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Culturelink Joint Publications Series

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Cultural Transitions in Southeastern Europe


The fourth session of the Dubrovnik course on Redefining Cultural Identities and Managing Cultural Transitions (in Southeastern Europe) was dedicated to basic cultural changes in the Southeast European cultures reflected in the redefined cultural identities and in the new social role of cultures in this region. Dynamics and quality of change have always been at the core of our analytical interest in the recent cultural transitions. The nature and outcomes of these transitions, although felt in everyday life and practices, still remain only partly visible and barely accessible for practical evaluations. A full theoretical account of transitional changes and of cultural transitions that are under way might, however, be challenging and needed. So far it does not exist, and the partial in-views have not yet led to an overall systematized assessment of cultural changes in the region.

This is the main reason why cultural transitions have been approached through comparisons with global cultural change or with cultural and social developments in European countries. Similarities or dissimilarities might be easier to discover and trace through an effort to compare processes of cultural change where the research into its particular aspects is scarce and when there is a general shortage of data. An effort to share research experiences with colleagues and to advise students about the present situation may incite some action and increase the sensitivity to the problem and to the cultural situation in the region.

The recent history of Southeastern Europe has been marked by transition from the socialist to the capitalist system, by the recent Balkan wars in the last decade of the twentieth century, and by the introduction of radical reforms. The breakdown of Yugoslavia in 1990 brought about the widening of the scope of Southeastern Europe. The nations of the region and their cultures have not been merged together. On the contrary, the breakdown of socialist systems openly affirmed particular national identities, and the national cultures found themselves in a more flexible and more open regional framework. The region now includes Albania, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and the ex-Yugoslav republics, except Slovenia. It has become much more diverse than it used to be. The inner differences among countries and societies have increased substantially in the last fifteen or so years. This is reflected in the position of particular countries in relation to the EU: Greece is a full member, Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania are candidate countries, and all other countries (including Croatia) make up the "Western Balkans" sub-region.

In the cultural sphere, the wars of dissolution of Yugoslavia have been reflected by an extreme rise of nationalism and an aggressive revival of national myths and fake histories. Nevertheless, waves of nationalism resulted in the profiling of new identities and in some valuable contributions to rather dynamic re-evaluations of cultural histories.

Two generations of reforms have been introduced to Southeastern Europe. The first generation brought liberalization, the stabilization of economies and privatization, the political extinction of socialist institutions and the introduction of democracy. This produced a chaotic and violent transitional period, marked by wars, the pauperization of the population, a tragic demographic decline and social destruction particularly reflected in the loss of human and cultural values. The second generation reforms are concentrated on issues of "good governance": the improvement of the regulatory apparatus, the move towards independence of monetary and fiscal institutions, the strengthening of corporate governance, the eradication of corruption, the enhancement of the functioning of the judiciary, etc. The "qualitative change" is gaining ground now.

In this context, the need to produce cultural policies and strategies at the national level became obvious. In less than ten years, from 1996 to the present, all countries of the region have drawn up their cultural policies. Now, evaluations, assessments and further research into cultures and cultural transitions are ahead of us.

All these developments have led to the need to redefine the region, intra-regional relations and regional (cultural) cooperation. The basis and the background of all future relations should be built through the full acceptance of the diversity of this region, particularly reflected in the position of minorities, and through coordination of interests of different cultures, societies and countries.

Regarding the position of cultures and cultural life and creativity, the following may be stated:

  • In the first transitional phase, and particularly during the war, all cultures have experienced a radical worsening of their social position. This was reflected in the lack of financing, loss of professionalism, endangered creativity, fall of cultural institutions, first encounters with the market, rise of the nationalistic cultural myths, lack of self-criticism, cutting of cultural contacts with neighbors and undermining of minority cultures.
  • At present, there is a gradual awakening and rationalization of the cultural situation. There is a strong tendency to fully identify with European cultural values. Redefinition of cultural identities and selection of "true" values is still under way. Great attention is paid to the value of cultural heritage, to technological and communication innovations in cultural life, to support for creativity and regeneration of cultural activities, to cultural industrialization and development of (small) cultural industries, to cultural trade, and to redefined cultural cooperation that ever more relies on networking, consultancy, partnership in projects, etc.

It might be said that after about fifteen years of transition the Southeastern European region has changed radically. It has been shaped by the external EU influences, and by local efforts to join the EU. Regional identity is now reflected in the willingness to acknowledge the diversity of the region and promote new frameworks for cooperation that include flexible approaches, coordination and partnership.

In such a regional context the changes that cultures have undergone and that are still underway are not followed by related research efforts, and they remain less visible than the changes in other areas. However, they are constantly present in public life, in self-perception of individuals and in the self-understanding of contemporary societies. Cultures are gaining ground, not only because they are entering economic and market spheres, but much more because it is now evident that they might be the last resort of diversity and plurality, while the global trends are integrating economic, political and other areas of human activities.

Cultural transitions integrate all types of cultural changes. They provide the context in which cultures appear to be both actors and mediators of social change. In this collection of texts the issues discussing cultural contexts, the new public culture, governance of cultural institutions, cultural industries and cultural policies (including those related to digitalization) represent an effort to trace cultural transition in the region and point out some particular problems it raises.

The new public culture seems to be gaining ground in this region. As "ordered individuals, communities and cultures" are presented in a "swarm" structure (Katunarić), one is reminded of overall cultural restructuring in the region. Cultural, media and other public policies, although yet new and, perhaps, politically feeble, converge in an effort to structure the (chaotic) changes. This effort makes visible the lack of knowledge on present cultural developments and transition, and the scarcity of research in the field. A clear picture of the socio-economic and cultural environment is required (Mucica), as well as the need to acquire new technological abilities in order to be able to go for a number of practical policy solutions, e.g., digitalization (Kolar-Panov). Governance of cultural institutions (Čopić) reflects a situation that needs to be compared with the EU positions and frameworks (Obuljen). The core elements in this process of transition are cultural production (Primorac) and the perception of art production (Stamenković). The key question for all the authors of the present texts and all the researchers looking into problems of cultural transitions in Southeastern Europe remains the one on how to make a difference and be recognized in cultural creativity, industry and successful cultural policy making. This consideration unites the regional efforts and represents a basic standpoint to support regional cultural cooperation.

The Editor


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