Memo March 2009


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

Year of creativity (and innovation), still. What is the issue?

New paradigm heralded

Instead of the pragmatic goal of upgrading creativity from a latent – or indeed non-existent – status into a firm constitutent of the development strategy of the Union, the main agenda of the Prague forum for creative Europe was the historic change of epoch, accelerated by the global crisis. This was expounded at eloquent length by the two celebrities on the list of speakers. Absorbed by Rifkin’s notion of co-operative society, and Florida’s concept of the Great Reset (instead of another Great Recession), BO would nevertheless refer you to the plain yet entertaining presentation by the less known Czech economist.

The year’s purpose

BO regrets more and more that innovation was added to the name of the year (allegedly at president Barroso’s wish). This results in uneasy tautology, blurs the concept and weakens the aim, especially as in the Lisbon agenda innovation is given a limited definition relating to technological and scientific development – KEA reminds us.
This organisation received the task from the European Commission to define the place of culture in this context. Can KEA avoid the extremes of reducing the issue to the sub-class of profit-minded culture industries on the one hand, and paying mere hommage to artistic creativity on the other? They may, if they manage to make a case for ‘culture-based creativity’ (a KEA concept), collect clear and convincing examples, and point at new priorities and measures in the various EU policies – as was implied in their presentation in Prague.

A creative fortress?

The efforts to mainstream creativity relate to the Lisbon agenda, which is about the competitiveness of Europe. The creativity quest also concerns the search for a European identity. Both are admittedly dear to BO. At the Prague forum the scope was tacitly extended to include North America, too. Except for the solitary but distinct voice that called for the enhancement of creativity for sake of the shared global agenda of the entire humanity, which is a broader goal than the positioning of ‘the West’. (Or 27 states.)

See for C

See, I see why: CICY. The theme of the European year has triggered respectable activities like the Dutch-Flemish joint action for the improvement of cultural education, to which BO has had the pleasure to contribute in March.

Travellers in hard times

Tourism is an obvious interface between culture and the economy. The very latest Eurobarometer survey is about last year’s performance and this year’s expectations. The latter still do not promise dramatic fall in the volume of tourism in Europe. There will be shifts: mid-range travels into other EU countries will probably diminish at the expense of spending a holiday in the citizens’ own country and – strangely – at non-EU destinations.

Culture is the main focus of holiday for a minority of tourists. However, these people are particularly valuable for the trade, also in prospect. Changes in the cost of living have a smaller impact on the travel plans of cultural tourists than what people preferring beach, wellness or socialising have said.

The good Danish traveller

Where do these good tourists come from? From the old EU member states. The diagram shows the percentage of respondents for whom art or cultural heritage have a major influence on the choice of holiday destination.


The graph contains the percentages also by age group. This proves how youthful we are in east-central Europe, especially when thinking about our holiday trips.

Rich listing & labelling

Mankind is going mad about labelling, awarding and listing – as was stated before. Two pieces of news prompted BO to re-visit the theme: a call for on-line consultation about the European heritage label, and the release of the Ifacca report on defining and mapping intangible cultural heritage.

We are constantly fascinated by how well the World Heritage project is being managed. BO has now discovered an impressive concurrent private initiative that complements the official system.

From 1992 Unesco has been administering a similar initiative, the Memory of the World, a register that contains the most valuable and interesting pieces in archives and libraries across the world. The display is almost as professional as the world heritage register. The items from east-central Europe range from the 6-9 century purple codices from Berat, Albania, to the twenty-one demands made by the strike committee in August 1980 in the Gdańsk shipyard.

Poor listing & labelling

Less impressive is the European heritage list. BO played a modest role in its inception as organiser of a conference where the idea was developed. When inviting for collective thinking about the project, the Commission informs about sixty labels already approved. Yet it takes pains to find the list – on an embassy site! Just a list, indeed, without illustrations and descriptions, with odd items like the abolition of the death penalty in one country or the ouevre of an artist in another, overlaps with the world heritage list, and an unconvincing inventory of sites and buildings that could be continued endlessly.

Unesco, with its rich experience in building lists of distinction, could also have achieved more than what the intangible heritage homepage offers. To view the 90 items on the list, you must select the continent, then the country, and there you get proper description with pictures changing at their will. But you cannot find Poland, Germany or the United Kingdom! In the light of the endless variety of folkloric customs (including live handicraft but missing gastronomical heritage), the criteria for selection are difficult to conceive. (The Ifacca query singled out a specific dilemma: whether migrant cultures should be registered also, or referred to their place of origin.)

Short listing & labelling
A young and little known list has four items only: the cultural event label of the Council of Europe. The deadline of proposals for the next inscription is 30 June.