Memo February 2006

A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in February 2006

BO was hit by an unforeseen mishap. We had to move office at a short notice. In February, therefore, we observed little, and packed and unpacked a lot.

Languages Europeans speak or don't
The latest Eurobarometer report is about language usage in the EU. Almost half of Europeans admit not knowing any other language than their mother tongue. This is more widespread in the west than in the east, where Hungarians only scored badly: one explanation lies in the fact that in that country the mother tongue of nearly 100% is Hungarian. At the other end 97% of Slovaks and 95% of Latvians speak at least one foreign language (which is probably Czech and Russian).

BO found it reassuring that 50% of Europeans agree that everyone in the EU should be able to speak two foreign languages. The eastern countries are the real partisans of this view: Poles and Lithuanians at around 70%. Strangely, Slovaks seem to be contented with the one foreign language they all know, 30% only voted for two.

Everybody agrees on English as the first foreign language (except logically the British). French and German compete for the second position - except for the three Baltic republics where around 40% vote for Russian. Would you have thought?

Opinions about dubbing or subscribing films diverged just as they did at our conference Inclusive Europe? (see our November memo ). Most Europeans vote for dubbing, Czechs and Hungarians are especially fond.

Goods Europeans buy or don't
In most eastern countries it is difficult to get detailed sales figures of books or records. In the west, these data are closely followed and displayed. Anyone can learn the exact dimensions of the latest hit on the UK pop market. Lately, a group called Arctic Monkeys sold 360 thousand discs on the first week: an annual output for smaller countries in our region. British youngsters may be addict to touching the thing, rather than the virtual possession. Or is it the spirit of fair play that prevents them from just downloading?

Come on. Aforementioned monkeys are one of the groups that became immensely popular by allowing free access to their music at sites like this one, "places for friends", plazas in the virtual space.  

East in focus
In February, BO had the privilege to attend a two-day event in Northern Wales entirely dedicated to the culture of the new member countries of the Union. Nearly two years after the accession, it feels good that curiosity and interest was not a seasonal product. Creu Cyfle - Cultural Explosion, held in Caernarfon, proved that cultural operators from our region have lots of chances for co-operation in distant corners of Europe.

East keeps strong
In January we reported gloomily that 18 Culture 2000 projects out of 130 were led by an organisation of east and central Europe. A more thorough observation, however, proved that 18 is not so far from per capita proportion: the countries in BO focus represent roughly one sixth of the EU population.

Looking at co-organisers, 127 eastern organisations took this role. Of the 440 - nearly 29%! This share is much higher than that of the old members.

The same for the third category of "other organisations", 172 out of 615 - 28%. At that level other countries from our region popped up sporadically (Croatia, Macedonia, Moldova, Serbia/Montenegro, Ukraine); with these, the eastern share goes up to 29,4%. All in all, out of the 1185 organisations that figure in the 130 projects, 326 (27,5%) come from east and central Europe.

You will not be spared from further analysis in later editions of BO memo. Take a last glance now at eastern representation by sector at the end of this memo.

Mozart and the civil society
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) had remained outside of BO range until we took note of a major cultural conference that body organised (see our December memo).

Being a civic organisation, BO should pay more attention to EESC, which claims to be a bridge between Europe and organised civil society. This committee was set up by the 1957 Rome Treaties. Its 317 members are nominated by national governments and appointed by the Council of the European Union for a renewable 4-year term of office.

EESC's actual president is Ms Anne-Marie Sigmund from Austria, who has launched a series of events on issues like European values - society - identity. The first such evening will be held on 16th March in Brussels about "Mozart, the European ". 

Culture in the Committee
The 317 members of EESC work in six sections. When they examine culture, it is done in the SOC section: employment, social affairs and citizenship. Such examination happened in 2004, when they produced a paper on the social dimension of culture. Not surprisingly, the Committee supported „a broad definition of the European concept of culture, the social constituents of which (solidarity, tolerance, social cohesion, social integration) are fundamental elements."

And already the next cultural item figures on the agenda of the Committee: they pledge to comment on the plans of 2008: European Year of Interculturel Dialogue within a few weeks. 

Plain Patras
After Graz, this year, too, the European Capital of Culture is at an arm's length from our region. The programme of Patras is transparent and straightforward, designating six thematic periods in the year that in fact forms a string of six festivals. The first of these (the Carnival) has just ended, and the Days of Poetry and Music will start late in April.

Another dimension of the programme comprises three major conferences, examining the relations of culture to the media, science and politics respectively. So far so good. Except for the final panneau as the culture ministers of Europe sign "a map on European integration based on culture". And then it will be fine.