Edited by Anna Popper
On behalf of the José Martí National Library of Cuba, His Excellency Guillermo Vázquez Moreno, Ambassador of the Republic of Cuba to Hungary, and Mr Dávid Rózsa – Director General of the National Széchényi Library signed a cooperation agreement in January 2023. The official event took place at the beautiful building of the library in the Royal Palace in Buda Castle, attended by officials from the Hungarian Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, local authorities, leaders of the Hungarian library and the representatives of the Cuban Embassy and community.
The Hungarian National Library was founded in 1802 by the highly patriotic Hungarian aristocrat Count Ferenc Széchényi (1754-1820). Count Széchényi travelled the world buying Hungarian books, and donated his valuable collection to his beloved country for the benefit of the Hungarian society, which was placed in the first museum he founded in Hungary, the Hungarian National Museum. Széchényi’s example resulted in a nationwide movement of book donations to the library. In 1803, the first public library was opened in Pest.
In 2022 a grand scale permanent exhibition entitled Essence was inaugurated, dedicated to the 220th anniversary of the library and paying tribute to the founder, Count Ferenc Széchényi, and also recalling the famous Corvina Library at the Royal Court of King Mathias in the 15th century, as a historical predecessor. Visiting the exhibition is recommended in Hungarian and English, displaying the complexity and multi-layered nature of the more than 10 million books and documents stored in the library, and representing the full range of the written Hungarian cultural heritage.
The signing act began with the words of the Ambassador:
“I am grateful for the opportunity to address you all on behalf of the Directorate of the Cuban ‘José Martí’ National Library, and of our Embassy. The opportunity is propitious to remember two important events:
– On 28 January 2023 we celebrate the 170th birth anniversary of the National Hero of Cuba ‘José Martí’, honouring the National Library of Cuba with his name.
– On 25 November 2022, the 220th anniversary of this prestigious Hungarian library that bears the name of Count Ferenc Széchényi was commemorated.
Our libraries unite the literary and creative thinking of these two great men, who, although distant by origin, are also close, as demonstrated by the intention of current generations to sign a memorandum of understanding that will make it possible to develop knowledge about our peoples and represents at the same time a step forward in educational and cultural relations between our two countries.
The José Martí National Library of Cuba is the country’s main library and was established on 18 October 1901. It is part of more than 400 libraries to be found throughout Cuba. Starting as an archive with a personal collection, today it houses numerous collections and is the country’s legal depository. Featuring a digital library and numerous rooms, it houses Cuba’s documentary, bibliographic, artistic and sound heritage treasure, as well as the most representative of universal culture.
The National Library of Hungary is named after the Hungarian patriot Count Ferenc Széchényi, who built up a large collection of Hungarian books in the late 18th century and gave them to the nation in 1802. This donation marked the birth of the library and many more donations followed.
Both of our libraries have bilateral relations with numerous libraries and organizations around the world whose main objective include sharing professional experiences, providing and coordinating research, and conducting short- and long-term projects.
The activity we carry out today represents a human treasure of friendship and solidarity that exists between our countries and becomes a positive factor contributing to the creation of new formulas for mutually advantageous relations, exchanges and cooperation. Despite their geographical distance, our two peoples are united by more than 60 years of diplomatic relations. With the implementation of this memorandum, we are not only writing history, but also building a new relationship, a mutual knowledge of our peoples’ lives, culture, science and art for the benefit of all of us.
I would like to thank everyone for their presence at this simple, yet profound, noble act that enhances the culture of our two nations and opens new horizons for present and future generations.
I thank the Director of the Library for his work and for the opportunity to welcome us at their headquarters and working together on this project that started a few years ago with their Cuban counterparts and is now becoming a reality.
I conclude my words by quoting Jose Martí: … Doing is the best way of saying.”
After the official act, the guests were treated with the surprise of seeing unique photo albums and posters related to Cuba from the library’s collection, then they were invited to visit the exhibition in the library’s premises.
“For books are more than books, they are the life, the very heart and core of ages past, the reason why men worked and died, the essence and quintessence of their lives.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC)
Embassy of Cuba in Budapest,
National Széchényi Library Hungary