Rigojanči, post-communism and MOST – interview with Péter Inkei 


We talked about the MOST project, Balkan desserts and the effects of COVID-19 with Péter Inkei, expert in cultural policy, a member of the MOST Steering Committee.


Why do you think the MOST project is important?

The main mission of the Budapest Observatory, the NGO which I have directed since 1999, has been to research and promote the culture of post-communist countries between the Baltic Sea and Adriatic Sea. Paternalistic attitudes, opportunism and political calculations were not uncommon in the past transition decades – it has always been important that cultural professionals avoid them. Nowadays it has begun changing slowly and artists are keen to get in the international stream. I find MOST a well-conceived, technically well-prepared and fair project to help in this positive transition in the Balkans. Plus, I am fond of world music.

Although the MOST project can go on unhindered, we should postpone the first meetings due to a COVID-19. What are your perceptions of the long-term impact of the virus on the cultural industry and on cultural consumption?

I am trying to get oriented among the various forecasts about the length and dimension of the pandemic. I can think of two kinds of impact upon the world music scene. The mass mobility of mankind will probably shrink owing to new regulations and precautions. This may affect large audience events. 

The other effect may be positive. Performers are encouraged and facilitated to improve their skills in recording, digitizing, remastering, disseminating and archiving their art. On the other hand, the public will also adapt and become accustomed to consuming art in the virtual space.  

Since you have researched the cultural policies in Eastern-Central Europe for a long time, what other obstacles do you see which make it difficult for artists in the Balkans to succeed internationally? 

The paradox in much of Eastern Europe is people still expect too much from their governments but the administrations are often less equipped to serve the interests of the public than in Western Europe, where citizens are more autonomous in handling their affairs anyway. This leaves especially independent artists rather at a deficit regarding their career opportunities – not only in their attitudes but in infrastructure as well. I also feel that Balkans artists are even usually “unrulier” than their colleagues in the West – in their habits and minds which also leads to great revolutionary music. That is why I think that MOST, a structured, disciplined assistance in the form of training and mentoring is very relevant. 

Would you share some personal stories from the Balkans with us? 

I have made many visits of all kinds to the Balkans. On one hand, there  are the postcard-like idyllic recollections, on the other the hurtful encounters with the dark moments of the region. From the latter, the memory of Mostar in ruins is alive in my mind. Driving there to a conference and back home took me through the war-torn cities of Bosnia and the abandoned villages in Slavonia.

Around the millennium, taking part in missions to Albania and Kosovo with the Council of Europe was also an extraordinary experience. In May 2000, I spent ten days in Albania, collecting material for the review of the cultural policy of the country in the frame of a Council of Europe project. Beside Tirana I could talk to cultural administrators and artists from Shkodra in the north to Gjirokastra in the south. I gathered impressions about the many colours, the past, present, and maybe future of the Balkans.

Luckily, most of my memories are heart-warming like that. The Balkans is full of attractions that immediately make you feel in a world so distant from home. But home may reappear at any moment in strange ways: they recommend you the favourite dessert in Opatija, and it bears the name of the gipsy musician born in the village next to yours in Hungary: rigojanči.


Péter Inkei is the Hungarian member of the MOST steering committee. He is the director of the Budapest Observatory, which researches cultural policies in Eastern-Central Europe. He has consulted for the Council of Europe, the Open Society Institute, the World Bank and the National Development Agency of Hungary. He served as Hungary’s Deputy State Secretary for Culture between 1996 and 1998. He is on the panel of experts of the International Fund for Cultural Diversity of UNESCO. Since 2001 Inkei has been deputy manager of the Central European University Press as well.  


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