Hanneleena Savolainen, MA, Assistant
University of Turku, Department of Cultural Studies, Ethnology

In the Pursuit of a Desirable Past:
Some thoughts on the Hungarian National-Historical Memorial Park

Museums are one of the platforms for the symbolic display of identities. The history that is displayed in the museum often seems orderly and predetermined. However, what takes place during the process of selection, in which only part of all that once has existed is appropriated to represent the 'past', is not self-evident. Shedding light on this process is one of the main interests in museum studies. The purpose of this article is to investigate which elements of past have been selected to represent the nation in one particular case in Hungary, and why.

According to Sharon Macdonald, museums are products of modernity and their development is intertwined with the formation of the modern nation-state. First of all, museums made use of technologies of classification, and therefore played a role in the modernist and nationalist search for order and mapped boundaries. Secondly, museums, along with the human sciences behind the museum institution, served in the process of 'objectification'. Thirdly, and most recently, museums - in accordance with many of the human sciences - have started to question many of modernity's 'totalising paradigms' and have become increasingly unsure of the appropriate ways in which to re-present the past in the contemporary world. In some cases this has led to the representation of multiple perspectives.ii This phase of modernism, when the modern takes a reflexive distance from its premises, has been called postmodernism.iii The new consciousness can mainly be heard in voices speaking for relativity and pluralism. The social anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen, for example, points out that scholars who study the past have a responsibility to keep guard over the popular interpretations of their academic writings. It is important to emphasise the plurality of the past and its possible interpretations, because written history is rarely without implications in the contemporary world.iv Eriksen is alarmed about the political use of the past in negotiating the rights of different interest groups, especially ethnic groups. Nevertheless, Eriksen is not one of those scholars according to whom the mythical utilisation of the past is altogether wrong and to be rejected. On the contrary, myths - stories of origins - as such are an essential part of the process wherby human identity is constructed. If people were deprived of their myths, they would be deprived of their very personality, both as individuals and as members of a social group. The real challenge for a democratic and pluralistic society, according to Eriksen, is the co-existence of many parallel and even conflicting myths. In his opinion, the undesirable, fanatic expression of group identification is not brought about by people's attachment to their families, native areas, mother tongues or myths, but by their inability to understand and accept that other people's families, native areas, mother tongues and myths have the same value as their own.v
On the basis of these two points - first, that museums are subjective representations of the modern world view and are now becoming increasingly self-reflective, and secondly, that the symbolic representation of a mythical past is a common human denominator for many if not all social identity groups - I explore a particular case in Hungary. What is the mythical past for Hungarians? It is almost a commonplace to repeat that the Hungarian tribes entered the Carpathian basin approximately 1100 years ago from the east, and that they differed clearly from their immediate neighbours. In the following millenium, however, the Hungarian language as well as both folk and elite culture have been richly influenced by these neighbours and by larger scale pan-European social, economic and ideational currents. This is not least due to the Turkish occupation and the division of the kingdom, and resettlement after the occupation. Eastern Central Europe is quite fragmented ethnically, and Historical Hungaryvi was a complex union of many groups and affiliations.vii Which is emphasised - particularity or typicality - when Hungarian-ness (magyarság) is defined by means of musealisationviii?

In this article I discuss a single case, the Ópusztaszer National-Historical Memorial Park.ix In fact, to include this site in the category of museums may be slightly misleading. Up until 1995 the park was a subdivision of the county museum, but since then it has been developed as a completely separate entity. What is involved is a large recreational area, offering exhibitions along with many other leisure activities. Interestingly, the park receives a considerable number every year of Hungarian-speaking visitors from areas outside modern Hungary. The annual number of visitors is approximately 300 000, ranging from individual visitors to school classes and conferences.x The memorial park is located in the open countryside in the Great Plain of South Eastern Hungary. It consists of a number of separate sections, including for example the excavations and ruins of the medieval monastery of Szer, on display in situ; a large ethnographic village museum, with a number of buildings transferred from the Great Plain area; a cluster of 'organic style' buildings housing "Man and the Forest" exhibition, sometimes called the 'Forest Church' because of its ecumenical chapel; and, finally, a large rotunda-style exhibition building for a nineteenth-century cyclorama painting, The Hungarian Conquest. The oldest modern monument in the area is the classicist Árpádxi Memorial, erected as part of the millennial celebration of the Hungarian Conquestxii in 1896. This museum/leisure complex is in a class of its own in two other respects as well. Firstly, it is the only open-air museum in Hungary with the title National-Historical (nemzeti-történeti); secondly, unlike most museums, it is operated on a market-economy basis.
My intention is to look for those components that are representative of the 'national-historical'. My particular interest will be in the role of academic disciplines in the process of musealisation. 'Musealisation' is a term elaborated by the museologist Zbynek Stránský, and its main content is the process which he calls "the appropriation of reality".xiii As noted above, academia has moved increasingly towards self-reflection. It may be in this context that the Ópusztaszer Memorial Park has found some of its most substantial critics in the ranks of Hungarian museum professionals. In the following, I mainly discuss two writings by Hungarians on the topic: a monograph by the museologist-anthropologist Ákos Kovács, in which he compares the historically attributed value of two Hungarian cyclorama paintings,xiv and an article by the art historian Katalin Sinkó, published in one of the leading art periodicals of the country, dealing with the park and its recent development toward the tourism industry.xv

Hungarians between East and West

In discussing the 'modern project' in the case of Hungary, it is worthwhile reminding ourselves that nineteenth-century Hungary differed somewhat from Western Europe in its social stratification. The affluent bourgeoisie was in fact a narrower stratum than in some other countries, and its ethnicity in many cases other than Hungarian. In constructing the imagery of the national ethos, the lesser nobility and the recently liberated peasantry -representatives of the older social structure - also played a role. There is reason to believe that the urban bourgeoisie never established an unquestioned leading role. The ethnologist Tamás Hofer has presented an elaborate analysis of the competing symbolic re-presentations of the Hungarian national identity which arose around this time. Bearing in mind that nineteenth-century Hungary was an ethnically pluralistic kingdom, it was not self-evident that the Hungarian national identity would be based on language and culture as opposed to citizenship. These different strategies for defining the state resulted in different symbolic systems. In addition, there was a dispute between modernists and traditionalists; the debate often referred to an elaborate symbolism of East and West. At the end of the nineteenth century, as Hungarian nationalism gained ground against ethnic pluralism and liberalism, Orientalist ideas grew correspondingly more influential, especially among artists and writers whose interest was focused on folk culture. It seems, Hofer concludes, that the oriental and occidental interpretations of the Hungarian folk culture (and, consequently, the national myth of origin) tend to oscillate according to the political situation. When there is need for cohesion, the eastern interpretation gains ground, while following national tragedies or crises there is often a more powerful demand to see Hungary's situation in Europe in a realistic light.xvi Hofer emphasises that the construction of national culture (through a bourgeois hegemony) remained incomplete; this 'incompleteness' of the national culture was not merely a transitory stage but resulted in a special type of permanent national culture which differs from forms appearing further west.xvii This structural duality gives the national consciousness a special adaptive value: there are two parallel interpretations and sets of heroes, symbols and viewpoints, one of which can remain latent just to be brought forth in the event of recurrent changes in political regime or even more profound structural changes, such as the changeover of the late 1980s and 1990s.xviii

The Conquest Becomes a Highly Meaningful Event

The Hungarian Conquest is estimated to have taken place in 896 AD.xix This provided a reason for a jubilee a thousand years later. According to the historian András Gerő, the great political and popular interest in the Millennium festivities can be understood if we look at the political situation of post-Compromise Hungary. This offered the government a means to evoke a sense of stability and continuity, and to construct an integrated national and historical ideology.xx The Millennium was commemorated by monuments both in the capital and elsewhere. Among the most spectacular is the Heroes' Square in Pest. The Square boasts a massive monument to the seven tribal chieftains of the conquering Hungarians.xxi
The earliest modern interest in modern times in the area of Pusztaszer can also be dated to the nineteenth century. This is due to the connection between the Hungarian Conquest and the monastery of Szer. The second half of the nineteenth century witnessed a growing interest in old documents on the Conquest. The earliest documents of Hungarian history are the Gesta chronicles, written in Latin. The chronicles that have had a bearing on the modern myth of Hungarian origin are the chronicle of Anonymus, which describes the land-taking of the Hungarian tribes, and the Gesta Hungarorum, in which Hungarians are identified with the Huns. Both of these most likely date from the thirteenth century.xxii Anonymus identified the place where the Hungarian tribes held their first assembly after the Conquest, before arriving at their new areas which were given to each tribe;xxiii this location was near the later monastery of Szer, beside the river Tisza, on the Great Plain.xxiv
The Pusztaszer area remained uninhabited relatively long after the end of the Turkish occupation. In the mid-nineteenth century the population was only 339 persons, but by the end of the century it had risen to over a thousand. These stretches of land were under the jurisdiction of the the nearby towns of Kecskemét and Szeged.xxv The citizens of Kecskemét came up with the idea of commemorating the event of the first tribal assembly in Szer already in the 1860s, in connection with the project of renaming the seven hummocks of Pusztaszer after the seven tribal leaders.xxvi Closer to the Millennium, the people of Szeged erected their Árpád memorial in a grove next to the ruins of the Szer monastery (Figure 1.) This was answered by Kecskemét, which also had a project for a memorial; this Millennium-memorial was erected on one of the seven hummocks, the Árpád Hill in 1900.xxvii,xxviii The Great Plain in general and the Pusztaszer area in particular gave free play to a vivid historical imagination, as it was deserted during the Turkish occupation; its newer settlements were relatively recent. Only the ruins of what had been a monastery in the Middle Ages bore witness to a civilised past.
Activity in the area did not end with the single ceremony of unveiling the memorial. Katalin Sinkó regards the monument to Prince Árpád as representing upper-class political interest in the area. In the public ceremonies that followed the Millennium festivities, the local population were merely passive spectators. The activity of the local population in the area, according to Sinkó, was the Catholic pilgrimage feast (búcsú) of the Virgin, held every year on the first Sunday in September. This can be regarded as a typical folk tradition. After the Millennium monument had been erected in Pusztaszer, the pilgrimage came to be called Szobori búcsú, the Monument pilgrimage festival. After the Second World War, the symbolical value of the place was once again employed in the land reform of 1945. The nearby Pallavicini manor was the first to have its grounds reformed. Years went by after this, and the Communist Party seemed to pay the memorial only little attention.xxix

Monument Figure 1. The Árpád-memorial at Ópusztaszer (H. Savolainen 1996).

The Communists and the Folk Festivals of Ópusztaszer

How did this grove, with a nineteenth century monument and the ruins of a medieval monastery, evolve into a memorial park? Most sources date the actual starting point of the memorial park to the proposal of Ferenc Erdei in 1970. Erdei was the Secretary General of the Hungarian Academy, a sociologist and a politician. In his work Város és vidéke ("The town and its rural surroundings") he suggested that the medieval history of Pusztaszer should be thoroughly studied and excavations carried out and published. In addition, the ruins of Szer monastery should be reconstructed. In his opinion, the nineteenth-century memorial and the old ruins should be followed by a monument symbolising the contemporary era. By this, he was referring to the land reform of 1945. Also included in the suggestion was the development of appropriate ceremonies of nation-wide importance. In Erdei's opinion, the way in which this important monument to Hungarian history had been neglected was shameful; it was the responsibility of contemporaries to restore it for the benefit of future generations. In his vivid account of a trip to the site, he also notes that the 'real' memorial is that which was erected by the citizens of Szeged, not that put up by the town of Kecskemét.xxx

The suggestion received immediate support. The State Commemorative Committee of Pusztaszer (set up for this purpose) made plans for memorials to the Liberation and land reform,xxxi for extensive excavations of the ruins, and for the construction of an open air ethnographical museum.xxxii It was also decided that the place-name, which had gone through several alterations, would be changed to Ópusztaszer (Old Pusztaszer).xxxiii The Party and the Government decided that, under the auspices of the Patriotic People's Front (Hazafiás Népfront),xxxiv a historical memorial and a national park worthy of Pusztaszer's past and present would be built during the following five-year planning period.xxxv
Ákos Kovács writes that according to contemporary newspaper reports the new Communist celebrations of Pusztaszer were seen as "healthy folk merriment". The festival aimed at bringing together the peasantry of the agricultural co-operatives, the wide masses of the working class, and progressive intellectuals in the activity of cooking and eating the gulyás for the festival meal. As the people no longer remembered the old festival of the Virgin (first Sunday in September), the party leaders decided that the celebrations of the pilgrimage festival of Szer, which had become the scene for a political mass gathering, could be moved to 20 August (a national holiday). Kovács points out that - despite the seeming folk elements - the place became a means for the fulfilment of political aims, similarly to its role in the late nineteenth century in connection with the Millennium festivities.xxxvi

The Conquering Hungarians Paying a New Visit?

The main concern for Kovács is that the historical facts supporting Ópusztaszer as the place of the first national assembly did not grow any more convincing; nevertheless, due to repeated political assurance, a fictive event became legitimised.xxxvii In particular he sees the role of museum professionals as questionable because they did not in all cases correct the views of party officials.xxxviii As far as I can see, this slight ambiguity can be understood as indicative of the mythical use of the first assembly, which in turn was to justify many of the decisions concerning the park. The strong connection between this site and the Hungarian Conquest, which cannot actually be demonstrated by solid historical or 'scientific' facts, hints at a use of national imagery which operates on a completely different level. It is not therefore the above-mentioned folklore-style festivities of the Socialist period that should gain our main interest.xxxix I would like to think that the most interesting aspect of the Memorial Park is the decision to transfer the Feszty cyclorama to the park. This painting is a product of National Romanticism; its theme is derived from the Eastern origin of the Hungarians. The Commemorative Committee made the decision soon after its establishment in the 1970s, and the process of transfer started in the 80s, in other words during the Communist regime, even though the actual opening of the exhibition to the public took place much later, after the changeover, in 1996.

I now briefly give the reader a basic idea of the painting and its cultural background, before returning more directly to the National-Historical Memorial Park. The title of the cyclorama is The Hungarian Conquest; it was painted in the late nineteenth century by Árpád Feszty and the group of well-known contemporary painters associated with him. It was first exhibited in Budapest in 1894. It depicts the entrance of the Hungarians through the Verecske Pass and the land-taking in the Carpathian basin. The background is a detailed representation of a place which today belongs to the Ukraine. Cycloramas were popular in turn-of-the-century Europe. Feszty got the idea of creating one while he was in France. His father-in-law, the famous novelist and politician Mór Jókai, suggested he take the conquering Hungarians as his subject. The painting became one of the greatest attractions in Budapest until it was badly damaged in the bombing of the Town Park in 1945. After this, the painting was put in 'temporary' storage, where it remained for decades, neglected. When the cyclorama was to be put on display again, it was in need of thorough restoration. A group of Polish specialists devoted four years' work to it.xl

Historicism - the artistic mainstream of the late nineteenth century - was for decades categorically excluded from Hungarian scholarship in art history. This was due to the legacy of Lajos Fülep (1885-1970), art historian and critic, who detested historicism. In addition, the art historian Ilona Sarmány-Parsons suggests that the latter part of the nineteenth century was simply ideologically suspect because of its flourishing bourgeoisie, capitalism and the Dual monarchy. It was not until the 1980s that foreign influences within the discipline of art history brought about an interest in the societal aspects of historicism.xli
We know relatively much about the intellectual background of Feszty's work. He prepared for his painting very carefully. This included correspondence with Russian scholars as well as extensive library research; he also had costumes and pictures brought for him from Asia Minor. It was thought that by combining the "national garb of to-day with that of some Asiatic people"xlii it was possible to reconstruct the clothing as it was a thousand years earlier.xliii Already prior to Feszty's cyclorama, Hungarian historicism had established its own conventional representations of the historical figures of the Conquest Era; the painting merely reproduced them.xliv
In 1913 an Ancient Hungarian Festival was held on Margit Island in Budapest, where people dressed up in costumes in the spirit of the painting. According to Sinkó, this event was connected to a movement called turánizmus, Turánism, which was flourishing at the time. The starting point of this intellectual movement was an interest in the area in Asia Minor from which the Hungarians were thought to originate.xlv According to Sinkó, Feszty cannot be blamed for the symbolic use in which his painting was engaged (in a similar manner as his father-in-law's writings) after his own time. For his own contemporaries, the painting had a twofold meaning. For the upper class, it represented a positive national self image: the victorious Hungarian cavalry compared to the natives on foot, the spiritually higher religion of the Hungarians compared to the human sacrifice of the Slavs, Hungarian wealth compared to native poverty, and so on. For the multitudes, on the other hand, the main point was the illusionary effect of the cyclorama. It was the mass entertainment of its time. Sinkó points out that the museums of the time also resorted to illusions; she adds, however, that more recently museums have moved from reconstructing the past to openly presenting the fragments of the past as such.xlvi

If possible, the cyclorama has the least to do with the park. Even though already in its 'first life' it had become a monument to Hungarian national identity, its connection with Ópusztaszer can only be justified by the national-historical theme of the park. A closer analysis of this logic may be of use here. I first briefly summarize Ákos Kovács's views on the topic, followed by a more detailed review of some of the arguments presented by Katalin Sinkó.
Kovács's arguments are chiefly based on the course of action taken during the Socialist period. The focus is on the line of reasoning of the director of the county museum and his colleagues. According to Kovács, the director, Trogmayer, had clearly stated in his earlier publications on the site excavations that there was no further evidence either for or against Ópusztaszer as the location of the first assembly. In Kovács's view, however, this standpoint was undermined when Trogmayer supported the transfer of the cyclorama on the grounds that "the castle of Eger cannot be moved to Budapest, nor could the battle field of Mohács be removed".xlvii Consequently, he adds, Trogmayer was successful in keeping the painting in the province, and the restoration project was given financial support by the state.xlviii If we examine this analogy more closely, it is clear that it fails: while Eger and Mohács are the sites of actual historical events, in the case of the cyclorama this is not true. What we are talking about is a nineteenth-century historicist painting and mass entertainment of the time, made for display in the capital, not a 'genuine' historical relic. What would seem the most 'natural' historical setting for the cyclorama is an urban bourgeois environment. It is worth looking at what the Ópusztaszer Memorial Park has to offer with respect to the historical context, I return to this question below.

Kovács detects an interesting re-sanctification in Ópusztaszer. In his opinion, at the turn of the last century Ópusztaszer was characterised by the national Árpád-myth;xlix during the Socialist period the place was secularised and its value harnessed to promote the Communist ideology; and finally, in the 1990s, the place regained its sacred quality with the opening of the Feszty cyclorama to the public. According to Kovács, Ópusztaszer has become a place of pilgrimage; as evidence of this he presents a recent interview, in which the County Bishop refers to Ópusztaszer as a sanctuary of Hungarianness.l

Marketing the Past?

Returning to Sinkó's treatment of the Feszty cyclorama, we are now looking at more recent events. After the changeover, in 1995, the park - which until then had been a subdivision of the county museum - was financially and administratively split off into an independent unit and became a KHT (non-profit enterprise). Sinkó is alarmed by the decrease in academic substance in the activities of the park. She frames her argumentation mainly in terms of professional museum ethics. According to Sinkó, Ópusztaszer has joined the international trend whereby museums more and more serve the needs of tourism industry.li Let us take another look at the cyclorama and its auxiliary exhibitions.

When the exhibition building for the cyclorama was designed, there were plans for parallel exhibitions, in the same building, which would tie the cyclorama to its historical context.lii The archaeological exhibition (presenting the extensive excavations in the area) was realised. However, instead of the planned exhibition on the history of agriculture, the museum built a two-part exhibition Promenade 1896, representing the ambience of a late-nineteenth-century rural town and a city.liii This consists of shop windows, enlargements of authentic photos, some sound effects, and dummies in authentic costumes of the day. The planned exhibitions on historicist and contemporary Hungarian art have been realised only partially. What evokes the greatest questions is an exhibition called Panoptikum, displaying a line of Hungarian kings as waxworks. The costumes have been created by stage designers, who seem to have been inspired by historicist paintings. Sinkó points out two inaccuracies in this context. First of all, even though waxworks are an old form of entertainment, there has never been a waxwork connected with the Feszty cyclorama. Secondly, if these were copies of historicist paintings and statues of the old Hungarian kings, not life-size waxworks, it might well be educationally justified to display them in connection with the historicist cyclorama. Thus, Sinkó points out, a professional approach has given way to pure entertainment.liv (See Fig. 2) Nor is Sinkó, as a museum professional, particularly pleased by what takes place in the grounds. The park has become a setting for various types of activities and event, for example "riding shows of shaman times". Sinkó gravely poses the question whether the ruins of the Szer monastery, the open-air ethnographic museum, and the cyclorama have turned into a backdrop for the tourism industry.lv Sinkó, unlike Kovács, is not interested in the sacred and in the national feeling. Her main concern is the professional ethics of the enterprise dealing with national history. In her opinion, sooner or later the KHT will have to stop and think about how large a share of the financial profit comes back to fulfil museological aims: those of professional work, professionally designed and built exhibitions, catalogues, and the salaries of qualified staff. This, she maintains, remains a mystery in the writings and comments of the representatives of the park today.lvi

OathFigure 2. Panoptikum: history in waxworks. Árpád and his chieftains pledging an oath. The scene is based on a painting by Bertalan Székely (1902), in Kecskemét Town Hall. (H. Savolainen 1996).

A great deal has been written in the 1990s on the processes behind the heritage industry and historical theme parks. I think there is nothing uniquely Hungarian in this situation. Ultimately, according to some if not all critics, it all seems to derive from the ambivalent relation between culture and neo-liberalism. In trying to attract great numbers of visitors - in order to survive in the market - museums easily resort to means of marketing which tend to attach an extra mythical lure to past events. This is an alien starting point for the academic disciplines that originally produced the material and intellectual content for museums.lvii On the other hand, Eriksen for example has pointed out that there is no such thing as objective historiography. Historians produce accounts which can be understood by their contemporaries.lviii According to Eriksen, myths are so fundamental to a human understanding of oneself and the past that, as people are trying to detach from their old myths, new ones are simultaneously being born.lix What, then, is the role of academic scholarship in the park?

Scholars and the Mythic Past

We should note the weight of Hungarian prehistory and the Conquest era in the making of the national myth. Especially in Kovács' writing, the focus has been on the archaeological evidence regarding the first assembly. Thus there has been scrutiny of archaeology as an academic discipline. However, it is a special point of interest for me as an ethnologist to examine the role of the ethnographic village museum in the National-Historical Memorial Park.

As Tamás Hofer demonstrates, ethnographylx began in Hungary as a low-status auxiliary science of prehistory, serving as a mere 'database'. The idea was to use ethnographic material as evidence of the ancient Hungarian culture. In this respect, we can see that in constructing the ancient costumes on the basis of ethnographic material, the artist Feszty was indeed acting on the best scientific principles available. Ethnography, however, soon developed into a discipline of its own. In contrast to one-sided search for ancient eastern elements, the new discipline sought to compare and classify. In the 1920s and 30s, the reconstruction of folk culture as a process was carried out by means of thorough archival studies. For example István Györffy demonstrated that the extensive pastoral economy of the Great Hungarian Plain region was not a survival from the Conquest period but rather a result of the Ottoman wars, when most of the medieval village settlement of the area was destroyed. Since then, Hungarian ethnography has clearly demonstrated that what was thought of as an ancient folk culture was in fact the culture of the peasantry in the process of embourgeoisement. Hofer concludes that Hungarian ethnography, as an academic discipline, has always sought to keep clear of national-romantic aspirations.lxi This is not to say, however, that there was no role for folk elements in the creation of national or ethnic symbols.lxii László Kósa is not quite as optimistic about the independence of Hungarian ethnography. In his opinion, ethnography was for a relatively long time defined both from within and without as a branch of prehistory.lxiii Still, even he agrees that it would be a mistake to define ethnography before the 1930s as a fanciful extension of archaeology, since it had already brought forward a wide variety of material in its own special field. It was at the turn of the 1940s that the foundations of historical and functional research were laid in the discipline, enabling it to break free from its status as an auxiliary science.lxiv

When Hofer compares the two competing interpretations of the national culture - eastern and western - he notes that Hungarian ethnography, as it is taught at universities and represented in the work of museums, does not offer space for theories about eastern, mythical links. On the contrary, these theories are seen as possessing an anti-intellectual and anti-scientific flavour.lxv The village museum of Ópusztaszer does not fail us in this respect. Rather than the most ancient forms, it presents the peasant culture of the Great Hungarian Plain as it existed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. It was not until the 1960s that open-air museums were founded in Hungary. This is later than in the Nordic countries or most of Central Europe.lxvi The ethnographic museum of Ópusztaszer is the youngest of Hungarian ethnographic open-air museums. The plans for the ethnographic museum at Ópusztaszer were made in the 1970s and the first building was erected in 1979. The idea of the museum was to represent the past of the local agrarian population alongside the monuments of the two land redistributions - the ancient assembly and the land reform of 1945.lxvii According to the ethnographer and designer of the museum, Antal Juhász, the main point in Hungarian open-air museums is not the representation of the material culture as such; the focus is on the way of life of the peasantry as a whole. He adds that the history of the agrarian population of the Southern Plain differs from the rest of the country. It is this local peasant life that the museum seeks to represent - solitary farmsteads in the open country as well as the life of the town-dwelling peasantry in the process of embourgeoisement.lxviii In an interview, Juhász told me that he had had two major ideas in drawing up the plans. One was that the houses would not be merely typological examples of folk architecture, but would also be shown functionally alongside a street - which was then constructed. (See Fig. 3) Another aim was that visitors should be given an idea of the actual life in these houses. Therefore there are farm animals and appropriate plants and trees in the yards.lxix According to Sinkó, up till the mid-80s it seemed as though the open-air museum would become the most popular attraction in the memorial park. Only the cyclorama project turned the tables.lxx

VillageFigure 3. The peasantry in the process of embourgeoisement. The 'village street' of the Ethnographic Museum. Left: the house of a paprika-farmer of Szeged, next the house of an onion-farmer of Makó. Right: the post office. (H. Savolainen 2000.)

There is absolutely nothing in the open-air ethnographical museum, as far as I can see, implying a connection to the Conquest era. It is merely in the mind of the visitor that the merging occurs between the elements presented as "national-historical". I think we are safe in adding that the designers of the ethnographic museum cannot be held responsible for activities and events subsequently developed and arranged on the site, nor should they be blamed for any marketing activities in which they do not have a say. It is problematic, to say the least, that even though the designing of the site was in the hands of the museum professionals of the county museum, since 1995 the professionals' role has been reduced to an advisory one (as opposed to supervisory). On the other hand, what can the professional marketing staff of the park do? To keep the park profitable, they have the job of attracting 300 000 to 350 000 visitors per year, as well as public and private sponsors. I am inclined to think that it is a natural result of the pursuit of popularity that the park has abandoned the 'down-to-earth' scholarly world and has entered the arena of politicallxxi and popular symbolisms. And it is in this arena that there seems to be a swing towards the oriental alternative of the myth of origin. Interestingly, the park does not seem to be exclusive: it accommodates perfectly well both varieties of Hungarian national symbolism. This, I believe, should support Tamás Hofer's argument that both varieties can simultaneously co-exist in the consciousness and emotions of the citizen, as they do not exclude one another.lxxii (See Fig. 4.)

HorsemenFigure 4. Eclecticism? The "Horsemen of Shaman Times" advertising their show on the grounds of the ethnographic village museum. (H. Savolainen 1998.)

Does This Pose a Threat to Pluralism?

There are two other aspects of the National-Historical Memorial Park I would like to discuss. I will take a look at national feeling and its ramifications, both local and theoretical.

In one of his rather poignant articles from the mid-1990s, the ethnologist Peter Niedermüller writes on Eastern European nationalism. He maintains that the concept of national culture dominant in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, in the shape it took on in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, led to nationalism and the exclusion of the other.lxxiii In the new situation after the changeover, the new owners of political power, according to Niedermüller, regard the past and the relationship with the past as a symbolic tool which diminishes the uncertainty and confusion of the social and political space. He detects a 'multiculturalism' growing on the ruins of the socialist ideology, which insisted upon one variety of globality and universalism. This "multiculturalism" is exclusive, and is based on national separateness and national differences; at the same time, it is inwardly homogenising. Nationalism does not merely fill the gap left by socialism; it is more likely that these ideas existed under socialism. Nevertheless, Niedermüller adds, the national ideology was a tool of political resistance, but now it has turned into a powerful symbolic technique of the political regime and of ideological domination.lxxiv Niedermüller writes that
The dictatory [sic] of imaginary communities, the moral impact and force of national identities combined with the emotionalization and heroization of history, with the conscience of endangerment, with the conception of national history as subsequent tragedies, with the perpetual struggle against foreign enemies, and linked to the lack of rational intellectualism and critical traditions - these are the conditions of today's Eastern European political and social transition; the social-historical and cultural context of "Hungarian" as a symbolic concept. (Emphasis mine).lxxv

He continues by describing the question of "Hungarianness" as a symptom of anti-modernisation, maintaining that the idea of a mythic community is a sign and symptom of a "total political, philosophical, and ideological disorientation". Niedermüller finishes by underlining the responsibility of the social sciences, of anthropologists and ethnologists, in creating a morally more acceptable world by means of writing and speaking about it.lxxvi

Looking at the earliest state of public activity in Ópusztaszer, which took place at the time of the Millennium of the Conquest, we are sure to recognise a pan-Hungarian "invention of tradition".lxxvii As mentioned above, the Millennium offered a wonderful opportunity for the political elite to stabilise the nation. I would, however, bring in one more aspect: the eagerness with which some individuals, if not the whole population, of the towns near Pusztaszer seized the opportunity to erect memorials is in my opinion indicative of a local aspiration towards importance on a national level. Further on, we must remember that Ferenc Erdei was originally from the intellectual circles of Szeged. And is it not again this same provincial striving for significance that we recognise in the arguments for the transfer of the Feszty cyclorama? I would like to think that some of the opinions proclaimed emphasising the significance of Ópusztaszer fit neatly into the category of the province speaking out against the remarkably topheavy capital. It is another question whether localism is a form of pluralism, or whether national mythopoesis, no matter where it occurs, only achieves a single chord.

There is another perspective on national feeling, also apparent in the writing of Niedermüller, from which the Socialist period can be viewed. As we know, the Communist ideology was in a sense anti-nationalistic. Its foundation was the idea of the international brotherhood of the proletariat. How could a sanctuary of national identity fit in with this concept? Contemporaries talked about "positive political content, healthy patriotism, and local national self-knowledge".lxxviii Patriotism did exist, national self-knowledge (whatever that may be) did exist - on a local level, political content had to exist; it was only nationalism which was not allowed to exist. I am not quite as certain as Niedermüller about nationalism being merely a counter-force of communism. We have to note that it was in fact the Party which arranged for excavations on the site of the alleged first assembly, just as it was the Party which harnessed the folk custom of pilgrimage. At the same time, Hungarian youth was organised under the 'dance-house movement', which cultivated folk music and folk dance and was genuinely non-Communist. My point here is that, clearly, national mythmaking did not fall on the western side of the Iron Curtain alone; I am not sure, however, whether the theoretical tools developed in the West are adequate to open up the meanings of the 'patriotic' discourse and nation-building of a socialist country. For this we need a more subtle system of analysis, in line for instance with Hofer's idea of constantly changing and oscillating parallel mythologies. Hofer has clearly answered the above question in one of his articles. According to him, there were attempts to create a mass culture in the Soviet style, which employed traits from the peasant traditions but had a socialist content; but there was also a clear national and democratic opposition to the Hungarian Communist regime, expressed through an interest in the folk culture of the Hungarians of Transylvania.lxxix
We can also see, as Hofer writes, that "once constructed, the different voices in the polyphony did not disappear. ... New social forces, stepping on the stage for the first time, often reached back to make use of old images and conceptions."lxxx In discussing Hungarianness, we therefore have to reach further back than just one change of political system, and recognise that this is a question of polyphony with remarkable persistence. We cannot ignore the warnings of Eriksen about the implications of written histories, nor can we ignore the role of academic ethnology as a sober science, as demonstrated by Hofer, and it would be regrettable not to take up the challenge issued by Niedermüller to create a morally more acceptable world by writing and speaking about it. However, the symbolic representations of group identities should not as such be treated as the arch-enemy; they can just as well be seen as feasible objects of study.

It is an inevitable fact that there will always be mythological elements in our conception of history. Ethnic and national identities - and the social group affiliations that go hand in hand with them - are, nevertheless, processes. It is a natural part of the process that symbols are discussed and negotiated. The writings of Sinkó and Kovács are proof that Hungary is not altogether "lacking in rational intellectualism and critical traditions". The case of the Ópusztaszer National-Historical Memorial Park is a multifaceted one. Intellectual, emotional, political and ethical questions are intertwined. The 1990s, the political changeover and the market economy have brought about new challenges. Is it possible to create a profitable, intellectually stimulating, ethical and politically neutral space, which at the same time bears the historical burden of two changes in political system? I fear there will have to be some compromises here and there. When Hungary joins the European Community, it will be interesting to observe the development of three disparate elements, all available in the Park: eastern origin, pan-European tradition, and localism. And, finally, what is the role of historians, archaeologists, ethnologists and anthropologists, as producers and critics of the content? If musealisation is an "appropriation of reality", who, then, gets to appropriate the already-appropriated?


i This article is an extended version of the paper "Nationalism, patriotism, or localism? - some thoughts on the Hungarian National-Historical Open-air Museum", read at the Sixth Summer School of the Graduate School on Cultural Interaction and Integration. I thank Professor Judith Okely and Senior Research Fellow Patrick Leech for their insightful comments. I am also indebted to Docents Pertti J. Anttonen and Marjut Anttonen for their comments on an earlier, Finnish version of this paper.
ii Macdonald 1996,7-8.
iii Anttonen 1993, 19.
iv Eriksen 1996,109.
v Ibid., 18; Chapter V, passim; 116.
vi The Hungarian Kingdom up till WW I.
vii Not only ethnic variation but also religious affiliations were multiple; inter-group relations developed in many ways in different locations. On the sociological and historical background, see Csepeli & Örkény 2000.
viii Stránský (1995, 19; 28-32) defines musealisation as "the appropriation of reality". In his view "musealisation is a demonstration of man's tendency to preserve, against the perishable and changeable nature of things, such elements of reality which represent cultural values that man as a cultural being needs to preserve in his own interest".
ix Ópusztaszer forms one part of my wider study of European museums and the idea of the "folk"; see Savolainen 1999.
x Figures provided by László G. Szabó, interview 3 August 2000. (Audiotape in the possession of the author.)
xi According to most history books, prince Árpád led the Hungarian tribes when they entered the Carpathian basin in 896 AD, and the House of Árpád was the first Hungarian dynasty (1000 - 1301).
xii Historians today are increasingly using the term 'land-taking'.
xiii Stránský 1995.
xiv Kovács 1997. Ákos Kovács is a museologist-cultural anthropologist who is known for taking up controversial and 'forgotten' subjects, such as scarecrows, graffiti, tattoos, and art in prisons. Sándor Kicsi 1995, 131.
xv Sinkó 1996. Katalin Sinkó is an art historian whose special field is Hungarian 19th century historicism, national symbolism, and the monuments of the Hungarian millennium. Sinkó 1986 and 1993.
xvi Hofer 1991. According to Hofer (1991,162), the 'official' ethnography taught at universities and represented in museums insists on a more or less realistic, scientific interpretation. This issue will be discussed at greater length below.
xvii Orvar Löfgren (1993,218) criticises the evolutionary approach to the Eastern-European national rhetoric: "The problem is simply that the nations which see themselves as 'old' products of natural growth can easily adopt an ironical, big-brother attitude to more recent nation-building. ... It is this evolutionary idea which makes people mistakenly talk about Eastern European nationalism as being 'frozen' during Soviet rule and thus reappearing from a state of conservation today, 'lagging behind' the present." Löfgren (ibid., 219) points out that "[w]e have to explore the interaction between available infrastructures in terms of media technology, market systems, state institutions, etc., and local conditions of national culture-building" if we are to analyse different phases of nation-building and those actual processes occurring in "the imagined community" (term coined by Benedict Anderson). This is exactly the case in Hofer's writing; he takes the Hungarian situation as a starting point, not a theoretical frame developed in the West. (See also Leech 1997, 138-9 on the importance of concentrating on 'how' rather than 'what' in terms of national identity).
xviii Hofer 1991, particularly pp. 162, 166.
xix This date has consequently been taken as a given fact, although in the late nineteenth century there were still several alternative dates to choose from; Gerő 1993, 204.
xx Gerő 1993, 204.
xxi On further symbolic usage of the Heroes' Square see Sinkó 1993.
xxii Klaniczay, T. 1986, 17-18. The more recent, serious study of history has not been able to take anything recorded in a medieval source for granted. A great deal has been written on the validity of Anonymus: see e.g. Csapodi 1978 and Györffy 1988. The relation between the two steppe peoples, the Huns and the Hungarians, has been demonstrated by the historian Jenő Szűcs to be a result of the literary inventiveness of a thirteenth-century scribe. Klaniczay, G. 1994, 25.
xxiii The Hungarian term országgyülés, (literally, the 'state-gathering') parliament, is frequently used to refer to this occasion, interestingly expanding the origins of the Hungarian parliament to early medieval times. Admittedly, the Hungarian Diet is an old institution, dating as far back as the fifteenth century. The formation of the state can be dated for instance to the coronation of St. Stephen in 1000.
xxiv Szabó 1995,5.
xxv Juhász 2000,323.
xxvi Trogmayer&Zombori 1980,138.
xxvii This memorial can be seen in Pusztaszer (near Ópusztaszer); it is an obelisk, with a mythic turul-bird on top and medallions depicting Prince Árpád and his six chieftains on the sides. Trogmayer & Zombori 1980, 138. xxviii Sinkó 1996, 11.
xxix Sinkó 1996, 12, Pálfy 1995, 25. A guide-book from 1984 however states that even the pilgrimage festival was an activity of the so called "Saturday Society" of Szeged, in my opinion, this hints to the fact that there were not any "real", "original" folk traditions in the area. This may be the fact, considering that there was not any real, original "folk" in the area either.
xxx Erdei 1971, 168-174; also cited in Pálfy 1995, 25.
xxxi The Liberation refers to the Soviet liberation in the WW II. This monument does not exist in the area today, the land reform memorial was erected in 1995, on the 50th anniversary of the reform. Szeged 1995:4, 25.
xxxii Sinkó 1996, 12.
xxxiii Kovács 1997, 99; Szabó 1995,5
xxxiv According to the New Hungarian Lexicon (Akadémiai Kiadó, 1959-60 edition), the Patriotic People's Front was the mass movement which brought together all those Hungarian people whose vocation was working for the order of people's democracy, a Socialist society and peace. It was founded in 1954 as a successor to the Hungarian People's Front for Independence, which had been founded in Szeged in 1944 after the Liberation as an anti-fascist coalition of parties and trade unions.
xxxv Kovács 1997, 100.
xxxvi Ibid. 100.
xxxvii And vice versa, we might add: repeated use of the old myth could legitimise political authority.
xxxviii Kovács 1997, 101-102. One is bound to ask how the first assembly could be demonstrated by archaeological excavations; it is difficult to see what exactly would have to be found in the earth to prove such a thing as an assembly. According to Eriksen's thinking (1996,103), any debate over what is present in the ground is meaningless because it would not in any case provide a motivation for present-day political action. The personal views of the museum professionals involved can be seen in some of their writings and also in some of the interviews I have been fortunate to be able to conduct; these, however, are outside the scope of this article, which is based on the intellectual debate concerning the Park. I will, however, take them very much into consideration in my future research.
xxxix Although the political use of Ópusztaszer is a truly interesting aspect. A colleague told me of the memories of an older Szeged citizen from the 1970s. The annual speech given on 20 August was an event which aroused considerable speculation: the main points of interests were who would be chosen to give the speech and what the topic would be. In the communist system, as Horváth and Szakolczai 1992 interestingly point out, scarcity of information was the most widely used strategy of power (and intimidation).
xl Árpád Feszty. The Hungarian Conquest [a leaflet]. s.a.; Trogmayer 1992, 5-6; Szűcs 1995.
xli Sinkó 1996,14-15; Sármány-Parsons 1996,24-25.
xlii Morelli 1989
xliii Trogmayer 1992,6.
xliv Sinkó 1996, 9-11
xlv Ibid., 17. Turánism started as a scientific and economic project but soon split up into various branches. After the peace of Trianon, some of its supporters were interested in eastern civilisations in opposition to anything western. In the 1930s, the Turánistic relationship was increasingly seen as racial instead of linguistic. Finally, there was a branch which was primarily devoted to the restoration of ancient lifestyles, mainly pagan customs and morals. Kincses Nagy 1991.
xlvi Sinkó 1996, 71.
xlvii Kovács 1997, 102. Eger is referred to most probably because of the heroic defence against the Turks which took place there in 1552; Mohács probably refers to the battle against the Turks in 1526, the Hungarian Waterloo, the fall of independent Hungarian kingdom.
xlviii Ibid. 103. A foundation was also established for the collection of funds. Trogmayer 1992.
xlix As Sinkó (1996) describes in more detail, Árpád received his share of the veneration of the canonised kings of the Árpád dynasty. According to Hofer (1991, 160-161), the Prince was significant both for Catholics, who saw in him the forefather of the dynasty of saint-kings, and for Protestants, who saw Catholicism as a universalistic sidetrack in the national history and the Reformation as a return to the original Hungarianness.
l Kovács 1997, 100, 103.
li Sinkó 1996, 72.
lii Sinkó (1996, footnote 45) adds that no real criticism could be directed at the actual idea of the park and its contents, as this was a decision made within the party; the only public opinions heard thus pertained to the exhibition building.
liii As mentioned above, the natural setting for a cyclorama is an urban space. Therefore, in my view, this exhibition is not a bad idea. Sinkó has museographical objections to it, as the authentic costumes in fact do not withstand constant display. I would like to add that the display has an interesting ethnic component, which did not open up to me until I visited it with my Hungarian students: apparently, some of the dummies represent Gypsies and many of the shopkeepers' names are clearly Jewish. The signs of Austro-Hungarian monarchy are also present.
liv Sinkó 1996, 72.
lv Ibid., 73.
lvi Ibid., 72-73.
lvii On this issue, see e.g. Walsh 1992, Ch. 5 and Fowler 1992, Ch. 9; for Hungarian cultural policy of the past few years, see Bácskai 1999,and Prőhle 1999.
lviii Eriksen 1996,44.
lix Ibid., 106 onwards.
lx Néprajz in Hungarian corresponds linguistically to ethnography; in Finland the disciplinary term that would more naturally be used is ethnology.
lxi Hofer 1996, 117-120.
lxii e.g. Hofer 1980; 1991 and Fügedi 1997.
lxiii Kósa 1991,58.
lxiv Ibid., 63.
lxv Hofer 1991, 162.
lxvi Westernmost Europe, Britain and France, were also late in founding open-air museums, in France, the so called ecomuseum movement was budding in the late 1960s.
lxvii Juhász 1988, 165-166.
lxviii Ibid. 170-171. The "typical" Hungarian village settlement was young and not at all typical of the region.
lxix Interview with professor Juhász, 21 April 1998 (audiotape in possession of the author).
lxx Sinkó 1996, 13.
lxxi See, however, footnote 39 on the political symbolism of the Communist era. The political utilisation of the park now seems to be looking for something that existed "before" communism, some "eternal" essence of Hungarianness.
lxxii Hofer 1991,166-167.
lxxiii Niedermüller 1994, 26.
lxxiv Ibid., 27-29.
lxxv Ibid., 30.
lxxvi Ibid., 31.
lxxvii Fully in the sense in which Hobsbawm (1983) uses the term. In Eriksen's thinking, (1996, 21) it bears very little significance whether traditions are "real" or "invented"; in a sense all traditions are human-made, and even 'old' traditions are renewed to fit contemporary worldviews.
lxxviii Kovács 1997, 103.
lxxix Hofer 1991, 157, 165.
lxxx Ibid. 164.


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Last updated on December 13, 2001