INTERVIEW – State Secretary for Culture Demeter on his many roles

András István Demeter (51), is a Transylvanian stage and film actor, theater director, producer and politician, who has recently been appointed — for the second time in his political career — as state secretary at the Ministry of Culture in Romania. TransylvaniaNow asked him about his many roles and immediate plans.

TransylvaniaNow – Let’s start with a thorny question: The ministry you have just been appointed to is the “Ministry of Culture and National Identity.” Can that be interpreted as “national” for minorities as well?

András István Demeter – Under successive governments, depending on the structure of the cabinets and the governing programs, the names of the ministries have also been slightly altered here and there. Twelve years ago, this was the “Ministry of Culture and Church Affairs.” There was indeed a time when the frontispiece bore the badge of “Ministry of Culture and National Identity,” whereas now it is the much more modest and concise Ministry of Culture.

The attitudes of the ministry toward national communities have hardly changed. During the latest governments, these had been handled by the same deputy secretary of state. We have recently discussed this, and I have no knowledge that the expectations of the national communities would have significantly changed in terms of preservation of heritage and public education.  As a result, supply and demand are roughly in equilibrium. My job is to maintain this balance. If it changes or is altered, the reduction — or increase — in pressure must be compensated for. We all do this in our everyday lives, whether in government or opposition, and in the fields of politics and public administration with the tools provided by arts or media, as well as in our work to preserve and enhance traditions and linguistic heritage.

TN – You have been in many different positions over the years. How do you currently define yourself? Actor, politician, administrator or something else entirely?

A.D. – For some, I am an actor while others consider me a manager. Some say I am an idealist; others, that I am pragmatic. Some find me trustworthy, while others are wary. What I know is that I strive to be and remain human toward everyone else. I know that I must believe in myself and the human values surrounding me.  And in the fact that we can only accomplish anything if we remain united to the very end.

TN – You spent many years in Temesvár as an actor and theater director. Is there a way to transpose the city’s tolerance elsewhere in Romania?

A.D. – My life so far was mostly within the Marosvásárhely (Târgu Mureș) – Temesvár – Bucharest triangle. After living the Transylvanian way of life, my encounter with the multicultural Bánság [editor’s note: one of the historical regions that were formerly part of the Kingdom of Hungary] has equipped me with the ability to remain as I was born even outside the Carpathians. Getting to know the spirituality of Temesvár meant a lot to me, and it still gives me inspiration whenever I hesitate. Spirituality, however, can neither be regulated, nor enforced, nor appropriated. Spirituality is meant to be followed, by thought, word and deed and by living that spirituality.

Luckily, here in Bucharest, I worked and still work in areas that offer me vast opportunities to put this experience to good use as an actor, a politician or as an administrator. This stands for public media, theater, cinema and the ministry, as well my immediate environment in the small village outside Bucharest where I live. And there are, of course, such excellent opportunities like the TM2023CCE [Temesvár, European Capital of Culture 2023], which I have been familiar with since the time of preparing the bid.

András István Demeter
State Secretary for Culture András István Demeter

TN – How well do you know your direct superior, Minister of Culture Bogdan Gheorghiu, and how do you see your future cooperation?

A.D. – We had a few chance encounters over the years, which I probably remember better. Last year, however, we had a joint project, the fourth edition of the “Theater in TVR” [editor’s note: TVR is the Romanian public television], during which we had the opportunity to better get to know each other. Since having been nominated for the position of state secretary on January 12 and appointed on March 5, we managed to communicate more often, meaning that my first day in the office was like being with an old colleague. I hope this can remain so, as the mantle of minister hides an open-minded man amenable to dialogue, tolerant and attentive.

TN – You are also the leader of the state television’s production studio. Do you plan on keeping that job?

A.D. – In accordance with the law and the consent of my employer, my status as producer at the state television has been suspended as of March 8. This, as well as my role as CEO of the production house of TVR, would be incompatible with the position of state secretary.

TN – Can you name three projects that you want to accomplish in your new position?

A.D. – In the case of the Ministry of Culture, any plans of the state secretary are rather theoretical. My everyday job is liaising with the artistic institutions under the purview of the ministry — both in good and bad — but all of these are independent, autonomous legal entities, hence I can only offer assistance in realizing their own plans. With small formal differences, this also stands for the commercial companies belonging to the ministry, only the dimensions of the issues are different. This is all encompassed and held together by the regulatory aspect of my job. This is the area where I indeed do have plans, and which of them come to fruition is only a matter of time, dialogue, consultation and perseverance. So I can name the three projects I was asked about in this sense.

One of my most important goals is to review the legal framework of the cultural and artistic public institutions. More specifically, the law regulating the management of theaters, museums and other specialized artistic institutions, as well as the reform package delineating the milestones of the Romanian film industry. Or — in the spirit of cooperation with both houses of the legislature — to use the hands-on knowledge acquired during my 10 years in public media.

There is another reform I already began working on back in 2008 and which has become a burning priority by now. Unfortunately, there has been no one to continue my work since then. The creative industries function under the general umbrella of private law, which must receive a proper framework, not only because of the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic but also because in the past decade and a half these “independents” have become the engines of local communities in an economic sense as well.

The other project includes all the plans of the government program related to the cultural lives of the Hungarian community in Romania and all other national communities. This package, of course, extends to all of the country’s cultural and artistic life, including the creative industries, architectural and spiritual heritage or even a greener way of life. The tangible aspect of the project is cooperation between ministries; and from my very first week in office, I have worked together well with the state minister at the Ministry of European Funds, Csilla Hegedüs.

Last but not least, I must mention my active role in large national and international projects. For example, festivals such as the international Enescu Festival, the national meeting of theaters, the World Exhibition or the one which garnered the largest amount of attention, the 2023 Capital of Culture project. In this sense, the experience acquired during the preparation and coordination of Szeben (Sibiu) being a European Capital of Culture in 2007, where I worked together with its government commissioner, Sergiu Nistor, will certainly be of value.

TN – What is the current status of the European Cultural Capital project, perhaps the biggest thing in Romanian culture in the coming years?

A.D. – Although at the time of my appointment, Temesvár was quarantined again, I have conferred with the mayor of the city who will have to carry the brunt of the work. We have set about reducing the accrued handicap, dealing with a plethora of conflicts that partially got out of hand due to the delay caused by the pandemic and began coordinating cooperation with the team of the other 2023 cultural capitals. This project alone is a task big enough for a full mandate, so we will have to use the remaining, quite short time very wisely.

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Title image: State Secretary for Culture András István Demeter

Author: Dénes Albert