The Slovak cultural sector is experiencing truly hard times. From the beginning of the pandemic until now, the government failed to take any relevant steps to mitigate the consequences and financial losses brought about by the suspension of cultural activities of all kinds. Tens of thousands of people have been unable to fully practice their professions since March, even though the majority of them have not received any financial assistance from the state.
Cultural centres and their executives courageously held out in the first phase of the pandemic under the prospect of a relaunch of activities at the end of this critical year. However, this idea faded with the onset of the second wave, and, with it, the competent authorities’ ignorance of the cultural sphere, as well as the aggressive arrogance of the general public, which began to express itself on social networks at any mention of financial assistance for artists.
Of the workers left entirely without income due to the coronavirus crisis, most have not yet been able to apply for state financial assistance. They found themselves in an existentially threatening crisis of subsistence and, as a result, often failed to meet the basic condition for state aid, which requires that applicants have no outstanding debts to the state. “It didn’t make sense to pay [tax and social insurance] contributions for work you’re not doing with income you don’t have,” stated Pavol Smolka of the Music Union of Slovakia, with faith that new guidelines will include a change to this rule.
Since June, the cultural sector and individual Slovak artists’ associations have called on Minister of Culture Natália Milanová to create a list of performers and cultural workers who have lost substantial planned income and profits due to the pandemic, so that the state will finally know who needs its assistance. The much-discussed need for this “list of artists” was public knowledge, much like the inevitability of a second wave of the pandemic. Still, when the second wave struck with full force and artists demanded action, the authorities again merely stated with regret that, unfortunately, they did not have a “list,” and so aid for culture was immeasurable and thus unfeasible.
Finally, in early October, after repeated calls from artists, the Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Republic published a survey for legal and natural persons working in the cultural sector. Slovak artists and cultural workers had until 19 October 2020 to complete the on-line form. The Ministry expects the survey to provide data on financial losses in individual cultural sectors, as well as information on the number of people working in the cultural and creative industries. The data obtained should measure the extent of lost profits and, at the same time, help to identify how workers in the cultural and creative industries are structured. This information will be used to determine how much extraordinary funding from the Ministry of Culture’s subsidy system will be necessary.
Current estimates indicate that the number of cultural workers in Slovakia is approximately 220,000, of whom 80,000 are estimated to be most affected by the coronavirus crisis. Performers make up about 20% of this number, with 80% composed of related professions or service staff.
Another response to the unbearable situation in the cultural sector was a welcome step in the form of an extraordinary call from the Slovak Arts Council (FPU), intended as a lifebuoy for culture. This call, issued under the auspices of the FPU with an allocation of 9.5 million euros, representing the bulk of the 11 million euro package that the Ministry of Culture (MK) of the Slovak Republic negotiated with the Ministry of Finance, closed on 8 October 2020.
Government officials encouraged artists to apply for stipends for new projects or components of artworks to be completed by 30 June 2021. However, this is a challenging condition at a time when it is difficult to predict whether or not theatres will open at all in 2021, to say nothing of the creation of new works. Further, the condition again applied that applicants with unpaid debts to the state are ineligible to apply, as a result of which the culture workers most in need of help fell through the net once again. Nevertheless, 4,176 artists and culture professionals applied for stipends of up to €3,000.
Another half million euros is to be redistributed through a call from the Fund for the Support of the Culture of National Minorities, with a further €700,000 to be invested to support cinema operators and film distribution.
On 7 October 2020, Minister of Culture Natália Milanová proposed an amendment to the Act on the Provision of Subsidies within the competence of the Ministry of Culture, which was subsequently approved by the Slovak government. Designed to address the current situation in the sector, the new law will amend the regulations governing subsidies. State subsidies will no longer be tied to specific projects and people working in parts of the culture sector not directly established by the state will request support via a survey, on the basis of which they will be included on a list. The new subsidy program to assist culture should come into effect on 1 November, following approval by Parliament.
Photo: Minister of Culture of the Slovak Republic Natália Milanová. Source: TASR