The Other: About the Role of Art and Culture in the Balkans

November 2005 -

The European Cultural Foundation (ECF) started a Balkan Reflection Group early in 2005. This group has focused in particular on the part that art and culture play in the political changes in Yugoslavia and Albania, and on the possibilities art and culture offer as factors for reconciliation and development.

On 1 December 2005 the ECF, in cooperation with the HIVOS, has organised a conference in the Peace Palace in The Hague entitled The Heart of the Matter, in which more than one hundred policy makers, artists and journalists will discuss the part culture can play in integrating the Balkan into the European Union. Violeta Simjanovska, a cultural manager from Macedonia, will explain her views on this topic.

About the Balkans

What is the first thing that comes into your mind when the Balkan is mentioned? Is it the cultural values that are achieved in this region? Or do you have another association?
"It is a fact that there is a widespread negative perception of the Balkans, especially in Western cultures. It is also a common fact that ‘Balkanization’ (a word created in early 20th century Europe) marks not only the change of political units and cultures, but it is also a synonym for returning to the primitive and the barbarian. Finally, the Balkan is often described as the other in relation to Europe."

About the Role of Art and Culture in the Balkans

"The Balkan has been faced with tense relations on various levels that sometimes may have escalated into undesired directions, especially in the last fifteen transitional years. With the whole political, economic, social and security context of this region in mind, it may sound absurd to talk about art and culture as an important factor for development and stabilization. However, it should be emphasised that artists, workers in the field of culture and intellectuals have contributed favourably to these tense relations either by calming them or by offering wider cultural and intellectual perspectives.

"It should also be underlined that the influence of Art and Culture with all its activities in the Balkan in recent years was a necessary part of the wider process of adjusting the relations between the nations, cultures, histories and territories. In this very significant process, the artists and intellectuals, as well as the representatives of the NGO sector were the first to start a dialogue and enhance the democratic environment."

About the mutual vision

"Overcoming the borders and stereotypes and sharing the common European vision for the pluralism of orientations, and implementing this in everyday life, will mean changing our mental maps. This process has already started, and it is only a question of time when Culture and Art will have become tools of communication for the other in order to be creative and to be the essential component of a democratic movement, of integration, of plurality and freedom. These are, after all, very important bases for our further social, cultural and economic development. "

Violeta Simjanovska is the Executive Director of the PAC (Performing Arts Centre) Multimedia in Skopje, Macedonia. She is involved in many cultural cooperation projects in Macedonia and Europe.