20 02 06

How Much of Cultural Imperialism?

Branka Ćurčić

The question is not Cultural Imperialism – Yes or No! But, How Much of Cultural Imperialism? Rastko Mocnik1

This article will examine potentness of institutional critique, having in mind strong presumption that critique has to have its specific coordinates in the specific context. It will also explore uncertainty of strength or weakness of it, which will be speculatively connected to political constructions and historical background of relationship between power structures and (delusion) of self-governance. One of the examples that will be explored is a new project, called Almostreal 1, that started in former Yugoslav space and was initiated by ECF – European Cultural Foundation* during 2005. It was invoked as an experiment in the current funding strategies and existing relationship between the funder of cultural activities and organization that is being funded. “The new arts project of the European Cultural Foundation, Almostreal is developing structure of support for the arts that aims to combine an ongoing process of critical reflection concerning forms of artistic practice and its relation to broader social and cultural realities, together with direct financial support in the development of such art ventures.”2

Within broad, under-defined and flexible framework, ECF gathered four independent cultural organizations from former Yugoslavia: WHW collective from Zagreb, from Sarajevo, Prelom Collective from Belgrade and from Novi Sad. The region of former Yugoslavia was chosen under presumption that these new countries have been constituted following the same basic need “to brake away from the claustrophobic local climate without necessarily having to endorse global ideological strategies of a liberal capitalism as the only alternative. ...These media/art collectives in the region managed (or were forced) to locate themselves at the boundary zones of their cultural ecosystems, playing with this edge condition as their main tactical instrument and artistic material, shaping both their political position and communication strategies accordingly.3 And indeed, the first phase of the project is finished and it was, undoubtedly, of the great benefit for all of its participants. Those 4 nodes have been working together and collaborating on different themes – research of historical concepts of art critique4, re-evaluating and re-inventing the position of West European contemporary art from the viewpoint of East European practitioners5, alternative media usage, collaborative publishing, etc. What is supposed to run alongside the activities in the next phase of Almostreal project is, on one side, process of “extraction” of potential discourses or “toolkits” and, on the other, support strategies that should lead to establishing new policies inside of the funding structures. This definition corresponds nicely with one of the starting points of the ECF, that this is “an experiment that endeavors to investigate its own parameters”.

On one side, there is turmoil on the funder side, who is making an experiment and flirting with the position of interfering into the structure and the content (to a certain level) of the financed project, which is near to the position of co-curating. On the other side, fundees are those who are getting more open door to influence the general policy of the foundation towards its objectives. Fundees are also getting freedom to shape their own cooperation and predetermined funds with possibilities for further modular increase of funding. Some things within the project are predefined; frameworks are set. Present constellation of things would mean that there is a framework, but there is also space for action and critical reflection, which would require and mean more mutual involvement in others' fields of action.

This constellation leads to many questions: Where is the balance of mutual interests between the fundees and the funder? Who is, and under which circumstances, governing who? And we can even go further on: How critical we can be towards “the hand that feeds us”? Should we “bite” it or “obey” it? Those questions are important if we are following what has been said in the report of Funding opportunities for South-East Europe, that “after a period of strong investment in the region (after the fall of communism and the wars in Yugoslavia), there has been a weakening of financial support” and starting from 2000, “the general tendency towards the retreat of important funders or a reorientation of their priorities which are no longer include culture”6 could be seen. The space for negotiation should be somewhere in between “biting” and “obeying”.

According to Mocnik, “great ideologies of western imperialism – from the time when it first established its conditions – this first establishment didn't go without wars and conquests, it was not possible without administrations and oppression - but also not without ideological bases. Great stories of ideological bases didn't gathered just army of the conquerers, administrators, merchants and vagabonds... scientists, amateures, murderers and builders – but, they programed body and soul of workers, policeman, intelligencia, administrators and prosecutors of their new slavery. Now, when the system is established, when it functiones by itself, if there is nothing to disturb it, if there is not much of resistance to it, the new story of the end of 'great stories' is new opium for collonized people of the European East.”7

Building direct historical analogisms is very ungrateful position. Therefore, this text is not trying to create direct analogism with the atmosphere of the Yugoslav self-management, but whith one specific condition of cooptation and uncertainity, which was constructed during that period. Namely, Yugoslav self-management system considered low level democracy and sovereignity of work councils in some decisions that they were authorized to bring. Their authority was strictly limited and controlled from above - “it was hard cadre party that controlled this direct democracy down bellow”.8 In that context, sociologist Svetozar Stojanovic posed the question: “How did it come to the degeneration of one revolutional idea of self-management into ideology of status quo?”... and further: “Together with the real circumstances in the workers collectives, ideological mith about Yugoslavia as 'society of workers and social self-menagement' raised”.9 According to him, the main heritage of de-Stalinisation of Yugoslavia is structured by introducing forms and institutions of self-management in workers collectives. Although process of de-Stalinisation carried “certain characteristics of revolution inside of revolution”, it was clear that from the beginning it was a revolution from above, which was uncritically accepted by citizens. Self-management was situated only in workers collectives and was limited to the issues of production and allocation. Outside of that, not only that there was no self-management, but also there was no real participation of workers in managing society. Process of de-Stalinisation of the country that should promote freedom and participation, was initiated and then carefully dosed and led by party/state authority. The illusion of self-management was created.

But, that was not the only one. According to movie director Lazar Stojanovic, during the early 1960s, the Yugoslav economy was based on “fictive employement, which was a desease of the whole eastern block, including Yugoslavia”.10 He argues, that the concept of socialistic economy was that everyone needs to be employed, no matter if employees were non-productive and that there was concerning loss of money due to that pratice. He continues that after the “openning of the country”, after the economic reforms in 1965, the practice of “freedom” - freedom to travel outside of the country, to express opinion publicly, to listen to jazz, to look diferent, etc. - was established. It was officially freedom, but in reality, those were reservoirs of freedom. Of course, that was the period when many critical practices have emerged – critical practices directed towards illusion of freedom and self-government – when it actually became possible and allowed to happen at all. Of course, those critical practices were, in a way, coopted and regulated and the umbrela under which this cooptation was possible was hegemony of the rulling party. From the moment they allowed self-management, they were determined to keep their monopolistic position and to forbid any kind of its application to social or political reality. “With simple deduction from the mith of 'our self-managing society', politocracy concludes that all its institutions and organizations are self-managing themselves. Due to that logic, every attempt that they be overcome or only to be thoughtfully criticized represents per definitionem attack to self-management itself...”11 Therefore, in this context, it is also possible to talk about represive self-management.

In case of this pre-prevented critical practice, it seems that the problem is interdependency of that critique from the system itself. At the “touching points” with the system, “where alternative has to create request for making more certain conditions for possibilities of its practicies, productions, styles – formulation of requests has been developed under dictatorhip of the system.”12

Back to the present, where circumstances and relations are changed, but still there are “politocracies” that are framing and governing our practicies and productions. What can be done to avoid the position of being governed like that? What can be done by actors in the specific case of the Almostreal project? Deeper involvement in power relations? Is more criticism and self-criticism the key? It's still to be seen what will come out of uncertainity of this experiment. But, what can be done for sure in this specific conext is practiting “speech of thoughts, as a first gesture of rejection, defiance, resistance...They are possible to be stoped only 'together', by speech, mutuality, and maybe once also by solidarity.”13

1The title and the subtitle for this text are taken from the book “How Much Fascism?” by Rastko Mocnik. The aim of this “twisting” (also in the case of authors name) is to give introduction to speculative nature of this text, which will therefore try to raise issue of possibility of institutional critique (in former Yugoslavia), its blured position, meaning and misinterpretations, as well as the present fear about the question: Why there is no resistance to those processes; where their defeating triumphality is coming from?

* ECF – European Cultural Foundation is an independent, non-governmental organization. [...] It promotes artistic and cultural activities in Europe and across its borders as a contribution to civil society. []

2 Excerpt from the initial text by ECF – European Cultural Foundation about Almostreal project

3 Ibid. Part of the text by Igor Dobricic, Almostreal project coordinator

4 The exhibition “The Continuous Art Class, Novi Sad Neo-Avantgarde from the 1960's and 1970's” by New Media was created as a part of Almostreal project and it is the first point in the regional research of those practicies,

5 From the description of the exhibition “Contemporary Art from Western Europe”, final exhibition of Zagreb Cultural Kapital 3000, WHW, Zagreb. Proposed project examines the notion of “Western Europe”, articulating the subject from the perspective of “cultural workers” who belong to broad cultural-geographical complex, which we term European non-West, 2005 – 2006.

6 Funding Opportunities for International Cultural Cooperation in and with South East Europe, report made by ECF, the Ecumest Association and Relais Culture Europe, October 2005, p. 9

7 Rastko Mocnik, Koliko fašizma?, Arkzin, Zagreb, 1998/99, p. 37

8 Todor Kuljic, Yugoslavia's Workers Self-Management, Interview realized as part of the project “Alternative Economics, Alternative Societies” by Oliver Ressler, 2003,

9 Svetozar Stojanovic, Od postrevolucionarne diktature do socijalisticke demokracije (Jugoslovenski socijalizam na raskršcu), PRAXIS, Zagreb, 1972, p. 382 - 384 [From postrevolutionar dictatorship to socialistic democracy (Yugoslavian socialism at the crossroad)]

10 Lazar Stojanovic, debate “Omitted History”, held at the opening of the exhibition “The Continuous Art Class, Novi Sad Neo-Avantgarde from the 1960's and 1970's”, 18.11.2005. in Novi Sad

11 Svetozar Stojanovic, Od postrevolucionarne diktature do socijalisticke demokracije (Jugoslovenski socijalizam na raskršcu), PRAXIS, Zagreb, 1972, p. 385 [From postrevolutionar dictatorship to socialistic democracy (Yugoslavian socialism at the crossroad)]

12 Rastko Mocnik, Koliko fašizma?, Arkzin, Zagreb, 1998/99, p. 40

13 Ibid.

Branka Ćurčić