Memo June 2009


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

Twenty years since the miraculous year of 1989 – yes, BO joined the commemorations.

East is IETM direction

East, which became very sexy two decades ago, right after the Berlin Wall came down. East, which started losing its glamour as the iron curtain sank into history.

Having held its spring plenary meeting in Bratislava in April, IETM, the international network for contemporary performing arts will organise the autumn plenary meeting in Vilnius in October. It will deal with eastern promises on one hand and western expectations on the other; will explore new colonisation of all sorts, going from the east to the west and vice versa; and the territories culture has colonised in our own societies.

These sentences from the IETM site fit very well to the spirit of the next entry, on the memorial workshop held in Cracow.

Cracow questions

What remained of the glamour of eastern Europe of 1989? What happened to those promises and expectations? BO and a few BO friends undertook a detailed analysis, the outcome of which served as the background paper to the symposium, co-organised by the Council of Europe and the International Cultural Centre in Cracow.

East, as used in the previous sentences in the sense of east and central Europe, is a fairly clear thing. As soon as you want to go into details, and search for concrete answers to the questions above, you get confronted with the enormous differences – some age old, others newly emerging – that divide the 24-25 countries that share the historical record of communism. BO believes that most of the 73 positive and 88 negative statements in our analysis are fairly valid – not equally to each country in the east, yet, on the other hand, applying also to a number of places in the west. Don’t you think so?    

BO contributed to the Cracow workshop also with an anthology of graphs highlighting eastern specifics.

Cracow answers

The symposium ended with a few conclusions . The nicest thing about them is that they lend themselves to being used as guidelines for the operations of the cultural governance observatory of the Council of Europe, the CultureWatchEurope. In the work of monitoring developments, one of the aims of the Watch, the eight key principles established in Cracow can serve as yardsticks.   

Ours among the 144 400

The analysis made for Cracow establishes that the position of east European culture with regard to the rest of the world, and particularly to the rest of Europe, has improved less than desirable and possible since 1989. It is not always easy to verify such statements. Except if such a mind boggling system tracks the record of artistic achievement as in the case of visual art. There are 18 living east Europeans among the top 500 of the world’s 144 400 (!) contemporary artists (including 20th century classics): six Poles, two and two from Albania, Romania and Slovenia, and one Bosnian, Croat, Czech, Lithuanian, Serb and Slovak. More than nothing – yet behind lots of American and west European artists.

Performance pioneer Marina Abramović from Serbia, and Albanian video artist Anri Sala figure in the top 100, led by Warhol (with roots from east Europe) and Picasso. The highest positioned artist (Nr.276) actually working in our region is Roman Ondák from Bratislava.  

Intergenerational solidarity

In the spirit of eastern masochism, supposing that knowing our inner selves leads to more authentic art, and also culture policies, here is another scale from Eurobarometer: how Europeans think of their elders.

Left column shows the share of citizens who think that the old are a burden for society (over 30% of Lithuanians believe so). Right column: percentage of those who – strongly or just somewhat – doubt whether older people make a major contribution as volunteers in charitable and community organisations (nearly half of Poles disbelieve in such contribution by the old).

Listing festivals

BO is instrumental in the construction of an online register of festivals in Hungary. At the time of composing this memo, there were 240 items in the list. The collection has served as a pool of information for a presentation on the typology of theatre festivals, with special regard to audience development. BO contributed with it to a symposium in the frames of a theatre festival in Novi Sad, Serbia.

Much ado about a thing

BO likes Trans Europe Halles (TEH), twelve of whose 48 members are from our region! BO likes youth culture. BO likes Swedes. BO likes luxury, too (no link at hand). Yet a high concentration of these constituents risks with nausea. Like the lavish record of the three-year sophisticated attempt to provide memories of a lifetime for 16 youths, funded from three international and two national sources. May it prove to be a fruitful pilot project for the rest of European youth, queueing for similar experience.    

CICY again

And here is a more recent testimony of BO’s concern about youth, its cultural education: plenty of evidences and opinions on the subject in a conference report.

2011 has a name

BO apologises the Commission for recommending to borrow the title of a future year from Monty Python. 2011 – the European year of volunteering is a better idea, indeed.