Hungarian Watch

Iván Fischer: Hungarian conductor, political gadfly, and artistic lion

In Uncategorized on May 29, 2014 at 1:41 pm


Illustration from The New Yorker

Iván Fischer (illustration from The New Yorker)


Alex Ross of The New Yorker profiles conductor, composer, opera director and political gadfly, Iván Fischer Fisher is a brilliant example of important Hungarian artists who continue to voice their dissent in the face of potential censure and loss of funding. Below are some excerpts. (Be sure to read the last one.)

 “At a time when illustrious conductors have aligned themselves with powerful regimes—Valery Gergiev is a prominent supporter of Vladimir Putin, and Gustavo Dudamel has failed to distance himself from Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s President—Fischer is a vocal opponent of Fidesz… Fischer recently composed ‘The Red Heifer,’ a bitingly satirical opera on the subject of Hungarian anti-Semitism, which has seen a resurgence in recent years.”

“‘The Red Heifer’ addresses a shameful episode in Hungarian history—the Tiszaeszlár blood-libel affair of 1882, in which Jewish in a rural village were accused of murdering a girl in a religious frenzy. An extended trial ended with acquittal, but the case intensified anti-Semitism in Hungary and foreshadowed the Dreyfus affair. Fischer felt compelled to take on the material because in recent years right-wing extremists have attempted to reopen the Tiszaeszlár case: a memorial to the murdered girl has become a site of pilgrimage, and a member of Jobbik, Hungary’s far-right-wing [i.e., Fascist] party, claimed in 2012 that the acquittal of the Jewis of Tiszaeszlár had been a whitewash.”

“Not long after Fidesz won its supermajority, the government of Viktor Orbán…cut funding for the [Budapest Festival Orchestra]. Some thought that Fischer was being punished for his opinions.”

“I asked Fischer whether he ever felt that his politics could endanger his career or the existence of the orchestra. ‘For me, there is no dilemma,’ he said, staring fixedly into the camera on his computer. ‘If I censored myself, I could not look at myself in the mirror. If it ever reached a point where they said, “We will not support an orchestra which is the flagship of Hungarian culture around the world because their conductor made critical remarks,” then it would become such a level of dictatorship that I wouldn’t want to serve it anymore. So I will stay free, and they will decide how tolerant they are.'”


Apparently, Putin prefers the withdrawal method

In Uncategorized on May 7, 2014 at 11:36 am


pull out 2


  1. Putin announced that Russia is pulling back its  approximately 40,000 troops back from the Ukrainian border, “[i]n what appeared to be a breakthrough in the worst crisis between East and West since the Cold War,” according to Reuters.
  2. Putin “called on pro-Moscow separatists in Ukraine to postpone a vote on secession just five days before it was to be held, potentially pulling Ukraine back from the brink of dismemberment.” The referendum was planned “by pro-Russian rebels seeking independence for two provinces with 6.5 million people and around a third of Ukraine’s industrial output.”

These two announcements come one day after Russia’s Finance Minister predicted that the Russian economy would officially slide into a recession after likely shrinks for the second consecutive quarter. These moves will likely shield Russia from further and even more crippling sanctions.

It remains to be seen if the separatists will heed Putin’s request and delay the vote. One leader, Denis Pushilin, said, “We have the utmost respect for President Putin. If he considers that necessary, we will of course discuss it.” We will see. But this is just one voice. Pro-Russian activists in Ukraine have also purported their right to hold a referendum, given the fact that Ukraine is officially a democracy.

Of course, more developments are sure to come and we will be keeping WATCH with you.

Orbán invites Russian energy grip in Hungary: Rosatom

In Uncategorized on May 5, 2014 at 4:42 pm
Putin Orban 2

Photo AP

Like many of you, we’ve been paying close attention to Russia’s actions in Crimea and the Ukraine. But it’s important to broaden that attention and ask: What is the Kremlin’s intention in the entire region, including in Hungary?

A not-so-subtle clue can be found in The New York Times’s excellent article, “Kiev Struggles to Break Russia’s Grip on Gas Flow.” We encourage you to read it and to pay special attention to way Russia exerts its influence through the energy influence its cultivated via Gazprom, the world’s largest gas company which is, incidentally, controlled by the Russian state. Gazprom not only supplies a large percentage of gas to the Ukraine —and Russia exploits its political grip on the Ukraine by skyrocketing the prices (in April, Gazprom raised the price of gas to Ukraine by 80%) and threatens to shut off power if the Ukraine does not/cannot pay its bill —but it also provides the European Union with approximately 1/3 of its gas imports. No wonder countries like Germany, “Gazprom’s biggest customer” according to the NYTimes, are reluctant to implement meaningful sanctions on Russia. It’s hard to bite the hand that feeds.

So, how does this relate to Hungary?

On February 6, 2014, the Hungarian parliament voted to approve a $14 billion nuclear loan-agreement deal with Russia. According to The Jamestown Foundation, “Under the agreement, Rosatom,” Russia’s state nuclear holding company, “shall build two nuclear power blocs in Hungary, financed by Russian state credit.” The expansion will take place at and more than double the capacity of Paks, Hungary’s only nuclear power plant, which currently provides Hungary with about 40% of its electrical needs. 

This deal has enormous consequences, and we encourage you to read the following articles to provide in-depth background information and analysis:

In short, we believe this deal is a worrying sign of Hungary aligning itself with, and increasing its dependence on, Russia; of Russian extending (and surely exerting) its influence on the region; and of future economic self-ruination for Hungary.

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