V. Sarajevo and the future
Detail from the ‘Bunker exhibition’ in Konijc
(Branko Dimitrijevic curated it)
(More pics below)
The Balkan’s integration, both into European Union ‚normality’ as well as with regards to a ‘post-conflict cultural sphere’ of some pertinence and depth is - obviously - neither finished nor a given for the future.
The Sarajevo conference of OSI/Soros Foundation in September 2011 demonstrated the vigour of investment by Soros in civil society and cultural elites that helped keeping up more than just decency and the spirit of hope even in the worst circumstances and against the worst emanations of the evil as of the nineties. It was crucial, simply.
Those resilient agents of change seem to be concerned again, or: still are. Weighing opportunities and threats concerning the future, they pointed at strong signs of civilian apathy, depression, lack of perspectives, revival of ultra-nationalism and backwardness.
Without dramatising the consequences of unresolved issues, for example a future for Bosnia-Herzegovina (and there are more examples!), one cannot neglect the overt and hidden dangers of a roll-back, aggravated by economic stalemate (on a level which is already desperately low) in large parts of the region and population; and by the Europe-wide and global financial crisis. The Euro- and debt-crisis even puts pressure, as we all know, on the very construction of the European Union.
One side effect of the larger drama is kind of an awareness-void if not oblivion concerning the region, in particular vis-à-vis the EU neighbours in Ex-Yugoslavia and Albania. The dominance of other headlines on other issues and other regions of global importance, mixed with a crisis of the European institutions and leadership, narrow down the space for ‘the Balkans’ in the ‘economy of attention’; EU-citizens have enough to chew, they think, with erosion ‘within’ and ‘enforced solidarity’ without understanding the reasons, and don’t seem to be interested at all in what happens southeast of Zagreb down to lake Skodhra, while observers report about serious risks.
On the other hand, in the region itself, and in the diaspora from the region, still willing to contribute their share, new faces, fresh thinking beyond the patterns of remembering/forgetting and beyond a however ironical nostalgia of the pre-war generations are claiming space in the political and civic arena; they were very visible at the Sarajevo conference, with courageous new ‘cultural’ conceptions of today and for tomorrow.
Thus the conference proved the true ‘sustainability’ of the investment by OSI/Soros foundation; the heroes of resistance - then - were joined by the witty protagonists of change of today. City planning; culture; arts; theatre directors who have to operate under emergency conditions; architects; lecturers; culture policy makers of the future… small groups of resilience, sophisticated actors of change; subversive thinkers and doers with an enormous sense for realities – they do share ideas, values and action across borders and boundaries.
In a nutshell: societal and political transformation has gained ground; cultural actors of change are not only seismographs in this process, but irreplaceable catalysts in cooperation with others in horizontal alliances. This cultural fundament of change stretches, I believe, beyond borders - although sensitivities are still to be felt even among most enlightened members of a possible trans-national civic and cultural arena in the region.
A lot can be built on this fundament; or more precisely: they are building democratic societies throughout the region just like they are building them on local and national level.
This is the essence of what has been achieved, - to a large extent also thanks to the OSI/Soros foundation – and what constitutes optimism: integration is possible.
Yet, paradoxically, these elites and many new faces may be needed even more in the next future to ‘finish’ the process under truly challenging conditions.
‘It may all go wrong; it cannot go wrong again; we don’t let it go wrong again…’ one could hear.
A final crossroad? However, durable support/investment/leverage – whatever names may be used to denominate pertinent responsibility – has not yet reached its final goal. By no means. Unfinished business calls for some continuity beyond de-escalation on the surface and beyond respectable short- and medium term achievements.
Two interlinked questions need to be answered:
1. How can internal (regional) integration be strengthened by a European agenda that makes an accession perspective vitally irreversible? And:
2. How can cultural transformation be continued and supported towards stable platforms of cooperation in the region and within ‘Europe’?
In other words: Cultural cooperation proved to be most successful in developing both a culture of memory as well as a political culture fit for the future.
Stakeholders from the cultural sectors are the yeast for the eventual creation of a trans-national open society in the region.
Without continuity in opening minds economy and security as well as sustainable democracy and integration cannot work.
The conference has impressively emphasised the power of culture and demonstrated the gains of cooperating with actors of change. And it has demonstrated the need for another wave of responsibility in new forms, by public (foremost European) and third sector players.
A large share of the ideas exchanged was focusing on capacity building and new and ‘deep’ regional platforms; on new ways of cooperation between state and independent actors in the region and beyond. There was clear hope that a lot can be achieved if support were properly orchestrated.
The (‘European’) panel which I had to moderate was ‘moderate’ as far as ‘real life options’ were concerned, but clear. Each of the partners seems to be somehow locked in specific institutional logics: strategic out-phasing of support, knowing that it is too early; moral weight without appropriate means; technical solutions that stem from other worlds of doing the job; courage to stick to longer-term investment, but limited in scale; awareness of so-called priorities and citizens fatigue etc. But it was also marked by a multiple surprise: about the vigour of those ready for more change; about the dangers, which are still around and again potentially explosive; the evidence of the power of culture and the need to get it right.
The initiative, however, could be powerfully presented by one of the most important stakeholders over the past 20 years: the Soros network.
My conclusion: It could be a breakthrough to convene a strategic meeting between cultural leaders of change, public regional and European decision makers and foundations, inspired - and to some extent driven - by the experience and flexibility of OSI/Soros foundation with the goal to develop and empower a lasting, ‘conclusive’ cultural integration strategy for the region and in Europe.
Results could be decisive if well coordinated with the political and social-economic integration processes.
Cultural actors will be key: Sarajevo made that clear, again.
GW, November 2011
Edin Numamkadic in his atelier (with his series of palimpsest paintings..)
Myth and ...
.. and spider past:
Installation by Sejla Kameric in Konijc
Present, amongst other interpretations:
Once more: a bridge, the bridge...
However: A project...
... that needs artists and intellectuals, cultural people from all corners ... like Branko: