Hungarian Rape-sody: Government Assaults Culture, Freedom


A cultural iron curtain apparently has descended over Hungary.

Viktor Orb√°n

In April 2010, Viktor Orb√°n and his alleged center-right political party, Fidesz, won a two-thirds majority in parliamentary elections. From there, Hungary’s soul began to retreat. Orb√°n grasped power with an iron hand, with efforts to turn the nation into a censored, nationalist, Christian state.

Story continues below. summarizes the political environment this way:

Orban was appointed prime minister. He introduced several laws that increased government control over the media, judiciary, and central bank. In April 2011, parliament approved a new “majoritarian” constitution, which went into effect in January 2012 to widespread disapproval and fear that the document consolidated the power of Fidesz at the expense of democracy. In a rare display of unity, opposition groups joined together in early January and organized protests against the new constitution. About 30,000 people participated.

A Jan. 3 article in Hungarian Spectrum took a specific look at problems in, first, the Hungarian National Theater, and with writers and artists:

First, there was the disgraceful charade that took place at the Hungarian National Theater which ensured that the government’s favorite [Attila Vidny√°nszky], who considers the National Theater a depository of national values, got the job. More on the subject can be found in the post entitled “Kulturkampf is called ‘Kulturkampf’ in Hungarian too.” [Second,] A right-wing gathering of writers and artists are receiving practically exclusive financial support from the Orb√°n government. To add insult to injury the government appointed Gy√∂rgy Fekete, whose commitment to democracy can be seriously questioned, president of this artistic academy [Hungarian Academy of Arts (M.M.A.)]. Fekete made it clear that literature and art will have to be in the service of national values.

Then a more detailed and damaging report on Orb√°n’s stubborn effort to crush cultural freedom appeared Jan. 8 in The New Yorker. In a column entitled, “The Frightening Hungarian Crackdown,” novelist Hari Kunzru lists a plethora of incidents involving cultural suppression. They include:

–Pianist Andr√°s Schiff saying he will no longer travel to Hungary. “They would chop off my hands,” he told a Finnish interviewer to dramatize the censorship efforts.

Ágnes Heller

–√Ågnes Heller and four other left-leaning philosophers were placed under investigation for the misappropriation of two million dollars in grant funds. Heller’s colleagues characterized this as harassment. After a public outcry, the police eventually dropped the investigation.

–Béla Tarr, director of the film “The Turin Horse,” won the Silver Bear at the sixty-first Berlin International Film Festival. He then gave an interview to Berlin’s Der Tagesspiegel. He claimed the Orb√°n government was cracking down on cultural dissenters. After a call from the government, he publicly said he was misquoted. The Hungarian film’s distributor then cancelled its premi√®re, and shelved plans to distribute it.

In January 2012, the European Union warned Hungary it would take legal action if it didn’t alter its new repressive laws in culture, media, central banking and the judiciary. Orb√°n responded the problems “could swiftly be resolved and remedied.”

But the recent news reports indicate that hasn’t happened.