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Belgrade Philharmonic's Quirky Director is Serbia's New Minister of Culture

Outspoken pianist and conductor Ivan Tasovac is once again turning heads in Serbia, not for his wild grey hair, sharp tongue or bold choices, but for his appointment as the country's minister of culture.

Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dačić completed the reshuffle of his government on August 29, 2013 putting an end to two months of negotiations with his coalition partner and deputy prime minister, Aleksandar Vučić. The 18-member cabinet will include 11 new ministers and several independent experts. Among some of the more surprising choices is Tasovac as Minister of Culture. The very opinionated Tasovac accepted the nomination and assumed office on September 2.

Ivan Tasovac at a press conference for the premiere of the film "Age of Stupid", 2009; photo courtesy of Media Center Belgrade www.mc.rs, used with permission.

Ivan Tasovac at a 2009 press conference for the premiere of the film “Age of Stupid”. Photo courtesy of Media Center Belgrade, used with permission.

Tasovac has been the director of the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra since March 2001. Under his leadership, the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra has become one of the most respected cultural institutions not just in Serbia but in other parts of the world. He is very popular on Twitter with about 40,000 followers, and he is admired for his quick wit and vibrant personality in popular Serbian culture. Tasovac in recent years has become very popular among Serbian netizens because of his fearlessness, sharp mind and because he is among those who do things differently, break the rules and bring necessary change to the establishment.

The new minister of culture in recent years has attracted public attention with his unusual, extraordinary approach to promoting the Philharmonic: by introducing pop music to the repertoire and performing classical music and jazz on the streets of Belgrade. The video below shows an impromptu performance in which a part of the Philharmonic Orchestra plays in a downtown Belgrade street strewn with cafes and bars. This was in fact part of a guerrilla campaign under the controversial slogan “Thanks for not coming”, referring to the dwindling attendance of audiences to Philharmonic concerts in previous years. The campaign attracted a lot of attention in the entire country and that season was sold out for the Belgrade Philharmonic:

Some at the time had fierce, critical reactions to the somewhat aggressive form of advertisement. Tasovac recorded a video statement after those reactions and released it to the public on YouTube, for which he received several standing ovations on social networks at the time: 

Reactions, however, are diverse. Some believe that Tasovac will strongly contribute to the development of culture in Serbia, while others are skeptical. Popular Serbian actor, Branislav Trifunović, referring to the fact that Tasovac was being praised by the very politicians he usually criticizes, tweeted:

If Tasovac survives until the end then I can swear that all these people praising him now will soon begin to insult him because he won't be merciful!

As soon as the nomination was made public, online media and social media users began collecting the new minister's tweets in which he criticized, often humorously, the current government and many of its individual members. Igor Lazarević, a management consultant from Belgrade, tweeted one of the popular collections:

Thus tweeted Tasovac: http://t.co/0Uke5g3wLy

Others, like user @Schatzglue on Twitter, posed the question:

How will Tasovac continue to spit on the establishment on Twitter now if he will be the establishment too?

Similarly, Twitter user Nikola from the Bačka region of Serbia, wrote:

As soon as Tasovac became Minister of Culture, he handed his conductor's baton to [First Deputy Prime Minister] Vucicu.

Aside from his musical talent and excellence, Tasovac is best known for his rowdy hair and his many fans have always liked that he refused to tame his hair to fit the norm. Many took to that particular feature when commenting on his new position in the new government:

http://t.co/0wpPxAsZaf Tasovac won't have the same hairdo in 33 days – it will either be standing even higher on his head or he'll be left without any hair!! pic.twitter.com/ZTkk3YMk6u

I accidentally ran into the biggest condition Tasovac has given [Prime Minister] Dacic to become Minister of Culture. pic.twitter.com/eBIMdqi1K7

They're cute :) TASOMANIJA: This is what the government would look like if Tasovac was Prime Minister! – Telegraf.rs http://t.co/4NIcqr9OiV via @telegrafrs

Although the vast majority of users seem happy with the choice, many are still surprised and in disbelief. Jasmina Adamović is sceptical:

Watching the news… Tasovac conducted, while others played. Now he will be playing as others conduct. Indeed life is strange.

And perhaps this tweet by Twitter user @DonDragonson sums up the overall sentiment best:

Minister Tasovac. Well, I've lived to see that too. Amen.

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