Problem definition and core questions

Production of ideas, images, design, advertising, communications and similar services has rapidly increased with the accelerated development of the so-called new economy propelled by the advancements in information and communication technologies, cultural and creative industries. This tendency became especially visible in the 1990s and has been spread out since then from the centre to the periphery of the world economy. According to Immanuel Wallerstein (World-systems Analysis, 2005) “neither political nor cultural homogeneity is to be expected or found in a world-economy”, i.e. production is divided along the centre-periphery axis.

Social and cultural aspects of the investment policies in the context of Europeanization of the former socialist countries have provoked some interest among researchers of social and economic histories (for instance, Hannes Hofbauer, Osterweiterung: Vom Drang nach Osten zur peripheren EU-Integration, 2003; Detlef Pollack et al., Values Systems of the Citizens and Socio-Economic Conditions – Challenges from Democratisation for the EU-Enlargement, 2005; Catherine Samary, Yougoslavie de la décomposition aux enjeux européens, 2008, etc.) but only sporadic response of the researchers in the domains of cultural sociology, cultural policy analysis or cultural studies. Statistical data, on the other hand, indicate significant correlations between economic expansion and traditional cultural ties among the countries involved: for instance, Austria is the largest foreign investor in Slovenia and one of the most important investors in the South Eastern Europe (hereafter abridged as SEE), the largest part of Slovenian foreign investment goes to Serbia and a significant part (one-sixth) of Slovenian export goes to SEE. As stressed in a book on cultural identities of Western Balkans / SEE recently published by the Peace Institute Ljubljana, “the contemporary political reality of Europe is characterized by incessant attempts to link the political and economic integration of Europe with the cultural aspect of Europeanism” (Tanja Petrović, A Long Way Home: Representations of the Western Balkans in Political and Media Discourses, 2009).

In the context of EU enlargement so-called ‘conditionality’ is the primary mechanism of Europeanization: “Broadly, the use of the term ‘EU conditionality’ assumes that there is a power asymmetry between the actor setting and enforcing the conditions and the actor that must comply” (James Hughes et al., Europeanization and Regionalization in the EU’s Enlargement to Central and Eastern Europe: The Myth of Conditionality, 2004). Consensus of the local inhabitants regarding entering of a candidate country to EU cannot be achieved in a spontaneous or automatic manner due to the fact that accession process requires enforcement of not only widely accepted democratic standards but also certain rather unpopular social and economic measures. In this respect EU integration processes cannot be entirely successful if EU member states share only economic interests instead of building common cultural values, as was clearly stated already in 2001 in so-called Ruffolo Report (Giorgio Ruffolo, Report on Cultural Cooperation in the European Union). On the other hand, a recent survey on the impact of the enlargement on cultural policies in new EU member states and Croatia (Nina Obuljen, Why We Need European Cultural Policies: The Impact of EU Enlargement on Cultural Policies in Transition Countries, 2005) has shown that “the EU did not have any specific enlargement policy referring to culture”. Since culture was excluded from ‘EU conditionality’ (i.e. harmonization rules or so-called acquis communautaire) and it remained under the aegis of respective member states, “there was also no direct need for reforms of cultural systems or specific incentives for structural changes in the cultural field” (N. Obuljen) in new member states. Furthermore, this question opens up relevant aspects of the relationships between culture, identity and citizenship in Europe, i.e. how to secure equal access to culture and possibilities for participation in it “to all as a matter of the cultural rights of EU citizenship”, as elaborated by M. Roche (in: Culture & Citizenship, 2001); this problematic relation between culture, identity and citizenship is discussed in many other collections (such as Citizenship & Cultural Policy, 2001, Cultural Citizenship / Eurozine, 2007, etc.) as well as in numerous studies and collections on citizenship and cultural rights.

Our project consortium which consists of researchers from an ‘old’ EU member country (Austria), a ‘new’ member (Slovenia), a candidate country (Croatia), and a country with aspiration to become EU member (Serbia) has excellent predispositions to assess the situation in the countries with structurally different positions as far as EU membership is concerned. Our research interests are directed towards analysis of different social and cultural domains and apparatuses affecting re-construction of cultural identities in the process of Europeanization of SEE countries, such as: national cultural policies; possible paradigms of cultural practices; media representations (specificities of discourse, selection of topics, ways of presentation etc.); civil sphere (i.e. autonomous groups, networks, NGOs); dominant political forces and values, political standpoints, cultural identifications promoted by them. Since cultural policies are in sole responsibility of respective countries, an individual approach to analysis of re-definition and re-construction of cultural identities in the region appears to be a justified methodological decision. Furthermore, it seems that Europeanization of SEE / WB countries can be hardly achieved without soft ideological instruments influencing collective consciousness, including re-construction of cultural identities in the region. For instance, in a recent research conducted on representative samples in several SEE countries, approximately 40% of respondents in Serbia and Macedonia stated that “their own culture and tradition are endangered by influences of values coming from European countries” (Nikola Božilović, Identity and Culture on the Balkans, 2007). Regionalization processes in SEE will be also taken into our consideration from the point of view of regional cultural identifications. Regional and cultural identities are rather dynamic social phenomena, as demonstrated in the same research: while 2/3 of respondents in Macedonia expressed their belonging to the Balkan region, in Serbia for that kind of regional identification opted only 1/3 of respondents. Even in Istria which is known as a multicultural and ethnically mixed peninsula, a similar research showed that only 1/4 of respondents (from Slovenian Istria) think that there exists “common culture of Slovenian Istria” (National and Cultural Identity in the Area of Slovene-Italian Cultural Contact in European Integration Processes; in: Cultural Identity of Istria, 2008). Both Europeanization and regionalization processes in SEE open an important research question: do these processes (significantly) influence possible re-definition and re-construction of cultural identities in the direction of ethnically and nationally non-exclusivist cultures? Furthermore, is it possible to identify any material trace in the realm of SEE region for somehow vague but provocative concept of ‘post-Balkan’ cultural identity, as proposed by Sreten Ugričić, director of Serbian national library? (“The post-Balkans means primarily that the Balkans are not Europe’s Other”, explains Ugričić. In: The Heart of the Matter: The Role of the Arts and Culture in the Balkans’ European Integration, 2005). This kind of searching for new concepts in order to overcome a dead end of supposedly “ethnic-centered and ethnic-based” Balkan region is propelled by stereotypes and prejudices which are still deeply rooted in Europe. It was emphasized also in a background paper for ‘New Paradigms, New Models – Culture in the EU External Relations’, an international conference organized in the frame of the Slovenian presidency of EU: “Negative perceptions of the Balkans are still widespread in other European countries. All too often, the Balkans is described as ‘the other’ in relation to Europe. Art and culture are of crucial importance in exposing and overcoming the stereotypes and mental borders which still haunt our continent.” (Gijs de Vries, A Europe Open to Culture: Proposals for a European Strategy of Cultural Diplomacy, 2008).

In the field of cultural production, heterogenity of cultural identities in SEE is not generated only in relation to ‘national cultures’ but also in relation to specific segments of these cultures. An illustrative example might be ex-Yugoslav neo avant-garde art practices from the late 60es / early 70es and alternative culture from the 80es. These predominantly amateur art and cultural practices have developed their identities in opposition to presupposed professionalism of the then cultural elites. Their amateurism was not a bad copy of professional art practices; it was not about mimicking elite culture in the sense of dilettante actor, musician or painter. It was rather about radical intervention in cultural, social and political spheres of the Yugoslav society. Possible examples of that kind of alternative culture in ex-Yu cultural production between 60es and 80es are, for instance, punk music, experimental 16mm film production in the 60es and 70es, as well as alternative video production in the 80es, neo avant-garde theatre and radical performance, alternative theoretical production, etc. Nowadays the picture is quite different: previous ‘radical amateurism’ has been significantly professionalized through the process of so-called NGOisation of voluntary work. This process of professionalisation, typically represented by NGO cultural sphere, has created a relatively new context not only in terms of cultural production but also in terms of cultural preferences and identifications of its audiences.

Not only theses processes in the cultural NGO sphere but also contemporary socio-economic trends in general require an interdisciplinary approach to the subject. Identity politics are interconnected with labour relations within various productive units (such as factories, newspapers, universities or theatres) which determine workers’ life-strategies and identity orientations, but it holds true also vice versa. Resonant identity orientations reproduce social relations within the society and the relations of particular society with the others. It is therefore important to think about identity politics along with labour relations. Interdisciplinary approach in researching interconnections between a new composition of contemporary labour force and ways of life-strategies might bring us to a possible conclusion that identity strategies help certain social groups (households, corporative/ethnic/religious groups) to cope with undesirable risks in material subsistence and unpredictable effects of the world-economy system. It seems that both phenomena are interconnected: more is material subsistence of man or society insecure, more men and societies are inclined to identity politics that ‘discipline’ their members and provide some security that is otherwise absent in real life.

Cultural changes in the SEE cultures – as part of rather complex social, economic and political changes in transitional countries of SEE region – encompass reformulation of cultural values, modernization of cultural practices and cultural identities, growth of cultural productions, as well as increased cultural communication and exchange, particularly in the regional and European contexts. It might be that such changes are reflected in supposed re-definition and re-construction of cultural identities and in a new social role of cultures that ever more stand for cultural creativity and interaction, rather than for the representation of national values. The nature and outcomes of these transitions are maybe felt in everyday life and practices, but they still remain only partly visible in research and analysis of cultural identification. A reliable theoretical account of transitional changes and of cultural transition practices is indeed needed in all SEE cultures, both on the national levels and on the regional level. The time span of about fifteen to twenty five years of different cultural practices makes the concentration on cultural identity issues possible and theoretically justifiable. The (re)modeled contexts of cultural identities oscillate among Europeanization, globalization, regionalization and nationalism, but also include balancing between regional cultural heritage and innovative modernity, particularly supported by new technologies and ever more dynamic cultural communication.

Generating from this brief description of the project, our core research questions are the following:

  1. Has the systemic approach to cultures, reflected in national cultural policies, been changed, and, if yes, how?
  2. How can such changes be identified? Do they support national cultural identifications? Do they support regional identification? Do they support cultural transnationalism or cultural globalism?
  3. Which are the financial and infrastructural backgrounds supporting cultural change at present?
  4. Does the cultural import affect cultural identification, and, if yes, how?
  5. Which dominant approaches define attitudes to cultural diversity of the region?
  6. Have the transitional changes increased or decreased cultural tolerance and interest in others?
  7. What should be the post-transitional role of cultural policies as related to cultural identities in the region?

Key outputs

  • Partner organizations will prepare short case studies on the topic of the project and according to specificity of the local (national) situations in Austria, Croatia, Slovenia and Serbia.
  • Working meeting of the partners and a conference event will by organized by the Peace Institute and will take place in Ljubljana (January 2011).
  • The project team will produce a joint publication which will be published by the Institute for International Relations (Zagreb) in its Culturelink book series.

ASO Ljubljana

Austrian Federal Ministry of Science and Research

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