Local interests, identity and Slovak heritage: elite discourses on urban development in Békéscsaba, Hungary

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Jankó, Ferenc
Mihály, Melinda
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This study is based on semi-structured interviews with Békéscsaba’s local elite and aims to explore the narratives of the town’s urban progress and the enforcement of local interests related to urban development. The paper also examines the elite narratives on the local society and the issue of the town’s Slovak heritage. Békéscsaba is a mid-sized town in South-Eastern Hungary, resettled mainly with Lutheran Slovaks and became the seat of Békés county after showing remarkable economic progress in the 19th – 20th century. However, the discourse of being underdeveloped and peripheral, and having poor lobbying capacities became dominant in the second half of the 20th century. This was the context in which the economic crises after 1989 and 2008 ­– 2009 arrived. Both crises were followed by massive out-migration from the town. Slovak heritage was ambivalently discussed during the interviews; some interviewees neglected or dispraised the issue, while others highlighted the heritage’s embeddedness in culture that also forms a basis for touristic attractions. That is the factor for a particular urban mentality of Békéscsaba, which needs to be treated with non-traditional urban deve-lopment approaches. However, most narratives turned back to a picture mentality as a factor for the lack of progress and urban setback. Urban development efforts have aimed thus to remedy this century-old debt, but many have legitimate doubts as to whether the mental disadvantages can be recompensed with stone and concrete, with poor top-down as well as bottom-up interest enforcement. However, we should not ignore the structural background of Békéscsaba’s uneven development.
Békéscsaba , etnikai kisebbségek , szlovákok , városfejlődés
Geografický časopis 72:(4) pp. 319-335. (2020)