by Gábor LASSÁNYI and Szabina MERVA
On the 7th of November 2011, the Hungarian Parliament’s majority enacted the modification of the law on the Protection of the Hungarian Cultural Heritage. According to the latest modification before the enactment, not only on major investments, but on each project it will be impossible to effectively protect the archeological heritage in Hungary. The law came into effect on the 15th of November 2011.
At the end of September, both in Hungary and internationally as well, the new law on the Hungarian cultural heritage evoked a cultural scandal. The 2011/LXIV proposal T/3486 law regarding cultural heritage management was drawn up without any negotiation with the Hungarian archeological society. According to the new legislation, the time frame regarding archeological excavations prior to starting major investments on a site, was limited to 30 days maximum for test excavation, with an addition of an extra 30 days of prior excavation. In addition, the amount of subsidy given by the investors was capped at 1% of the amount of the whole project, or maximum 200 million Forints (ie. 670,000 Euros).
To present the absurdity of the new legislation, one should imagine new laws limiting the time of surgical procedures in one hour and giving a maximum budget of half a million Forints, regardless whether it would mean removing a wart or performing a heart transplantation.
Although there is a section providing possibility to turn to the government should some significant site would be found with important relevance to Hungarian history, in reality this cannot be realised in practice.
With this legislation, not only Hungarian, but European cultural heritage has been put in danger. In recent weeks, all publications regarding the issue have stressed the negative effect of the legislation. The Association of the Directories of the County Museums, theAssociaton of Hungarian Archaeologists (henceforward referred to as MRSZ), the Associaton of Hungarian Archaeology and Art History, the Pulszky Association - the Salariat of the Hungarian Museum Associaton and the ICOMOS Hungarian Archaeological Committee and finally the Archaeological Committee of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences all expressed their disagreement in connection with the law to the Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, to Minister of the Ministry of National Resources Miklós Réthelyi, the Undersecretary for Culture Géza Szőcs and László L. Simon (the chairman of the Parliament’s Cultural and Press Committee) as well. The European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) also expressed their concerns on an international level. However, the Hungarian Parliament had no reaction to any of the concerns.
On the 21st of October, the trade union of the Hungarian archeologists, the MRSZ, and many of the above mentioned organisations wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister of Hungary, Mr Viktor Orbán, advising in detail the problems and harmful effects of the law both to the archeology and the cultural heritage of the people and to the investors alike. There are two sides of each story, however, this new law will not benefit either of the parties in this form, even though the modification rooted in wanting to favour road works investments. „Lobby groups for road works have used the wrong tactics” wrote one of the most popular economics newspaper in relation to the events.
The two times 30 days grace period that is granted as per the law refers to the whole territory of an investment. This raises the question of how this can phisically be implemented on a – for instance – 30 kilometre long motorway area at the same time, where there could be plenty of different archeological sites discovered.
In addition, there are several sections in the text of the law, which can be misinterpreted, since besides the major investments, other projects were included in the legislation, such as projects defined by the law regarding appropriation, and this will present debates on what projects should fall under the definition.
For instance, should an investor claim that they are to build a factory employing 50 people, and claiming that this should be regarded as a project for the public interest by creating job opportunities, it will be difficult to judge if their claim is valid. According to the law regarding appropriation there are numerous legal entities and definitions for serving public interest, starting from medical treatment to flood protection.
The new law introduces the covering of the sites – with special care of not damaging the archeological sites at all –, which in practice cannot be implemented, and it is not defined whose responsibility this should be. As per the legislation, investors can wind up in a legal conondrum: on the one hand, if they start works, they could be breaching the law with damaging the archeological sites as per Hungarian legislation on Criminal Law (Btk. 324. §), and on the other hand planning the investment could become impossible, resulting in late execution of the project.
All in all, the future looks rather chaotic, adding to the already present tension that so far investors have regarded archeological work equal to postponing the start of their projects. In recent years, archeological work has solely been blamed for many of the major investments being late, and even the press have released distorted stories to support this belief.
Hungarian archeologists and the MRSZ are open to discuss modification of the legislation as they have always been proactive in compiling archeological directives and methodological and cost realted indices, besides improving field survey methods. A recent conference organised by Hungarian National Museum – National Heritage Protection Center - was dedicated to increase the effectiveness of site diagnostics. The new strategy of the protection of the Hungarian cultural heritage has been prepared by the National Office of Cultural Heritage (KÖH). The president of the ICOMOS Hungarian Archaeological Committee presented his proposal to the modification of the new law in the past weeks. MRSZ have just finished their proposal on the current issues to be addressed.
Unfortunately – or fortunately - it is easy to predict that the legislation that was done in a haste and without any proper consideration from the government’s part will result in bringing disorder for the investors, however, the more pressing question is how many of the archeological sites will suffer huge damage until all issues are solved.
- The ICOMOS’ letter
- Modification published on the Hungarian Government Portal (see „Magyar Közlöny 132. szám”, Page 14: „2011. évi CXLIX. Törvény a kulturális örökség védelmérõl szóló 2001. évi LXIV. törvény módosításáról”
- http://regeszet.org.hu/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1871%3Aannouncement-concerning-modification-of-the-cultural-heritage-law&catid=13%3Akm&Itemid=43 http://safecorner.savingantiquities.org/2011/10/hungarian-archaeologists-express.html