Cultural Workers Critical of Govt Covid Support

By , 22 May 2020, 11:44 AM Lifestyle
Cukrarna, a new contemporary art centre in Ljubljana, coming "soon" Cukrarna, a new contemporary art centre in Ljubljana, coming "soon" © Igor Andjelić

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Slovenia has declared the covid-19 epidemic over, and the country is re-opening for business, but it will be some time before things get back to normal, and certain parts of the economy, culture and society may never return.

While the focus of many has been on tourism, the most high profile industry in the country, along with the restaurants, cafés and bars that provide venues for much of Slovenia’s social life, less attention has been paid to culture – one of the reasons why people enjoy visiting the country, and the expression of those who live here – and how this will continue to be impacted by the crisis. Although some venues, such as Kinodvor, are planning to reopen 1 June, social distancing is likely to continue to make things difficult for the foreseeable future, leading to a fall in ticket sales, loss of revenue, and thus fall in income for those who work in the sector. Not just performers, writers and artists, but all those whose work supports their endeavours.

Moreover, the continued support that’s being offered to some sectors, such as tourism, is being withheld from culture.

It’s in this context that representatives of the industry recently sent an the following open letter to Dr Vasko Simoniti, the Minister of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia (somewhat freely translated, with the original here):

We invite you to make clear to the Slovenian cultural public the key things to which you are obliged to explain due to your the ministerial position.

State the arguments or reasons why at the government session on 19 May 2020, during the adoption of the "third stimulus package" for resolving the (post-) corona crisis you did not protect the sector for which you are responsible and about which we have regularly informed you of the problems and sent you in-depth appeals for help.

Please reveal your plan for how you plan to take care of the sector, which is entering a "dead season" and will be much more malnourished by the autumn than it was during the epidemic, when you allocated at least some funds to it – albeit with restrictions.

If you continue to remain silent, we will interpret this as meaning do not intend to deal with the majority of the cultural sector, especially the weakest and most endangered parts, and you will narrow the culture to a system of public institutions and heritage.  

Once again, we suggest that the Ministry take more account of the workers for which it is responsible and, in order to plan further assistance to the self-employed after the end of the epidemic, form a special working group in which they can participate.

The letter was sent out on Wednesday, 20 May, under the name of the Group for Assistance to the Self-Employed in Culture during Kovid 19 (Skupine za Pomoč samozaposlenim v kulturi v času Kovid 19), with the signatories being Miha Zadnikar, Urška Jurman, Andrej Srakar, Petja Grafenauer and Beti Žerovc.

The next day the Minister responded to inquiries by Dnevnik, once again freely translated:

They got everything they asked for. In preparing the second stimulus package the Ministry listened to all the comments of the self-employed in culture. The first package was accused of forgetting the majority of the self-employed, noting that they were not guaranteed regular pay for their work and that the criterion for proving loss of income in relation to that earned in February 2020 [was inappropriate for this group]. We found a solution to this problem, which was also adopted by the government. In the second package the loss of income could be proven based on the average monthly income last year, thus providing more support for such workers.

Moreover, cultural NGOs were able send their workers on furlough, with the state covering the payment of salaries and welfare contributions, while the Slovenian Film Center (Slovenski filmski center) and the Public Book Agency (Javna agencija za knjigo) were able to pay salaries and bills without interruption.

It would thus be extremely dishonest to say that the Ministry is unresponsive to the initiatives of the cultural sector, especially the self-employed, who got everything they asked for in the second package.

However, Dnevnik went on to ask about the future, and whether any further assistance would be provided to cultural sector in the coming months, but no response was given.

As the weather improves and people start going out again, albeit without any foreign tourists on the streets and in seats, the question of how Slovenian culture will continue to thrive at the grass roots level remains an open one, as do the long-term effects of the coronavirus crisis – round 1 – on so many parts of life that make the country such an appealing one to live in, and to visit.

The photo at the top of this story is by Igor Andjelić. You can see more of his work here

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