Memo May 2004

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A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in May 2004

 

When the EU Council of culture ministers confer, twice a year, BO is eager to find what they come up with for east-central Europe.

Romanian capital of culture in three years!
A year ago our memo asked: Wroclaw, cultural capital in 2008? That appeared as a realistic target for any first eastern city to bear the title (disregarding the inflation year of 2000 with nine capitals, including Prague and Cracow). The 2585th Council Meeting brought the spirited decision of declaring Sibiu European capital in 2007, in tandem with Luxembourg! Announcing Liverpool cum Stavanger for 2008 was no surprise.

At the same time, the Council confirmed the list of eastern capitals after 2009 - here the surprise was that it has not taken place months ago.

Opaque processes
BO has perfected its skills of searching the Europa site. However, most often than not, the really interesting pieces are brought to us by talking to peers at conferences. It was just a few days ago that BO witnessed as one key person in the Luxembourg preparations heard about the Sibiu breakthrough with astonished disbelief (and joy, of course).

Little is known about the way towards the deal that produced the list referred to above. The list came out of the blue, and one relies on hearsay about the way it was created. Months later one learned that the sequence was still disputed. Is BO the only one curious about the arguments voiced during those processes? It is not easy to find whom to blame for this Byzantine decision making, there are cautious administrators all around. Maybe it is ‘we, the people' who do not ask more often and louder.

Eastern face
This was the first Council meeting where the Commission was represented by someone from a new member: Ms Dalia Grybauskaite, beside Ms Reding.

The Council discussed the outline of the next cultural programme, as well as the television without frontiers directive - the press release was little informative of the content of the debate.

Networking, mobility, values
To our knowledge, the conference ‘Networking for the Arts in Europe', held in Cork in May, was the brain child of Patricia Quinn - who has left the Arts Council of Ireland, and thus did not participate.

BO director spoke on the necessity of continuing the integration processes. Not just by recruiting new members, but by expanding the sphere of European values. Which are largely cultural, as culture has been at the bottom all along the integration process of the eastern members. The predominance of values that are commonly taken for essentially European, is far from complete inside the EU: therefore this cultural process is on the internal agenda as well.

The opposition of European values to those of America came up. So long as film critics use, and readers understand labels like ‘the most European of American films' (or film-makers), and the opposite is said about some European films and artists, the distinction will have sense, and not necessarily lead to antagonism.

EU elections
Most candidates to gain seats in the European Parliament go out of their way to prove that they will get more for the country than anyone else. Have you heard anyone who promises to work for the common good of Europe more than anything else? Not to speak of pledges to do labour for the integration of further nations, e.g. in south-eastern Europe.

Let us hope some of them will do so, once elected, although they do not find the moment opportune to emphasise it.

BO elections
BO's supervising bodies have been re-elected. New members are Iván M. Balassa, ethnographer, Péter Kirschner, journalist, and Csaba Gallyas, cultural manager.

Understaffed countries here
Cultural operations in our region are overstaffed - this is the returning verdict. BO would not deny this - however, we learned now that on the national level we are understaffed with cultural workers. Proof needed? Eurostat has published two comparative tables on cultural employment in Europe. BO went on calculating: 2,6% of the workforce in the west are cultural workers - against 2,0% in the east.

Fewer we are but more qualified: 45% of cultural workers in east-central Europe have a diploma, against 40% in the west. The greatest difference was found in the proportion of part time workers in culture: 8,1% in the east, 26,9% in the west. Conclusion, explanation? That would take too many ‘on the one hand' and ‘on the other' clauses for the size of our memos. It takes a couple of days for us to put the respective tables on BO site: then you can learn e.g. what is meant by east and west. (Find a sample graph attached.)

East and west
Exercises like the above are needed for telling whether the constructs of east and west are still meaningful. Aren't we prisoners of defunct categories? Why not north and south, for example? Indeed, Estonia and Lithuania are on the higher sections of the rank lists - similarly to Nordic countries (but strangely not Latvia). Estonia is on the top with 2,2% of graduated cultural workers in the entire workforce, and here an old (southern) member, Portugal is at the far end with 0,35% only.

Western countries, however, show greater consistency, keep closer together, and thus confirm being put in one big cluster. Eastern states produce wider variance: Estonia and Lithuania are near the last positions with regard to the ratio of self-employed and temporary cultural workers.

Cultural statistics
Before these figures take us too deep into the analysis of national characters, one must remember that real harmonisation of cultural statistics in the EU still takes a long way. The most striking differences are likely to be due to the differences in naming and interpreting phenomena, before they are counted.

 

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Explanatory example: SLN stands for Slovenia. The figure is 0,50. Thus, out of 200 people with a job in that country, one is a self-employed cultural operator. Which is a fairly common ratio, very close to the European average.