The elusive centre (of Europe)

Grasping the centre is a troublesome, difficult or perhaps simply impossible task. Take, for example, the two Visegrads – places with identically sounding names, one in Hungary (Visegrád), the other in Bosnia (Višegrad). The first, which gave its name to them Visegrad Group, is a sign of the possibility of overcoming old feuds and building the foundations for mutual understanding between the countries of Central Europe. The other is a symbol of tragedy and an attempt at rejecting the past, building a future on forgetting. Both Visegrads – located on almost the same longitude – symbolise two parallel Central European realities. Thinking about one, it is impossible not to see the other, especially in the neighbourly context of Central European cooperation.
A wider aspect of Central European culture and civilisation is presented in two other groups of texts. In the first, we ask contemporary art critics what has remained of the idea of Central Europe in art. In the other, we take a look at “visible” and “invisible” cities, following the civilisation and culture-building role of Central European cities from the Middle Ages to contemporary times, or the memory of the city present in literature and the cityscape.
And finally, professors Tokimasa Sekiguchi and Mykola Riabchuk share with us their perspectives – a remote and closer one – on Central Europe.
So the Centre of the continent remains a challenge. Being Central European is today not only the question of world view and identity. It has become the challenge of building our identity in such a way that this Centre is more and more clearly discernible for those looking from the outside.

    • 1
      Editorial
      Jacek Purchla

      Grasping the centre is a troublesome, difficult or perhaps simply impossible task. Take, for example, the two Visegrads – places with identically sounding names, one in Hungary (Visegrád), the other in Bosnia (Višegrad). The first, which gave its name to them Visegrad Group, is a sign of the possibility of overcoming old feuds and building the foundations for mutual understanding between the countries of Central Europe. The other is a symbol of tragedy and an attempt at rejecting the past, building a future on forgetting. Both Visegrads – located on almost the same longitude – symbolise two parallel Central European realities. Thinking about one, it is impossible not to see the other, especially in the neighbourly context of Central European cooperation.
      A wider aspect of Central European culture and civilisation is presented in two other groups of texts. In the first, we ask contemporary art critics what has remained of the idea of Central Europe in art. In the other, we take a look at “visible” and “invisible” cities, following the civilisation and culture-building role of Central European cities from the Middle Ages to contemporary times, or the memory of the city present in literature and the cityscape.
      And finally, professors Tokimasa Sekiguchi and Mykola Riabchuk share with us their perspectives – a remote and closer one – on Central Europe.
      So the Centre of the continent remains a challenge. Being Central European is today not only the question of world view and identity. It has become the challenge of building our identity in such a way that this Centre is more and more clearly discernible for those looking from the outside.

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      Worth a look

  • The elusive centre (of Europe)
    • 12
      Art: What has remained of Central Europe?
      Katarzyna Jagodzińska, Edit András, Zuzana Bartošová, Marina Gržinić, Vojtěch Lahoda, Jarosław Suchan, Ileana Pintilie-Teleagă, Ilona Németh

      The death of Central Europe has been announced so many times that yet another pronouncement on this matter must seem futile. There is no doubt that on a political level this term lost its relevance when the countries of the Visegrad Group joined Western structures: NATO and the European Union. But in the same period it was concluded that this culture would become the keystone for the V4 Group and the region as a whole. And if so, the question arises if Central European art does exist.

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      Visegrad on the wane
      Janusz Sepioł

      We are strongly suffering from a lack of “Visegrad projects”, a lack of ideas which could organise a political community of interests. It is true that the frequency of high‑level meetings is incomparable with any other regional grouping, but there are no undertakings which would be available, comprehensible and important for the citizens of Visegrad countries. The V4 Group is a pastime for the elites rather than an experience of societies.

    • 38
      Višegrad as a metaphor
      Maciej Czerwiński

      The place name Visegrad sounds familiar to Polish ears, although it is not in Poland, but in northern Hungary. Since 1991 this small town has been the venue for the annual summit of representatives of the democratic countries of Central Europe, in emulation of the crowned heads of their states before them. The Visegrad Group was formed as an attempt to overcome the burden of past conflicts and to build a framework for mutual understanding between the countries of Central Europe.

  • Visible and invisible cities
    • 56
      The Central European city and its identity
      Jacek Purchla

      In spite of its economic backwardness, Central Europe at the turn of the 20th century was a hothouse of creativity. The names Franz Kafka, Robert Musil and Josef Roth not only symbolise contradiction‑ridden Central Europe’s contribution to universal civilisation, but also show that at a very early stage this region harboured a premonition of the crisis awaiting the continent. The creative tension that had one of its sources in the conflicts that racked the Habsburg Monarchy generated the new identity of Kakania’s towns. This is why tradition and modernisation, national identity and urbanisation were crucial issues in the expansion of Central Europe’s largest cities in this period.

    • 94
      Subotica. Theatre – a mirror of the city
      Viktorija Aladžić

      have been infected with the idea of the city since the first lectures by Professor Bogdan Bogdanović. I did not yet realise that they were just an unexpected incident in a dark Balkan vilajet, and in my first college year it seemed to me that we would always have lecturers of this quality. Three years later the Belgrade Faculty of Architecture no longer wanted Professor Bogdanović, and we were also deprived of the opportunity to learn architectural design in his studio. But the idea of the city remained, this great question to which so many have tried to find an answer: what is the city? In my case this question regarded the city in which I had been born: Subotica. When I came back from Belgrade – this chaotic, noisy, overwhelming, polluted and incredibly interesting metropolis – to Subotica, which you could walk across in ten minutes, I became enchanted with what Subotica had been, I began my quest to understand how a city arises, and how and why it falls.

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      Kassa and Márai. An unhealed wound
      Teresa Worowska

      Kassa is a mythical place in the works of Sándor Márai. He spent his childhood there and his most important memories were connected with the city.
      Although, he left Kassa for good after the Trianon Treaty, he returned to it repeatedly in his writings. Besides Kolozsvár,* it was a place which produced the best models of a conscious and creative bourgeoisie which cultivated culture, and who deserved to be called patricians, a class which belongs to the most important themes in Márai’s writings. His great early novels – "The Rebels" and "Confessions of a Bourgeois" – are set in Kassa. In "Confessions", Kassa is shown realistically, while in "The Rebels" and subsequently in the later volumes of the "Garren saga", it is simply called the Town, and already made unreal with a sea and port added.
      Márai followed the turbulent story of Kassa and stayed in touch (his parents still lived there for some time), sent letters to the Hungarian newspaper published there and reacted to the changes in the city, of which the first of the two chosen articles is a good example.
      The second one is from the volume Gift from Fate, edited in 1991 but published 13 years later. It is a collection of press articles by Márai on the return of the so-called Upper Province (and later also a part of Transylvania) to Hungary in November 1938. Márai arrived in Kassa a few days after the decisions of the first Vienna arbitrage were announced.

    • 116
      Kassa (1933, 1938)
      Sándor Márai

      Slovak has never been spoken in Kassa;* in the villages to the north, Tellány, Kavecsány and up towards Hradova, Tót** was spoken, but hardly at all in the town. There was an outlying suburb of Kassa, the “Husták” (I leave it to the linguists to decide whether this word is derived from the Turkish hostya or the German Hochstadt), where there were Slovaks, but precious few – a number of families of day‑labourers and pork‑butchers. No Slovak intelligentsia has ever lived in the town. Kassa felt so little Slovak influence that anyone brought up there never learnt the language; I who writes these lines, for example, spent my childhood there, went to school there, and to this day not a word of Slovak has stuck to me

    • 132
      Košice and Márai. Postscript
      Łukasz Galusek

      Sándor Márai never parted with his city; although he left it and never returned there, it had stuck in him forever, as his Polish translator Teresa Worowska writes.
      Many Poles can empathise with the writer. Those, who after the post‑war shifting of the Polish territory to the west, had to abandon their native towns and villages. The parting was sudden but the farewell with the never‑to‑be‑seen again places took years.
      The need for the Polish coming to terms with the loss of Vilnius, Lviv or Hrodna as a foundation for reconciliation with the Eastern neighbours of Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and Belarus, was formulated in the sub‑Parisian exile community around Jerzy Giedroyc and the magazine "Kultura", edited by him since 1947. The issue was raised in a letter to the editor from 1952 written by Reverend Józef Majewski, who argued that just as we, the Poles, had a claim to Wrocław, Szczecin and Gdańsk, the Lithuanians were justly claiming the right to Vilnius and the Ukrainians to Lviv. The intellectuals from Maisons‑Laffitte saw it as a condition of a possible cooperation between the nations of Central Europe aimed at regaining independence and liberating themselves from the Eastern Bloc, in which the Soviet Union imprisoned them. Several years before, in Hungary, István Bibó wrote "The Misery of Small States of Eastern Europe", where one can find similar motifs, although the reception of this book was marred by repressions which affected the author as punishment for his involvement in the 1956 revolution.

    • 136
      Spalato, Fiume, Istria. The Italian exodus in literature
      Joanna Ugniewska

      Historic changes are always accompanied by a sense of profound, unrecompensable loss and disorientation, and previous identities are lost once and for all, irrevocably, suppressed by the historically or culturally new identity.

  • interview
    • 158
      Europe is shrinking
      Tokimasa Sekiguchi

      Asia does not exist – said Professor Tokimasa Sekiguchi provocatively a few years ago, arguing that such a term is superfluous and using it is harmful, as it oversimplifies, trivialises and deforms our view of the world, and hence makes it impossible for us to penetrate the actual topographies of diverse cultures and civilisations, to discover them in an unbiased way, free of prejudice or prior expectations. It creates an inevitable and, what is even worse, an imperceptible distortion of our perspective on the world. Responding to this provocation, we decided to ask Professor Sekiguchi how our continent, and especially Central Europe, looks from a Japanese point of view.

  • ideas in practice
    • 168
      Katarzyna Jagodzińska

      Although short‑lived, this was a place worthy of note. In its brief life it proved that there is a place for contemporary art at the heart of a historic Central European city, and that it can attract public interest. It also demonstrated that a museum can be more than just a white cube offering a frame for its art, or a voguish postindustrial space.

  • Reflections, impressions, opinions
    • 180
      Kneeling Hitler
      Miljenko Jergović

      Maurizio Cattelan, AMEN
      The Centre for Contemporary Art,
      Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw
      15 November 2012 – 24 February 2013
      The taxi driver who is taking us to Próżna Street says he will go with us as he wants to see Hitler, too. Próżna Street, some two hundred steps long, is the last extant part of the Warsaw Ghetto. When I was here three years ago, both sides of the street were authentic – grim, grey facades with blind windows, in which some artist had installed large‑scale photographs of people who had lived and died in the Ghetto, but in these three years the left‑hand side of the street had been renovated, yellow plaster started shining, the ground floor in one of the townhouses was occupied by a bank, so the Ghetto had shrunk to a few buildings on the right‑hand side.At the entrance to one of them, on a white wooden door with flakes of white paint pealing off, a hexagonal hole has been cut out at eye level, two hands high and one hand wide. And that is all, no trace of a poster, a sign or a caretaker; only occasionally a middle‑aged man appears in these freezing cold days, in a sheepskin coat, usually grasping a bottle of beer, at first sight a local drunk or homeless, who, when you ask him where Hitler is, will point to the six‑angled opening and take the opportunity to introduce himself as a guard, but no one will believe him.

    • 194
      From Titian to Warhol
      Ludvík Ševeček

      "From Titian to Warhol. Olomouc Museum of Art 1951–2011 Museum of Modern Art and Olomouc"
      Archdiocesan Museum, Olomouc
      25 October 2012 – 31 March 2013

    • 205
      Zoltán Gyalókay

      Europa Jagellonica 1386–1572
      First instalment
      19 May – 30 September 2012
      Galerie Středočeského kraje, Kutná Hora
      Second instalment
      10 November 2012 – 27 January 2013
      Royal Castle and the National Museum, Warsaw
      Third instalment
      1 March 2013 – 16 June 2013
      Haus der Brandenburgisch‑Preussischen Geschichte, Potsdam
      www.europajagellonica.de

    • 210
      Barden city, gated city
      Helena Postawka

      In‑habitation 2012. Garden city, gated city
      National Museum in Krakow,
      Institute of Architecture Foundation
      13 September 2012 – 13 January 2013
      www.instytutarchitektury.org

    • 218
      A world represented but not interpreted
      Wojciech Wilczyk

      Andrzej Ślusarczyk, "Wałbrzych POWIDOKI"
      Advertising and publishing agency Fine Grain,
      Kielce 2010

  • By myself
    • 226
      Notes from a journey (1)
      Mykola Riabchuk

      Dictator Shevchenko
      Some time ago, riding a train from Budapest to Belgrade,I involuntarily overheard a conversation between two other passengers. One of them was Bulgarian and the other Serb, both were speaking their own language and to make communication easier, they supplemented their words with dynamic gestures, thanks to which I could understand them too. The Bulgarian regarded himself as a specialist on the East – he told his neighbour about Moscow and St. Petersburg, about Novosibirsk and Novorossiysk, and also perhaps about Leninoshithole or Flycrappings, about the strange lifestyle there, but above all about the terrifying corruption.rupcji.