Hungarian Watch

Archive for February, 2011|Monthly archive page

The Hungarian Revolution comes to NYC!

In Uncategorized on February 24, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Mihály Biró. People’s Voice: People’s Republic of Hungary. 1918.

Well, sort of…

As of February 2nd, the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City has opened a new exhibition called “Seeing Red: Hungarian Revolutionary Posters, 1919.”

In the wake of the First World War many artists and writers were seized by a new sense of political purpose. It is widely recognized that the events of 1917 and after galvanized revolutionary aspirations among European avant-gardes and the intelligentsia.

This installation features posters by three of Hungary’s foremost graphic artists, Mihály Biró, Sándor Bortnyik and Bertalan Pór, all of whom had been actively involved in the Socialist revolutionary movement that culminated in the short-lived Hungarian Republic of Councils in 1919.

The exhibition is ongoing.

MOMA is located at 1153 West 53rd Street (between 5th and 6th Avenues) in NYC.  For more information, check out the exhibition page on MOMA’s calendar.



Multiple Choice Constitution = No Choice

In Uncategorized on February 24, 2011 at 10:04 am

Hungary's Constitution

Fidesz, the current ruling party of the Hungarian party, claims that it is “unnecessary” to hold a national referendum to replace its current constitution with a radically new one, “saying its sweeping election victory last year gave it the political mandate to adopt it without asking voters again.”  Really?

(Imagine the US Republicans deciding they have the right to act on their desire to repeal the 14th Amendment without any national referendum because they did so well during the last election cycle.  How would that go over?  Can anyone say:  Wisconsin?)

So, to avoid any further PR kerfuffles (like the one they went through when enacting the democracy-killing new media law on the day they took over the E.U. presidency), the Hungarian government, in all its wisdom, is seeking out public opinion….via a meaningless multiple-choice questionnaire!

“Fidesz will in the coming days send the questions below to all eight million Hungarian voters, with multiple choice answer options that haven’t been provided yet. Voters will be able to express opinions at the end of the questionnaire. No postage will be required to send the questionnaire back to the National Consultation Board.”

Margit Feher offers an incisive analysis of this questionnaire in the Wall Street Journal blogs. Here are some of our favorites, quoted from the blog:

Should the new constitution only declare civic rights or should it also declare the obligations of citizens? (Fidesz hasn’t specified what obligations it has in mind.)

Should the new constitution bring under its protection common values such as family, labor, home, order and health? (No clarification is given as to definitions of those values and how they should be protected.)

Should the new constitution grant voting rights to the parent of a minor on behalf of his/her child? (The National Consultation Board wants to launch a public debate on whether parents should be given an extra vote in the name of their children, and if each child in the family should bring one extra vote or if just one additional vote should be given to the family, regardless of how many children it has.)

Should the new constitution express national togetherness with Hungarians living beyond our borders? (There are a conservatively estimated 2.59 million ethnic Hungarians living in neighboring Slovakia, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine, Austria, Croatia and Slovenia. Ancestors of many of them found themselves outside Hungary when the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy collapsed after World War I and borders shifted in 1920.)

These are just some highlights.  Be sure to read the whole blog and share your comments with us below.  We’d love to read your comments!

Human Rights Watch Gives the Hungarian Court a Nod

In Uncategorized on February 21, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Human Rights Watch is hailing the Budapest Metropolitan Court’s February 18th decision to allow this summer’s Gay Pride Parade to march along an extended route, ending at the parliament building.  This was a reversal of the Budapest police department’s initial rejection of an application submitted by parade organizers, the Rainbow Mission Foundation.  RMF posted their official response online after the police department’s decision became public:

“Police ban Gay Pride March in Budapest
We, the undersigned non-governmental organizations are appalled by the decision of the Budapest Police prohibiting the LGBT Pride March to be held on 18 June 2011. The reason is the same as two years ago: the march disrupts the traffic. The police had already acknowledged the march for part of the route in September 2010, but the modified longer route has now been rejected.”

Boris Dittrich, acting director of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights program at Human Rights Watch’s reaction to the court’s ruling was one of praise for the court and caution for the police.

“The court’s decision was a victory not only for the  community of lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people, but for the right of all Hungarians to freedom of assembly…Instead of trying to obstruct the fundamental rights to freedom of assembly and expression, the police authorities should fulfill their obligation to protect the demonstrators,” Dittrich said. “The court has done the right thing. The police should follow suit.”

Dueling States of the Union

In Uncategorized on February 21, 2011 at 2:02 pm

On February 7th, Viktor Orbán gave his annual State of the Union-like speech assessing the overall health of the Hungarian nation.  Here’s a snippet:

“Ours is a mission similar to the athlete’s that stands before the biggest fight of his life. We didn’t get this chance as a gift, but we fought for this historic opportunity to be able to reshape the country in our own image. To accomplish our mission, we have to bring ourselves to the best possible shape. In order to start the renewal process, we have to know what is good so that we can choose the good rather than what seems to be good. To succeed, we need the knowledge of the entire community.”

The entire community–except for the philosophers, artists, or really, anyone that could be perceived as having liberal sympathies or dissident beliefs.  Those folks can stand on the sidelines in their tattered uniforms.

Former Hungarian prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány gave his own “state of the union” speech this past Friday.  Many say that Gyurcsány has been so utterly disgraced by his actions during his eight years as Prime Minister (complete with a premature exit) that he has no political future.  Others believe he just might hold the glimmer of an opposition movement in his hands.  One interesting thing–Gyurcsány says he will not divide what’s remaining of MSZP, much to Fidesz and Jobbik’s chagrin.  Instead, he’d advocating the unification and reinvention the party.  Below is an assessment of this speech from Politics.Hu:

“The third Hungarian Republic is over, as Viktor Orbán has destroyed it, in order to build a system of despotic rule, former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány declared in his ‘state of the nation’ speech on Friday.

Speaking to 500 supporters at the Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal, he said the aim of Orbán’s ‘total political war’ is to destroy the Socialist Party and achieve unrestricted power. The party’s job, he continued, is to recover the republic stolen by Orbán.

Outside Hungary, Gyurcsány declared, Orbán has alienated leaders in Brussels, Washington and Moscow.
He said a change of regime is needed in the Socialist Party next year so that it can give an adequate answer to ‘the Orbán brand of arbitrary and hegemonistic rule’.

Gyurcsány called for a new left of centre party building on the merits of the Socialist Party, rather than tearing it up.

Socialist chairman Attila Mesterházy, who was campaigning for a mayoral candidate in Pápa, said he agrees with Gyurcsány’s assessment of the state of the nation.

Fidesz deputy chairman Lajos Kósa said Gyurcsány has again proved that he is a tremendous burden on Hungary.

Jobbik spokesman Ádám Mirkóczi said if accountability operated in Hungary, then Gyurcsány would have delivered his speech in one of the country’s maximum security prisons.”

A Grim Forecast from The Budapest Times

In Uncategorized on February 17, 2011 at 3:07 pm

We’re not surprised to read the following headline in The Budapest Times, but it does makes the grim reality of Hungary’s political situation all the more real:

“Policy Solutions: No alternatives to government in sight

Fidesz’s dominant position is largely unchallenged,with the opposition failing to exploit the government’s weaknesses and claw back ground in the opinion polls. There are some shadows for Fidesz but at this point there are no strong indications that it might face strong competitors in the short run”

True, Viktor Orban is a populist leader.  True, there is no viable opposition party in place to demand checks and balances.  True, the right-wing now has control over the media.  But is there any light at the end of the tunnel?

Um…not now, according to The Budapest Times.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of their very sobering analysis is this:

“Furthermore, its [Fidesz’s] lead among those who would definitely vote if elections were held today remains stable, with 67 per cent claiming that they would vote for Fidesz and only 17 per cent of this group promising to support the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP). ..Most importantly, the persistence of this massive margin between Fidesz and the MSZP in spite of the dip in total support for Fidesz stems from the lacking enthusiasm of Socialist voters, only half of whom would actually turn out, while three-quarters of Fidesz supporters would vote.”

Has no one learned the lesson of what happens when a perfect storm of apathy, discontent, and inertia keeps the masses home on their couches instead of at the voting booths? Apparently not.  Even in the face of Fidesz crack-downs, only half of Hungarian liberal voters would actually go out and do their civic duty if today were voting day.  Incredible.

Who will step up?  What charismatic leader?  What political party?  From where will the opposition come?  And will it come before it’s too late?  Or will it come at all? We suppose that all remains to be determined.

Budapest Times, thank you for your thoughtful reporting.


Lipstick on a Pig

In Uncategorized on February 16, 2011 at 9:32 pm

Everything you need to know about Hungary’s concession to the EU regarding our favorite media law is in Stephen Castle’s New York Times article Hungary Tones Down Media Law to End E.U. Conflict.

The long of the short is:  The Hungarian government has agreed to change certain parts of the media law.  Goodie.

Here’s what this means:

-The requirement that all media outlets must provide “balanced” coverage is gone.  Oh, except, broadcasters still have to.  Wait…we’re confused.  But people’s personal Facebook posts or Tweets don’t have to be “balanced.”–um…was an individual considered a one person media outlet in the original legislation?

-The requirement that all media outlets must register with the media authority has been “relaxed.” (i.e. bloggers don’t have to register, etc.)

-The EU has clarified their rules regarding foreign broadcasters based in Hungary.  (basically, this ridiculous law doesn’t really apply to them)

-the provision stating that media may not “cause offence” is to be limited to not “discriminating” against a group or inciting violence.  Hear that Jobbik?

Okay, EU, this all seems a little namby pamby to us.  Here’s the problem:

-The 5 member Media Authority (all appointed by Fidesz and armed with a 9-year mandate) will continue to watch-dog the press.

-the insane fines are still in place

-reporters are still required to disclose their sources under certain circumstances

-did we mention that the MEDIA AUTHORITY is still in place?

So, the core of the law is still very much there.  What’s the saying?  You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.


No Pride in Budapest

In Uncategorized on February 15, 2011 at 9:28 pm

UPDATE: The Pride Parade has been reinstated and will march along its usual route. We still stand by the feather boa comment.  -HW


There will be no gay pride parade in Budapest this June.  The Hungarian police have rescinded the originally granted permission given to parade organizers, the Rainbow Mission Foundation.

The Associated Foreign Press is reporting:

“‘The Budapest police chief has withdrawn the permission that was granted earlier to the organisers of the 2011 gay pride march,’ Sandor Steigler, head of the organising Rainbow Mission Foundation, told AFP.

The organisation was preparing a court appeal, he added.

Last week, the organisers of the march applied for an extension to their usual downtown route, which police had earlier accepted.

The extension would have taken the march in front of parliament, where marchers planned to protest against Hungary’s controversial media law and the upcoming new constitution, both perceived as detrimental to the cause of gay rights, Steigler said.

The Rainbow Mission eventually modified its request so that the march would have stopped short of the square, as proposed by police.

But by Friday, permission for the entire march had been withdrawn, citing a disproportionate disruption to traffic, Steigler said.

‘We suspect that the decision was politically motivated… a lot of things have happened in politics since the last march,’ he commented.”

Yes, we must all be afraid of the gay’s ability to create traffic.  Those damn gays create traffic all over the world with their pride and their parades and their feather boas and sensible shoes.

Orban could use a nice feather boa. It might help his image. Our advice to him is to order the reinstatement of the parade and volunteer to be the Grand Marshall.  And make the boa pink.

Hungarian Watch’s Valentine

In Uncategorized on February 14, 2011 at 11:36 am

In honor of Valentine’s Day, we would like to give a special thanks to Eva S. Balogh and her work through the Hungarian Spectrum blog.  This blog is always detailed, insightful, and right on target.

Please read Hungarian Spectrum’s latest post on anti-Semitism in the Fidesz party.

Hungarian Spectrum…will you be our valentine?


Fidesz and Philosophy=Oil and Water

In Uncategorized on February 14, 2011 at 11:21 am

Apparently, Fidesz doesn’t think much of academia. Well, okay, not academia per-se. Fidesz doesn’t much like the humanities–most specifically, philosophy really sticks in the party’s craw.  Oh, alright, that’s not totally accurate either.  It’s really 5 liberal, anti-Orban philosophers in particular that Fidesz can’t stand and is trying to drag through the mud.

On January 8th, Prime Minister Orban announced that these 5 philosophers are now under investigation for misappropriation of roughly $2 million in grant funds intended to support research, post doctoral studies, and student projects.  No specific charges as to the details of the “fraudulent misuse of funds” have been announced, but the Hungarian right-wing press is having a field day with these academics. In fact, it was Fidesz’s favorite paper, Magyar Nemzet, which started the mud-slinging against the “liberal circle of philosophers” and called Fidesz to action.

On February 4th, Science Magazine published John Bohannon’s article, “Hungarian Academicians Blast Government Over Inquiry Into Research Funds,” which describes the firestorm this inquisition has caused amongst Hungarian academics and their colleagues across the globe.  From the article:

“And an open letter is circulating, currently signed by over 60 scholars, most of them external or honorary members of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences along with several Nobel laureates. Their letter aims “to defend the accused, on principle, from this singling out for arbitrary retrospective harassment and to oppose the police-state-like interventions,” says one of the signatories, Stevan Harnad, a cognitive scientist at the University of Québec in Montreal. He worries that other politically outspoken academics in Hungary, including scientists, could be targeted next.”

Please watch one of the 5 accused philosophers, Agnes Heller, eloquently describe the Hungarian government’s persecution against her and other leftist, academic dissidents on her YouTube channel.

Hungarian philosopher, Agnes Heller.

But if you watch this, be prepared. Scrolling though the comments section reveals a string of vial, anti-Semitic rhetoric.  For example:

  • “I guess stealing from the Goyim is a good did in the Zionist culture.”
  • “She won because another Jew, Bálint Magyar helped her.”
  • “She want1s to be exempted from prosecution just because she is a Jew. All of us must be equal before the law. Nobody shall be treated preferentially just because of the origin.”
  • “These Jews accept the country as a democracy only if they are ruling it. If someone else is ruling the country, that is Nazism and an authoritarian regime. I had enough of these so called philosophers.”
  • “Years ago this woman, Ágnes Heller, has emigrated to Israel and joined the Zionist movement. As she related the Zionists didn’t allow her to study at a university. Maybe the standard of living over there wasn’t up to her expectations. She returned to Hungary to enjoy a nice life as a philosopher in Budapest.”

These 5 philosophers are being unjustly targeted and censored by the Hungarian government. Hungarian Watch throws our support behind them. If anyone reading this has a connection to any of the accused, we would love to interview them.

Joseph McCarthy’s spirit lives on in Hungary: Artist community targeted

In Uncategorized on February 11, 2011 at 10:32 am

Supporters of the Hungarian National Theatre's Artistic Director, Robert Alfoldi, stage a demonstration on the front steps to counter the Jobbik party's protest demanding Alfodi's ousting. Photo by Barbara Lanciers.

American Theatre Magazine published an excellent article in this month’s issue that, in essence, says: Joseph McCarthy‘s spirit lives on in Hungary, folks.

  • The names and photos of over 200 artists and public figures were listed in a smear campaign, labeling them as Jews, homosexuals, Socialists and/or Roma.
  • All public buildings (including theaters, museums and concert halls) must prominently display the government’s manifesto “instituting a ‘National Cooperation System’ touting ‘family’ and ‘home’ virtues.”
  • Independent theaters are facing a complete elimination of funding from the state arts budget.  (NOTE: independent theaters are known for their fierce dissent.)
  • Unbelievably, “the government is looking to sweep out directors…seen as being insufficiently dedicated to the nationalist agenda.”

What?!  Are we living in an alternate universe?  Since April 2010, when the “center”-right Fidesz party won over 2/3rds of the seats in Parliament, it has made an “uneasy alliance with Jobbik,” Hungary’s very own ultra-nationalist (Fascist) party, “to consolidate its hold over Hungary’s legal system and its media and to muffle its thriving artistic community.”

If there is any good news, it is that Hungarians seem to be understanding that the alarmists were right.

Read the whole article, A Bomb Goes Off in Hungary by John Barry in American Theatre Magazine. It includes excellent quotes by Philip Arnoult (Director of the Center for International Theatre Development), Barbara Lanciers (U.S. theatre director, choreographer and Fulbright Scholar with roots in Hungary) and Jim Nicola (Artistic Director of New York Theatre Workshop).

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