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In Hungary, winter festivals never end…

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From the Budapest Business Journal print edition: Festivals are flourishing in Hungary today, with seemingly every Hungarian settlement of more than 5,000 inhabitants hosting at least one annual event of its own -- a phenomenon which could be interpreted as proof of these towns’ vitality. But the Hungarian Festivals Association is, however, is trying to keep the numbers at bay while introducing the idea that festivals should meet certain minimum criteria. The association can also reward the highest-quality event by attracting sponsors who would invest.

“A local culinary specialty, coupled with a beer tent and a hard-to-define-style pop band do not yet add up to a good festival,” Péter Sülyi, vice president of the Hungarian Festivals Association (MFSz) points out. Though municipal governments are just as enthusiastic about launching local festivals as the residents themselves, “mayors should be aware of the fact that the quality of an event must be combined by its uniqueness; otherwise it will drown into the pool of mere popular entertainment.”

The Hungarian Festivals Association has about 100 members, who are responsible for 300 events annually. The majority of members are local governments, and they often run the festivals through municipally encouraged civil associations. For-profit festivals are clearly in the minority.

“Within the association, festivals are organized into thematic groups, and their organizers belong to separate divisions,” Sülyi told the Budapest Business Journal. MFSz has a youth music division, a gastronomic division, a folklore division and an art division. “In addition, we have a special division for those high-quality festivals which have multiple profiles; these are described by a witty portmanteau as “köztivál”, a crossing of two Hungarian words közművelődés (public culture) and fesztivál (festival). I am the chairman of that special division,” Sülyi added.

Festivals registered by the MLSz, however, make up only a fraction of the entire range of all those organized in Hungary. There is no rival festival association; the MLSz as a rule represents quality events, while those that are unassociated with the national organization tend to be of lower standards.

Statistics prepared on the basis of festival hosts’ reports suggest that revenues are derived from four main sources, namely ticket sales, state or municipal subsidies, sponsors’ funding, and the rent paid by stallholders. “The proportions of these four, however, may differ significantly in the case of each festival,” Sülyi said. Art festivals, for example, draw much less in sponsor support than gastro festivals. With the festivals of small towns and villages, municipal funding plays a much more prominent role than in the case of Budapest events.

For now, the Hungarian Festivals Association considers the introduction of a grading system of primary importance. “Our stamp of quality should serve as a guiding feature for potential sponsors, helping them to invest their support into events that bring the highest non-material returns,” Sülyi said.

A four-tier grading system established by the association has been in use since 1997. It has four levels: no grading; satisfactory; good; and excellent. The system is currently in urgent need of redefinition, a prospect that will likely lead to conflict within the association.

Miskolc conflict over Pork Jelly Festival
Pork Jelly Festivals have been part of the carnival season in Miskolc for 14 years. This time, however, the festival has been organized at a venue outside the city in nearby Miskolctapolca, after the carnivals season early in March. The unusual location can be explained as due to conflict between festival organizers and the Miskolc municipal government.

Miskolc mayor Ákos Kriza claims that organizers have been denied official permission to arrange the event in the city because they owe several million forints to a municipally-owned company. For the organizers, Edit Rózsa has admitted to the debts, but she attributed them to the fact that even though the festival organization had successfully applied for state funding, the money was blocked by Agrármarketing Centrum, a government organization responsible for regional development projects. 

The mayor then decided to stage the event under the slightly different name of Pork Jelly Carnival between February 22 and 26. Zsolt Pászkán, owner of the license to use the name Pork Jelly Festival told the BBJ that the step made by the mayor amounts to the confiscating of the event, the aim of which is to put what was a not-for-profit festival into the hands of for-profit companies, as happened in the case of the Miskolc beer festival.

The situation is made more complicated by the fact that the Pork Jelly Festival is an important touristic event with significant potential. Last year, more than 200 vendors sold their wares, generating more than HUF 1 billion in turnover.

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