Memo August 2012


A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in August 2012

Farewell to all sorts of summer games for a while.

Not fewer than one hundred in Rio

Not taking a clear stance about the extent to which sports are considered culture, BO nevertheless cast a short glance at the results of the summer Olympics four years ago. This time a more leisurely look is taken at how east and central Europe has succeeded in the games during BO’s lifetime.

     Sydney 2000       Athens 2004       Beijing 2008       London 2012  
Belarus 17 15 19 12
Bulgaria 13 12 5 2
Croatia 2 5 5 6
Czech Republic 8 8 6 10
Estonia 3 3 2 2
Hungary 17 17 10 17
Latvia 3 4 3 2
Lithuania 5 3 5 5
Macedonia 1 0 0 0
Moldova 2 0 1 2
Montenegro       1
Poland 14 10 10 10
Romania 26 19 8 9
Serbia       4
Serbia and Montenegro   2 3  
Slovakia 5 6 6 4
Slovenia 2 4 5 4
Ukraine 23 23 27 20
Yugoslavia 3      
All 144 131 115 110

It is sad to see this region gradually losing momentum. But it will not go on like that. In Rio we shall collect well above one hundred olympic medals (gold, silver and bronze together). Bulgaria and Romania will regain former levels, Albanian and Bosnian athletes will join the league. 

No passports in Kassel

At the Olympics national affiliation is one of the most important aspects, regardless of the increasing frequency of swapping citizenship.

In the realm of arts Documenta, organised every five years in Kassel, comes closest to the Olympics. The motto Collapse and Recovery expresses the ethereal abstraction of the event that is going on from June till 16 September this year. Earthly attributes like nationality and citizenship are irrelevant, absent from the list of the official contributors to the various shows and performances. Acknowledging that art contests administrative allegiance more than ever before, and yet curious about east Europeans’ presence at Documenta – no, not for the same infantile rivalry as in sports, but from a more subtle motivation –, one has to apply various search methods. E.g. by typing names of cities you arrive at epithets like born in Vilnius lives in Paris or born in Cracow lives in London...

From the 297 participants we found 18 to be related to east-central Europe. This includes weird names like György (Georg) Lukács, dead since 1971 but a valid contributor to Documenta 13 with two of his writings from the early 1900s. In fact six artists seem to have travelled to Kassel directly from our region. (The chief curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev does not belong here, she is American / Italian of Bulgarian descent.)

Red tail

Tourism intensity is expressed by the number of tourist nights per year per 1000 inhabitants. The EU 27 average in 2011 was 4671. The diagram contains the latest data of 343 European regions, in the great majority from 2011. The red columns represent regions from east-central Europe. Most of them are below the average, among the 43 quiet places behind the 300th position nine only are from the “west”.


Among the top 14 regions, blessed (and cursed) with more than 25 000 nights in tourism accommodations the Adriatic coast in Croatia represents the east with 25 266. Next is Prague (10 367), and then at the 77th position is the Yugoistochen region around Burgas, Bulgaria (6648).

The greatest and smallest amounts of nights in hotels were counted in the Balearic Islands (59 309) and in Nord-Est Moldova in Romania respectively (420 nights per year per 1000 inhabitants).    

What have tourism statistics to do with culture? There are obvious answers but a newsletter in summer (in the season of tourism by the way) can do without them. Besides well known touristic areas, also ordinary regions in the west show much larger intensity than those in the east. Signals of high mobility, affluence, attraction – or the opposite.  

Sarajevo, non amour?

Two years remain till the centenary of the outbreak of World War I. Besides a Europeana initiative there is no sign of a pan-European commemoration. Attempts to bestow an extraordinary title of European capital of culture to Sarajevo have failed. Nevertheless something in the like of the erstwhile European Cultural Month could still be decided on – should the former chief antagonists wish so.