Memo December 2010

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A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in December 2010

Farewell to turquoise, looking forward to honeysuckle, the colour of 2011. 

Identities in the making

The European Commission came forward with the strategy and action plan proposed for the Danube Region. Culture definitely receives a more prominent position than what we found in the first such grouping, the Baltic Sea Region. Cultural heritage and its exploitation for tourism is the main theme, but the plan counts with culture also in the context of promoting people to people contacts.

On the whole, the action plan contains a smörgasbord of development goals that any regional (or national) strategy could wish for, ranging through topics like rail freight, biomass, festivals, e-services, small businesses etc. About a third of the items relate directly to the river.

The authors of the document are conscious about the difficulties linked to common interests between say Ruse in Bulgaria and Regensburg in Bavaria, or between Galaţi in Romania and Linz in Austria. Finding or creating the feeling of shared identity in a span of over 2000 kilometers is a nice and noble challenge. Imagined communities, by the way, has been among the most used terminological inventions in the past few decades. 

Strategy in the making?

A report was submitted in the European Parliament about the cultural dimensions of the EU’s external actions. The effort has a long pre-history.

The preambula of such reports are often the hotbed for bullshit, a collection of presumptuous slogans. Not this one! The Schaake report describes culture in nine unpretentious statements (from A to I). Yet not without weight and originality, see for instance the first one: “the EU is a culturally diverse community of values”.

Besides the usual common sense proposals calling for more synergy, new is the accent on digital diplomacy and on the Unesco diversity convention.

What is missing from the report is the assessment of the survival capacity of the old paradigm in cultural diplomacy, the predominance of nation branding at the expense of promoting joint European values.

Culture in the treaties

To facilitate wandering in the weird milieu of EU documents, BO has x-rayed for you the basic texts from culture’s point of view.

Heritage labels

As a next step on the road towards the introduction of the European heritage label, the European Parliament endorsed the scheme. Formally democratic, but in the eyes of BO silly and discriminating against tens of millions living in bigger countries that each member state will have the same quota, about one label per year.

Capitals of culture

The same rigid pseudo-egalitarianism prevails in the selection of European capitals of culture. Here is the chance to tell whether you want it differently after 2019. Deadline: 12th January.      

Criteria, and thus basic features and missions of capitals of culture are defined at detail – also in the form of recommendations. Nevertheless when one looks at the websites of Tallinn2011 and Turku2011, sees rich and nice cultural showcases of two European cities, little more or less, availing themselves of the ecoc brand.     

This is what finally happened to Pécs2010, turning out positively, with a remarkable surplus of tourists. The story could have turned even happier if Brussels or the international panel had saved the city from driving itself into an unrealistic real estate development craze.  

Poverty and culture

To round up the theme of the year, Eurobarometer released reports of two opinion surveys on poverty. Culture is very marginal in the questions, and more so in the answers of citizens, when they are asked about the worst sides of poverty (item QA11) and about its treatment (item QB2). 56% of Europeans believe that job creation is the key to combat poverty, followed by education and healthcare, mentioned by 46-44%. Only every twentieth citizen included culture among the three priority areas when it comes to social and employment issues.

BO found few signs of east European specifics in these matters; the only clear case being the low percentage of eastern citizens that attach importance to having a bank account, but this is distantly related to culture only: 

In the absence of real east-west divide, the south-east of Europe (BG, CY, EL, IT, RO) distinguish themselves by believing in the role of culture more than the average does. Czechs are consistently the most sceptical about culture both as a symptom or a remedy of social problems. 

The Americans are watching us

Here is the top twelve of countries from where BO website was visited in 2010 (after Hungary):

United States 9,2%

United Kingdom

7,3%

Poland

6,2%

Germany

6,2%

France

5,9%

Belgium

5,1%

Romania

5,1%

Netherlands

3,7%

Italy

3,4%

Spain

3,1%

Serbia

2,1%

Slovenia

2,0%

 

Sylvester

This is how we call the eve of the new year in this region. BO felt a kind of Sylvester night atmosphere in the many halls of the Palace of Culture in Warsaw at the re:visions festival already in early December.

Happy new year to all correspondents, friends and acquaintances!