Cultural Heritage Building in Hungary: Models and Approaches
Gábor Sonkoly

The Hungarian example

In the second part of this presentation, I give a short history of how cultural heritage was shaped in Hungary from the middle of the 1990s to the present day, and, as a conclusion we try to expound a set of ideas which derive from observation of the Hungarian practice, but may have some common features with your experience of other Central European countries.

As we mentioned before, the fact that the term heritage appeared in Hungary, had political origins, and its most conspicuous results were of the institutional kind. After some precedents, the expression cultural heritage was introduced by the Hungarian government based on the coalition of the socialist and the liberal party in the middle of the 1990s, and it was used sporadically in the law on culture in 1997; it was also mentioned in connection with the Millennial celebrations of the Hungarian land conquest in 1996, and a new Cultural Heritage Directorate was set up besides the National Board for the Protection of Historical Monuments, an old institution with a tradition of more than hundred years. Then, after the parliamentary elections of 1998, the winning conservative parties not merely adopted the term from their political rivals, but took also advantage of it in the transformation of the governmental structure: following the program of the leading party of the coalition, F.I.D.E.S.Z. - Hungarian Civic Party, the Ministry of Culture and Education was divided in two, and the Ministry of National Cultural Heritage was established. With a reference to foreign examples--especially the British--culture, monument protection and tourism, which had previously belonged to three ministries, were unified in this one. The electoral program underlined not only the economic potential of heritage, but also its capacity to raise the awareness of ?historical and cultural identity,? which on the one hand, should help the ?citizens? (polgárok, a word frequently used by the new government, playing upon the ambiguous meaning of the word) face the challenges of the globalizing world, on the other, should qualify them for the reception of its positive effects. Culture, seen in this light, was ranked as a strategic goal in the state?s policy, while, paradoxically, the years to come were characterized in the program as a period of moderate governmental intervention.

In the parliamentary debate about the new ministry, the socialist and liberal parties, now in opposition, claimed that the word, being unable to describe the integrity of culture, was not appropriate as a name for the ministry, and that it would provoke a shift towards the past, i.e. a conservative historicism. To these objections, the government answered with a combination of the ?national? and ?European? logic: the preservation of the objects from the Hungarian past and the adherence to the European standards of cultural politics were both arguments suitable to prove their right. Predictably, the debate gave a chance for a fight between stereotypes, between the imaginary ?protectors? and ?enemies? of national values, or ?conservatives? and ?liberals.?

In the following years, the term became widely used in the official texts of the government, but the definition of ?heritage? was again missing. The discourse, taken from the EU proposals, that is, the invitation directed to the local communities, with the intention to make them find their own heritage, opened the door to practical definitions, overshadowing the necessity of a theoretical one. Actually, the loose terminology seems to be connected with the uncertainties regarding the status and whereabouts of heritage itself. Not only "communities" were mobilized, but a wide range of things, now summed up as heritage, was ?moving? as well.

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