Managing and processing cultural heritage follow the same principles irrespective of the size or the level of organisation of the community. The cultural heritage is the stock-hold of objects and that of intangible entities represented by objects considered to be part of the shared memory of the community. Proper institutions collect, catalogue, examine, exhibit, preserve these objects, and they restore or decipher in case of necessity to draw conclusions. During this process, the original meaning is enriched by something new, i.e. the interpretation of the new owner. That is how heritage is coupled with memory, both being part of identity, and they are to be found, to be preserved and to be re-explored. In this sense, heritage serves not merely cataloguing or registering purposes of the possessed goods, but to describe and to determine the identity of the inheritor even if he or she is unconscious about it.
Heritage and memory share, among other characteristics, an important feature: they both enter the interpretative fields of history (-writing). Along this intrusion the identity formation of old/new communities can be grasped, and it explains the rapidly growing popularity of the notion of cultural heritage. Any trial of the reconstruction of the horrible events of the Second World War, the Holocaust and those of the communism makes the testimony of the witnesses indispensable and survivals are ordered to remember. Personal testimonies, the manifestations of individual memories are liable to be published without any or with very little censorship.
Nowadays, memory and commemoration in Western Europe are often organised around heritage, which leads to the multiplication and certain denationalisation of the forms of these commemorations. The discipline of history, originally established as a national science, is becoming less and less attractive for a community whose memory is based on cultural heritage. In certain cases the nation itself can become as a part of heritage. As Pierre Nora states in 1997: ?As if France was not a history, which divides us, but it becomes a culture, what we share?.
Obviously, we cannot forget that it is one of the most dynamic branches of the economy, i.e. tourism, which is in a need of more and more sites of cultural heritage. It is the economic interest of the community as well as of the whole country to classify more heritage sites, which are being determined by specialised enterprises backed by local authorities. Historians and other social sciences are welcome to put together a reliable documentation, which is not expected to reflect any national character.
The key to the understanding of this fast spreading of the notion is that the institutionalisation of the actual identity of a given community based on its collective memory can be realised through the establishment of the cultural heritage. That?s why one can spot this notion from the local level up to the universal one. The forms of organisation of these communities are obviously different, what is also true to the application and interpretation of the notion of heritage. The universal appearance of the notion does not necessarily mean that the social actors mean the same by heritage at all the levels. Disputes over cultural heritage unify the inner tradition of a given level and the tensions of the unavoidable dialogue between the levels.
This short paper does not give the possibility to examine all the four levels mentioned before, that?s why we shall give a short presentation of the second and the fourth levels, i.e. the national and the universal ones, through recent Hungarian and Central European examples.
Nora, Pierre: Les lieux de mémoire, I, Paris, Gallimard, 1997: 1391.