Cultural Heritage Building in Hungary: Models and Approaches
Gábor Sonkoly

In this paper I shall examine the construction of national cultural heritage in Hungary.  First, I shall briefly summarize the reasons, which made the success of the notion of cultural heritage in the last three decades possible in order to be able to set up the levels of heritage building. Second, we shall show through the Hungarian example how the previously undefined notion of cultural heritage became institutionalized from the 1990s on the national level. To conclude, I shall share some hypothetical thoughts to place the national heritage building in Central Europe to a larger framework.

General considerations about the construction of cultural heritage

The notion of cultural heritage witnessed an exceptional success both in scientific and political discourses in the last three decades. In Western Europe, especially in France and in the United Kingdom, scientific debates were shaped around the term of cultural heritage, which soon became a key notion in cultural policy. In Hungary, the notion of cultural heritage entered the political discourse by the establishment of the Ministry of National Cultural Heritage in 1998[1]. Despite of the fact, however, that the codification of the national heritage had a considerable impact on several disciplines such as history of art, monument protection, archeology, ethnography, museology, etc., Hungarian academia was rather slow to react: the first conferences were organized in early 2000[2]. In 2001, when a new system of research grants, the Széchenyi Plan, was started by the government, one of the three major areas was national cultural heritage. Due to this grant and to European grants and projects with the focus of cultural heritage has alredy become a determining notion in the scientific discourse, although it is still undefined.  From 2005 onwards, a new debate started on the notion of intangible cultural heritage due to the UNESCO Declaration on intangible cultural heritage. In the Hungarian context even the translation of the term ?intangible? happened to be quite problematic. The term used in the law on intangible cultural heritage (szellemi) means ?spiritual? as opposed to the ?material?-ness of the tangible heritage giving the philosophical scent of the 19th century to the debates about the definition and the meaning of this new term.

Until the 1960?s the historical monument was the key notion: heritage is collected and classified according to its antique character and its age. The notion of cultural heritage grew wider from the 1960?s onwards in national and European legislation: first the notion of architectural heritage was codified, and by the end of the 1970?s we reached the notion of cultural heritage twinned with the notion of collective memory. In the case of France, for example, the law on the archives of 1979 was the first to mention the notion of heritage. The Council of Europe defined this notion at the Congress of Granada in 1985 for the first time. Among the decrees of the Council of Europe, we can find this notion as early as in 1949, since one of the most important aims of this institution was the protection of ?the common European heritage,? though it remained undefined that time. In addition to this, in 1994 the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe established the principles of the definition and the protection of local cultural heritage.

These examples of the definition and classification of cultural heritage show quite clearly that the cultural heritage as a norm is shared by such strange bedfellows as regional councils, nation-state government offices and continent-wide organisations as the Council of Europe. If the Centre of World Heritage of UNESCO is added to this list, one can admire the whole picture: cultural heritage became a determining element from the smallest village community up to the whole of humankind, able to represent the identity of these communities.

[1]The Directorate of Cultural Heritage was established before the 1998 elections.

[2]The first conference, entitled Humanities and the Concept of National Heritage, was co-organized by the Collegium Budapest and by the Central European University in January 2000. The second event was a roundtable discussion on Heritage and Time at the Centre for Central European Studies of Teleki László Institute.

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