Researchers from the Institute of Art Studies have voiced their opinions concerning the Draft National Strategy for Development of Research 2016-2025. We are offering herein an excerpt of the letter containing the Institute’s stance.
‘Reaching a nationwide political consensus’ on the development of science is a must. The efforts of the Ministry of Education and Science to draw up such a set of documents and to bring such a draft strategy up for public discussion are highly commendable; still the tight deadlines established for institutions such as our Institute for expressing their opinions in writing seem impossible to meet. This ‘vision’ is a real challenge, which requires a thorough revision, specifying, and a discussion involving researchers from all areas of study.
The wording ‘Better Research for a Better Bulgaria–2025’ deserves praise and it is our belief that it has been formulated by the authors of the Strategy by reason of their absolute confidence that science and knowledge in general are not just a means to preserve our national and intellectual identity, but a matter of national security and independence.
Taking into account the fact that such a document and its addenda are being mapped out for the first time, commonplaces and bureaucratic clichés or too general terms such as ‘innovations’ and R&D that fail to take into consideration the specifics of particular fully-fledged branches of science, which require more precise definitions, are hardly avoidable.
Still, the aspiration for setting aside 0.45 % of the GDP for public-funded research in the future is too modest, to say the least, falling to keep in mind the relevant rates across the EU Member States, we’d measure up to or rather strive to catch up with. The Strategy is vague, for instance, as to why public funding earmarked for R&D in 2025 is expected to amount to 0.67 %. An explanation is needed in this regard about the discrepancies between the Strategy’s action plan and the indicative table therein.
There is hardly a researcher in Bulgaria who is not in favour of increased investment in public-funded research though no ways have been specified as to how it would be achieved, which makes them seem both very modest and utopian in the Strategy. We appreciate the aspirations for ‘transition to performance-based funding’ and modernisation. These are feasible all right, but only if public funding for research would triple at the least.
It is right to ‘redirect increases in the budget to sectors that have undergone international evaluation’; still, there are branches of science dealing with and establishing the national identity in such areas as history, language, culture, arts, and faith, which, owing to their national mission, traditionally are not rated highly when making international assessments. These though have to be prioritised by all Bulgarian cabinets upholding the interests of this country. The suggested ‘collaboration between research and industry’ is irrelevant either, when it comes to our role in Bulgarian humanities.
Art researchers are particularly embarrassed over the use in the Strategy of the term anthropology, which is in fact identical to a science too, rather than over the fact that the National Identity and Anthropology. Social and Economic Development and Management is placed at the bottom of the priorities of R&D&I, or the fact that the Roadmap for the Implementation of the National Strategy for Development of Research 2025 fails to consider this priority area. Anthropology is the study of humans and humankind in a theological sense solely, as opposed to theology (the study of the nature of God). This passage has apparently been translated from a foreign language, English in all probability, but there is a strict division between cultural and physical anthropology even overseas. In France it is called social anthropology and this branch of knowledge has been used to a great extent by Bulgarian ethnographers and folklorists who, following 1989, began dealing with ethnology. Indeed, methods of cultural/social anthropology, unlike the theory of evolution, are applied in history of art (art criticism) and that is why such a phrasing is both inaccurate and misleading. We’d suggest in this regard the word anthropology to be replaced with cultural and historical heritage in the abovementioned sixth priority. On the other hand, it is worthy of note that the correspondence between the priority area National Identity and Anthropology. Social and Economic Development and Management and the thematic field New Technologies in Creative and Recreational Industries under the Innovation Strategy for Smart Specialisation (IS3) is underestimating.
Bulgarian humanities can in no case be limited to producing video games or digitisation of cultural monuments to be eligible to receive funds for research. Bulgarian humanities need commitment to be displayed and strong support to be provided by the government for the studying, preserving and standing up for a centuries-old culture that identifies us as Europeans. The EU programmes are providing globalising and high-tech guidelines, which should in no way restrict the EU Member States from having their own thematic fields pertaining to the development and enhancement of the individual nations.
A ‘strategically oriented’ company has already released a video game, Monks Beating Pigs, played against the backdrop of the Rila Monastery, i.e. both an entertainment and familiarisation with a historical site of cultural significance are offered. The monks though brought a case of compensation for loss of earnings before a court of law and were financially compensated for the use of representations of the cultural monument in a kitschy recreational product. This triumph of jurisprudence has recently emboldened the same clerics to ban or tarnish the reputation of worthy studies that are using photos of the cloister. There is no such thing as anthropology in this case, but rather we are dealing here with anthropogeny, and in its earliest stage too.
Assoc. Prof. Emmanuel Moutafov, PhD
Institute of Art Studies
Bulgarian Academy of Sciences