ECSA interviews Ivo Josipovic, President of Croatia: a journey from music to politics

24 September 2012

Ivo Josipovic, President of Croatia, professional composer and former Director of Music Biennale Zagreb, talked to the European Composers and Songwritr Alliance (ECSA) about his background in music, and the journey from music to politics. The interview was conducted by ECSA Executive Chairman Alfons Karabuda in Zagreb in June 2012. To leave one's daily life as a music creator in favor of working for music creators by defending and promoting music authors’ rights is a journey. We know that journey well. But you, Mr. President, have made an even longer journey, a journey which not only gives you the means of affecting the conditions of your own professional group, but those of a country. What was the driving force behind your journey from the art of composition to politics and presidency of Croatia? In my view, intellectuals did not do enough for common welfare. I believe that politics is a fight for common welfare rather than for private interests. I can look back on two decent careers, I made a good living on them and entering an uncertain and rather cruel political arena did entail certain risks for me. I followed the developments and processes in the Croatian society and saw that, in addition to all the difficulties Croatia faced as a young, transitional country emerging from the war; it was turning into a society where the feeling of injustice prevailed. I simply did not want to be a mere bystander looking at it from the side-lines. I felt the need to assist so that Croatia may become a country of prosperity and justice. What difficulties and opportunities did you come across on your way? The path was not covered overnight. I used to be an alderman in the city government, then a member of National Parliament. However, the fact remains that at the very beginning of this transition from the academic world - the world of science and art - into the world of politics and public administration provoked quite a few frustrations to us who were used to resolving problems by ourselves, over the keyboard. The road from an idea to its implementation is much longer for me today since the procedure needs to be observed. On the other hand, I now have the opportunity to make my ideas more visible. What use do you have of your creative background in politics? In leadership? Music is more than mere notes or harmony. Music is creativity, communication, cooperation, and these are the key points of good leadership. Art education develops creativity and innovation, the two qualities that are today indispensible for the development in any field, not just art. Cathedrals and symphonies did not emerge just because there were people who knew how to construct an arch or write music. They came into being because there were people with visions, people who were able to see their image and hear their music. Does political life affect your composing, other than being time consuming? I have not given up my composer's ambitions. However, the reality of my current office puts them on hold, for a while. Since I never had too much leisure time, I hoped that with this new job I would occasionally find time to compose. During my pre-election campaign, I even naively announced composing an opera on John Lennon's death. There was also a piano placed in my office. However, it turned out that this was mere wishful thinking. Every minute of my day is planned out and what is left to me is to listen to some imaginary, new music during a car ride. How would you describe Croatia as a music creative nation? Croatia is a country of rich and very diverse folk art. There are only few such countries. To be sure, historical circumstances and the fact that parts of Croatia were for centuries ruled by different leaders and governed by different cultures, have contributed to this. Music has always been an important part of social rituals. Music is very much present in present-day social and family life. On the other hand, we have a large number of academic musicians. Some of them also made distinguished international careers. Which are the central issues for composers in Croatia? The greatest problem for composers in Croatia is how to market their works abroad. Today, Croatia has quite a number of composers of different generations producing at a high European level. However, Croatia is a small market and there is no proper publishing house in the country capable of establishing the reputation of Croatian composers abroad by means of sheet music, sound carriers or targeted performances of their works. This is also the reason why not a single composer of the so-called classical music can make a living composing and everyone has some other job, most often teaching music. This is at the same time an obstacle hindering Croatian music production to develop a more easily recognisable identity in a broader, international context. In what way can you, as President, make a difference for music creators of your country? At times, it seems to me that I was able to be of more assistance before I became President, especially as the former Secretary General of the Croatian Composers’ Society and long-time Director of Music Biennale Zagreb. The situation is similar when it comes to protection of copyrights… My standpoint is that politics must motivate culture and that one needs to support the choice the profession makes and recognise that culture matters to us, especially to small nations. What are, from your perspective, the central issues for music creators in Europe? What should be our focus? It is very important, especially for composers emerging from small nations, that today they retain their identity as part of their national culture, against the backdrop of globalisation. It is possible to strike the right balance between globalism and provincialism only by upholding the highest aesthetic criteria. This means, inter alia, preserving national systems, which - by means of state subsidies, private donations and through professional organisations and organisations for copyright protection - encourage national production and protect their own cultural heritage. This does not, by any means, mean isolationism which leads to provincialism. This means rather creating prerequisites for small nations to participate on equal terms in the global music scene. Do you follow or participate in ECSA’s work? I participated in the Congress in Vienna. Also, as an active member of the Croatian Composers’ Society I have been following ESCA's work. Last year, I took part at the World Copyright Summit in Brussels as a keynote speaker because I believe that at this time of fast and significant changes pertaining to copyrights and new technologies it is necessary to provide better care to authors and to create a legal framework that would protect them and their works, since there is no creativity and production without authors, and there is no social progress without creativity. What do you foresee being the greatest challenges for the next generation of composers in Europe? In addition to the universal challenges I referred to before, I believe that the greatest challenge for every composer is when he is faced with an empty music paper. This always was and always will be the greatest challenge every generation of composers face, the challenge of creativity and inspiration. Are there any Swedish authors that you particularly approve of? As Director of Music Biennale Zagreb I had the opportunity to listen to many Swedish composers and performers. In 2007, Sweden was a partner country and Swedish contemporary music was then presented in Zagreb in detail. The crown project was a concert by the Stockholm Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performing works by Swedish composers. We also listened to electronic music, jazz, chamber music… However, Swedish music has been present in Zagreb since the very early days of Biennale, since the early 1960s. We still keep fresh memories of a performance by the Swedish Radio Choir directed by the legendary Eric Ericson. Frankly speaking, I do not like singling out individual composers; we have listened to many of them in Zagreb, many truly splendid composers. You know, you do injustice to all whom you do not mention, be it even accidentally. Thank you for your time Mr. President. (Photo © ECSA)