Author: Anais Lynn Voski
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s right-wing government is crushing artistic freedom in Hungary, according to renowned orchestral conductor Ádám Fischer and other leading figures of Central European cultural life.
The art of politics
“It is practically written into the new Hungarian Constitution that works reflecting a Christian-nationalist ideology will be given priority when state subsidies are disbursed,” the signatories wrote this week in a swingeing critique of the Fidesz government’s cultural policy.
Past controversial cultural decisions include the awarding of antisemitic writer Ferenc Szaniszló with the Tancsics Prize – the top state award for journalism – which he later returned due to strong domestic and foreign pressure, and the replacing of the National Theatre’s respected director Róbert Alföldi, despite popular protest, with Attila Vidnyánszky, a more nationalist director corresponding better with Fidesz’s state ideology. At the end of 2010 Fischer himself resigned as music director of the Hungarian State Opera in protest against the controversial media law.
The letter was circulated on Monday by the Austrian branch of international writers’ club PEN. Among the 16 signatories are pianist András Schiff, director Árpád Shilling, director of the Viennese Burgtheater Matthias Hartmann, and Dietmar Schwartz of Deutsche Oper, the largest of Berlin’s three opera houses. They criticise new powers granted to the Hungarian Art Academy (MMA), a forum of Hungarian artists and intellectuals.
Politics in plays
“The MMA was founded as a national-conservative private association of artists,” they wrote. “However, with the ruling party’s adoption of relevant legislation, the Basic Law now pronounces the MMA the public body that decides on the distribution of public funds. This means that a closed circle of conservative artists now have the right to play a key role in the distribution of state aid, incomes, scholarships and state awards.”
The letter continues: “The fact that the government of an EU member state attempts to trammel the arts in the twenty-first century is a serious violation of the basic principles of a liberal-minded democracy. It is unacceptable that artists in Hungary who do not rhyme, write or paint as the system pleases can have their livelihoods threatened.”
The artists called on their peers from Europe and around the world to join their protest against what is happening. They called on the government to remove the laws giving special status to the MMA, and to end the “extraordinary influence of narrow-minded ideologues” on Hungarian artistic life.