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LARGE EXHIBITION PROJECT PROMOTES CENTRAL EUROPE AS HOMOGENOUS REGION

History comes full circle

FINDING a regional name for the nations sitting in the heart of Europe has always been a contentious matter. Eastern Europe sounds appropriate when you speak about politics, central when you mention geography, and western if you compare its cultural traditions.
Art connoisseurs from five countries in the area - Hungary, Poland, Germany, Slovakia and the Czech Republic - are now trying to show that these various regional anomalies can be united.
What started out in 1998 as a bilateral co-operation venture between Germany and Hungary has expanded to involve the other three countries, in the process becoming one of the biggest European exhibition projects in recent years. The exhibit 'Centre of Europe Around 1000 A.D.' is the result of four years of work and includes 2,800 artefacts from 179 different museums in the participating nations.


THE Illuminated Prayer Book of Otto III, parchment, 1000 A.D.
photo: Courtesy of SNM

FINDING a regional name for the nations sitting in the heart of Europe has always been a contentious matter. Eastern Europe sounds appropriate when you speak about politics, central when you mention geography, and western if you compare its cultural traditions.

Art connoisseurs from five countries in the area - Hungary, Poland, Germany, Slovakia and the Czech Republic - are now trying to show that these various regional anomalies can be united.

What started out in 1998 as a bilateral co-operation venture between Germany and Hungary has expanded to involve the other three countries, in the process becoming one of the biggest European exhibition projects in recent years. The exhibit 'Centre of Europe Around 1000 A.D.' is the result of four years of work and includes 2,800 artefacts from 179 different museums in the participating nations.

Coming to Slovakia this month, it will occupy Bratislava castle until late October with an official opening on July 21.

"The uniqueness of the exhibition lies not only in the quantity of the exhibited objects but also in the fact that they are being displayed in one place," says Ján Papco, general manager of the Slovak National Museum and national co-ordinator of the exhibition.

"Even if you went to all the different museums, you would never get to see all this because there are objects here which usually don't leave the safe deposits or are shown to the public only on special occasions," he adds.

The project is very ambitious on the artistic level, but what makes it truly significant is its timing and its political agenda. The aim of the exhibition is to promote central Europe as a homogenous region with a common history and cultural heritage, one which is inseparable from the history of western civilisation.

The four post-communist countries in the exhibition are all hoping to receive an invitation to join the European Union at a summit in Copenhagen in December 2002.

The quality and unique concept of the exhibition has been acknowledged by the Council of Europe, which declared the project as an official Council exhibition.

Displayed are archaeological findings, written documents, art and liturgical objects. Most of them are originals arranged around different themes, such as personalities, the reality of everyday life, expansion politics and the struggle between Christianity and pagan worship.

There are the Kiev letters, the oldest literary document written in the old Slavonic alphabet. There is also the ornamented helmet of Czech nobleman Václav, who later became a saint and the subject of many legends, as well as the richly decorated Viennese imperial crown, used at coronations of German monarchs until the 15th century.

The exhibition report states that "by looking into the European past the project opens a view on the European future."

It emphasises that central European countries belong to the occidental world, and analyses how the nations collectively perceive their origins. The focus is not on differences in language or traditions but on the region's shared Christian values and the inspiration it draws from ancient times. One of the aims of the exhibition is also to show the parallels between the era around the year 1000 and the turn of the third millennium - a new Europe emerging and building its foundation on co-operation.

The exhibition process resembled political negotiations and took great diplomacy, say the organisers and members of the exhibition's commission - historians, archaeologists and conservators.

The event is under very tight security, as the artefacts, many of which are priceless, have an insurance value of Sk4.1 billion ($92 million).

The exhibition opens in the premises of the Bratislava castle July 21 at 17:00. It will run daily from 9:00-18:00 until October 21. Admission: Sk40-100. For further information visit www.europa1000.sk (in Slovak) or www.coe.int (in English).

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