The Art Newspaper is reporting what we already know…Hungarian artists and arts organizations are under siege.
In an article straightforwardly titled Hungary’s government tightens grip on arts, Julia Michalska describes the systematic dismantling of Hungary’s arts leadership, be they people or places, by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his majority Fidesz government. The goal being to silence traditionally oppositional voices and to create a path toward what Orbán calls “a new, modern, right-wing culture.”
It’s one thing for a majority government to assert power over cultural life, threaten the arts sector, and replace leaders with party insiders; it’s another thing for a pseudo dictatorship to form in the heart of Europe without a wave of outrage coming from the EU.
Now Orbán is playing politics with some of the major arts organizations in the country. To help celebrate the inauguration of the much contested, new Hungarian constitution in January, Orbán’s government organized an exhibition celebrating 1,000 years of Hungarian history.
“The show includes 15 large state-commissioned canvases depicting important historic events spanning 150 years, including an image of Orban. The event contributed to the decision by the National Gallery’s director, Ferenc Csak, to resign before the show opened. ‘The government shouldn’t have the power to order exhibitions with such a high political agenda. Museums shouldn’t be getting involved in politics,’ says Csak.”
Internationally respected curator György Szabó has been ousted as the director of Trafó House of Contemporary Arts. The official Hungarian dubbed voice of Bruce Willis, György Dörner, will be the new director of Budapest’s Új Színház (New Theater), and will rename it the Hinterland Theater because, according his proposal for the position, what is new is not necessarily good, especially “in the degenerate sick liberal hegemony”.
If you hate liberals and write proposals filled with anti-Semitic vitriol, the government will reward you with your own theater. Additionally, the Hungarian government would very much like to make sure that the world knows Hungary had no involvement in the Holocaust.
The state secretary, Andras Levente Gal, said that the picture unjustifiably linked Hungary to the deportation of Jews to Nazi concentration camps and asked that the display be ‘re-evaluated’. ‘This kind of historical inaccuracy creates unnecessary tension,’ Gal said. His remarks prompted an outcry among some historians and the liberal press. Matters deteriorated when the government relieved Laszlo Harsanyi, the director of the centre, and his chief historical adviser, Judit Molnar, of their positions. ‘We could not change the permanent exhibition to align with the new political expectations since we regard that as a falsification of history,’ Molnar says. In response to their departure, 42 historians and social scientists published an open letter criticising statements in the new constitution.”
“…unjustifiably linked Hungary to the deportation of Jews to Nazi concentration camps..”
So, Hungarian Jews were not deported to Nazi concentration camps? That’s the party line now? And museum officials will be fired if they don’t tow that line?
Now is not a fortuitous time to be an arts leader with a conscience in Hungary…