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Observatory of Cultural Economics
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Series of pre-election Debates of the topic Culture & Policy (2009-2017) (with preliminary preparation of analytical research text about: the role of the President and Bulgarian culture, role of the municipalities and Bulgarian culture, role of eu for the Bulgarian culture, financing and legislation of arts and cultural industries and other topics).

Cultural Policy and Civil Society

Bulgarian Culture and the Presidential Institution 

Bulgarian Culture and Sofia Municipality 


Debate as a tool for policies. Shortages and compensations. (On the example of the 'Culture and Politics' (2009-2014) campaign debate[1]


Assoc. Prof. Dr. Biliana Tomova[2]



The debate is a tool of policy-making not from today, and perhaps that is why the oratories have been part of the leader's charisma since antiquity. In the current Bulgarian political reality, it is increasingly difficult to meet in one sentence the words debate and leader.

For politics, debate is a bright form of visibility and image-building. That is why debate is equally an opportunity and a threat. In our modern political times, this instrument has entered slowly and was adopted with the fear of the emerging new political class. For the individual voter, the creation of opinion and political stance through the pre-election debate proved to be a desirable solution: in the atmosphere of competition and with the scandal and show elements, you can catch up on the missed information from the election marathon.

What is the debate about civil societies on the "new European markets"? A late-emerging tool for civil society development, at least nationally? The answer is regrettably "yes".

The first step in this direction in 2009 is made by the civil society in the sector of Bulgarian culture by means of a series of debates "Culture and Politics" (2009-2014) organized by the Observatory of Cultural Economics - a non-governmental organization founded in 2008. and consisting of researchers and lecturers in the field of culture economy, cultural funding, European law, cultural policies.

Why in culture?

The answer is multi-layered, but what is visible at the top of the iceberg "national cultural policy" is the extreme stalemate in the sector, the chaotic and radical transition to a market principle in the 1990s, which led to: difficulties for the national film industry, the music industry, a drastic contraction in the consumption of cultural products, the disappearance of educational majors in arts schools, endless reforms in the performing arts, salaries slightly higher than the minimum for the country. And lastly, the transformation of the creators of the spirit into peripheral market entities - a subject of residual funding, because culture was no longer an ideology and as a propaganda tool was quietly turned into a local reflection of the global trends of multiculturalism.

The nature of many cultural products (performing arts, film industry, etc.) carries the crises and not the resilience as a genetic element. This is a rational argument for state support that predetermines the leading role of public funding of the cultural sector not only in Bulgaria but also as part of the European cultural model of governance and financing.  [3]

As a catalyst for the above-mentioned factors, one must not forget that the Bulgarian culture has an unshakable authority in society. For example, in the Bulgarian cinema history, there are worthy names with a clear civic position, there are banned films (Binka Zhelyazkova, Hristo Ganev) by special decrees of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party on the state of cinematography. This is the art from which the later dissident sentiments in the country begin, and the guild is set against anti-conformism.

The first well-founded civil claims were launched from this guild and came to a first-ever Partnership Agreement between the Committee on Culture, the Civil Society and the Media at the 41st National Assembly, the Ministry of Culture and civil and trade union organizations in the field of culture. (December 2010) - "Public authorities and civil unions mutually respect their complementary competencies in the formation, updating and implementation of the national cultural policy .....» [4]

One cannot overlook the fact that the Agreement was preceded by 4 street protests:

·         December 1, 2010 / before the National Assembly

·         December 3, 2010 / before the Ministry of Culture and peaceful procession to the Council of Ministers and the National Assembly

·         December 9, 2010 / in front of the National Theater "Ivan Vazov"

·         December 14, 2010 / in front of the Council of Ministers

And the chronology of events (gaining prominence in media coverage as the "film rebellion") to reach the Agreement is a series of meetings that reveal a formed civil society in Bulgarian culture and in particular in the Bulgarian film industry:

Meetings at the Council of Ministers, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Culture

·         December 11, 2010 / three representatives of the film community meet the Prime Minister

·         December 14, 2010 / Meeting of representatives of the film community with the Prime Minister

·         15, 16, 20, 21, 22 December 2010 / meeting of a working group between the film community and representatives of the Ministry of Culture at the Council of Ministers

·         December 23, 2010 / Meeting of representatives of the film community with the Prime Minister

·         11 January 2011, 15 pm / meeting of the film community at the Ministry of Culture

·         January 11, 2011 , 17 pm / meeting of the film community at the Ministry of Finance

·          January 12, 2011 / Meeting of representatives of the film community with the Prime Minister

·         January 14, 2011, at 15 pm / meeting of the film community at the Ministry of Culture


Therefore, in this environment, the pre-election debate "Culture and Politics" (2009-2014) naturally grew into a real tool for the development of civil society. Debates have as their stated purpose:

·         Forming a new model for policy-making.

·         Overcoming bargaining and marginalizing the idea of ​​informed choice.

·         Seeking guarantees of sustainability by assuming joint commitments from the three subjects of cultural policy - the state, business and civil society.


For nine years, nine pre-election debates "Culture and Politics" were held. They are tied to Parliament, Local, Presidential and European Parliament elections and are in the following order:

May-June 2009, The Red House Center for Culture and Debate, 15, Ljuben Karavelov, Sofia

Three Pre-election Debates on Culture and Politics with areas:

 1. "Cultural Heritage"

 2. "Cultural Industries (Film production)"

 3. "Bulgarian Culture - Priorities, Future Responsibilities, Legislative and managerial commitments"


September 29, October 6, 2011, House of Cinema, 37 Ekzarh Yosif, Sofia.

4. Candidate-Presidential Debate "Bulgarian Culture and Presidential Institution"


"Mr Ivailo Kalfin, President- nominee of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, Mrs Meglena Kuneva (expert Iglika Trifonova) and Mr Volen Siderov, the presidential candidate from the Ataka political party, will be present. A refusal from two of the headquarters - we received a rejection at the last minute from Mr. Plevneliev and a refusal by Mr. Rumen Hristov (letter) "

From the stenography of the debate


5. Candidate-Municipal Debate "The Bulgarian Culture and Sofia Municipality",



"Of the five invitations we had sent to five different pre-election headquarters, there were four candidates with their experts. These are Ms. Yordanka Fandakova from the political party GERB, Mr Proshko Proshkov from the Union of Right Forces, Mr. Kadiev from the Bulgarian Socialist Party and Mr. Vladimir Karolev from NMSS. Today, at noon, we received a rejection from Mr. Pehlivanov from the Ataka political party. Because of the impossibility and load in the program, he is unable to attend. "

From the stenography of the debate


3rd  and 4th April 2013, Goethe-Institute, "Budapest" Str. 1, Sofia

 6. Pre-election debate "The Bulgarian Culture - Strategic Planning, Financing and Legislation"

 7. Pre-election debate "Regional cultural policy - problems and possible solutions"


May 13, 2014, House of Cinema, 37 Ekzarh Yosif Str., Sofia.

8. "The Bulgarian Culture in the Context of the European Parliament 2014 Elections"

September 29, October 6, 2011, House of Cinema, 37 Ekzarh Yosif Str., Sofia.

 9. « The Bulgarian Culture and the Parliamentary Elections 2014

 The subject of the debate is Bulgarian culture. Subject - Putting the expertise potential in cultural policies and policy-making by awakening public attention from the civil sector. The objectives of the Culture & Politics debate are:

·         Debating Culture & Politics to become a traditional tool for civil monitoring in the field of culture;

·         The presentation of Bulgarian culture in the pre-election programs, and subsequently in the management programs at different institutional levels, should become an axiomatic requirement and an indivisible status quo of any political ambition;

·         Publicizing and debating publicly relevant topics to become a necessary tool to involve all stakeholders in policy-making;

·         Strengthen the right of civil society to declare its interest and to participate directly in the decision-making process; to move forward to the so-called good governance and open governance.


The organizer is the Observatory of Cultural Economics and the main vision is that: "For the benefit of both the whole society and the success of the policies of the future National Assembly and the Council of Ministers, it is especially important that the political parties' public debate in order to be recognizable, take into account topical issues and issues through the opinion of civil society, be enriched by stakeholder expertise and get the widest possible support as early as possible during the election period. "

An algorithm is created to organize debates in the following order:

·         Participants in the pre-election debates are invited to the first six by political parties according to the polls, who have declared their participation and made a registration in the CEC for the parliamentary elections, local and other elections.

·         The debate is two hours on premises that are most often a cultural institute providing free space for the debate.

·         The audience of the debate consists of artists, representatives of associations, guilds and trade unions in culture and the arts, representatives of employers and culture managers, sponsors, patrons, business representatives, non-governmental sector, experts and researchers as well as the media. Also, representatives of the Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works, Ministry of Education, Youth and Science, Sofia Municipality are invited.

·         In preparation for the debate, a short analytical text (20 to 70 pages) on the topics of the debate finalized with questions is prepared and provided in advance to both the candidates and the audience. The organizers, ie. The Observatory considers that this is the only possible productive basis for the discussions due to: the ignorance by politicians of the specifics and problems of the sector, the need for expert assistance and the weak public attention to the sector and its gradual marginalization, as well as the removal of its ideological expectations and its relatively small relative share.

·         The text is sent to 1500 addressees - the aforementioned audience, as well as 300 journalists.

The topics of the debates are related to specific but also principled issues in the arts, cultural and creative industries, cultural heritage and cultural tourism. They are analyzed analytically in the disseminated research text, which ends with a series of questions around which the debate is expected to take place[5].

Did the deficits identified through the debates get compensations, that is, real achievements (of ideas, commitments and promises) of the debates?

Achievements that are recognizable and have become an element of "good governance" can be divided into several management levels depending on the specific election debate.

Debate for parliamentary elections

·         Culture became part of the parties' pre-election program. So far, those parties are key players in the national political life. 

·         Culture is part of the program of five Ministerial Councils.

·         The Culture Pact, which sets out 1% of GDP for culture, and was first raised as an idea in one of these debates (2014), has become a national cause in the field of culture and today has a common national petition.

Debate on presidential elections

·         An Advisory Council to the President for a National Culture Strategy (2012) was set up.

Debates on local elections

·         A Culture Strategy for Sofia (2012) was established.

·         Sofia joined the network of creative cities of UNESCO and was awarded the title "Sofia City of Film".

·         A strategy for the development of the film industry in Sofia (2016) is being created.


Today we are again in a pre-election situation, and the lack of a traditional debate policy in Bulgarian society does not like the so-called "average voter". It can be seen as an achievement of the past years that the shortage of debates is already an accepted lack. Here is just a glimpse of the most popular social networking Web, which today we can accept for the village pub where Elin Pelin's stories explain politics:

"The escape from debate, diverting from engagement in ancient Greece was perceived as ... a crime as a criminal act ... an expression of an undisguised disregard for the human interest of the community." Facebook 03.11.16

 "Society must articulate absolute intolerance to candidates for public office who escape from debates." Facebook 03.11.16

Shortages are identified and this is already a fact of a new political culture.




[1] After the writing of this material the debate "CULTURE & POLITICS 2017 - BULGARIAN CULTURE AND PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS" took place. It was held on February 28, 2017 (17:00 - 19:00) in the National Gallery of Art - Square 500, "St. Al. Nevski Square" Hall 19, Sofia.

[2] The report was presented at the Scientific Conference "Raising the Interest in Political Science at the University of National and World Economy", UNWE 4 November 2016


[3] Tomova B., Market Transformation of the Cultural Sphere, in "Market Transformation of the Socio-Cultural Sphere" "STOPANSTVO", 2007, Tomova B., Bulgarian Film Industry: The Sun and Shadow of the Transition. Markets. Policies. Deficits. Scientific papers of UNWE vol. 3/2014, Publishing house "STOPANSTVO", University of National and World Economy, 197-231c.

[4] Annex 1 Partnership Agreement

[5] Appendix 2 - Questions for debate. Part of the analytical text to debate 8. "Bulgarian culture - in the context of the European Parliament elections 2014"

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