Memo August 2008


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

If you test the recommended demo, consuming this memo will last much longer than it looks.

Prejudice for Europeana
Amazing Internet gigs are born of big business or of brave self-generated grass-root initiatives (usually ending up as big business, too). Intergovernmental efforts to match these achievements, triggered by a 2005 letter signed by Chirac-Kwaśniewski-Schröder-Berlusconi-Zapatero-Gyurcsány, looked as hopeless as commissioning a committee of music experts to compose an opera. BO followed related EU attempts with a pitch of contemptuous empathy. A hopeless race with the established search machines? News came now about the progress of work on European digital heritage. The accompanying demo turned BO into a dedicated supporter. We are looking forward to the November launch of


Praise for Europeana

The specimen is free from the heaviness (in various senses) that one fears from a top down product – which, for instance, characterises the European library. Nevertheless, if you don’t have really brooooad band, it is a programme for a rainy afternoon to get through to Edith’s handbag.
The Europeana slogan promises to bring you digitised objects from Europe’s greatest collections. Exploring Europe’s smallest collections, also from east-central Europe, will be the real achievement though. A very special consortium  appears to look into this matter, including regions, cities, ministries, research centres, museums, libraries and private firms, eleven out of the 32 members being from our countries.
The Europeana project is part of the four-year, € 149 million eContentplus programme. Hefty amounts are distributed by way of annual calls for proposals. In the three years of 2005-2007 53 projects have been funded (the latest still being negotiated), typically with over € 1 million. Funded projects are fairly well presented. The degree of eastern involvement seems to be on the increase year on year.

Digital content is culture; several of the projects are par excellence cultural, like Europeanalocal above. A couple more programmes deserve particular attention. For instance two gateways: GAMA to archives of media arts, and EFG to European films, with our region being fairly represented in both. 

Awkward little ambassadors
Reviewing funding given to “bodies active at European level in the field of culture” BO voiced its disapproval of the “ambassador” category. We were of course curious about the opinion of the official evaluators.

The EU ambassadors remain largely unnoticed – as also in real life – in the available two recent evaluations. BO found the one relating to a part considerably more sensible than the one covering the entire Culture 2000 programme. The annex to the former presents stringent questions: “How do you regard the relatively weak number of new member states’ applicants? Do the musical tours outside of the EU contribute to the programme’s objective? What is your perception of fulfilling the role of European cultural ambassador and promoting awareness of Europe’s Common culture heritage?” There must have been no definite viewpoints, because about the ambassadors the evaluators – who analysed the cultural networks (the majority of supported “active bodies”) at considerable depth – remarked only that their contribution is at a symbolic level… This weightless comment was then communicated by the Commission to the Parliament and Council. An awkward little ballast?

White but not colourless
Intercultural dialogue has its high season at the European Union in 2008. The theme is topical (if you excuse pleonasm) also at the Council of Europe. The relevant EU web page is full of colours, in fact promotes intercultural cultural dialogue; the Council of Europe emphasises the human rights aspect of the issue.

The White Paper of the Council of Europe on intercultural dialogue is therefore a sober document that took years to complete. Yet the product lends itself to consumption, the 61 (in fact only 44) pages text is a smooth middle way between bureaucratic jargon and protocol pathetism. Describes the development of concepts like assimilation and multiculturalism in Europe. Elaborates on five dimensions of intercultural relationships: governance, participation, competences, spaces and the international dimension.
In most parts implicitly (often explicitly) migrants from other continents are in the focus. Where they are in low supply (in most parts of east Europe), Soviet-style intercultural friendship acts often take the show. This White Paper suggests going beyond festive solutions and seek for genuine respect and dignity – still in deficit in our societies.

Beijing, 2008

Is sport culture? Are opening and closing ceremonies art? Anyhow, here is the list of 115 olympic medals won by sportive citizens of the countries diligently observed by BO:
  Total Gold Silver Bronze
Belarus 19 4 5 10
Bulgaria 5 1 1 3
Croatia 5 0 2 3
Czechia 6 3 3 0
Estonia 2 1 1 0
Hungary 10 3 5 2
Latvia 3 1 1 1
Lithuania 5 0 2 3
Moldova 1 0 0 1
Poland 10 3 6 1
Romania 8 4 1 3
Serbia 3 0 1 2
Slovakia 6 3 2 1
Slovenia 5 1 2 2
Ukraine 27 7 5 15
  115 31 37 47