Interview with Professor Imre Szeman, University of Alberta
By Eva Hegyi
Imre Szeman is Canada Research Chair in Cultural Studies and Professor of English, Film Studies, and Sociology at the University of Alberta. He is going to teach at the Central European University in Budapest in the summer of 2010. Our current intern, Eva Hegyi, has recently conducted an interview with the professor.
Professor Szeman, could you please tell me a bit about yourself?
I was born in Canada in 1968 to Hungarian parents. My father came to Canada following the Hungarian uprising in 1956; my mother joined him in the year 1967.
Having taught at McMaster University in the Institute on Globalization and the Human Condition as well as in the Department of English and Cultural Studies for 10 years, I started teaching at the Department of English and Film Studies of the University of Alberta in the fall of 2009. My courses focus in particular on the sociology of culture and the impact of globalization.
You are going to teach at the Central European University in Budapest this summer. What kind of course will that be?
The course is a two-week intensive class taking place from July 19 to 30. I will teach in Budapest for the third time. The course is entitled „Culture as Resource: Cultural Practices and Policies After ’89” and will be held in English. It is open to students from throughout the world. The costs for the course are covered by the Open Society Institute and the Soros Foundations Network. The students will deal with questions such as „How has cultural policy changed since 1989?“
There was once a lot of money for culture in the region but the money has dried up because of economic challenges. In Hungary, for example, cultural policies have changed because of the financial reality. Now that Hungary has joined the EU, there has been a tendency of the government to defer responsibility for cultural spending to grants from the EU and foundations based in the West.
What are you hoping to achieve by teaching at the CEU?
I am looking forward to learning from my colleagues at the CEU. I may spend more time with Hungarian culture and would like to contribute to bringing Hungarian culture to Canada.
Do you speak Hungarian?
I understand the language and speak to some extent. I hope to spend more time in Budapest to practice the Hungarian language.
How do you feel about your identity, i.e. your Hungarian origin?
Both of my parents come from Hungary and have large families, and as such I have deep connections in Hungary on a personal level.
My wife is not from Hungary but she also enjoys spending time there. I think that some people in my generation are not that attached to the country they ‘come from’. Most of these people try to become part of Canadian culture and have assimilated to it. But because I have no relations in Canada apart from my parents, I very much identify with Eastern Europe.
Could you imagine living in Hungary?
I could imagine spending more time in Hungary. I could work out a situation where I spent one half of the academic year in Canada and the other in Hungary. However, I am not sure if I could permanently live there. At the moment, I am comfortable in Canada. But I have also lived happily in other countries, for example in the USA, where my son was born, and in Germany.
What do you think about the situation of immigrants in Canada as compared to other countries?
Immigrants in Canada are in a relatively good situation because this is a wealthy country. But the key word here is ‘relative’. Canadians tend to be too quick to celebrate the manner in which immigrants are treated here. As many recent studies and reports have shown, the reality of immigrants is quite different than how mainstream society imagines it. As in other countries, immigrants in Canada have a difficult time becoming part of society. Their professional qualifications are not always accepted, and they are more likely to be poor than other Canadians.
The reality is that Canada depends on immigration and desperately requires immigrants because otherwise the population would decline which would have an impact on the economy. Overall, I think that the government should pay more attention on the struggles and challenges faced by immigrants to Canada.
As far as Hungarians and Hungarian minorities are concerned, it has been more difficult for them to come to Canada since Hungary and Romania became members of the EU. There had been a revitalization of the Hungarian community in the 1980s and the early 1990s due especially to the arrival of Transylvanian Hungarians, many of whom could claim refugee status due to their treatment by the Romanian government. Since both countries have joined the EU, the number of Hungarian immigrants to Canada has decreased: the official line is that there are no minorities within Europe so oppressed as to be counted as refugees.
Professor Szeman, thank you very much for the interview.
For a detailed description of the CEU summer course on “Cultural Practices and Policies After ’89”, visit the CEU website:
Read Professor Szeman’s curriculum vitae here.