Dragan Klaic

Theatre scholar and cultural analyst

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Festival Watch: Train Stations Host Art Festivals

November 4th, 2010 · No Comments

Although high security concerns have prevented airports so far from hosting art festivals (How about a Schiphol festival of electronic music, an Arlanda festival of video art, a Gatwick festival of mime!?!) location driven festivals conquer such high frequency public places as railway stations and bus terminals. After a pilot in fall 2009 at the train station Leiden, NS Dutch railways have developed a NS Try Out Festival formula and implemented it on the stations Amersfoort, Groningen, Leiden and Eindhoven in the fall 2010, offering for 3 days at the end of the week a rich program of literature, music, film, performance and even masterclasses and educational projects, in cooperation with numerous local cultural organizations (www.nstryoutfestival.nl).

Seemingly, this is a cultural reconquista of the public space, emancipated from its core function in the mass mobility and offered to a great number of passersby as a cultural platform. A breakthrough in the affirmation of cultural democracy!? A proof that culture is not a hobby of the left nor just a passion of the elites, as the populist demagogues ardently claim!?

A bit of background research reveals, however, that NS engaged a marketing and concept development agency Merx (www.merx.nl) to implement this formula with a slogan directed at the travelers: “Take the next train!” (In the Netherlands, on the main railways corridors there is a train every 10-15 minutes). Consequently, the spokesperson of NS claims with pride that the average stay of passengers at the festivalized NS stations has been extended from 7 to 14 minutes. A strong corporate exposure of Philips, Mitsubishi, T Mobile and of the temp employment firm Manpower permeates the festival cultural programming, indicating that it actually serves to modify passengers behavior, stress the link between the well known brands and artistic experience and stimulate more consumption at the stations, thus ultimately boosting the value of the NS retail space rather than to affirm the quality of public space through cultural participation.

An additional proof of the ingenuity of cultural capitalism, an interesting case of public-private partnership, possible as long as the participating cultural organizations still receive public subsidies, now under the threat of the new Dutch government that is determined to reduce the national budget for culture of eur 820 million by eur 200 million. Is the NS getting ready with its corporate associates to foot the entire bill for the NS Try Out festivals in 2011?

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October 21st, 2010 · No Comments

On October 13 a panel of international and Polish experts announced in Warsaw the short list of cities applying to become the European Capital of Culture in 2016. Out of 11 submitted application, the panel short listed 5:  Gdansk, Katowice, Wroclaw, Warsaw and LUBLIN! Other 6 applications were rejected. Some weeks earlier, a panel of international and Spanish experts short listed 6 out of 15 submitted Spanish applications for the same year.

After working for almost a year on Lublin’s application, I am joining  my application co-authors Rose Fenton and Kris Czyzewski, and the entire Lublin application team  in celebrating this move. Lublin has now  9 months do develop and submit the definitive application.

Lublin application could be read

in Polish:


and in English:


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October 5th, 2010 · No Comments

(as published on www.signandsight.com on October 4, 2010)

An exhibition in the Amsterdam Verzetsmuseum celebrates Wally van Hall, the banker who used his financial connections to fund the Dutch Resistance movement during WWII.

By Dragan Klaic

Bankers have experienced a dramatic drop in social status thanks to the economic crisis. Humiliating public hearings featuring once mighty bankers in the U.S. Congress, court verdicts and fines against top financial brass have severed the profession of practically all moral authority. And recently the German Bundesbank expelled one of its board members, Thilo Sarrazin, for racist and Islamophobic positions in his book “Deutschland schafft sich ab. Wie unser Land aufs Spiel setzen” (DVA Munchen 2010). It must be quite a relief for the banking profession to see a monument to one of their own unveiled in front of the Nederlandsche bank in Amsterdam, followed by a exhibit opening in the Verzetsmusem, the museum of the Resistance movement.

The exhibition, “Wally van Hall, Banker of the Resistance Movement”, places a banker in the role of cultural hero and presents him as an icon of national history decades after this remarkable story sank into collective oblivion. Van Hall (1906-1945) was a Dutch banker who, like many others, continued his work after the Nazis occupied the Netherlands in May 1940, hoping that he would be able to prevent further damage. By 1943 he had set up the Nationaal Steunfonds (NSF), an illegal central bank of the resistance movement. The NSF generated and dispensed some 83 million gulden (the equivalent of 450 million euro today) to families whose breadwinners were deported to Germany, to people who hid Jews, to artists who refused to register with the Nazi Kulturkamer and were thus unable to practise their profession, to families of seamen stranded far from home by the war. Through a broad network of couriers on bicycles, cash reached those in need every week. The NSF also financed the underground printing of more than 150 titles, as well as the large scale forgery of identity documents and ration cards. In 1944, Van Hall paid wages to 30,000 railway workers who went on a long strike to slow down Nazi supplies while the Allies advanced from the south to liberate the Netherlands. As the man with cash, Van Hall effectively coordinated the fragmented and fractious Resistance movement of communists and Protestants, of conservative Oranje monarchists and leftist and liberal democrats, while moving around the country under various aliases. On January 27, 1945 he was arrested by the Nazis and shot in Haarlem on February 12. When the Netherlands was liberated in May 1945, the NSF still held a cash reserve of 23 million gulden.

The exhibit in the Verzetsmuseum explains how Van Hall was able to generate a huge amount of cash for the Resistance, using his connections with fellow bankers. There were gifts and there were large bank loans guaranteed by the Dutch government in London exile. Occasionally, violence was used, such as the assault by resistance fighters on the Rotterdam post office that brought the NSF half a million gulden. When the Nazis prohibited the circulation of 500 and 1,000 gulden banknotes, banks laundered the bills by exchanging them for smaller denominations for distribution by Van Hall. The tax authorities continued to send out income tax bills to wealthy individuals but instead of depositing their payments in the Nederlandsche Bank, sidetracked them to the NSF. Even more ingenious was the trick devised by Van Hall and his brother Gijs – whereby the resistance printers falsified government bonds of 100,000 gulden, which the treasurer general of the Nederlandsche bank switched with the real ones kept in the bank’s vaults. The real notes were then passed on to Van Hall, who cashed them in with the friendly banks. All these transactions were meticulously noted using a secret system devised by Van Hall to be untraceable in case of arrest: lenders received old shares (pre-revolutionary Russian Vladikavkaz coupons, for instance) and banknotes withdrawn from circulation whose serial numbers were pegged to the sums borrowed. After the war the holders of these documents were reimbursed by the Dutch authorities. When the railway strike forced Van Hall to increase his operation substantially, the Dutch government raised the guarantee and send a courier with the guarantee decree on a microfilm. The exhibition, an accompanying educational website and a cartoon version of Van Hall’s life successfully clarify the complex system of transactions for a lay audience, and for children in particular.

Thanks to Van Hall, the banking profession regains a little of its glamour or at least respectability. The monument by Spanish sculptor Fernando Sanchez Castillo honours a figure of patriotic commitment, courage and cleverness who applied his talents to the common good, rather than personal enrichment or corporate power. Van Hall’s modus operandi reflects the self-organising genius of Dutch civil society in the increasingly harsh conditions of war-time occupation, and recalls many ingenious methods of resistance by professionals who stayed on in their jobs and helped the underground movement. The resurrected memory of Van Hall provides a counter narrative to recent Dutch financial upheavals and traumas, such as the ABN AMRO split, Icesave’s betrayal of its clients, the Fortis debacle, the DBS bank collapse, and the sharp criticism by a parliamentary commission of the supervisory regime of the Nederlandsche bank boss A.H.E.M. Wellink. Many villains of those embarrassing stories are now being overshadowed by the young, self-assured, smiling, pipe-smoking Wally van Hall, the banker of the Resistance movement. And yet, if he and his companions succeeded in carrying out their transactions for the common good under the nose of the Gestapo, is it any wonder that today’s bankers, driven by greed rather than idealism, operating on globally through computer networks, cannot be kept in check by splintered national supervisory agencies?

Wally van Hall, bankier van het Verzet. September 3, 2010 to April 17, 2011. Verzetsmuseum, Plantage kerklaan 61, Amsterdam. Tu-Fri 10 am to 5 pm.


Dragan Klaic is a theatre scholar and cultural analyst, based in Amsterdam.


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An interview on the Balkan cultural constellation

September 12th, 2010 · No Comments

Balkan Incentive Fund for Culture is a joined operation of the European Cultural Foundation in Amsterdam (www.euroculture.org) and Arts and Culture Network Program of the Open Society Institute /Soros Foundations in Budapest (www.soros.org/initiatives/arts). With the suppport of the Sloven ministries of foreign affairs and culture, Asociacija, a platform of Slovene NGOs in culture, has been selected to function as the BIFC hub in the region. On the website of BIFC you can read an interview with me on the current Balkan cultural constellation, conducted by Katarina Pejovic:


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Operation Lublin

September 12th, 2010 · No Comments

Yes, indeed, I have been away from my own website for quite a while, deeply immersed in two long term projects: a book on public theater, now practically finished (more on it the next time) and a year long involvement with the Polish city of Lublin whose application to become the European Capital of Culture in 2016 I wrote with Rose Fenton of London and Krzysztof Czyzewski of Sejny. From January to June 2010, I have spent every month 3-4 days in Lublin, working with these two fellow experts and friends and with the local candidacy team. At the end of August the application was presented to the Polish Ministry of Culture, a 220 pages richly illustrated book in Polish and English versions. Ten other Polish cities submitted their own application as well. An international commission will announce the preliminary selection by mid October. Then 3-4 cities on the short list will have 9 months time to prepare the final application. Which Polish city will carry the title should become known by the end of 2011. In the meantime, a parallel procedure runs in Spain that will also nominate a cultural capital in 2016, from 15 cities that have submitted their applications. See http://kultura.lublin.eu in several languages.

Forthcoming European Capitals of Culture are: 2011 Turku (FI) and Tallinn (EST); 2012 Maribor (SLO) and Guimares (PT); 2013 Marseille (FR) and Kosice (SK); 2014 Riga (LAT) and Umea (SW); 2015 Mons (BE) and Plsen (CZ).

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Michaël Zeeman: an avid reader, a vehement critic

August 17th, 2009 · No Comments

As a cultural and literary critic, Michaël Zeeman, who died of brain tumor on July 27, aged 50, was more well known than well liked in the Dutch cultural circles, but such is the fate of critics: creation of enemies is their professional hazard. He was a very tall Dutchman, of intimidating posture and well projected voice. In his writing, he was also often intimidating and ruthless.

As many Dutch public figures of strong convinction, Zeeman was also a son of a Calvinist pastor who moved his family often from one village parish to another, making Michaël detached from boyhood friends and more attached to books. He lost his faith early and when he dared to question it, his father made him leave home. As a 17 years old, he started working in Leeuwarden in a bookstore, his natural habitat, where he begon to amass a personal library of over 20,000 books, later subject of a long courtsuit of the bookshop owner who accused him of theft. He started writing poems and book reviews, worked for the Rottedam Cultural Foundation under the legendary Paul Noorman, then became the editor of the cultural pages of the leading Dutch daily de Volkskrant in 1991, later editor of its Friday book section ”Cicero”. He was an erudite and voracious reader who wrote often about Central and Eastern European letters and helped establish its prominent authors, classics such as Bruno Schultz and Sándor Márai, and contemporaries as Győrgy Konrad and Aleksandar Tišma, in the Dutch book market. For several years he had his television program on books at the Dutch VPRO network. Since 2002 he lived as a free-lance correspondent and cultural commentator in Rome, contributing each week to de Volkskrant a book review, a column and often additional articles. He was also publishing in the German and French press.

By coincidence, my whole immersion in the Dutch culture and language in the last 18 years is much linked from the very beginning to Michaël Zeeman because he was the member of a small search committee, led again by Paul Noorman, that had the audacity to get me from Belgrade in 1991 to take over the Dutch Theater Institute in Amsterdam. I learned a great deal from Michaël in my cultural integration, both from our talks and his articles, which I read regularly and with relish, but with dictionary at hand. Over the years I got often irritated by de Volkskrant, even considered cancelling my subsciption but did not want to miss Michaël’s writing. When we would meet, I’d pull out the last juicy phrase from his recent articles for further exegesis. He introduced me to Multatuli, the maverick critic of Dutch colonialism, by giving me a Pinguin edition of Max Havelaar in English and surprised me with the travelogue of Edmondo de Amicis through the Netherlands at the end of 19th century, not knowing that De Amicis’ Il Cuore was one of the key books of my childhood.

Our first shared trip was just days after I moved to Amsterdam in December 1991, to Romania, an expedition of the informal cultural network Gulliver, set up by Steve Austen. I described this bizarre journey in more detail in my exilic memoir, how we moved in a freezing winter with the composer Peter Schat, playwright Heiner Mueller, historian Karl Schloegel and others, among the glaciers of the Romanian cutural landscape, left over by Ceausescu, chaperoned by Securitate veterans, now in service of the new regime. Other Gulliver adventures we shared in Istanbul and Paris and later also in Berlin, Belgrade, Vilnius and Skopje, sometimes under the auspices of Soul for Europe cultural initiative, thanks to Steve Austen’s stubborn cultural mapping and connecting strategies.

Even after Michaël moved to Rome, he was several times a month in the Netherlands as a much demanded moderator of public debates. I got used to bumping into him at Schiphol and other airports. Despite his frequent travels across Europe, he kept inserting himself in the Dutch debates and fought vehemently the anti-European sentiments and provincial self-pity about the supposedly endangered Dutch identity that have been plaguing the public life in the country in the last 7-8 years. As a polyglot, Michaël held the Dutch language in high esteem and handled it with much respect. As a cosmopolitan, he took it for his duty to point out with pride the peculiarities and specific values of the Dutch culture and letters to his fellow Europeans. As a public intellectual, he was a vehement critic of cultural nationalism, Dutch or any other. As a convinced European, he followed the twists and hiccups of the European integration process and its cultural aspects with much critical scrutiny and sarcasm. Inevitably, Dutch cultural life will become much more dry without Michaël Zeeman.

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SignAndSight.com Features Politics And Society 20/04/2009

April 21st, 2009 · 1 Comment



Politicians are turning Istanbul’s year as European Cultural Capital 2010 into a program for promoting real estate and tourism.

Ten days before President Obama’s visit to Istanbul at the beginning of the month, a different kind of cultural invasion swept over the Bosporus. The invader: Black/North SEAS. A 3 year old consortium organising international co-productions and collaborative programming, Black/North SEAS is led by Stockholm’s Intercult with the support of the EU Culture Programme. Starting in May 2008 in Odessa, Black/North SEAS has taken a travelling package of workshops, performances, exhibitions and installations designed for public spaces and, in June, moved it through small towns along the Romanian and Bulgarian Black Sea coast. From there, it descended upon Istanbul in March, and in autumn it will visit Scandinavian harbour cities and East Yorkshire, England. In 2010, more collaborations will follow. The initiative is a continuation of a SEAS program that, since 2003, has been connecting artists and cultural organizations from Baltic and Adriatic harbour cities, seen as gateways of intercultural engagement and laboratories of urban renewal. This month, in Istanbul, Black/North SEAS held a conference on urban mapping and culturally led urban development. It occupied public spaces with processions and installations and ran a series of workshops, exhibitions and performances by Turkish, Swedish, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Dutch and Norwegian artists. The organization is also preparing co-productions for 2010.

In spite of its size, the Black/North SEAS project still managed to go largely unnoticed by most people living in Istanbul. In that respect, Black/North SEAS raised—again—the question of how one creates a cultural impact in a city of almost 15 million inhabitants, few of whom attend cultural events. In the expanse of Istanbul neighbourhoods, cultural infrastructure is scarce and terribly inadequate, especially on the Asian side. But even on the European side, most cultural spaces were created by private initiative and are concentrated in the few square kilometres of Beyoglu, a traditional zone of European cultural presence featuring some splendid new museums and cultural centres. Two prominent public locations, the Ataturk Cultural Centre (AKM) in Taksim, home to the opera and symphonic orchestra, and the nearby Istanbul branch of the National Theater of Ankara have been closed for renovation. Two years after their closing, no renovation is in progress, and, on a sunny Friday afternoon, AKM employees held a benevolent protest in front of their house, once a bastion of secular republicanism, but now – some claim – in danger of losing some of its cultural integrity by serving as a profit-oriented congress centre. Still, in Beyoglu, small venues appear, created by artists who double as cultural entrepreneurs. Spaces such as Garaje, Talimhane Tryatrosu and Tütün Deposu are the most recent additions. The first took over part of a parking garage near Galata Lucée to create a dance space; the second is a former factory converted into a performance venue; the third is a former tobacco warehouse, used in 2005 for the Istanbul Biennial, and serving now as an art exhibition space. All are having difficulties surviving, in spite of enthusiastic audiences.

Santral is a cultural centre on another order of magnitude, ambition and complexity. A former electricity power plant from the beginning of the twentieth century, decommissioned and abandoned decades ago, this immense space at the northernmost part of the Golden Horn has now been leased by the authorities to the private Bilgi University. Bilgi University has created its third campus there, opening a museum of contemporary arts, a Museum of Energy, three restaurants and a splendid hostel that may one day function as a space for artists in residence. Santral is a long term, innovative project on a large scale, integrating higher education, cultural heritage and contemporary creativity in a manner never seen before in Turkey. University classroom blocks are simple but comfortable and well equipped, and the restaurants have become popular hangouts. With its ongoing international orientation, Bilgi is bringing academic and professional conferences to the campus. Hopefully, in due time, it will find ways to engage the poor neighbourhoods surrounding it. A free shuttle bus departs from central Taksim square every 20 minutes, and its journey has been shortened by a new tunnel the municipality opened a few weeks ago. Once again, private capital and especially private universities have reaffirmed their pioneering role in urban development.

In contrast, a public agency created to implement plans for Istanbul’s year as the European Cultural Capital 2010 has been wasting time and suffers from a lack of credibility. Calls for the submission of artistic projects have been delayed, and then stopped; some executives in charge of art grants have resigned; and members of the small and fragile contemporary art community say their attempts at getting any kind of assistance from the agency have proved consistently futile. Foreign colleagues, eager to develop artistic projects with Turkish partners, report frustrating delays, much uncertainty and little sensitivity to their needs. Politicians repeatedly signal in public that for them European Cultural Capital 2010 is not a matter of cultural development and a boost to the arts but rather a real estate improvement project to spur investments, jobs and more tourism. In 2005, when Istanbul’s candidacy was still being mulled over by the European Commission, I reported that many Istanbul cultural professionals perceived the honour as a potential real estate machination, without any cultural objectives. More than three years later, large scale gentrification plans are more extensive than any plausible or coherent cultural program. Immense reconstruction operations are being announced, and some of them appear brutally indifferent to the complex layers of the metropolis and its unique architectural features. For example, in the municipality of Beyoglu, gentrification began 15 years ago along the main pedestrian street and is now fanning out in all directions; a promotional video presents the area as a fancy upper-class residential district—and in so doing, sweeps away two centuries of urban history. But now the economic crisis has visibly slowed construction activity, and shrinking exports have weakened the Turkish currency.

Municipal elections the day after the end of the Black/North SEAS program weakened the predominance of the ruling AKP, confirming the steady position of the traditional secularist and now quite nationalist CHP party in Izmir and coastal towns. The DKP Kurdish party in eastern Anatolia also registered gains. The press has speculated that after these elections and Obama’s visit, AKP Prime Minister Erdogan will reshuffle his cabinet and split the present Ministry of Tourism and Culture in two, thus ending the longstanding subservience of culture to the promotion of tourism and spurring cultural development and cultural policy innovation. Another positive signal comes from Strasbourg, where Council of Europe experts will finally be allowed to evaluate Turkish cultural policy and to compare their evaluation with a comprehensive report prepared by the Turkish government itself. Greater Istanbul and most of its local municipalities remain in AKP hands, which could mean the continuation of benign neglect of contemporary cultural production, with sporadic invocations of the traditional, rural and religiously inspired aspects of culture in local, small scale events and programs.

In the past 25 years many European cities made poor use of their European Cultural Capital year, getting entangled in political fights, missing creative and networking opportunities and completing infrastructure projects only after significant delays. With a unique resilience fostered over millennia, Istanbul will survive this “special year,” as disappointing as it might turn out to be. Istanbul cultural professionals already have low expectations of public authorities and are concentrating on private support and foreign partners. Master’s programs in cultural management and policy at Bilgi and other universities are schooling a new generation of competent, resolute professionals who will hopefully grasp the advantages of multiple partnerships and joint advocacy. And admirers of Istanbul from all over the world will come back, eager to trade the follies of gentrification for the remains of the chaotic, topsy-turvy, irresistible Istanbul, full of the idiosyncratic mixtures, traditions and enterprising adaptability that have always fascinated travellers.

Read more of Klaic articles at signandsight.com heresignandsight.com – let’s talk european

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ASSITEJ BOOK 2008-2009: Theater Festivals. Celebration of Cultural Diversity

April 9th, 2009 · No Comments

The ASSITEJ yearbook for 2008-9 is Theater Festivals. Celebration of Cultural Diversity, edited by Wolfgang Schneider and Ivica Simic, published in Zagreb at the beginning of 2009 (ISBN 978 953 7208 1 8) by the Secretarian of the ASSITEJ Inernational. The leading block of contributions (over 100 pages) adresses the festivals of theater for children and youth. The book has been realized in cooperation with the European Festival Research Project and contains several contributions, developed from the EFRP research workshop on festivasl for children and youth, held in Moscow Praktika Theater at the end of 2008. The introduction essay by Dragan Klaic, “Shared Strategies of Resistence”, pleas for more research of festivals and for the international cooperation in this specific realm of the performing arts. Other festival related contributions are by Carsten Jansen, Boomer Stacy, Ellen Bianchini, Brigitte Dethier, Hishasi Simoyama, Marisa Gimenes Cacho and Thomas Frank. Preface by Wolfgang Schneider, President of teh World ASSITEJ. See: www.assitej-international.org

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Cultural Leadership

February 8th, 2009 · 1 Comment

Cultural Leadership Program (UK) is publishing an essay by Naseem Khan:Equality, Ledership, Possibilities: addressing social changewith supplementary essays by Robert Palmer, Kiril Razlogov, Dragan Klaic and few other authors. Seewww.culuralleadership.org.uk

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Back at the CEU

February 8th, 2009 · No Comments

I am back in Budapest, again as a Visiting Professor in the Department of Public Policy  of the Central European  University. I am teaching a  course on European cultural policies and systems in the MA program from February 16 to March 25, continuing to Istanbul on March 26 to give a 3 days seminar in the master program at the Bilgi University and take part in the Black Sea/North Sea program (see www.intercult.se).

The Public Policy Master Program  at the CEU will be adding a cultural policy stream from fall 2009, admiting 5 students who will specialize in cultural policy, take a package of courses in this field and write their master thesis under my supervision. The deadline for application is March 16, see


and financial aid is available.

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