Announcement concerning modification of the cultural heritage law

2011. 10 13. csütörtök, 8:19

Írta: Jankovich-Bésán Dénes

Consternation and widespread indignation is sweeping through the ranks of Hungarian archaeologists in connection with a new piece of draft legislation concerning cultural heritage protection.. Over the last few days, many bits of news as well as false stories have been circulating. We therefore feel that it is necessary to summarize what has happened to date and state the official point of view of the Association of Hungarian Archaeologists’ standpoint.

The draft legislation was published by the Hungarian Parliament on the 28th of September (http://www.parlament.hu/irom39/03486/03486-0013.pdf):

Our association sent a letter of protest to László L. Simon (the chairman of the Parliament’s Cultural and Press Committee) . Of especial concern to us is the way this legislation is being hurredly push through Parliament. On the 3rd of October, we sent this letter to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, to Minister of the Ministry of National Resources Miklós Réthelyi and Undersecretary for Culture Géza Szőcs, too. The letter ran as follows:

Mr. Prime Minister,

The Presidency of Association of Hungarian Archaeologists would like to express its anxiety connected with modification of the 2001. LXIV. law concerning cultural heritage protection in this  independent letter.

In particular we are not in accord with the following part of the proposal„23/D § (1) which states ”The term allocated to carrying out preventive excavation or covering the sitewhich is allocated by the assessment of authority…may not last longer than 30 days, except in those cases when the institution, which is responsible for the excavation work can come to an agreement with the investor to prolong the length of the excavation.

While we are in full agreement with the previous parts of the modification draft legislation (concerning prior investigation and the regulation of the test excavations) we cannot accept or support the second part of the new ruling concerning the maximum time allowed for preventative excavation.

Our protests this time are not about the effects on archaeology as a profession or about the interests of museums’ but about the fate of Hungary’s archaeological heritage. If the time allotted to excavation is limited in this way, there will certainly be negative unforeseen consequences. What will happen for example if the prior investigation and the test excavation estimate that the investment territory will impact a 40 hectare site (as has happened many times in the past)? At best it will be possible to recover one or at most two hectares but the rest will be destroyed if the the investor and the excavating archaeologists cannot agree on how to prolong the length of excavation. It could also happen that that after 30 days the archaeological authority will be forced to stop the investment work going forward as it is already destroying the site within its recognized borders? Or perhaps archaeological authorities simply permit the site to be destroyed? This is even a more serious problem in the urban archaeology where there is greater likelihood of encountering archaeological culture layers of over 1 meter. Since all of us have thought about these questions carefully, it is clear that the ruling as it now stands is fraight with difficulties.

Clearly archaeology should not hamper the realization of investments and none of us desire that. We also agree that in the past there have been cases where the costs of some preventative excavations have spiraled out of control. Estimating an upper limit is necessary, especially since in some cases the parties did not do it. Nevertheless, it seems likely that once again a well-intentioned idea to reform problems in the system will have the opposite effect and end up causing more harm than good. Over the last few years the Association of Hungarian Archaeologists has offered a number of solutions to address these problems. We have drawn up a list of guidelines concerning both methodology and figuring out costs. These guidelines have been published in both book and DVD form. Unfortunately, nobody from the government side has sought us out, although we would willingly have discussed any and all these issues with an open mind.

Mr Prime Minister! In the last eight years we have seen painful attacks against our profession and the erosion of the cultural heritage protection law which was originally designed with a professional consensus in 2001. We pinned our hopes on changes begun last year. This ruling is therefore all the more absolutely unexpected not only for the Association, but for the whole community of Hungarian archaeologists and of the public at large. We would like to ask respectfully for your support in removing this ruling in this form from the draft legislation. Namely it poses a serious danger to our archaeological heritage which is obviously non-renewable resource of our history. If we are forced to select which sites to excavate and which must be destroyed without study on a given territory earmarked for development (that is, for destruction of our country’s past) or on the 29th day simply drop all the on-going work to finish the excavation we have to accept that there is a good chance of losing information of significant values. We mention only one example: we found a Hunnic sacrificial cauldron on an excavation that fell in the path of Route 67, near Balatonlelle – in a place where no one could have predicted. There have been only 20 similar finds like this from over the whole of Eurasia that can unambiguously be connected with the Huns. Who will take responsibility for such finds going the way of the Seuso Treasure?

In contrast with some other professions, archaeologists do not take an official oath that they will perform their duties to the best of their abilities in the interest of protecting the archaeological heritage. They comply to a higher moral standard rather than a vow. They do their best to save archaeological sites and monuments for future generations. Fragments of ceramics, which often seem of little worth to laypeople, are but some of the rivets that hold our historical heritage together. Unexciting looking in appearance as they are, would anyone besides qualified engineers dare to decide how many and where to put the rivets that hold the structures of bridges together?

In pursuance of these thoughts, we would respectfully like to ask you to have this ruling removed in this form from the modified draft legislation. If you deem it necessary we are ready to engage in discussions personally, to thinking over the whole process and harmonize all interests.

30 September 2011, Budapest

Salariat of Association of Hungarian Archaeologists

We did not receive any answer to our letter.

On the 3rd of October the MMISz (Association of the Directories of the County Museums) wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister. It can be found on-line at the following address:


We agree with the letter’s content and the Association of Hungarian Archaeologists supports it.

The European Association of Archaeology’s chairman has also sent a letter of protest to Minister Miklós Réthelyi on the 3rd of October, which was published on the 5th of October at the following on-line address:


Since we have not received any answer to our letter we are now publicizing it and state: In our opinion the above-mentioned ruling is fraught with difficulties, it is in contradiction with the legal and the intellectual thrust of international conventions on cultural heritage protection and it will be harmful to the fate of the archaeological heritage. We ask that it will be withdrawn. Our standpoint is that reconsideration of the cultural heritage protection law, modified several times in the last ten years, would indeed be opportune. A permanent law should be established after the detailed and considered examination of all processes.

Salariat of Association of Hungarian Archaeologists

Everyone who is in agreement with this announcement and would like to join our initiative concerning the reconsideraton of the draft ruling can sign it by sending a short message to this e-mail address: torvenymodositas@regeszet.org.hu

Módosítás: (2011. október 13. csütörtök, 18:48)

Nyitólap / Hírek / Közlemények /

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