Memo January 2018


A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in January 2018

Looking beyond 2020.

Follow Churchill

Preparations have begun for the next long term budget of the European Union called Multiannual Financial Framework. The Commissioner in charge pronounced a stern warning: “We will only spend money, if we can show it brings added value.”

How to achieve a larger share for culture? How to ward off cuts? Let’s take Churchill’s stance when he was asked to cut funding to the arts in order to support the war effort in World War II: “Then what would we be fighting for?”

For what, indeed? For enabling everyone to be familiar with Europe’s diverse culture and find pride and satisfaction in it. That makes an inhabitant a citizen. Aiming at half a billion cultural citizens is worth the long haul of the European project.

In an era of fake news it matters little that Churchill never said so. But he did mean that “it is by art man gets nearest to the angels and farthest from the animals.”

Social progress index

You may not agree that social progress takes citizens closer to cultural addiction but will probably concede that culture is part of progress. Then you will feel disappointed at checking the European Social Progress Index. The map shows the same old story: glory to Scandinavia, pity for the South-East. And one finds the all too frequent neglect of cultural behaviour from the 50 indicators applied to characterise the 272 regions in the European Union.

If curiosity takes you to check your own region you find it scored and ranked along three dimensions: basic needs, wellbeing and opportunity. Culture would nicely fit in the last two.

The authors of the instrument underline that there is no close relationship between affluence and social progress. Indeed. BO ranked the regions along the distance between the position on the social progress rank list and that of GDP by region. You must dive into the files to understand the discrepancy between the richness of Bratislava or Prague and their miserable social profiles.

Thirty consultations

The European Commission is busy practicing direct democracy. At this moment there are thirty open consultations on topics ranging from litter in sea to visa policies. Six of these surveys are collecting views in preparation for the Multiannual Financial Framework post 2020.The one on values and mobility could be most interesting for BO friends. The NEMO newsletter introduces the rest, geared to museums but it applies mutatis mutandis to culture at large. 

Eastern heritage

Distance is not an excuse to neglect the eastern edge of the continent among your cultural travel plan targets. As many as seven routes coordinated and promoted by one of the best programmes of the Council of Europe traverse the EU Eastern Partnership area. Wine is claimed to have been invented in the Caucasus: this route includes the birthplace. 

The third comparative Brief of the Eastern Partnership Cultural Observatory also shows you the percentage share that items from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine occupy on Unesco’s intangible heritage register:

32 shades of heritage

We browsed the 32 national websites dedicated to the European Year of Cultural Heritage (respecting cultural autonomies, Belgium is represented with five sites). Some are uninspiring pages attached to the website of the culture ministry. Others are promoting the goals of the Year in a decent manner. And some are really impressive. We appreciated where contact persons are named (Bulgaria, Flanders, Sweden etc.). BO’s overall champions are Finland and UK (bronze), Ireland (silver) and the Netherlands (gold). 



In Finland, the operations of the Year are coordinated by a respectable body. In the United Kingdom a non-governmental organisation is in charge, from the north of England. The Irish website stands out with its lively design. And the Dutch really mean it, once more. Heritage is approached from a different aspect each month.

Strangely, from a Dutch page one can enter the Austrian website of the Year which from the common page is inaccessible.  

Interpret Europe

The Hungarian page on the European Year announces an appealing event, a conference connected to Interpret Europe,a business-like European organisation, judged by the website. Conditions of membership are explained in great detail but you find no list of actual members. The conference is prepared with the same professionalism, offering a rich variety of tours in west Hungary and east Austria.

The history of east Europe, especially the last hundred years, produced massive displacement of population and ethnic cleansing, extermination and expulsion in great numbers. It is a challenge to respect the original “stakeholders” when the surviving heritage is interpreted. BO wonders whether this issue will be duly addressed during the conference.