For dignified cultural employment: “The situation is unsustainable, the Ministry of Culture must urgently call for tenders and settle debts of independent artists”

At the press conference on the occasion of the campaign "For dignified cultural employment", it was pointed out that it’s crucial to recognize the role of representative associations and organizations as relevant actors in the process of making decisions and providing legal remedies for the independent culture scene.

Previous demands addressed to the current Ministry of Culture were repeated at the press conference on the occasion of the campaign “For dignified cultural employment”. They include: the timely announcement of proposal calls in the last quarter of the current year for the next one, urgent solution to the debt problem of independent artists and recognition of representative associations and independent scene as relevant interlocutors in the creation of cultural policies.

The campaign represents the joint struggle of cultural workers and artists for, as stated in the announcement, “the systematic improvement of working conditions in the cultural sector, ensuring dignified wages, opportunities for professional and autonomous work, but also for increased funding of culture, which must be developmentally directed towards the needs of the cultural producers themselves, but also of society as a whole”.

“If both experts and the general public are wondering why the multitude of programs are concentrated during September, October, and probably also November and December, where there are more than ten or fifteen programs in a single day organized only by the independent scene, not to mention the October Salon, and other programs of public cultural institutions underway – often accusing the actors on the scene themselves of negligent planning and lack of organizational skills – we have to look for responsibility on the other side”, said Vida Knežević, president of the Management Board of the Independent Cultural Scene Association of Serbia (NKSS) in the opening address.

As she explained, due to the established and long-standing practice of late calls for proposals by the Ministry of Culture, most of the artistic production in Serbia is blocked in the first half of the year, and despite constant appeals, requests, and proposed solutions, the situation doesn’t improve. “It’s getting unbearable,” she concluded.

The co-founder of Station – Service for Contemporary Dance, Marijana Cvetković, followed up on the problem of worsening working conditions in the sector of culture, explaining that due to the absence of dialogue between the authorities and those who produce culture and art, “these conflicts and terrible working and living conditions” of artists and cultural workers emerge, confirming the fact that the independent cultural and artistic scene has not yet been recognized as a relevant interlocutor and that it remains on the margins.

As she emphasized, the procedure for distributing funds for programs and projects is characterized by the late announcement of tenders, their inept management, the privatization of the work of commissions instead of an expert and well-founded judgement. She particularly drew attention to the extreme delay in the results of tenders for programs supported through international funds, which creates a great deal of trouble for local participants, not only in the implementation of programs but also in reporting to the European Commission or other donors.

Vahida Ramujkić, a member of the Association of Fine Artists of Serbia (ULUS) Board of Directors, spoke about the ceaseless problems of continuous degradation of the position of independent artists in Serbia, who are additionally burdened with debts for which they are not responsible. On the behalf of representative associations in culture, she appealed to solve the problem of these debts, since the Working Group of representatives of associations and the Ministry of Culture finally reached the exact amount of the debt and agreed on the way it can be settled.

She said in further clarification that an estimate of the total amount of the debt was finally received from the Tax Administration – about 129 million dinars. She added that the Working Group reached an agreement to resolve the debt by writing off the debt for health insurance in its entirety, since it is an unfulfilled right, and to resolve the debt for pension and disability insurance by writing off the interest, and covering the base from the budget.

Thus, 74 million dinars of the debt should be written off, and only 54 million would remain for payment, that is, coverage from the budget.

“This situation doesn’t require great efforts to resolve, yet it would be of great importance for independent artists”, Vahida Ramujkić said, reminding the public that a similar solution was applied in 2018 for clergy, who belong to the same tax category as independent artists by law.

While Uroš Dojčinović from the Association of Music Artists of Serbia (UMUS) referred to the problem of organizations working in smaller communities, outside large city centers, whose work is marginalized and often without any financial and infrastructural support, Svetozar Krstić from the Association of Ballet Artists of Serbia (UBUS) who is an independent artist himself, pointed out the fact that a large part of the debt is made up of interest, and he drew attention to the consequences of this situation which makes it impossible for a large number of independent artists to use health insurance and denies their right to a pension.

The President of the AICA Board of Directors in the Serbian Section, Jelena Vesić, spoke about the unbelievable fact that artists, critics, writers, and people who have great achievements in the field of thought and social action, are today in a position that is beyond humiliating, with their voices silenced:

“Does the Ministry of Culture stand behind those values at all, without which we are left with what modern film production calls idiocracy – the rule of stupidity, the rule of idiots”, said Jelena Vesić and added that it is therefore important that these initiatives are supported and that the minimal dignity of artists and cultural workers is assured, instead of downgrading them to beggars, after so much work, education, programs, international contacts.

Quick response from the Ministry of Culture

The same afternoon, the Ministry of Culture published a statement on social media regarding the “For dignified cultural employment” press conference, pointing out that “it will continue to solve lagging problems in this area in order to improve the position of artists and further develop our cultural scene, immediately after the formation of the Government of the Republic of Serbia”.

In the aforementioned statement, the Ministry noted that the requested data from the representative associations of independent artists on the amount of debt based on contributions for the mandatory social insurance of independent artists “was only received a few months after the last meeting of the Working Group dealing with solving this issue” and announced that the next meeting of the Working Group will be held immediately after the formation of the Government, in the first week of November.

When it comes to competitions in the field of culture and art, the Ministry reiterated its previous position that, “respecting all legal procedures, it will announce tenders immediately after the adoption of the budget for 2023” and that it “completed all tender procedures transparently and in accordance with legal framework provided for this year and that it published the results on the website, as well as that it proceeded to obtain the consent of other competent authorities on time and without delay following all prescribed procedures”.

The campaign “For dignified cultural employment” was launched by the Association Independent Cultural Scene of Serbia, the Association of Fine Artists of Serbia (ULUS), Station – Service for Contemporary Dance, the International Association of Art Critics (AICA), the Association of Ballet Artists of Serbia (UBUS), Association of Composers of Vojvodina (UKV), Union of Architects of Serbia (UAS) and the Union of Associations of Fine Artists of Vojvodina (SULUV), with the aim of calling the Ministry of Culture to account for the delay in the results of the proposal calls for the current year, and habitually poor planning of the next one, as well as for the constant postponement of solving independent artists’ debt problems.


Translation from Serbian: Anastazija Govedarica Antanasijević

This article was ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED in Serbian on October 26, 2022.


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