Memo June 2007

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A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in June 2007

The pursuit for a European cultural policy has dominated this past month, too.  

Culture powered Europe
In Berlin, BO attended the closing hours of the season's most important
meeting on cultural policy in Europe. It was well prepared and well attended, both in workshops and in the main auditorium. 

A remarkable hour took place with Frits Bolkenstein and Wolfgang Thierse. The former's name became a symbol of trade liberalisation, the latter had had a variety of cultural jobs before he became vice-president of the German Bundestag. It appeared basically as a duel between bad guy and good guy, both parties speaking for the masses - and rightly so. Laissez-faire and no pasarán cultural policies can both collect popular sympathies.

Nina - Marcello - Amanda
Participants attended to the third
cultural policy research award ceremony. Amanda will study the opportunities that creative industries offer to ethnic minorities.

The first winner was present, too, and asked the culture minister of Portugal how the planned cultural forum will follow up the communication of the European Commission during their presidency (which we did not really learn).  

Déja vu
BO was taken by one Central Asian visitor's wry remark that the conference vaguely reminded her of the quest for
sovietskiy chelovek in another age.

Christopher and Theodoor
For BO the best yield of the Berlin meeting was the short
input paper on the EU and cultural policy, which presents the issue in all its complexity and ambivalences. The merits of a few (in the Commission and the Parliament) cannot offset the defaults of most "stakeholders" (ministers above all, and presidencies, but also the professional sector and its stars). Our region is not spared: "former socialist member states which have an opportunistic approach to picking up any funding for culture".

Unless government politicians forsake the fundamentally 19th century mindset and the customary ‘national identity' reasoning, no progress will be achieved - argue the authors. (And not before Article 151 reads as The Community shall contribute to the flowering of culture in Europe, instead of flowering of cultures of the Member States - adds BO). Even the ‘creative industries' hype is further consolidating competitive national policy lines of demarcation.

Capitals of culture are popular
BO disagrees at one point with the paper, and agrees instead with the Europa website claiming that the European capital of culture
series "has become ever more popular with the citizens of Europe". I think it has, although its critics were right to point at their insufficiencies in promoting European cultural co-operation, and at the weakness of the European dimension in general.

The Commission tries to correct these shortcomings. This time they have had good allies in the selection panel for 2011. Their report contains helpful criticism, aimed especially at the proposal of Tallinn. The main points are familiar: excessive emphasis on construction investment as well as on identity building through traditions, while vague in terms of contemporary societal and artistic challenges.

Capitals of culture in the making
This prompted BO to survey
capitals in the making.

The 100-page monthly programme of Luxembourg overwhelms you; Sibiu has a special chapter entitled European dimension; Liverpool offers "once-in-a-lifetime festival" with highlights that deserve the name; a strong point of Stavanger is its artists in residency programme; Linz progresses step by step; the Vilnius web site displays the same light transparency as the Lithuanian pavilion at the 2002 Frankfurt Book Fair; Essen prefers to be called Ruhr2010 and reveals little more of its programme than Pécs does; while Istanbul seems to be more determined - announcing a forum also for next Wednesday; Tallinn is fairy-designed and the people of Turku appear to „have the will, courage and power to make their town an unforgettable European Capital of Culture 2011".

Cities in odd years show more signs of cross referring and co-operating than those in even 2008 and 2010. The closer one gets to actual realisation, overarching and underlying concepts give way to festival-like eclecticism, the European dimension largely reduced to the omnipresence of the flag and logo. All right: at the end of the day this is but a successful PR action of the Union.

Stage on stage
BO shared efforts to find "happy examples of effective and fruitful government policies" for the performing arts. The
search took place in Utrecht and we shall come back on it when the findings are put in shape.  

Spiritual property
In June the
vodka war continued, not indifferent to our region. If taken broadly enough, the proper way to produce this drink is culture, too.

Accordingly, related issues are treated in the Union under the heading of intellectual property. In June, the Commission issued a new handbook on geographical indications. The protection of geographical indications for wines and other alcoholic drinks was historically the first to be developed at both national and Community level. East Europe is strong on the list of vodkas and, oh yes, the bitter tasting category. And lamentably underrepresented in the fields of food and agricultural products, fully dominated by the mediterranean countries. Against 44 protected kinds of French cheese and 38 Italian olive oils we can enrol three Czech beers and the irresistible Štramberské uši.

And what do you say to Barroso's honey?

Festivals and public authorities
BO has had a modest role in the preparation of a round table conference on festival policies of public authorities, to be organised in Barcelona on 19-20 October by Interarts for Circle (Cultural Information and Research Centres Liaison in Europe) as part of the European Festival Research Project (EFRP). About conditions to attend, write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for information.