Arts in Danger; Contemporary Hungary

1st of January was a bad day fort he Hungarian people. Its old constitution (since 1989) had been
substituted by a new one. The profound changes within the new constitution, developed by President Pál Schmitt’s and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s, curtail judiciary’s independence and the constitutional court’s power. 

Órban’s right-conservative party “Fidesz” is highly anti-Semitic, radical right-winged and incompatible with democratic principles. One extreme examples is Zsolt Bayer’s (a publicist and close friend of Viktor Orbán) statement that a huge part of the Roma are “like animals” and should “be no more”.

And now the cultural sector is in for it now. Gábor Gulyás, director of Mücsarnok (stately art gallery) receded from his position. The reason is that the government decided that the Hungarian Art Academy (MMA) will take control of artistic and organisational decisions made in stately institutions. Initially the formation of this “academy” (in 1992) had been a private initiative by “national-conservative” artists. But after “Fidesz” came into power, the MMA became some sort of official Academy of fine arts and has the power to decide what “art” is. An exhibition in the Mücsarnok called “Mi a Magyar” (What is Hungarian) got the ball rolling. In the show Gábor Gulyás showed works which scrutinised the question of a “Hungarian” identity and which myths, clichés and prejudices can be understood as typically Hungarian.

All in all the displayed works were not very critical; rather the artists took typical elements and played with in a very funny way.

Artist's website:
Bell pepper powder in two lines on a mirror, which looks like two lines of cocaine (Király András), Zsuzsi Csiszer wrote more than 50.000 times the two words “yes”; the artist also showed a photography showing herself with hands painted in the colours of the Hungarian flag (of course the red part resembled blood). Borsos Löring made an installation, constisting of a chamotte model of the Hungarian Parliament (1:300) on a vibrating table and motion detectors. When a visitor comes close to the model the vibrating table would start to shake the Parliament… the latter might be one of the most critical works, but in the end the whole show was more than benign. But when it comes to the question of Hungarian identity and nationalism, the new government is not able to see a joke. Fekete Györg

y, director of MMA referred to the exhibition as “national blasphemy”. He continued: “This exhibition was the final straw for my academy; something like this might be shown in a private gallery, but a stately museum is not allowed to do something like this”. It is not clear what exactly György wants to criticise and which artworks (in his opinion) are blasphemous, but ultimately this is not the point. In the end the government wants to show their power over culture. These approaches resemble totalitarian systems and in the end are forms of censorship. There is only one “right” way and now the MMA is able to define what “good” art is and which artworks are “bad”.

The MMA provides scholarships and grants and its members, many of them freelance artists, receive a monthly income. But critical artists or those artists whom the Academy accuses of being not national enough, have no chance to become a member of the Academy, have to fear for their existence. These developments remind of practices during Soviet times.
Quelle: MTI / Julius Czimbal
Incze Mózes: Horthy Miklós kora 

The MMA also took control over “Trafó”, the most important gallery for contemporary art in Budapest. Its former director György Szabó had to quit. 
Which are the paintings the government or the MMA wants to have in "their" museums? 

For example: paintings showing Miklós Horthy: an Antisemite and ally of Hitler during the Second World War. He has become one of the key figures for the "new definition" of Hungary's right-winged government. In 
Gyömrõ local councillors decided to rename the town's main square to "Mikl´s Horthy square. A hundred or so residents gathered in the centre to demonstrate against this decision. In the end, a small park in the centre, rather than the whole square, was given the name. Not a very satisfying solution, because the sign remains: Rasism 

Of course there are massive protests. A new Horthy statue was soused in red paint. A Hungarian lawyer confessed this "crime". He wrote: " “I inaugurated on behalf of the Blue Ribbon for Democracy movement the horseback sailor’s statue, passing on greetings from millions of victims and martyrs."

The national theatres have to suffer as well, just like the off-scene. Already promised funding is paid delayed are not paid at all. The (English speaking) theatre Merlin had to suffer from enormous financial cutbacks and had to stop their program for a short durance.

Róbert Alföldi, director of the national theatre (Nemzeti Szinház), has to quit his job and will be replaced by a new director. Alföldi is too modern, his program is “not Hungarian enough”, “perverse” and “treasonable”. And above all Alföldi is homosexual.

György Fekete: “Whoever wants to belong to us, has to have a definite national disposition, to love this country and its language and must not harm our reputation from abroad.” Fekete might have thought of György Konrad, one of the most famous Hungarian writers, when he said that. Of course the Fidesz party is not a big fan of Konrad. He is a jewish author… and this fact alone might be reason enough to spoon-feed one of the country’s most important and influential writers. Nobel Prize laureate Imre 
Kerstesz is reviled as “not Hungarian”. The anti-Semitic atmosphere is clearly visible: Not long ago, a MP (Márton Gyöngyösi) called for the Parliament to count the Jews in the room. He claimed they are "safety risk for Hungary". Some time later Gyöngyösi apologised for his statement and explained that he did not mean "Jews in general", only those Jews that have a Hungarian AND an Israelian passport.
Adam Fischer, managing-director of the Hungarian opera, receded from his position in 2010. Around 300 people gathered outside Budapest's New Theater on Wednesday to protest its new director, an actor with links to far-right parties: Gyorgy Dorner. Dorner was picked by Mayor Istvan Tarlos over the theater's previous director, Istvan Marta.
Dozens of members of extreme-right groups seeking to disrupt the protest, some wearing face masks and shouting racist slogans

It seems as if the far-right government seeks to subsitute all the directors of cultural institutions with their own people, which would clearly mean a total control over cultural life in Hungary, and of course: Culture is an instrument of power. Critical art is simply suppressed; it is not hard to imagine where these developments could lead to.

The protests against the government keeps growing. On the 2nd of January tens of thousands of people have been protesting in the streets of Budapest, many of the protesters taped their mouths as a symbol for the loss of democracy and freedom of speech.

Aspects of the new constitution and accompanying laws which have come in for criticism include:
1. A preamble committed to defending the intellectual and spiritual unity of the nation, which experts warn could be a future source of tension
2. The inclusion of social issues - like the rights of the unborn child, marriage between a man and a woman, and the definition of life sentences - which critics argue should be left to ethical debates within society
3.The rewriting of the electoral system, in a way which opponents say favours Fidesz.

The demonstrators handed 386 "Stars of David" to the parliament, so the politicians could show solidarity with the Hungarian Jews. István Ujhelyi, Vice president of the parliament and representative of the post-socialist MSZP-party, chaired a conference with a yellow star on his chest.
Young artists stormed into a hall, where the MMA-members met and demanded free art and the end of the control of the Academy.

But these are only little steps towards necessary changes in the country.

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