Memo February 2017


A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in February 2017

Spring is in the air.

Supported couplings

With the display of the detailed list of translations supported by the EU the 2014-2016 list grew to 1403 books. BO has sorted them by couplings. Blue segments stand for western source languages which represent 58.4% of titles. Eastern works (orange slices) are at 33.5%. The rest is literary “periphery”, translations from Basque, Catalan, Gallegan, Greek, Icelandic, Irish, Maltese, and Turkish. (In brackets are couplings that exemplify the group.)

The scheme diligently serves its primary purpose of boosting the circulation of European literature. Also, the 74.3% that goes to publishers in east-central Europe (orange figures) are a hefty support, often lifeblood to these cherished small and medium creative enterprises.

Nevertheless BO has advocated for the additional objective of thriving for a better balance through the promotion of literatures with various handicaps. In this perspective, spending a third of the entire fund of a bit more than 10 million euro on the centrifugal drive of western literature to eastern countries is a waste, not to speak of the 9.4% (132 books!) translated from English to various east European languages. We argue for building in incentives to help works in lesser read languages to the core literary markets (sections underlined in the graph, now adding up to a mere 17%).

Serviced writers

There are too few instances like the Portuguese Saramago, a model for BO with 4 different titles translated into 4 different languages with the help of the fund. Croatian Jergović (4 titles, 3 languages), French Pagano (3 titles, 6 languages) and Hungarian Krasznahorkai (3 titles, 5 languages) can also be singled out. Much more is spent on authors with a single book translated into 6-8, or 11 languages – and 20, over the years.

This is done by design. Winners of the EU prize for literature are strongly prioritised by the scheme. The advantage does not expire: 28 translations on the list are from the 12 awarded titles of the first round in 2009. It is the title that gets this bonus and not the person. The 12 authors from 2009 appear 7 times with additional books on the actual three-year list. Above mentioned Emmanuelle Pagano is one of them, whose case indeed is a model for the EU prize as well. 

You will find further thoughts on the same set of issues from page 40 in the Diversity Report 2016.

Have your say

Should you have any thoughts on the above, or about other features of Creative Europe, you have got over six weeks to shape your message. A public consultation is open until 16 April. Read the questions. Most of the survey asks you to feed back on the official aims of the programme, leaving little scope for open ended suggestions for improvement.  

The actual priorities of the Europe for Citizens programme have specific appeal to cultural operators who care about democratic engagement and civic participation, or for whom memories of totalitarian regimes as well as the transition thereof are an issue (all this applying to many of our readers). Public consultation on that program is also on-going.

Try hard

You are invited to comment in another matter which requires stamina and familiarity with things Ukrainian. It is the draft report on Unesco’s culture for development indicators (CDIS) on Ukraine. You are unlikely to correct the statistics and factual statements but you may propose changes in the Results sections and comment on the general conclusions on pages 66-67.


An increasing proportion of visitors to the site of the Compendium country profiles has turned out to access the site via smart phone. This was a major reason for a Swiss volunteer action to extract summaries of some of the lengthy country profiles, broken down into shorter sections that fit better to the small screen. See for example the short profile of Croatia.   

This list of the profiles reveals that the latest update happens to be a BO product. It illustrates, among others, the assertion that the amount of public money spent on culture is not directly proportional to proper cultural policy (proper in BO eyes) – browse for the occurrences of MMA in the text

Digesting the whale

We know conferences are indispensable, often outright useful and sometimes great fun. Yet most of us treat them with a bit of healthy scepticism. This gets reinforced when in an attempt to check back on the website one not infrequently finds the invitation still in the future tense and the programme labelled “final” but not reflecting last minute changes.

Culture Action Europe staff took pains to distil the residuum of the conference held in a whale on the Danube, processing the records and notes in a variety of ways. They seem to have churned out everything from the event to diminish hangover and to raise pity in those who missed Beyond the Obvious. BO values the CAE takeaway abstracts. Calling for feedback is done professionally, too.

Sustainability was an overarching concept: the word occurs 17 times on the opening page. But here comes a warning from Raj.