On the Trail of Stamps

Forty Years of Regions – Eras – Museums

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Regions – Eras – Museums (REM) movement, which continues to function successfully with its own website, Facebook page, clubs, excursions and publications. The number of stamp-issuing places involved with the movement continues to grow year by year, and now stands at over 3100. The latest to join the network is Budapest’s Rock Museum – Hungarian Rock Hall of Fame. Information about natural sights, listed monuments, churches, museums, galleries, zoos and botanical gardens is provided by REM’s standard-format pocket booklets, of which so far over 840 have been published. They contain summaries or full versions in foreign languages. For many people REM is a prototype of a nostalgic, successful model of cultural tourism. The inexpensive, high-standard booklets contain not only texts by prominent professionals, but also maps, ground plans and pictures. The series, conceived by István Éri, at the time director of the Museum Methodology and Restoration Centre, provides information about many hundreds of monuments, museums, collections and treasures of nature. In addition to spreading knowledge, the booklets have also played a role in academics’ writings, and its authors have proudly included them in their lists of publications. It’s no wonder that they have been reissued many times, occasionally with texts in English, German, Italian, Romanian, Slovak and Turkish. In the first 36 years 11 million copies were printed. They are still sought after today, serving as a substitute for guidebooks and guides, as well as facilitating advance preparation or as a means of recalling experiences. Teachers use them when preparing children for a school trip. Many factors played a role in REM quickly becoming a mass movement. The first and possibly most important is that right at the start the organisers presented to the public a well worked out project. Immediately more than 100 noteworthy sights were involved, and the list was continuously expanded. Towards the end of the 1980s, the many times published catalogue referred to 1400 stamping checkpoints. Today that figure is 1700. Another reason for success involved the then strengthening museum institutional structure, the public and state support for nature and monument protection, as well as scholarly research. Thirdly, the increase supported by the ideology of the party-state would have been in vain if the project had not addressed and reached the social strata of society which by then had more free time and were becoming more financially secure, from whose members the Kádár system expected socialist patriotism. All this served to strengthen identity and develop domestic tourism. People purchasing maps could not but marvel at how many sights there were in Hungary, and to a certain degree that compensated them for the fact that they couldn’t travel abroad as they pleased.