated not only to manage culture, but to culture in general. And so with decentralization came calls for the return of the old order, let Bratislava not just be in the corner of the country and let it take care, or calls for the complete abolition of the Ministry of Culture. Maybe because no one has starred there to this day. Many members of the cultural community are nostalgic about the supposedly best minister of culture. Probably because he generously supported everyone – and so he won the favour, of everyone. But what a Slovak culturalist would not expect – the outgoing minister outdid him. It was not the members of the cultural community to say it, they are mostly laughing The new minister patted her shoulder herself. She compensated for the continued lack of interest in the development of cultural institutions by supporting folklore, because something like that worked for Hlinka People’s Party followers and the communists. She also toured Slovakia, we acknowledge at ICP that she even overcame the reluctance to otherness and dared to enter the Andy Warhol Museum in Medzilaborce. We didn’t expect anything from the outgoing minister, so we’re not disappointed either. Perhaps it would be appropriate to consider that adepts to the post of Minister of Culture should take an entrance screening test, or have at least some overview of culture. Just a few questions, for example, what did Timrava write, what animal did Vilikovský put upstairs, what is the name of the gallery in Liptovský Mikuláš, what poem was written by Štúr, who wrote Who Burns for the Truth, what is deacidification, etc. – and we’d know right away what we’re up to. Or, let’s just merge the Ministry of Culture with the more popular sport. After all, everyone must acknowledge that Sagan, Šatan or Vlhová are way more than some Matej Bel.