Cultural Heritage Building in Hungary: Models and Approaches
Gábor Sonkoly

The year 2000, the Millennium of the Hungarian state, in connection with the second millennium of Christianity, gave an extraordinary chance for the politics of identity and of heritage. Preparations started before the parliamentary elections of 1998: both governments, old and new, intended to take advantage of it. When the former cabinet talked about the reconstruction of royal castles of the medieval period, they were mentioned as parts of ?the built heritage representing the thousand years of the state.? The new cabinet called for a nation-wide renewal and preservation of heritage, and repeated the ideas on national self-confidence, cultural productivity, the ability to filter the effects of globalization ? these were ideas well-known from the electoral campaign.

But how the concept of nation was described on this occasion? Instead of a homogeneous identity, the government chose the mosaic of different ones, without ethnic, religious or gender discrimination. This official statement could be interpreted as a gesture, made in order to avoid accusations that Hungary simply follows the pattern of the Millennium of a century before, when the country had celebrated the thousand years of land-conquest with an "imperialistic" accent. In 1896, the references to modern technical progress, political integrity or even supremacy made a curious blend with romantic national mythology. The model of 1896 was in part imitated by the practice of the new celebrations of the year 2000. Pride radiated not to only to the figures of the more distant past, but also to the 19th century ancestors, since they had given a prestigious and enduring example of dignified remembrance. What did the Hungarians remember during the Millennium of Christianity and statehood? Perhaps the patterns drawn by 19th century Millennium of the land conquest and the memories of the political propaganda of the period between the World Wars were more powerful than the knowledge on the first nine hundred years: the historic past of the 20th century was near and concrete, and influenced the vision of the rest of the country's history.

In the financial system, drawn up for subsidizing the large cultural enterprise, direct central investment was combined with a competition, in which, according to the logic of the heritage movement known from Western countries, the communities were invited to participate with their own projects. However, the government's propaganda put it the other way round, too: delegations of the government brought the so-called ?state banner? to many towns and villages: a sign of acknowledgement for their efforts and achievements throughout history, and a captivating device to express their unity with the wider community of the country.

In the same time, the ministry prepared a draft of a new law on cultural heritage, with the intention to establish a new and comprehensive institution for its protection. In this way, heritage was at last defined by law in 2002. The definition included monuments, archeological findings and collections (museums, archives and part of the libraries): three areas were now supervised by the new Office of Cultural Heritage, which united the former National Board for the Protection of Historical Monuments with the Cultural Heritage Directorate. The parliamentary debate was again edifying: the government played the cards of EU-conformity and national identity in the same time, while the socialist and liberal parties defended the previous system of heritage protection, trying to relieve the centralizing and modernizing fervor of the government, and in this respect, playing the role of a conservative opposition. In new elections of 2002, the socialist and liberal parties established a government, and kept the structures of heritage protection created by the former government.

This overview shows that concept of cultural heritage was an important element in the conservative government?s own identity-making: these politicians tried to prove not only their adherence to the European standards and expectations, but also their national commitment to their electors. Material objects of national heritage were used in political propaganda during the electoral campaign in a massive and unprecedented way: one could, for example, observe on the streets and in the underground posters representing the Millennial Monument restorations as elements of "Our cultural heritage - "our common heritage."  On the other hand, the fact that the term cultural heritage was kept by every government, proves that it has been treated as a useful technical instrument, and it is not necessarily identified with a given political project. On the other hand, though heritage is general enough to be apolitical, in the sense that any political power can utilize it (which facilitates its adaptation in Central European countries, candidates of the EU) it can be interpreted in terms of party politics as well, thus, instead of mitigating the conflicts in the name of a common patrimony, it is able to recreate the existing boundaries in politics and mentality.

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