Memo September 2004


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


Be prepared for the names of quite a few European cities in this memo.

While these lines are being written, BO should be in Belgrade, in the illustrious and friendly company of colleagues, going around the setbacks and prospects of cultural policy research in the region.

Setbacks are not limited to conditions of doing, receiving, managing or observing culture: can you find two neighbouring national capitals in Europe where the train takes seven hours? (Check the distance between Budapest and Belgrade on the map.) Such and other prosaic circumstances have prevented BO from attending.

We reached Barcelona faster than seven hours. The symposium, that was related to the Forum, turned out to be a rally of less spoken, less printed and often less supported language cultures. As a major follow-up, a permanent secretariat will be set up and seek European authority on these matters. The occasion tempted BO to mention that nearly 4% of the population of the EU, and about 6 % of the MEPs (members of the European Parliament) have Finno-Ugrian mother tongue. Some of them feel concern about their linguistic relatives in Russia. Names like Komi or Mordvin Republic are not often pronounced in Barcelona.

Seeing the subject of the Rencontre de Brno, dedicated to architectural heritage and local authorities in east-central Europe, BO was intrigued whether the returning question in Budapest (expressing discontent and envy) will be answered. Namely, to what extent is the miraculous transformation of Prague attributable to the authorities.

The few speakers that BO could afford hearing at the meeting, focused on the technical and artistic aspects of reconstructing monuments in Czech, Slovak and Austrian cities. If the authorities were mentioned, more often than not they played the role of bureaucratic menace.    

After a few hours' drive from heritage to performing arts, BO fell in to the closing part of the discussion around the dilemma: Culture - capital or burden. At this satellite event of the Theatre Festival one could experience again how people receive the heretic idea that American mass culture is the only real common culture in Europe, especially for European youth. Kirill produces his thesis in a matter-of-fact fashion that dumbfounds people, who otherwise listen to (or produce) preaching of a different kind.

The said Kirill is the host of a conference on e-culture and new patterns of communication in the 21st century on 25-27 October. Still not too late to join. (BO cannot make it. For the link credit to Culturelink.)

Covering two events during the same weekend is not wholesome; the Brno-Nitra combined trip was a proof. However, BO collaborator Zoltán is preparing for the same. At the Artists On The Move conference he is after sound financial management and tax changes affecting artists.

It will take Zoltán 13 hours by train from Rotterdam to Regensburg, to hear the second half of the conference on the future of cultural capitals of Europe. Besides foreign delegates, present are people from the ten German cities that will wait for a few more months to learn which of them has real future in this connexion, which will be cultural capital of Europe in 2010. (Reminder: BO is involved in the parallel race in Hungary.) 

Against the many non- or half-attended events, BO has booked two flights to cover the EFAH general assembly in Lille from the beginning till the end.

The new commissioner
EFAH briefings by e-mail are much appreciated. Sabine reported about the hearing of Ján Figel' at the Cultural Committee of the Parliament at length, with helpful personal comments: she was more or less satisfied with the next cultural commissioner of Europe.

In east-central Europe the issue of culture in world trade negotiations gets very little attention. It is noteworthy for us, and for the man from our region (Figel' is Slovak), that all (three) western MEPs questioned him about his plans to preserve cultural diversity.  

The only eastern parliamentarian (a lady from Estonia) to put a question asked for better chances for eastern applicants at Culture 2000. BO is eager to extend our statistical inquiry to the scores of 2004 to find out whether the dynamic growth of eastern participation continued. If it did (and if we disregard the almost pathological Italian and French lead), there is not that much to complain about.

What appears to us a more vital issue is the involvement of other eastern countries, future members and neighbours, into C2000 and other community actions.  

The weight of culture
At the Figel' hearing culture received a smaller part of the time, the rest being used for other matters in the realm of the committee: education, youth and sports.

Similarly, culture was hardly ever mentioned in the many speeches and discussions that accompanied the change of government in Hungary last month; not to speak of the national cultural strategy, offered for discussion in July - BO was heavily involved in its composition.