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Who is Who in the Culturelink Team

Culturelink review, Special Issue 1994 - imprint - archive

Levels of Operation of Cultural Policy

Sanjin Dragojević holds M.A. in philosophy of culture and information systems from the University of Zagreb. He is interested in socio-cultural development and information systems in culture. His publications include articles on philosophy of culture, cultural policy and information systems in culture. He is working for the Ministry of Culture. He is also a guest-lecturer at the Institute for Cultural Management in Vienna.


It is almost universally accepted that any national cultural policy works (with different force, scope and effects) on three main levels - (supra)national, regional and local. Clearly, however, the mere listing of the levels does not tell us much, because this classification is essentially vague, imprecise and qualitatively arbitrary. For this reason, an analysis of specific phenomena in individual national settings is both justified and unavoidable.

To take the first, (supra)national level of cultural policy, we see immediately that, depending on the country in question, it can be defined as the central, or state, level (for instance, in France), as the federal level (Germany), then the confederal level (Switzerland), and in some cases it escapes all attempts at a definition and is not easily identified (Belgium). What is not in doubt is the fact that no country can avoid the task of defining its cultural policy on this level, since the national state is unquestionably the dominant subject on the international (supranational) cultural scene.

The communication space is becoming increasingly dense and crowded, which adds to the complexity of the cultural situation to a hitherto unthinkable degree. In such a situation, the (supra)national level of cultural policy assumes the role of the supreme promoter as well as a protector of national cultural interests and values. Therefore, despite all predictions to the contrary, this level of cultural policy continues to go from strength to strength. National responses and strategies offered to meet the challenges of the contemporary cultural situation on the national and/or the supranational level differ among themselves, but the best results are achieved through the following types of action:

  1. coordination of overall cultural action on the national level,
  2. establishment of precise priorities in national and international cultural cooperation,
  3. definition of the strategies, forms and ways in which cooperation should proceed, and
  4. development of harmonized methodologies, or information sources and systems, for cultural research, monitoring and analysis.

Coming to the 'lower', regional level of specific national cultural policies, we notice that it is even more difficult to define than the previously discussed 'higher' or central level. The root of this difficulty is probably to be sought in the widespread belief (and accumulated experience to back it) that defining the political and social organization of a national community on the mezzo-level, i.e, the regional level, is the most serious developmental and cultural problem of all European countries.

According to the past practical and developmental experience, most European countries equate regions with administrative-territorial-political units which stand between central and local governments, between the centre and the periphery. Perhaps the best and most convincing way to demonstrate how simplistic this view is and how complex theoretically and practically is the definition of the regional level would be to examine two possible views of this phenomenon. Each of these views presupposes a particular cultural base and implies a specific (regional) cultural policy which belongs to it almost organically.

The regional complex can first of all be viewed dynamically, that is, in terms of the strength of regional demands that emanate from it. According to this view, which is primarily concerned with the analysis of the presence of regional tendencies, or the dynamics of transformation of the existing political structure of a given community and the redistribution of political, administrative and cultural power, the regional demands or the constitution of the regional identity can lead to the following developments:

  • regional self-recognition - characterized by an insistence on the preservation, collection and evaluation of specific cultural artifacts and other elements of cultural memory within a given region as testimonials of regional individuality but also of its incorporation into the state as a whole;
  • regional imperative - demanding a reduction of the powers of the central authorities and viewing regional individuality as a cultural quality which coexists dynamically with other such qualities and individualities and is a guarantor of its own role in the overall cultural life of the country;
  • regionalism - in which, unlike the cases discussed so far, an explicit cultural policy is formulated for the first time with the idea of uniting the entire cultural resources of a given region, strengthening and promoting particular cultural values, and evolving a separate cultural dynamics as well as modes of coexistence with the overall cultural complex of the country;
  • regional autonomy - demanding an autonomous status for one or more regions, i.e., their separate political and cultural treatment within the country, which, in the case of cultural policy, usually implies a number of structural specificities in education, cultural infrastructure, and in the entire cultural life of the region;
  • federalism - which implies a considerable degree of distribution of central political and cultural power to the regions (on more or less equal terms) and enables the formulation of independent regional/provincial cultural policies, which, however, must not be in conflict with the fundamental constitutional, administrative and cultural postulates of the state as a whole;
  • confederalism - the highest degree of regional cultural autonomy, including completely independent cultural policy formulation, leaving only inter-regional problems and cooperation to be centrally regulated;
  • secession - implying full political and cultural independence, usually involving the creation of a new state or joining another, already existing neighbourly state.

The second view of the regional level is typological in nature. It represents an attempt to systematize and classify regions according to a fundamental property that determines them. According to this view, a region can be:

  • administrative or conventional, meaning that it is constituted in terms of the administrative division and that it therefore primarily pursues the cultural goals plans and programmes established on the central, state level;
  • ethnic, based on the ethnic diversity and national homogeneity of a given region, giving rise to a full range of cultural institutions, actions and measures designed to meet the cultural need and/or respect the region's cultural individuality;
  • territorial or geographical, constituted on the basis of natural features and those of the relief, which, together with the demographic factor, create a recognizable developmental and cultural entity and lead to a self- organization of a large proportion of cultural activities in a 'natural' way;
  • functional, which grows out of a highly held developmental or cultural priority, promoted and supported on the regional or on the national level;
  • historical or traditional, certainly the most important criterion, based on the so-called regional identity of an area, resulting from a long-term process of fusion of a number of cultural, developmental and natural determinants, and as such usually appearing as the bearer, promoter and creator of the most vital part of the overall cultural dynamics and life in the area in which the region is situated.

The definition of the local level of cultural policy appears simpler than the other two levels, but it, too, is by no means free from uncertainty and doubt. The distinctive difference in relation to the central and regional levels is now usually seen not so much in the smaller territorial coverage (which is always a characteristic of the local level), but in its organic integralness and the presence of a housing community as an eminently cultural and spatial determinant of the local community.

The view just described seems to be predominant in the nineties, when it has been complemented by another important insight: while the regional and the national element may in principle quarrel or unite over similar developmental and cultural preferences and priorities, the global vs. local distinction points to mutually interdependent yet clearly differentiated cultural complexes and phenomena. Precisely because the global cultural trends and global cultural dynamics function independently of the spatial factor, they 'threaten' the notion of the local element in its classical sense, perceived for the most part as a self-contained space with its own cultural individuality and a sort of isolation from the fundamental cultural and social changes. The opposite of this classical view is now happening: the local is becoming the measure of the global, for any move that fails to reach the local level in a truly transformative way cannot be considered to be globally relevant. Conversely, a qualitative definition of the local level, insisting on the deep, authentic, integral, and interactive relation between Man and his immediate environment helps to create values which figure globally as the highest values of so-called postmodern societies.

It is not hard to see the inner contradiction between the two processes. That is why attempts are made on the national and regional levels to overcome the levelling effects of the global cultural trends, and the success of such actions and measures can be gauged only in actual cultural life, which always - in urban, suburban and rural communities - takes place on the local level. In this way, paradoxically, the cultural dynamics of a given community manages, or fails, to follow the globally desirable cultural trend.

In spite of everything said so far, however, when the problem is considered from the perspective of a particular cultural policy, its operationalization becomes necessary. One of the local levels at which it can take place is that of individual municipalities and cities. Quite obviously, great differences exist between such local entities (within the same country): they differ among themselves in terms of the available cultural infrastructure, in terms of their cultural needs, and in terms of the quality of cultural life.

In the light of the prevalent trends of cultural development, the effectiveness and success of a given cultural policy on the local level is at present measured primarily in terms of its capability to do the following:

  1. install a highly developed cultural infrastructure within local units;
  2. support local cultural creativity in traditional, elite and new forms;
  3. facilitate local self- organization and self-financing of the greatest part of cultural activities;
  4. integrate cultural activities into overall activities of local communities, especially service activities;
  5. present local cultural creativity and life on the regional, national and international levels (this should be done actively, in a planned and systematic manner).


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  2. Bassand, Michel. Culture et régions d'Europe. Presses polytechniques et universitaires romandes, Lausanne, 1990.
  3. Država, regije, regionalni razvoj (poseban broj). Društvena istraživanja, vol. 1, no. 1, 1992.
  4. Global Culture. Theory, Culture & Society, SAGE Publications, Vol. 7, nos. 2-3, 1990.
  5. Regional Diversity in Europe. The Role of Different Cultures in the Construction of the European Union. Conference proceedings. Servizio Studi of the Autonomous Region of Trentino-South Tirol, 1994.