25 years of absurd in the Law on Cultural Property

The Law on Cultural Goods from 1994, whose amendments have been advocated by NALED for years, due to the provisions imposing an obligation for businesses to store large amounts of business documentation in paper as potential archive material, is hiding yet another absurd – the pre-emption right over real estate property that the line institutions would classify as cultural property.

This provision has not been implemented for more than 20 years, but given that starting from last year the Cadaster involves a category of “Archeological sites of ancient Singidunum”, involving parts of Vračar and Stari Grad, as well as several cultural-historical areas in the territory of Palilula, Dorćol and Zemun, a large percent of citizens in these municipalities who decide to sell their apartment would first have to offer it to the Cultural Heritage Preservation Institute of Belgrade, and only after that to another buyer, under the same or lower price.

- Someone who wrote the Law did not take into account that there are between 11,000 and 14,000 apartments sold in Belgrade on a yearly basis, and that the Institute would have to respond to at least 1,000 offers, while somewhere around 40 employees in the Institute probably have better things to do than to waste time refusing offers, given that the Institute does not have a budget to buy even one apartment, as some of them are located in places such as Terazije or Knez Mihailova street costing up to 500,000 EUR. There is also a question of whether anyone thought about whether the Institute would even be interested in buying apartments in multi-storey buildings, as whole buildings would probably never be bought with an intention to demolish them only to search for ancient Singidunum. This ridiculous provision slows down the trade of real estate by 15 or more days, which is the duration of procedure for obtaining response from the Cultural Heritage Preservation Institute on being interested to buy these properties, which is always a negative response – explains NALED’s associate Đorđe Vukotić.

According to him, the problematic provision of Article 119 of the Law should be changed to prescribe the pre-emption right of the state only for cultural monuments, rather than all immovable cultural property, as this is a too broad formulation enabling all buildings, whether a shed or a high-rise, to be introduced in this region out of various reasons, e.g. because an important person used to live in it, an important historical event occurred in it, it makes a part of a larger important area, or it is built on ancient necropolises (cemeteries) etc.

A similar problem was introduced by this law with an obligation of storing documents. Given that the archives do not have the capacities to determine which documentary material could be significant for the culture and science, whether being written, drawn, photographed or printed, the Law imposed an obligation for the citizens and businesses to store everything they create, at their own expense, and ask for an approval from the line archive institute before destroying it.

Even though it is clear that this provision is inapplicable for citizens, as such material can include a selfie photograph, a video from a vacation or a children’s drawing, it imposes high costs for businesses to store documentation which has no cultural nor historical significance. Larger companies in Serbia annually spend more than 150,000 EUR on storing agreements, invoices and other papers, which need to be stored for at least 10 years.

An obligation without financial penalties, but...

Even though the Law on Cultural Property does not prescribe penalties in case the citizens do not offer an apartment or house in the protection regime to the Institute, this ridiculous procedure is always implemented as the Republic Geodetic Authority’s Cadaster services would otherwise refuse to register ownership, given that the Institute had registered a note on this right last year. The extent to which the Law is outdated can also be seen in the fact that it prescribes penalties for offenses leading to destruction of cultural property, including cultural monuments, in “new dinars” - from 70 to 10 thousand dinars.