Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, and Germany jointly submitted a nomination proposal to UNESCO with the coordination of Hungary in 2018 after almost two decades of preparation work, to declare a number of fortress ruins by the Danube river, which have served as a natural border line of the Roman Empire, a part of the World Heritage sites. The bid was to be evaluated by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee this July. However, the Hungarian government unexpectedly and unilaterally removed a location – the Hajógyári Island in Budapest – from the list, thus the committee was not able to decide on the bid and award the title to the Central European part of the Limes, reportedly angering the three other countries.
The joint proposal nominated 98 sites along 1500 kilometers of the Danube, including legionary camps, several watchtowers, and other military facilities and Hungarian Roman forts, namely Tokod, Visegrád, Budapest-Aquincum, and Paks-Lussonium. According to a statement given last year by Csaba Latorcai, Deputy State Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office, the programme was planned to be coordinated by Hungary. The bid was about to be evaluated by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee in 2019.
The ‘Roman Limes’ represents the border line of the Roman Empire at its greatest extent in the 2nd century AD. It stretched over 5,000 km from the Atlantic coast of northern Britain, through Europe to the Black Sea, and from there to the Red Sea and across North Africa to the Atlantic coast. The remains of the Limes today consist of vestiges of built walls, ditches, forts, fortresses, watchtowers and civilian settlements.
Everything went well with the nomination, and – according to the plans – the decision of awarding the World Heritage Title to the German, Austrian, Slovakian, and Hungarian sections of the Limes had been on track and was expected to become official at the beginning of July in Baku. However, in May 2019, less than two months before the Baku session, Viktor Orbán and the Hungarian government unexpectedly removed Hajógyári Island from the locations nominated for World Heritage Title, without further notice or justification for the decision.
As the Hajógyári island is part of the Limes – and a governor’s palace (Hadrianus palace) is located there – and it was part of the nomination proposal submitted to the UNESCO, the ICOMOS prepared their expert opinion appropriately. At the Baku Summit, their representative noted that, due to the change in the content of the nomination, their opinions could no longer be considered relevant, and they had to prepare a new one with the new boundaries of the site.
According to liberal 444.hu, in Baku, Zsolt Visy, Archeology Professor and Ministerial Commissioner of the Limes World Heritage Bid, apologized to the other three nominating countries and the World Heritage Committee for the unexpected removal of the location.
What happens with the island?
For a long time, the southern part of the island was used as a party location with several clubs and bars, however, in 2013 the state bought the buildings back from an Israeli company, who planned to build a casino city there. Since then, there are no further plans with the island, although the government decree of the re-purchase states that the government’s goal was “to create a community space and to promote passive and active recreational activities – primarily for cultural and sporting purposes.”
Back in 2016, Hungarian news portal 444.hu asked the Prime Minister’s Office about further plans with the Hajógyári island. They said in a statement:
The final version of the Hajógyári Island concept is still under development and has not yet been discussed by the government.
A few days after the government decree, an expert from the Prime Minister’s Office told InfoRadio that it was necessary to take the island off the list, because the government realized that if the governor’s palace on the island was to be restored to its original state, the World Heritage title would obstruct and slow down the process.
When an area receives the World Heritage title, it can only be transformed in agreement with the UNESCO World Heritage Center and ICOMOS, which can lead to a rather long, bureaucratic procedure.
On the other hand, the Hungarian government so far has endorsed the nomination, as they not only appointed Zsolt Visy as Ministerial Commissioner, but a serious amount of EU funds have also been made available for the development of the locations included in the bid.