About Cinderella or The Sad Reality of Cultural Research in Slovakia

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.

Jana Pecníková