National heritage

Government keeps report on world heritage sites secret; UNESCO sending inspectors to Hungary

The government of Hungary is hiding the report it sent to UNESCO about the state of World Heritage Sites in the country – even though NGOs, journalists and members of Parliament have asked to see it. UNESCO might not be satisfied with the answers, though: it is sending inspectors to Hungary in the near future. 

Many well-known sites in Budapest are under protection and are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These include the banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle, and Andrássy street and some of their surrounding areas. The government of Hungary is expected to protect and preserve these sites.

However, Hungarian NGOs claim that there are many development projects going on in Hungary that are endangering the integrity of these sites. Large-scale projects and reconstruction are underway in the Buda Castle; buildings are being demolished in the old Jewish district and the city park called Városliget is being turned into a museum quarter. The government tried to keep these NGOs from meeting with the UNESCO inspectors during their visit last February.

These NGOs are trying to put pressure on the government of Hungary through UNESCO – and their work has resulted in visits by UNESCO inspectors to Hungary.

Previously, on the session held in 2017 in Krakow, the World Heritage Committee strongly criticized these development projects in Hungary. The Committee demanded a ‘state of conservation’ report from the Hungarian government to provide answers for the questions it raised by December 1st, 2018.

The government was two months late with finishing the document due to ‘technical errors’.

The report is expected to be debated during the 43rd Session of the World Heritage Committee later this year – and most probably that is the only time that the answers of the government of Hungary, sent to UNESCO in February, will be public.

The Hungarian government only released the executive summary of its answers and it refusing to release the rest of the report. Not even MP Ákos Hadházy was able to access the full report.

Still, the summary provides a few clues on what the World Heritage Committee is expecting answers for. It became clear that last year the inspectors raised 17 issues and provided recommendations for the government on these.

Apparently, the organization wasn’t satisfied with the replies it received from the government of Hungary because it is sending inspectors to the country again.

As of the publication of this article, details and the date of the new inspection are not known.

The executive summary, written by the Office of the Prime Minister, stresses that the government is doing everything it can to prevent these development projects from harming the cultural heritage sites. Moreover, the document claims that the state system of preserving national heritage was reformed exactly for this purpose.

A few arguments of the government are also revealed by the executive summary. It replies to criticism about the new HQ of the national oil company, MOL. The government argues that the 120-meter-high building had been approved according to previous regulations. The government also mentions that it will have a minimal effect on world heritage sites.

Regarding the new museum quarter and the two new museums under construction (the Museum of Ethnography and the Biodome) the government argues that they will not be visible from protected Heroes’ Square, thus the government is not expecting any change in these plans.

The government is also promising to extend the protective zone to Margaret Island, and parts located west from Buda Castle. They also promise not to extend the permit for the downtown ferris wheel called Budapest Eye and that real estate owners in the protected areas will be eligible for subsidies starting from 2021.

UNESCO will discuss the situation and the results of its inspection at its June general assembly, then it will issue a statement. However, extreme measures are not expected – no world heritage sites will be stripped of their status.

Written by Gabriella Horn

English version by Márk Tremmel. You can read the original, Hungarian-language story here.