Editor’s note: Hungary celebrates The Day of Hungarian Culture on Jan. 22 of each year, which marks the day when Hungarian poet Ferenc Kölcsey finished the lyrics to the national anthem in 1823.
Today we celebrate the Day of Hungarian Culture. Many of us will mark the day by posting our favorite poem on social media, perhaps listening to a recording of the anthem, or even doing our duty and attending the one theater play a year. At the same time, there are increasingly many of us who will instead watch the latest Hollywood blockbuster because to many Hungarians this day seems more like a duty, not unlike reading a book.
Looking at the numbers alone, Hungarian culture is soaring. But increasingly I have the feeling that we are forgetting our own culture, incrementally replacing it with the ersatz culture of television shows and pop culture memes.
As that happens, we are at the same time losing our identity.
The recently deceased philosopher Roger Scruton wrote about minimal beauty – a charming street, a pair of good shoes or a properly written book. These small but important elements of society influence our lives and shape our decisions to a greater extent than even famous works of art.
On that note, we should speak about minimal culture much in the same way, those small and simple elements of culture that make life worth living.
Yes, many books are sold in Hungary every year, but we should also look at the quality of those books sold, most of which consist of ephemeral paperbacks and forgettable rejects.
How will we look back on today’s Hungarian culture 20 years from now? Just over 100 years ago, Albert Apponyi, who was then serving as the Minister of Religions and Education, delivered the 20th century’s arguably most important speech, in defense of Hungary against the WWI winning allies’plan to divide the country.
Few even know about it but in Hungary, many of us do watch The King’s Speech. Our own culture has plenty of momentous events that could turn into inspirational works of art.
So we should remain true to ourselves, because great works will only materialize if we consider culture a perennial task, not just a duty to be done and forgotten. Culture should be part of our everyday life – after all, that’s what it is there for.
Title image: Manuscript of the Hungarian anthem.