A State Budget
and/or a Market of Subsidies?
This report refers to two mutually complementary mechanisms of financing culture. Unfortunately, Bulgarian society still seems to consider them warring alternatives.
Existing attitudes are demonstrated in the state's bias against public (i.e. independent from central executive power) funds, where certain economic actors could invest financial resources. There is a tendency to 'trim' legal opportunities for the existence of such funds and thereby inhibit the creation of a market of cultural subsidies.
The current condition of the so-called 'market' of subsidies is summed up by the national (state-controlled) 'Culture' fund and a couple of foundations. The tendencies towards centralisation and greater control by the state are verified by the liquidation of legal opportunities for the existence of non-budget accounts of cultural organisations (in The Protection and Development of Culture Act, Article 33).
When examining the issue of the equality of cultural organisations we should stress not the form of ownership (state, municipal, private, etc.) but rather the state-created conditions that would make the striving of cultural organisations to be registered as governmental a pointless exercise.
The process of privatisation is based on the assumption that private property is better managed than state property. This axiom has led to the 'suggestion' that the state should cede its property in the cultural sphere.
However, practice has shown that although the form of ownership is indeed related to management, it is hardly a mantra that automatically improves its quality. Besides, is the 'logic' of privatisation really suitable for the non-economic sector and for culture in particular? Are we not paying a rather hefty (if logical) price by abandoning Bulgarian culture in the jungle of the 'free' market and leaving our society in growing spiritual poverty? This political short-sightedness is paving the way for a general decrease in professionalism that will have a long-lasting effect on culture.
The state keeps regarding private subsidising organisations as mere objects of taxation and political racket without creating the necessary conditions for their normal existence. This inhibits the emergence and subsistence of a market for subsidies. Besides, the legal instruments of donation and sponsorship accumulate limited financial resources that cannot replace the support the state should provide to Bulgarian culture. The strategic perspective is associated not with replacing the state but with correcting the way it behaves. There should be plenty of public funds independent from the state, which would accumulate and allocate greater financial resources. Please bear in mind that in years of economic crisis non-profit organisations (such as the Open Society Foundation) have allocated greater financial funds for culture than the state has. Culture is a value whose manifestation requires a suitably conditioned environment rather than never-ending requests for money. The problems and unknowns come from the methods and mechanisms of creating such an environment.
Demanding better conditions for the emergence of public funds and organisations as a certain corrective to state subsidising is a strategic goal of every civic-oriented society. Normally societies should aspire to correct the untimely, inadequate and situational interferences of individual politicians and the state administration in the artistic sphere. A guarantee against such cases could be the existence of a market of subsidies the artist can resort to if dissatisfied with the terms offered by the state. The stabilisation of this practice is of primary importance.
There is another possible strategy as well. The state could improve the public management of culture by delegating some of its rights (e.g. by concession) to privately owned entities which would allocate state subsidies in a given cultural sector for a limited period of time. These organisations should be rotated to avoid the misuse of power. Such political thinking about culture is possible but not easily feasible in Bulgaria, as it is dependent on the ever-changing political situation. I think that the harder, slower and complicated way of providing the necessary conditions for the emergence of a market of subsidies is the steadier and more promising perspective. Of course, it doesn't exclude the former and it is best to think of them as convergent rather than mutually exclusive.
Ivan Kabakov is an assistant professor at the Cathedre of History and Theory of Culture to the "St. Kliment Ochridski" Sofia University.