Europe has no culture border patrols

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While Mrs May is in Brussels explaining to her mostly fuming Continental counterparts why it is necessary for Britain to retreat to the 1950s (when rationing comes back, will we also get that wonderful NHS orange juice for our kids?), other corners of Europe are having none of it.

I’ve been talking to Csaba Káel who runs Budapest’s answer to the South Bank Centre, Mupa, who is a frequent visitor here for an array of reasons. There’s an interview with him in the next AI. He has his own political problems, with a third of his funding coming from a right wing government whose prime minister is a Trump admirer that refuses to accept Muslim refugees and believes in “illiberal democracy”. 

But the value of being European is in no doubt in his country, and Káel says that whatever British politicians do, British artists will be as much a part of Europe as they have ever been. You can’t take British culture out of Europe, he says, because it is intrinsic to European culture.

As of now, perhaps not in future if the Brexit police stop the free flow of artists in and out, the UK and London in particular is the world’s cultural clearing house. He comes here to arrange co-productions and co-commissions, to book, to find out what’s happening in jazz, world music and dance which Hungarian audiences need some educating in, not just with British partners but other Europeans and particularly Americans; and to get advice on how to make the most of a multi-discipline arts centre that needs to attract foreign ticket buyers.

And he’s after more. He needs to learn, and learn fast, about fundraising, a discipline almost unknown in Hungary, to relieve the pressure on tickets. And looming is perhaps an even bigger test: Budapest is up against Paris, Los Angeles, Rome and Hamburg to get the 2024 Olympics; Káel knows how important it will be to Hungary, and that London won it for 2012 on the back of a cultural programme, so he has to build a potential Cultural Olympiad that centres on Mupa, by the crunch selection date of July 2019.

But that’s personal, so to speak. More importantly, says Káel (a film maker by trade who believes the Hungarian film industry has been destroyed by the EU’s distribution system which insists on American movies dominating the circuits), Europe’s cultural identity is at risk and Euro politicians as well as national leaders need to be made aware of it, and made to value and nurture it. “In our mind, in our spirit, there is part that comes from you, the UK” he says. “I’m reading a Shakespeare sonnet or listening to Britten’s music and it comes to my Hungarian heart, but it comes from your country.”


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