Memo September 2008


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

Our memos are made rather on the actual month and not in…  

Culture produced summit
Cultural diplomacy has various facets. One of these is when culture serves as a tool for another major issue. This happened in September, when a cultural programme created an opportunity for a first EU-level summit on the cause of Roma communities across the Union. The conference was attended by several members of the European Commission, many other dignitaries and activists… Indeed worthy of the issue which in our part of Europe has similar weight as the case of non-European immigrants in western Europe.

Culture has done service. The one page about cultural actions in the latest summary of EU activities for the Roma, however, could have been more fundamental and inspiring.  

Succesful procedure and outcome
From as much as we could see from the processes in Slovakia and France, the new system of selecting cultural capitals of Europe has premiered well. The Slovak case has particularly pleased us: we can admit now that BO was committed to the proposal prepared by the Košice team.

The list is complete for the next six years. 2008: Liverpool (UK) and Stavanger (Norway); 2009: Vilnius (Lithuania) and Linz (Austria); 2010: Pécs (Hungary), Essen (Germany) and Istanbul (Turkey); 2011: Tallinn (Estonia) and Turku (Finland); 2012: Maribor (Slovenia) and Guimarães (Portugal); 2013: Košice (Slovakia) and Marseille (France).  

357 cities
A brochure was disclosed in September, publicising the statistical programme of the EU on cities. When BO first presented Urban Audit, it covered 258 cities, which has grown to 357. Prompted by this flyer, we have plunged into the sea of over 300 indicators, collected in 2004. As usual, we had the double focus of culture and eastern Europe. 

City dwellers go to cinema
Not particularly in our region.

This habit was detected in 214 cities. All 72 places in BO remit were in the categories of going to cinema fewer than five times a year. Indeed, the typical eastern city dweller goes less than twice.  

 Annual cinema
 per resident
 EU 27
 Of these
 Selected cities
 More than 10  25  0  Luxembourg 15,6 (EU top),
 Paris 14,0, Gijon 12,8
 5-10  32  0  
 3-5  67  15  Katowice 4,8 (eastern top),
 Budapest 4,6, Poznan 4,5
 2-3  22  9  
 1-2  34  23  
 Less than 1  34  25  Volos, Kavala (both in Greece),
 Calarasi, Braila, Giurgiu
 (all three in Romania) 0,1
   214  72  


What is missing?
What is there in the west that is missing in the east to attract people to cinemas? Leisure, financial means, tradition, and of course cinemas. Urban Audit counts cinema seats. Indeed, as the graph with the top and bottom ten cities illustrates, there is correlation. The violet dots show the number of seats per hundred residents: Vitoria (Gasteiz in Basque) is champion with 5,2 seats. There are odd cases though. In Bilbao the offer is little greater than in Nitra at the other end of the scale, although the cinema-going habits are 12,6 versus 0,2. 

City dwellers go to theatre
The findings on theatre cause more pleasure for the observer of east-central Europe. This, however, is partly due to the scarcity of data from the west: why is there information about western theatre habits from only 57 places? Is this field too disorderly for data collection? Anyhow, in this respect we do not look pariahs like in the cinema list, although the most diligent eastern city (Győr) takes the 19th position only. The 0,0 at cities in the last line is a mystery.

 theatre attendance  per resident
 EU 27
 Of these  
 Selected cities
 More than 2  8  0  Utrecht 4,2 (EU top),
 Groningen 3,11, Salzburg 2,78
 1-2  32  12  Gyor 1,47 (eastern top)
 Ljubljana 1,46, Budapest 1,45
 0,5-1  34  20  
 0,2-0,5  26  15  
 Less than 0,2  10  6  Konin, Nowy Sacz, Suwalki,
 Zory (all in Poland), 
 Trencin (in Slovakia) 0,0
   110  53  

Here is the equivalent of the previous graph. Salzburg boasts nearly 18 theatre seats per ten thousand inhabitants – around two seems to be the good standard in western Europe. Look at the strange behaviour of two Swedish cities. Stockholm has an offer of 1,0 seat for every ten thousand people and in 2004 there were 2,4 per capita visits to theatre; in Jonkoping a much higher offer (2,3) produced a much lower attendance figure (0,3).

Provided that we believe these statistics.

The fervour with which BO went on analysing these figures was considerably diminished by apparent weaknesses of the collection. Which one would not expect from such a huge undertaking. Annoying is that often (although in an inconsequent manner) the original spelling is kept – in principle, because the software is not coping. This produces words like Ĺ˝ilina, hijacking ZŽilina from its usual place at the end of the alphabet.

The real problem is the numbers. Silly items are not corrected or checked. The 0,0 figure for theatre going in Trenčín is as unlikely as the information about fewer rainy days in Nitra and Trenčín than in Palermo and Thessaloniki. Which reflects lack of harmonising statistical instruments rather than a special Slovak sense of humidity. People in Lithuanian cities borrow less than 0,01 books per year – who will push the decimal to its right position? The Salzburg figure for theatre supply in the original reads as 177,48 per capita (sic!), which we cooled down to 17,7 per ten thousand heads – and what if it is really 1,77 only? There are many such examples.

Why arouse poor observers when the end is disappointment? More is needed for the advent of evidence based policies. 

Marcel Hicter marches on
Application forms for the European diploma in cultural project management are available.