Baalbek | Painted by Tivadar Kosztka Csontváry

My cultural experiences in Hungary

The meeting of two civilizations is always an exciting moment – especially if, in spite of some similarities, the two cultures derive from two totally different historical, geographical, social, and religious backgrounds, notes the Ambassador of Lebanon to Hungary in the March-April issue of Diplomacy & Trade.

I remember very well how deeply I was impressed when I first caught sight of ‘Baalbeck’ and ‘The Solitary Cedar’ in the paintings of Csontváry in Pécs.          

It was the same very touching encounter with the ‘Pilgrimage to the Cedars’ in the Hungarian National Gallery. I stood there speechless for a while. It was so wonderful to meet these symbols of my homeland so far from Lebanon; to see them through the eyes of the Hungarian visionary artist who used to identify himself and his lonesome soul with the solitary cedar.

The art of Csontváry

Another nice memory linked to this eternal tree was when – together with the mayor of District 11, Mr Tamás Hoffmann – I planted a Lebanese cedar in front of the former atelier of Tivadar Kosztka Csontváry on the occasion of the Day of the Hungarian Painting in 2011. I understood that while the cedar for us, the Lebanese people, symbolises our country, it represents for the people of Hungary the art of Csontváry and globally, the art of painting, itself.

Speaking about cultural encounters and experiences, I would like to mention a very recent event, the International Festival of the Francophone Films held for the second time this year in Budapest, the inauguration of which took place in the Uránia National Film Theater on 23 February 2012.A Lebanese film “Where do we go now – Et maintenant on va où” was chosen for the opening screening and I was asked by the organizing French Institute to deliver the inauguration speech.

Lebanon: mosque and church

The plot of the film is a war-ravaged village of South-Lebanon where Muslim and Christian women band together to prevent further sectarian violence among men. They're from a place with more dead than living, a remote spot lacking television reception, surrounded by landmines and accessible only by a damaged bridge, where mosque and church stand nearly side by side. Humorous and moving moments take turns in this film of Lebanese director and actress Nadine Labaki.

After watching the film at home first, I became quite worried about the potential reaction of the Hungarian spectators. What will they understand of the problems, gestures, symbols, communication, body language of this world geographically and mentally so far, so different from Central Europe?

The curtain went up, the film began and I was watching the reaction of the audience. I was relieved to hear huge laughter in the auditorium at funny scenes and to see tears rolling down people’s cheeks at sad and tragic moments. When the film was over, the audience remained seated and kept applauding for a long while.

I had to understand that I should not have been worrying about their reaction, since no matter where people come from, in the depth of their heart, they are all basically the same; all striving for a happy and peaceful life.

Charbel Stephan, Ambassador of Lebanon

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