Memo January 2008

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A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in January 2008

As forecast in the last memo, you shall read about EYID, which stands for the European year of international dialogue - the Year.


Accomplished target
Cultural action in today's Europe, especially when it is about creating something new (performance, exhibition, novel etc), is increasingly intercultural. Cultural borrowing, cross-fermentation and other kinds of interaction are taking place at growing frequency and ease, whether encouraged or discouraged by politicians. Especially in the west, where out-of-Europe migrants, the main focus of the Year, are concentrated.

The European public has largely acknowledged this development, as is proven by the first sentence of the Eurobarometer report on the subject: "Almost three-quarters of EU citizens believe that people with a different background (ethnic, religious or national) enrich the cultural life of their country; 23% indicated that such cultural diversity even highly enriched their country's cultural life". Good scores, before the Year even started.

Paradoxically, putting the accent on dialogue endorses a lower stage of relationship than interaction, leading to new qualities. Dialogue implies communication also between distinct, disinfected cultures.

Utopian target
The hidden agenda of the Year is conflict prevention. To transpose cultural dialogue into social, religious, ethnic and national reconciliation is no easy task. Could even more top-down campaigns of peoples' friendship have prevented the conflicts in the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia?

Utopian platform
The great merit of Ján Figel's initiative is that it has put culture in a wider context. 

Here is an example. A broad coalition of civil society organisations "believes that the underlying aim of Intercultural Dialogue must be to reduce social, economic and political tensions" and wants to maintain the momentum of the year and turn it into a permanent revolution activity. Don't fret, not a touch of Marxism, the economic bases are not perceived in the Rainbow Paper, capital is "social" in this context.

Modest means, rational scope
The Year has started alright. Its opening was aptly exploited by the first EU Presidency from our region,
Slovenia, to perform a soft take-off. The web site of the Year shows a dynamic, decentralised treatment: updated daily, reporting about events all around Europe. Involving many partners. Refraining from bombastic mega-events. Inevitably, much of the programme is talk, talk, talk. Sure: διά λόγος means via speech. The closing recommendation of a solitary early sceptic was not taken.

BO, however, finds its cautious early optimism well founded. It is difficult to expect greater effects from the modest budget of ten million euro. (Here is a benchmark: one country in our region is spending about 50% more on its Year of Renaissance, on the 550th anniversary of the coronation of its last medieval king. More causa iubilandi needed? "The year may also be considered as a symbol of Renaissance because in the present era our world is changing profoundly".) 

Even more modest means
Smaller in scope is the
intercultural cities project of the Council of Europe and the European Commission (strangely BO failed to find references to it on the site of the Year). The project almost entirely consists of field work, seeks to manage diversity by designing comprehensive intercultural city strategies.

The participating cities - twelve are preparing to do so, including four from our region: Craiova, Lublin, Melitopol and Subotica - need to invest into the exercise, as there seems to be no final central budget as yet. 

Festivals and cities
Still about urban culture: you must be quick (
see here how quick) if you want to share your views about the urban impact of artistic festivals. They will be discussed in, and using the experiences of, a city that consciously uses festivals for defining and designing itself: Helsinki.

Past and present capitals
New year, new European capitals of culture.
Liverpool 2008 indeed started with a big bang. The event, supposed "to encourage a sense of belonging to the same European community", is presented in the British press almost exclusively as a measure to boost the economy: about 140 million euros in - an extra two million visitors out, a no nonsense investment. Fellow capital Stavanger 2008 is not communicated in similar commercial terms, with a budget of less than a third than in Liverpool. (The two, and more, are compared here.)

Sibiu 2007 seems to have achieved a fine balance between material and spiritual goals, and between urban development and artistic achievement - let me know if I am wrong. (It is a pity that the web site makes no attempt at final conclusions in English.)

Future capitals
Several cities in our region are preparing or hoping to act as capitals of culture.

Vilnius 2009 is a national project, headed by the prime minister, with the culture minister as his deputy (almost like "our party and state"...), with six specific plan figures - this heaviness is counterbalanced by the lightness of the site and indeed frequent references to light (and darkness).

Pécs 2010 is still a prisoner of the conception of a major urban regeneration investment exercise, and is struggling with the challenge of turning about 130 million euros into brick and mortar during the remaining 24 months - dissipating its energies from programming. 

The budget of Tallinn 2011 is 37 million euros, without urban investment. For 2012 Maribor does not seem to have competitors in Slovenia, while in Slovakia four cities are in the 2013 quarter-final: Nitra, Kosice, Martin and Presov. 

Comparative forum
How to define the convergent and divergent features of
three national cultural policies during one and a half hours? This will be tried several times on the 7th and 8th of March, in the frames of the LOW Festival that brings Dutch and Flemish art to Budapest.