Memo February 2009


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

Newsletters feed one another. This time items were picked from the bulletins of Ifacca and Culture Action Europe.  

French stimulus

How does the crisis affect culture? Without simplifying the issue to the funding of the sector (standing somewhere midway between syndicalism and philosophy), BO wonders about the place of culture in the stimulus plans. The French were quick, offered € 100 million extra, broken down into 252 projects: renovation of monuments, small and “grand”, the primary selection criterion being the possible involvement of small and medium enterprises. BO would like to believe in organic match of culture and highly topical external goals.

Architecture awards

Five candidates have been shortlisted for the European Union prize for contemporary architecture – Mies van der Rohe Award 2009. Three of the five are culture venues! However, none of the buildings or architects are from the east. Browsing the history of the award on the stylish site, among the dozens of constructions or constructors nothing relates to east Europe, except for a special mention of a Slovene building in 2007. None of the shortlisted architects are holders of the AIA (American Institute of Architects) gold medal or the Pritzker Prize, although several of the former recipients of the EU award have also won one or other of those top global recognitions for architects.

French scores, Czech template

No amount of public relations and protocol glamour can conceal that the six month EU presidency period carries a lot of responsibility. This is what the platform of the civil society wants to emphasise by a detailed evaluation of the presidency terms. Severely this sounds, yet they scored the French rather benevolently. The form is only partly identical, it is tailored to each presidency: here is the Czech scoreboard.

Who will draft the one on culture?

Deeper in old pools

BO plunged into two unexhausted older pools of information. The Eurobarometer survey on values and the review on culture of the German parliament both date from 2007 but lend themselves for further exploration for some time to come.

Deeper in 2133 footnotes 

A special commission of the federal parliament of Germany spent four years on examining culture. Work was suspended for elections but then re-commenced with increased vigour, to finally arrive at a huge opus of over 500 pages. The first reaction is instinctive refusal: if you cannot tell on 50 pages where the greatest new challenges or actual deficits are, where to focus public will, the remaining 450 pages are a waste.

Closer examination makes one more permissive. German thoroughness performs at its best. Every little segment of what is meant by culture as a public task today is scrutinized and related recommendations are formulated.

Worth of attention is the structure: more than 25% of space and recommendations are dedicated to the conditions of the artists; another 12% address cultural education; diffusion of German culture abroad – almost nil. 

This Enquete can serve as a huge compendium that the biggest (fully) European state made for itself, which can also be consulted by others as a reference book. The index guides you to issues, which are all examined at depth, supported by indeed 2133 footnotes. Many of the 387 (in the preface marked as “nearly 500”) recommendations are obvious commonplaces – yet as such can serve as drafts for use elsewhere, too.    

Deeper in language learners’ psyche

As usual, the value survey was further analysed by BO for symptomatic differences between the countries in our remit (east and central Europe) from the rest.

The last question posed to European citizens in that 2007 survey inquired about their reasons for learning foreign languages. Two of the potential responses were selected by eastern and western citizens in fairly opposite ways. People in the new member states said they learned languages for sake of getting a job abroad (from 47% in Romania to 26% in Latvia, left columns). For the great majority of westerners, language learning serves for their own satisfaction: over 50% said so in 13 countries, while Poles top the eastern list with only 48%. Eastern citizens took the Lisbon strategy to their heart and actively care about their employability. Other interpretations are possible, too.



What about Slovenes? (SI between Ireland and the United Kingdom.) In this respect they fully behave like westerners. An atavism of the centuries spent inside Austria?

Deeper in the year of creativity

BO is pleased to see signs that some people at the European Commission want to know what exactly (indeed: precisely and seriously) all that jazz is about. Maybe the enterprise and industry section? No way.

At an Encatc event in Brussels BO learned that staff at the education section feel prompted by this special year to come to grips with the last two – and most elusive – of the Eight Key Competences (alternatively spelled as competencies, and revered as the Ten Commandments) for lifelong learning: “sense of initiative and entrepreneurship” as well as “cultural awareness and expression“. A conference in May, prepared by the relevant think tank, is expected to come forward with ideas on how to measure creativity. Ideally, new core educational indicators will be born, to complement one day the official five benchmarks of the EU.

Why choose so complicated concepts? Looking forward to the Year of Silly Walks.