Memo July 2009


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

BO has had a great summer so far. Don’t be misled by some downcast tones in the memo. 

Year after year

The ultimate study to support this European year has been published, and the theme for 2011 has been selected…

Somehow 2010, the year between, has slipped our attention, although there is explicit reference to culture in the basic documents. The European Year for combating poverty and social exclusion apparently functions with less limelight and in a more decentralised manner than the ones linked closer to culture. The national implementing bodies, typically attached to the ministry for social affairs, are setting up the programme in these weeks – worth checking whether culture is appropriately included.  

In our region, poverty and exclusion best affect the Roma people – can culture help? If you prefer combating poverty with music, here is your special chance

List after list

The European heritage label was officially initiated by France, Hungary and Spain in Granada in 2006. A third of the the contributors to the on-line consultation was indeed Spanish, but only a few French and no-one from Hungary. The majority greeted the project (differently from World Heritage experts BO consulted in Cracow). Skeptics in minority, so there will be listing and labeling.

If you ask BO, the harmonisation of the presentation of heritage sites is the essence. First, please, painstakingly elaborate common principles, ways and formats of keeping and displaying heritage items. Second, encourage holders of sites in great numbers to apply these criteria. Third, monitor those who have implemented the standards of managing and presenting heritage in a truly European manner. And fourth only, enlist them into a common marketing pool. Exclusivity based on quality and discipline, not on country quotas. And do not insist on label, if possible.

Award after award

BO hopes that the concerted will of three broad branches – writers, publishers, booksellers – and the European Commission will come up with more imaginative products than one more award, the European Union Prize for Literature. Let us wait for another €300 000 put up for really ingenuous interventions, where available resources can achieve maximum impact, serving the cause of books and literature more substantially than by selecting twelve authors a year. Who minds if the same three federations happen to win that tender, too?

BO hopes that such a future product will get a better display than the news page of the actual prize, crying for a proof reader. Will need no “ambassador”, or at least not displayed at greater length than the twelve winners together. Why are six writers addressed Mrs, while one is just Laura – an indication of being the only single authoress? And how to interpret that Pavol is the only male without Mr – a matter of class?

Case after case

In culture, more than in any other sector, there is a tendency for symbolic and ceremonial interactions, at the expense of lasting structural assistance and development.

Instead of “official” selection and distinction, and besides the show, make public authorities focus more on sustainable progress.

Cracow after Cracow

As expressed in the compact summary to the expert symposium Twenty years after in Cracow, the participants were more eager about the need for changes in cultural policies than the introductory paper was. One of the first speakers, Jerzy Hausner, former vice-premier of Poland, called for fundamental reforms in the financing and governance of culture.

His proposed “revolution” has raised cold and hot sentiments in the largest new EU member country and triggered an on-going discussion in a leading national newspaper. The culmination will, perhaps, take place in September, at the national congress on culture (the sixth since 1910), also hosted by Cracow. 

Course after course

Boring as it sounds, (exactly the opposite!) BO attended a summer course on cultural policies in Cracow, after a similarly fruitful and enjoyable one in Budapest.

Old and new faces

BO greets familiar faces of Doris and Helga at the steering wheel of the culture and education committee of the European Parliament; takes note of two party chiefs: Lothar and Timo (a true Finn!) plus Morten as vice-presidents. The list contains an odd couple from Romania (Corneliu and László), and ends with a countess from Cracow. Good luck to the new team!