OPEN LETTER to the Panel of independent experts
of the project Novi Sad 2021 – European Capital of Culture
To members of the Panel of independent experts:
Sylvia Amann, Cristina Farinha, Agnieszka Wlazel, Ulrich Fuchs, Aiva Rozenberga,
Pauli Sivonen, Beatriz Garcia, Jiří Suchánek, Dr Suzana Žilič Fišer, Alain Hutchinson
In Novi Sad, September 13, 2018.
Dear Members of the Panel of independent experts,
We are addressing you as an association of citizens from Novi Sad with the Open Letter to inform you that at this moment, the Foundation „Novi Sad 2021 – European Capital of Culture“ implements the „New Places“ project in local communities and their institutions, disregarding the fact that they closed to independently organized citizens, their initiatives and civil society organizations. Hereby, we invite you to join in resolving the problem concerning the political conditions of work and the participation of civil society organizations in the social and cultural life of the community in which we live and which carries the title of the European Capital of Culture (ECoC), and whose work as an independent expert body you follow and correct.
With this Open Letter we would like to inform you about a specific situation in Novi Sad, since precisely in it and from it we testify to denial of support of this project to the development of civil society and the absence of political will to improve the overall cultural, economic, political and social potentials of the development of Novi Sad for all the people who live and create in it.
Considering that, as a civil society organization, we have been active in the field of civic activism and democracy for many years, but also in the field of independent contemporary cultural production, it is from these positions that we get an insight into the fact that the Foundation „Novi Sad 2021“, as the implementer of the ECoC project in 2021 in this city, does not have the capacity or the necessary degree of political autonomy to defend civil society, nor to appreciate the overall significance of culture in the processes of integration and democratic development of Novi Sad, and thus including wider European environment.
We are witnessing the collapse of the institutions of cooperation between government and civil society at the level of local government and the direct participation of citizens and their associations in the management of matters of public importance, where we’ve met exactly with the holders of the ECoC project. Namely, the Foundation „Novi Sad 2021“ at this very moment – the moment when the institutions and public spaces of local government and local communities are closed for citizens and their associations – develops the project of decentralization of culture („New Places“) and freely enters local communities with the desire to discover and support local initiatives in them, while it does not respond to our initiative even when it is invited to support it. We regard primary experience as an important element of any judgement and thought addressed to the public, and since it is the European project and the public far wider than the local, we address you and all independent actors, not only in culture, but also actors of civic activism and organizations that create a democratic space for all the processes and activities that people undertake to respond to the demands of the contemporaneity.
The Foundation „Novi Sad 2021“ has been invited to support our request for the opening of institutions and public places for communication and meeting of authorities with citizens and civil society organizations, but it responds to that invitation by withdrawing and dissociating from each participation in local political initiative that, among other things, also opens the issue of working conditions of organizations that operate in the culture and cultural policy of the city. We can illustrate this with the archive of correspondence and documented negotiations that we have conducted with local government authorities and with representatives of the Foundation „Novi Sad 2021“. The political parties usurpation of every public space and institution in Novi Sad has spilled over into local communities and cultural production domains, and we consider that the autonomous actions of independently organized people in Novi Sad are seriously endangered, while the integrity of the ECoC project carrier is under a big question mark.
Since the Panel’s latest objections (Report by the Panel of independent experts, First monitoring meeting, October 2017) focused on the insufficiently designed and elaborated creative and artistic side of the Novi Sad project as the European Capital of Culture and the festival character of most of its programs and activities, we will draw your attention to the structure of such a festival character of culture in our city. It is based on the simulation of real creative processes and disregard for the real creative potentials of the inhabitants of this city, manifested by the political demands for equal participation in its social and cultural life. Behind the festival culture is the festivalization of real social and political life in order to present it in a false light to the European public and gain legitimacy for the authorities that systematically ignore the real needs of citizens and society.
We are writing this Open Letter still from the conviction that we share the view that only clearly expressed political will can respond to the challenges that today’s European societies and people living in them face. But also with the conviction that the people of the states that are in the process of joining the EU are left to themselves if the European community does not share with them the politics of courage and respect for political and cultural differences that require free access to institutions of governance and decision-making that does not lead to empty declarations and simulations of democratic life.
We use this opportunity to let you know that also in the critical public of our community, the opinion is formed that the EU supports the current government because it committed itself to fulfilling the tasks set by the international community before it, and the first among them is the recognition of Kosovo’s independence. The support of the authorities that suppresses all forms of free expression and association by systemic control of the media and the creation of an odium towards civil society can not be in the interest of the citizens of any European country, let alone the ones to join the EU in front of which such a difficult political task is placed.
We would like to inform you that Novi Sad, a city that holds the title of the European Capital of Culture, at the same time is a city where there is no possibility of political presence and access of civil society organizations to institutions of governance and decision-making in local communities and local government. Although the condition for candidacy for the capital of culture was cooperation with independent actors in cultural production, the city authorities refused to open the doors of their institutions for the active participation of non-governmental associations, and this is concealed in all possible ways from the European public and institutions in charge of monitoring the activities of the ECoC project.
We are convinced that European cultural politics rests on the participation of people who autonomously and freely associate and organize because it is not only a condition for democratic cultural politics, but also for the overall democratization of society and the rule of law.
Our interest and intention in this moment is to invite you to engage in the negotiations that we are leading with city cultural politics holders, whose strategic documents and project proposal for the ECoC would not be compiled nor harmonized with the values of this Action of the European Commission without civil society, with whom they refuse to communicate.
With this Open Letter, we invite you to realization of several concrete steps:
To an e-mail reply from your side confirming the reception of this Open Letter;
To a joint meeting during your official visit to Novi Sad, which, according to our knowledge, was planned in the course of the current 2018, in order to publicly and openly discuss the problem we are witnessing with primary experience;
To consider the issue at the next Panel and monitoring meeting of Novi Sad 2021 ECoC and to include a proposal for its resolution in the official report of the meeting.
Group for Conceptual Politics
Novi Sad, Republic of Serbia