On May 9, 2019 the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade (IFAT) and the Hungarian Embassy in Sarajevo held a joint conference titled “Supporting Culture in a Globalized World: The Role of Economic and State Actors” as part of the Hungarian Cultural Season in the Western Balkans launched by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary. The speakers from Hungary and Bosnia and Herzegovina discussed the possibilities of support culture, the existing practices and limitations of the latter.
The guests were greeted by Sándor Gyula Nagy, Deputy Director of IFAT, Krisztián Pósa, Ambassador of Hungary in Sarajevo, and Ibrahim Spahić, Director of the Sarajevo Winter Festival. The conference, held on Europe Day, was one of the last programs of the Hungarian Cultural Weeks, which gave an excellent opportunity to summarize the program series and suggest plans for the future. Hungary strives to support Bosnia-Herzegovina’s European integration in all areas, including cultural cooperation. A robust program similar to the Hungarian Cultural Week has not been realized yet between the two countries, thus creating a unique opportunity to learn about the richness of Hungarian culture in the country. The conference itself dealt with questions relating to the support of culture and what role economic actors, together with the state, can play in this.
In the first panel titled “The Involvement of State Institutions in Support of Culture”, György Lőrinczy, Vice-President of the National Cultural Fund (Hungarian abbreviation: NKA), Aida Šabanović, Adviser to the Ministry of Civil Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina on Cultural Heritage, and Ivica Sarić, Deputy Mayor of Culture in Sarajevo City, spoke on the practices of cultural support and their shortcomings in both countries. György Lőrinczy introduced the NKA support model, the tasks and objectives of the Fund, its sources of revenue and its decision-making mechanisms. The NKA plays a decisive role in the public support for Hungarian culture and considers it a priority to support the preservation of national identity. NKA has a unique structure – operating during many government periods – that can serve as a model for other countries. Local speakers remarked that there is no similar state-level support system in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The weakness of the state level results in serious anomalies when it comes to supporting cultural programs and institutions. Aida Šabanović outlined the responsibilities of the Ministry of Civil Affairs, which is decisively limited to the protection of cultural heritage (mostly architectural, historical monuments) and international cultural cooperation (e.g. appearance at the Venice Biennale). However, their potential is severely limited by the lack of a state-level strategy for cultural support. Ivica Sarić criticised that the support system was dominated by decisions based on personal preferences. Sarajevo, as the capital city, is one of the most important cultural centres, yet it can only protocol role due to the latter mentioned reasons. He also pointed out that it was necessary to change the perception of cultural activities, as it is also a “producer branch”.
The second panel examined the support practices of economic actors. The Director of Marketing and Communication of NKM National Utilities Ltd.. György Felkai highlighted four areas of MVM’s (Hungarian Electrical Works) social responsibility: education and science, sports, culture, social and charity activities. MVM is a prominent sponsor of the Museum of Fine Arts, but it also supports 3-4 festivals annually. Colleagues also take part in volunteer activities at certain events (e.g. Santa Claus Factory). The indirect purpose of these financial supports is to increase the image of the company among its consumers. Similar motives have appeared among companies in Bosnia and Herzegovina. At the same time, Nihat Hamsić, Chairman of the Board of Nova Banka, considered it important to support positive cultural dialogue. This enhances the confidence towards the company and its credibility, but the consumption of culture also improves the quality of life of consumers. BH Telekom’s promotional expert, Renata Merzić, recalled that in the 1990s, significant state support (1.5% of GDP) was dedicated to culture, which has now become marginal. Therefore, even more, attention is paid to companies, which should place greater emphasis on social responsibility. Energinvest’s Chief Commercial Manager, Semir Krehić, highlighted the paramount importance of supporting education (e.g. providing history books), in which Energoinvest was always active. The company has been in business for 67 years, but today the number employees and its income has fallen. Nevertheless, their employment programs continue to provide opportunities for young lawyers and engineers. The representatives of Bosnia and Herzegovina companies agreed that tax benefits provided by the state could provide further incentives to companies to increase promotion for cultural activities.
Finally, the supported side, the representatives of cultural institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina, shared their, mainly negative, experience with the audience. Ibrahim Spahić introduced the ordeal in connection with the realization of the Sarajevo Concert Hall. The project, which began in 1998, had not be realized to this day, resulting in Bosnia and Herzegovina being the only country in the region that has no serious concert hall. After this, the Director of the National Museum of Sarajevo, Mirsad Sirajić, explained in detail the serious consequences of the institution’s unfortunate legal situation regarding its operation. Since 1995, the institution – operating as a civic organization – has been trying to survive on funds from various institutional tenders. In 2012, it was closed down, and in 2015, it reopened and started its operation with a 4-million-mark debt, which has been severely decreased since then, but obtaining the resources need for further operation continues present a major challenge. Similar challenges are faced by the Sarajevo Philharmonic, admitted the Director of the organization, Samir Lokvančić. The only official professional ensemble is the Philharmonic which has no official seat but is a tenant at the National Theatre, where they are also responsible for the National Ballet and Opera program. Only a small number of programs receive funding from their sources. Because of the regulatory environment, they can only operate as cantonal institution, so they cannot reach out to the majority of the country’s population.
Participants in the conference agreed that the conditions for supporting cultural programmes should be improved. The event provided a good opportunity for participants to gain insight into Bosnia and Herzegovina’s and Hungary’s solutions. The state, as a regulatory actor, plays a prominent role in creating the conditions for the support of cultural programmes, while the recognition of social responsibility by economic actors and their commitment are necessary as well. The organizers expressed their hope that the exchange of experience on this topic would continue in the future and that the cultural representatives in Bosnia and Herzegovina will continue to receive more attention in Hungary.