Serbia/ 4. Current issues in cultural policy development and debate  

4.3 Other relevant issues and debates

The importance of cultural tourism has been raised for almost a decade within cultural policy debates. It was expected that a partnership between culture and tourism could contribute to greater financial and organisational independence of cultural institutions and organisations throughout the country, as well as to a decentralisation of culture. However, very few cooperation and inter-ministerial initiatives actually happened. If we exclude some archaeological sites, most cultural institutions are still lacking skills for attracting tourists and many tourism organisations, especially tourism agencies, are not realising cultural institutions as potential partners. The main challenge facing this partnership is the constant neglect of the tourism infrastructure, which left the country with a bad road infrastructure, lack of proper accommodation, poor communication facilities and not enough competent staff. This has resulted in a relatively small number of incoming tourism agencies and the domination of agencies that take domestic tourists abroad.

In 2007-2008, all these activities intensified, and the Ministry of Culture, together with the Tourism Organisation of Serbia developed several joint projects such as: The path of Roman Emperors in Serbia (Sirmium, Singidunum, Viminacium, Diana & Pontes / Traian Table, Romuliana / Gamzigrad, Naisus / Mediana and Caricin Grad), the Network of Royal cities of the Roman Empire&Castles on the Danube (Bac, Petrovaradin, Belgrade, Smederevo, Golubac, Ram, Fetislam).

Also, in November 2007, Serbia joined the European project Transromanica – The Romanesque Routes of European Heritage, which connects Romanesque monuments in Germany, Austria, Italy, France, Spain and Slovenia. Routes in Serbia includes five monasteries (three from the UNESCO World heritage list: Studenica, Sopocani and Djurdjevi stupovi, and two other: Zica and Gradac).

Internationalisation, as a strategy of cultural development, but also of promotion of Serbian culture in the world (prioritising participation of Serbian artists in international events, as well as accentuating the international component of domestic manifestations), is the focus of attention for the joint action of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Culture. According to the Agreement signed with MFA (dated 15 August 2007), the Ministry of Culture allocates a budget of 40 000 EUR annually for Serbian artists and programmes presented at the Cultural Centre in Paris and furthermore distributed elsewhere in France. The Ministry of Culture also coordinates the cultural programmes of Cultural Centre in Paris, where a weekly programme is presented.  Creation of some new cultural centres abroad (currently, there is only one Cultural Centre of Serbia in Paris and under the auspices of the MFA), preferably in Brussels and Moscow, were under consideration, but now have been replaced by a more realistic "mobility" focus (travel grants).

The most important cultural programme for the 2013 Ministry of Culture concerned the celebration of 17 centuries of the Edict of Milan, which is considered to be the first act of religious tolerance, giving to the Christian population freedom of belief. The fact that Constantine the Great was born on the territory of today's Serbia, in the city of Nais (Niš today), is taken as a responsibility for the State of Serbia to represent the importance of imperator Constantine, one of the greatest reformers of the Roman Empire. The State Programme of celebrations will include numerous manifestations of both a sacral and profane character.

"Branding Serbia" also part of the government's activity, creating a committee for actively working on the re-creation of the Serbian image, away from the negative stereotype, towards a more positive imagine. "Place branding", "eventful cities", support to popular urban manifestations, is part of this new cultural policy, a policy which is more using existing commercial "events", than specifically creating new cultural events. Many cities have tried to label themselves as "creative" and "eventful cities" and to enter international tourism markets. Belgrade has become an important spot for entertainment tourism in the region. Still, the role of cultural institutions and artists is questionable here. Novi Sad as well, with its many large-scale festivals, has succeeded in attracting some tourism flows however, there is no coherent policy. Some sort of strategic thinking is visible in several "nominations" for the European Capital of Culture. Long before this award could have been awarded to any city outside the EU, local cultural workers in Zrenjanin have initiated the process of preparing for the eventual candidature. Belgrade soon joined and created a well-articulated and visible strategy and proposal in 2010. Novi Sad is another city with such intentions, where local government has even invested considerable financial resources for researching and promoting itself as a potential candidate. The interest of these and other cities (there are initiatives in Subotica, Niš, Valjevo…) have started numerous debates in the country, but also influenced the European Commission in 2014 to put forward a proposal to open the European Capital of Culture project for non-EU cities in 2021.

There is also the intention to promote the creative resources of rural places and give support to the development of the creative economy in rural (especially social and economic devastated) regions as a way of developing Serbian villages as well as improving their quality of life and positive imagine.

Chapter published: 17-08-2015