During the years that have passed since the ratification in 2008 of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (hereinafter Convention) and the submitting in 2018 of the second country report, the Hungarian State made efforts to act as actively as possibly in the interest of serving the purposes of the Convention both in Hungary and abroad, within the limits of its material and human resources and organisational capacities.
Hungary took several measures for the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions and for the support of intercultural dialogue. Among measures taken in Hungary, we can refer to the extension of archiving web contents concerning cultural minorities and basic cultural services to encourage cultural diversity. The Csoóri Sándor Program - launched in 2017 - is still the primary means of promoting folk culture both in Hungary and in Hungarian communities in the surrounding countries. In 2019, Hungary launched the Lázár Ervin Program, which provides all primary school students with the experience of attending theater, dance and circus performances, classical music concerts once a school year free of charge, regardless of social status and place of residence. The Déryné Program - launched in 2020 - delivers high-quality productions to small settlements lacking the possibilities to attend cultural events. The motto of the program is “Theater for everyone ". The Déryné Program consists of four sub-programs, simultaneously addressing stone theaters, creative associations, cultural consumers and the communities struggling with various barriers to cultural access. In the making of Hungarian acts, the Hungarian State always consults with the civil society, involving them in political decision-making in the field of Culture, according to the Legislation Act.
It emerged as a challenge during the application of the provisions of the Convention that Hungary had to find the balance in complying with its obligations arising from the provisions of the Convention and playing an active role in the protection of global cultural diversity between keeping its commitments proportionate with its possibilities and harmonising its own external policy purposes with those enshrined in the Convention.
In Hungary the pandemic entered and triggered effects and reactions in a similar way to most countries in Europe. Cultural institutions - like almost all public places - were closed down, events were cancelled or postponed, mobility was and still is limited, several artistic activities halted, home office mode and social distancing became the rule.
Suddenly, the world has changed, the focus and the rhythm of our lives, the values, the importance of mental well-being, and along with it, the media and cultural consumption of people took a big turn. After the first period of the quarantine, chaotic conditions slowly began to settle down, an agenda has been set, working according to a new schedule was planned. People have learnt to live according to a new plan to be able to take care of themselves and their loved ones. We have had to manage to work and, at the same time, to teach our children at home. The new obligations involved a higher level of stress greatly due to the uncertainty of the situation. Therefore, people somehow have had to find ways to recharge even if the usual social connections, programmes had to be substituted by different sources and forms than before.
From the beginning of the crisis, the State Secretariat for Cultural Affairs of the Ministry of Human Capacities has been at the cultural stakeholders’ disposal with regular sectorial videoconferences as well as with non-stop online and telephone access. The Government, realising the weight of the crisis, has decided on immediate general and sector-specific measures that react to the challenge.
According to a Government Decree of 5th April the deadline of all state-funded programmes and projects were extended with the duration of the emergency situation, including projects with a central budgetary funding which were launched under the emergency period.
Hungary's cultural government, as an important step in the restarting process, provides one billion Hungarian Forints (appr. 2,85 million EUR) to independent performers who have been left without income. The name of the programme is "Thank you, Hungary!" It is important to emphasize that we do not distribute aid, instead, we pre-finance future artistic productions: approximately 5,000 performances by about 3,000 artists. This way, when the pandemic ends, a national programme series involving around 2,000 settlements will be launched. Within the framework of this programme, our public institutions are free to choose from a central database among artistic productions when planning their cultural calendar.
The majority of theatres, concert halls, museums, as well as our libraries, archives and centres of community culture have offered free access to performances and virtual collections to spread knowledge and culture to the widest audiences, fully respecting the rights of authors. Public relations in the online space emerged thanks to social media and to the museum websites. An example is the virtual tour of the exhibition Variations on Realism - From Munkácsy to Mednyánszky in the Hungarian National Gallery. Some further outstanding examples are: the broadcasting of online performances by the Capital Circus of Budapest, performances of the Hungarian State Opera made available at their Spotify-page, access provided to more than 40 literary evenings at the Palace of Arts. The Hungarian National Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Petőfi Literary Museum or the Museum of Ethnography also offered online access to various exhibitions.
The direct connection provided by the online interfaces also carried the potential for dialogue and feedback, eg. via chatrooms. Spectators could write live comments to performances which gave a new perspective to the creative process. Video content offered by artists made the connection even more personal.
It is important to note that the suddenly accumulated cultural content led to an increasingly conscious selection, according to the value and quality of the digitally available material, generating competition in a good sense. Therefore, marketing and communication activities continued to be priorities at cultural institutions and companies. Also, waves of solidarity and empathy emerged for sectors in difficulty, including cultural institutions and artists.
A very important initiative is that Hungarian libraries started functioning as authentic information sources in connection with the epidemic, thus contributing to the prevention of spreading fake news. Despite the forced closure of the museums, the work in the background did not stop - the management of the collections and research tasks took place continuously. In order to work efficiently, the Museum Department of the Ministry of Human Capacities established a group dealing with museum pedagogy involving colleagues from many different museums. The Department cooperated even more closely with professional organizations during the epidemic. With their help, around 4,000 staff members and nearly 200 institutions were reached.
Several institutions, mainly in rural areas, were involved in providing assistance to those in need (participation in lunch delivery, cleaning, mask sewing, helping the elderly).
A training was launched to support the digital switchover by the Museum of Fine Arts. The Public Collection College of the National Cultural Fund has announced a new call for tenders for the implementation of virtual exhibitions. In addition, a new tender has emerged for the implementation of living history programmes involving actors.
In Hungary, on the 18 June, the state of emergency declared on March 11 to contain the spread of the coronavirus ended. Instead, the Hungarian government has introduced a state of pandemic preparedness across the entire country with the declaration of a “health crisis”. The government will review the necessity of the state of pandemic preparedness every three months, until December 18, 2020.
With the end of the state of emergency, all cultural institutions (including museums, libraries) could be reopened. However, specific regulations continue to apply, for example, regarding the number and distance of visitors, special seating arrangements or the necessity of wearing masks.
Unfortunately the year 2020 focusing on the mitigation of the negative circumstances of the pandemic. But in these horrific times we also provide what could be provide to help the victims of the cultural area, and to fulfill our obligations according to the Convention.