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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.

New York & Baltimore solidarity events this week

In Uncategorized on March 5, 2012 at 5:44 pm


Árpád Schilling/Krétakör with Andrea Tompa (Hungary):

March 7th: Theatre as Civic Response

The Martin E. Segal Theatre Center’s Spring 2012 season of programs kicks off with a day with Árpád Schilling, Hungarian director of the internationally renowned Krétakör company, and leading Hungarian theatre critic Andrea Tompa. Schilling will present his oeuvre, including traditional theatre—like seminal productions Woyzeck and BLACKland—and the communally constructed performances his company has been devising since 2008. Schilling and Tompa (head of the Hungarian Theatre Critics Association) will discuss how today’s Hungary—with its creeping radicalism, rewritten constitution and diminishing artistic freedoms—cries out for new forms.

Film screenings at 3pm: BLACKland (Krétakör performance, 2004); Urbanrabbits (cirque collaboration, 2009); New Spectator (community project by Krétakör)

Discussion with Schilling & Tompa at 6:30pm

Martin E. Segal Theatre, The Graduate Center, CUNY
365 Fifth Ave at 34th St.

Free! First come, first served.



March 9: The Dismantling of Hungarian Theatre

Andrea Tompa, Prominent Hungarian Theatre Critic and Writer, to Speak About Hungarian Political Situation and the Plight of Hungary’s Theatres and Writers

Friday, March 9 at 7 PM at CENTERSTAGE

Event Partners:
Baltimore Open Theatre
Center for International Theatre Development
CityLit Project

To Reserve Free Tickets Online click here

Playing politics with the arts

In Uncategorized on March 5, 2012 at 5:21 pm

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.



“A row broke out in March last year over an image of Hungary’s interwar leader, Miklos Horthy, at the Holocaust Memorial Centre.

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…


The New York Times is talking Hungary…

In Uncategorized on January 22, 2012 at 10:58 am

Here are the two newest New York Times articles on the increasingly dire situation in Hungary:

Hungary’s Junk Democracy by Gyorgy Konrad  (a scathing op-ed about the over-reach of Hungary’s new Constitution, it’s impact on the Hungarian people, and the downgrading of Hungary’s debt by 3 leading credit rating institutions as “junk. A junk country, with a junk administration and a junk prime minister.”)

Hungary Misunderstood by Kim Lane Scheppele  (Thank you for bringing her to our attention, Paul Krugman!)

Ms. Scheppele is going to be in Budapest this week giving public lectures. If you are in Budapest and have the opportunity to see her speak, please do.

Her article begins…

“On Tuesday, January 17, the European Commission launched an urgent “infringement procedure” against Hungary for violating EU treaties with its new laws. On Wednesday, January 18, Viktor Orbán dramatically appeared before the European Parliament to defend his country’s new constitutional order.
Orbán’s defense could have been guessed in advance from what Fidesz government officials have been saying for weeks as they fanned out around the world to explain why they rewrote the Hungarian constitution. They claim that they have been misunderstood. And they repeatedly say that their many foreign critics do not understand Hungary.
In this post, I will take up the most frequent arguments that the government has made in its own defense. And, as I will show, its explanations for the new constitutional order are not credible.

The main government explanations are:
1. Fidesz has a popular mandate for change and democracy requires a government to give the public what it wants.

2. Fidesz has consulted with the public about the constitution and this is the constitution that the public approved.

3. Fidesz has consulted with European agencies and they have approved, too.

4. Fidesz is replacing a communist constitution, and finally closing the chapter on the communist period.

5. Fidesz is acting on the basis of Christian principles, like other states within Europe.

6. Everything in the new constitutional order can be found in other European countries.

I will take up each of these in turn.”

Do yourself a favor and read the full article.  Her talent for de-bunking is masterful.



Solidarity with Szabó’s Trafó

In Uncategorized on January 22, 2012 at 10:20 am

In light of the recent firing of György Szabó as the director of Trafó House of Contemporary Art, his supporters have begun a blog: Solidarity with Szabó’s Trafó.
Here, you can find statement’s of support from Szabó’s colleagues from all over the globe and articles in English on the changeover at Trafó.  The authors of the blog are encouraging people to send them letters of support for Szabó and his team at

One of the most interesting articles posted on the blog is an interview with choreographer Yvette Bozsik, who has been chosen by the government to replace György Szabó, and her artistic collaborator, choreographer Csaba Horváth, entitled:
We would make Trafó more open.”
In this interview, Bozsik stresses that it was the Hungarian dance community that urged her to apply to replace György Szabó at Trafó and to open up the institution to more Hungarian artists.  She goes on to say…

“…I don’t like this „taste-terror” which prevails at Trafó. I do not like that Hungarian companies are forced out of the institution. It has been 13 years that György Szabó’s taste determinates the communication toward other countries and the picture they create about us…György’s opinion has determinated the possibilities of the Hungarian companies about performing abroad. The above mentioned communication and adoption skills are the ones we would like to change. Consequently, if we win, we, referring to contemporary artists, would like to move into wider media and convey more projects abroad.”

Interesting.  She complains about Szabó’s “taste-terror” and how it has reigned at Trafó for the past 13 years.  The man is a presenter and a curator who runs a presenting organization.  His job is to have a specific aesthetic point of view and put that into practice in his programming.  That’s what a presenter does.  Now, Bozsik will be a presenter and it will be her “taste-terror” that rules Trafó’s programming.  But she has never run a presenting organization.

She goes on to describe what her “taste-terror” will look like:

“I have always integrated different art fields during my work because I do not care about dance by itself. We would not change the profile of the Trafó, however, we would like to open toward the direction of experimental children theatre, baby theatre and highlight the integration of disabled artists and problems of the society. We would like to support international coproduction, invite choreographers from abroad to work with Hungarian companies. We would like to make the theatre field wider as well, to bring in stand-ups, improvisation theatre and support everything that moves the Hungarian artists’ situation forward…And if we win, we would not like to let only one person’s view determinate the work in Trafó, he/she could have whatever kind of strong characteristic.  We would establish an art council in which several opinions could discuss with each other.”

Baby theater? Stand-ups? An art council?  All who love Trafó, say bye-bye.

Here’s what the current Hungarian populist movement most love most about Bozsik’s “taste-terror”:

“Trafó would set up and have a link to the Hungarian countryside as well. We would invite the award winning performances of Veszprém Dance Festival and we would keep an eye on the Hungarian workshops beyond the Hungarian borders, and not only theatre from the West would be introduced but from the East as well.”

There you have it.  She says all the right things to consider her a willing puppet.  She never once mentions bringing the most cutting-edge international work TO Trafó.  But she mentions Hungarian work…a lot.  A lot, a lot.

The end of an era…

In Uncategorized on January 18, 2012 at 7:11 am

In another shocking political maneuver, the Budapest city government has ousted  György Szabó as the director of Trafó House of Contemporary Arts and replaced him with choreographer Yvette Bozsik.

Here is why this decision flies in the face in intelligence and decency: György Szabó is a phenomenon.  He is beloved in the fields of contemporary performing and visual art and has grown Trafó to become one of the most internationally well-respected presenting houses in Europe.  György Szabó and Trafó are one in the same; it is impossible to imagine Trafó without Gyuri and vice versa.  He has mentored and nurtured countless artists, opened the doors to international collaborations between people and venues across borders, introduced Hungarian audiences to some of the most exciting, ground-breaking work from across the globe, and introduced international presenters and audiences to some of the most sophisticated, exciting Hungarian work.

György Szabó is a visionary with impeccable taste and a passion for increasing the profile of Hungarian performing and visual artists.

Is Yvette Bozsik a choreographer who is talented and makes fine work? Yes. Has she ever run a presenting organization with a multi-faceted artistic profile? No. Does she have ANY experience as a presenter? No. Does she know anything about contemporary music, visual arts, or theater? We’re not sure. Is she in the pocket of the current Hungarian government. She seems to be.  Will she end Trafó’s international profile? YES. All the better for this government.

We are, frankly, stunned by the transparency of this decision. The ruling Fidesz government gets bolder and bolder in their actions that scream–Silence the artists! Stop communicating with the mean horrible terrible EU and the US! Fire anyone who is too progressive or who wants to talk to and, god forbid, collaborate with the outside world! Hungary is only for the Hungarians! It’s pathetic…and frightening.

For more information on the details of this decision and to find out how to support György Szabó, please join the Solidarity for Szabó’s Trafó group on Facebook.

Thank you, Paul Krugman

In Uncategorized on January 2, 2012 at 11:00 pm

It appears Mr. Krugman has created some much needed media momentum with his December 2011 op-ed “Depression and Democracy,”which highlighted the deterioration of democratic values in Hungary.  One of his sources, Kim Lane Scheppele, seems to have been given some regular space on the NY Times blog to devote to the situation in Hungary.  Her first post, Hungary’s Constitutional Revolution, appeared on the blog on December 19th.  Her second post, The Unconstitutional Constitution, went up earlier today.  In it, she decimates the new constitution of Hungary, which became law of the land yesterday.  You get the picture from the first paragraph…

“On New Year’s Day, the new Hungarian constitution became law. The Hungarian parliament has been preparing for this event by passing a blizzard of “cardinal” – or super-majority – laws, changing the shape of virtually every political institution in Hungary and making the guarantee of constitutional rights less secure. In the last two weeks alone, the parliament has enacted so many new laws that it has been almost impossible to keep up. And to top it off, there was also a huge new omnibus constitutional amendment – an amendment to the new constitution even before it went into effect. By one commentator’s count, the Fidesz government has enacted 359 new laws since it came to power 18 months ago.”

What follows is an extremely clear and detailed description of what has been folded into this new constitution and how the majority Fidesz government is moving at warp speed to centralize power and ensure their reign for generations to come…democratically, of course.  Perhaps Orban has Putin on speed dial?  Read her assessment.

We like this Kim Lane Scheppele.  A lot.  Thanks for introducing her to us, Mr. Krugman.  We look forward to hearing more of what she has to say.

Culture is good…right?

In Uncategorized on January 2, 2012 at 10:37 pm

István Csurka

Spiegel Online recently posted an incredibly poignant, terrifyingly candid article on Hungary’s Right-Wing War on Culture by Philipp Oehmke.

It’s worth a close read.  In it, Mr. Oehmke describes the takeover of Budapest’s popular New Theater by a pair of notorious anti-Semites, György Dörner and István Csurka. In his hasty, thrown together application to be the new director of the theater, Dörner wrote of his intention to rid the institution of “degenerate, sick, liberal hegemony.”  Csurka, a famous poet and playwright, founded the nationalistic, anti-Semitic Hungarian Truth and Life Party and spends his spare time worrying that Zoinists are planning another Jewish homeland in Hungary and railing against those who are “foreign-hearted,” mainly liberals and Jews.

In his article, Mr. Oehmke describes his attempts to interview both György Dörner and István Csurka and digs deep into the right-wing mentality of not only the new leaders of the New Theater but the entire rightest movement in Hungary, even interviewing “zombie” Sándor Pörzse, “one of the most prominent members of Jobbik, he is also a member of parliament, the editor-in-chief of the party magazine Barikád and a founding member of the party’s paramilitary organization, the Hungarian Guard, which is now banned.”

An excerpt from the article…
“In addition to being a poet and a politician, Csurka publishes a weekly newspaper called Magyar Fórum. The editorial offices are in downtown Budapest. A man who looks like a bouncer in a bar is standing at the reception desk. He has a hanging eyelid and is wearing a Jack Daniel’s T-shirt stretched tightly across his enormous stomach.

‘You again. I recognize your voice,’ he says. ‘You’re the one who’s been calling all this time. I told you that Mr. Csurka has no time for you.’ He reaches for the phone, speaks with someone and then shakes his head.

Here at his weekly newspaper, Csurka has recently begun writing commentaries under the headline Ascher Café, diatribes filled with hate and accusations. ‘People make fun of our application,’ Csurka writes, ‘because in it we expressed national thoughts and not their liberal consensus.’

The commentary’s title Ascher Café is a reference to Tamás Ascher, perhaps Hungary’s most famous film director, the Director of the Academy of Drama and Film, and a Jew. For Csurka, Ascher symbolizes the Jewish-liberal coffeehouse cultural conspiracy he has been fighting for decades. Csurka writes: ‘It isn’t just the social-liberal cultural policy, but also the Ascher Café’s dominance over the theater that is so oppressive. We are withdrawing culture from the control of Tamás Ascher, the head of the café, the great director, who also directs films in Los Angeles and is, with all certainty, descended from a family of Ashkenazi Jews from Odessa.’ ”

These are the new cultural leaders in Hungary.  These guys.  They’re running things now.

What will they think of next?

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