Memo January 2009


A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in January 2009

Almost half of this memo is about European capitals of culture (ECOC).

Amazing slowness

Ten months after a brief news item in BO memo a longer summary report was completed about a successful attempt to understand and compare the cultural policy systems of three European nations: searching for similarities and differences in the Dutch-Flemish-Hungarian triangle.

Amazing offer

A propos Flanders. Have you heard about the co-operation fund between Flanders and Eastern Europe? If you know a Flemish partner organisation, have had – or have thought about – some co-operation with the Flemish, it would be foolish not to study this announcement.

On cultural capitals in Cracow

It is difficult to conceive a significantly better preliminary briefing before a national competition for the title of European capital of culture in 2016 than what took place in Cracow. Seventeen cities sent representatives to listen to Polish and international officials and experts, who encouraged and warned them in an appropriate blend. “Search for your own essence – was the mantra for would be candidates –, explore the cultural DNA of your city. But then, instead of what you were or are, and how much you need or deserve the title, emphasise what you will do.” Ironically, the most heartily recommended sample from earlier competitions had not made it to the final in its country.

With regard to hapless Pécs 2010, BO pointed out that the original sin was committed by the government, by overly emphasising the hunt for investment funds from EU structural funds, at the expense of capitalising on civic momentum.

Eastern capitals of culture

After Prague, Cracow and Sibiu, Vilnius became the fourth city in eastern Europe to get the title. In eleven months Pécs will be the fifth, with Tallinn, Maribor, Košice in the years to come. For the 2014 title the Latvian cities of Cēsis, Liepāja and Rīga are competing, and before the Polish year the second Czech city will use the title in 2015.


The number of analyses, surveys, seminars and PhD studies on capitals of culture grows each day. Their most comprehensive summary has been undertaken by the LabforCulture. In addition to mapping earlier research, the impact of cultural capitals on the independent cultural sector was investigated in a joint survey with Trans Europe Halles.   


Melina’s idea has had an enormous career. In the wide world, the European capital of culture is probably the second best known feature of the European Union after the euro: Google, YouTube and Flickr hit counts testify about it. The title has its clones both outside and inside Europe.

Next to the common currency and the Schengen border agreement, capitals of culture can raise particularly positive attitudes towards the European Union. BO finds it strange that the power centres of the Union have not yet discovered this potential, and are not channelling more attention and funds to it, leaving the capitals as local occasions “to show off  Europe's cultural richness and diversity”, which goal in reality has so little weight on the EU political arena.

How to survive

LabforCulture is offering something else that is of timely interest. Could you resist a title How can the cultural sector survive the financial crisis? It is no theoretical phantasying. Without possessing the skill, the author could not have been able to gather the means needed for the huge work leading to the volumes on cultures and globlisation. 

A closer look will tell that the counsels indeed best suit the independent cultural sector in western cirumstances. 

On the Danube and the Neris

As an observatory of eastern Europe, we have learned with pleasure that a well-established organisation holds both of its annual plenary meetings in the region: in April in Bratislava, and in October in Vilnius. (Before the latter event is announced, you can study the ten commandments.)

Surveying young and old

BO is fond of international comparative research, among others on the access to culture and cultural behaviour. Here is news about some budding initiatives.

  • Interarts co-ordinates a study on the access of young people to culture. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. can tell more about it, including whether there is a chance to join in. 
  • The Zentrum für Kulturforschung did a somewhat related study entitled Between Eminem and Picasso in 2006, which will certainly be used for the Barcelona-based research.
  • Find the English summary of the next such survey From Bach to Blues, on the cultural preferences of the 50+ generation in Germany; it is said to have triggered a parallel study in Finland by Cupore

Futal creativity

BO was dismayed not to find the words creative-creativity in a current economic strategy paper of the Union. We tried again. The 120-page annual assessment report of the European Commission on the progress of the Lisbon strategy, composed in the first month of the year of creativity, also entirely ignores the term. Innovation-innovative is fine, with more (121) occurrences than pages!

Apparently, the contribution of creativity to economic recovery has not been digested, maybe not even swallowed. It is being chewed at seminars and conferences all year long. See you there!