The Vajdaság Center for Hungarian Folklore, an independent, non-profit,
non-political, grass-roots organization, was founded in Bácstopolya
(Baaka Topola, Yugoslavia) in September, 1995.
"Vajdaság" (Voivodina) is the first and most important element of our name, our primary aim being to gather everyone in the Vajdaság involved in folk music, folk dance, and folk art into one institution. "Hungarian" is another key constituent of our name, because we are an association of professionals and non-professionals composing in Hungarian, and engaged in the folk culture of the Hungarian people. This, of course, by no means precludes cooperation with organizations and professionals dealing with other folk cultures; indeed, among the aims of our organization is to bring together individuals and associations involved in two or more folk traditions. Finally, we call ourselves a "Center for Folklore" because we mean to be an information center coordinating the efforts of individuals involved in folklore, both in its narrow and broader sense, both inside and outside the country's borders.
The center's objectives, as specified in the articles of association, is to study, preserve, cultivate, process, and popularize Hungarian folk tradition both in the Vajdaság and beyond, and to assemble and instruct those active in non-professional folk movements with the aim of achieving a higher degree of professionalism in the fields of folk music, folk dance, and applied folk arts.
We also wish to set up a research center that will collect and classify the documentary sources (written, audio, audio-visual and digital) of Hungarian ethnography, to make them available primarily to our members, but also to the public at large.
In view of the great demand for the rapid synthesis and exchange of information on folklore and related fields, the Center for Folklore launched a newsletter soon after its foundation. Initiated and edited by István Nagy, it is the first and still the only bulletin in the region meant to satisfy the needs of the amateur folklore movement. It has set into motion an unprecedented flow of information, from both inside and outside Yugoslavia, on a wide range of topics of general interest in the fields mentioned above.
From the very beginning, the organization has paid special attention to the professional training of people involved in amateur folk movements. Having never had any form of Hungarian folk art taught in the region's schools, and with little hope of the curriculum changing in that direction, we began to organize meetings, conferences, and long-term courses (running one to two school years) in various areas of folk art, inviting our own specialists from the Vajdaság, as well as from Hungary to serve as instructors. We have organized courses in folk games and dancing for elementary school and kindergarten teachers, courses in basic embroidery, and advanced courses for embroidery instructors in Szabadka (Subotica), Becskerek (Zrenjanin), and Újvidék (Novi Sad). We have sent our members to seminars (choreographer training in Budapest), conferences and craft camps (in Békéscsaba and Zalaegerszeg, Hungary) and have organized field trips to Budapest (to the "Discovering Kalotaszeg" exhibition at the Hungarian Museum of Ethnography). We regularly visit local exhibitions, and gratefully acknowledge the cooperation, professional supervision and sponsorship of the Hungarian Culture Foundation, the Folk Dance Center, the Hungarian Museum of Ethnography, the Folk Game and Handicraft Teachers School, the György Martin Association for Folk Dance, the European Folklore Institute, the Táncház Foundation, the Discover Hungary Alliance, and the Foundation for the Teaching of Folk Art (all in Budapest), as well as the Craftsmen's Halls of the Baranya, Békés, and Csongrád county cultural centers, and the Gönczi Ferenc Cultural Center of Zalaegerszeg.
Our professional embroiderers and embroidery instructors have exhibited their works at the International Folk Art Festival (Szeged, 1998) and the National Folk Art Exhibition (Budapest, 1996), and have taken part in the Twenty-second Bori Kis Jankó National Embroidery Competition (Mezökövesd, Hungary, 1999). Our folk dancers, bands, and various individuals from the amateur movements have performed at the Festival of Hungarian Minorities in Pécs (Hungary).
We have released our first audio cassette, providing the folk music groups and soloists of the Vajdaság the opportunity to reach a wider audience. In the autumn of 1997, the music on the cassette was played at live performances in Hungary, in Szeged, Kecskemét, and Budapest.
We started holding folk dance and music classes for beginners; unfortunately, however, we have had to suspend this program for lack of funds. Inspired by folk embroidery instructor Rozália Raj, we held the Margit Polák Embroidery Competition for the first time in 1998, and hope to hold it biennially in the future.
The folk dancers of the Vajdaság have shown great interest in the new type of folk-dance competition and rating system developed by the György Martin Association for Folk Dance. To encourage constant improvement, folk dancers are provided the opportunity to perform and be rated on stage, an event which was organized for the first time in 1997 by the Center for Folklore in cooperation with the Petôfi Sándor Hungarian Cultural Association of Újvidék (Novi Sad). We plan to make this a biennial event. Style workshops are regularly held for folk dancers in Temerin (Temerin), under the able direction of Imre Lukács, with guest performers from Hungary.
In studio sessions held on the Kátai farm in Kishegyes (Mali IYoA), a perfect setting to inspire creativity, we study the ornamental patterns of textiles from the region with the help of the professional embroiderers and embroidery instructors who collected these samples themselves, and, reinterpreting the patterns and motifs, create new artifacts embroidered with authentic ornamental folk motifs. In Doroszló (Doroslovo) in Southern Bácska, we have organized children's camps for the preservation of folk traditions on six separate occasions so far, with great success. This is the only camp in the region that is held in an authentic folk environment, where campers from the entire territory of the Vajdaság can experience the spiritual and material legacy of peasant culture, and learn the unwritten rules and customs of closed communities, and about the region itself as one single community dedicated to the preservation of these traditions.
The conferences we have organized for leaders of folk dance groups and traditional ensembles have also met with a positive response. Two summer handicraft camps have been held under the direction of Attila Varga, with primarily focus on traditional handicrafts which researchers have found to have been firmly established in this region at one time, but which are just a memory today (e.g., the making of horse hair jewelry).
In 1995, we revived the Vajdaság Táncház Festival, a tradition interrupted by the 1991 war in Yugoslavia. Since then, it has been held under the direction of Tibor Vas in cooperation with the Móra Ferenc Cultural Association in several locations in Yugoslavia: Bácstopolya (Baaka Topola), Feketics (Feketia), and Csóka (.oka). Unfortunately, in the autumn of 1998, the fifth anniversary of the festival had to be canceled due to the renewed threat of war.
Thanks to the support of the Town Council of Szabadka (Subotica), we have received office space free of charge. It is here that the volunteers who run the Center carry out the organizational part of their work. Our major problem is that the association has no continuous source of financial support, and no paid employees. We finance each planned project mainly with support from abroad.
As we see it, cooperation with the mother country can be truly fruitful only if the Hungarian communities of the region are in the position to follow its fine example.
For Hungarians living outside the borders of Hungary, anything that the various cultural organizations do to foster and preserve our ethnic identity is of enormous significance. If the new generation is not content to simply learn to read and write Hungarian, if our youngsters aspire to express themselves in this language as native speakers, want to sing the traditional songs and dance the traditional dances, if they treat our cultural legacy with due respect, study it and pass it on, if they not only delight in a Hungarian stage performance but find the values expressed on stage to be a source of inspiration in their everyday lives, then we, the cultural organizations active today, have done our job. The Vajdaság Center for Hungarian Folklore, for one, is dedicated to carrying on in this spirit.