Hungarian Watch

A Note From Anna Lengyel

This is clear, concise sum-up of the situation in Hungary written by Anna Lengyel, a dramaturg and the founder of PanoDrama, which is devoted to the better trafficking of new plays and to encouraging the development of co-productions between different countries.

Dear Friends of Hungarian Art and Democracy,

Surely you have been following the sad news from Hungary in the past months and especially the past few weeks (see links below). As you must be aware, after twenty years of democracy a new half-dictatorship is in the making. Private pension accounts are being hijacked by the state, the right-wing party Fidesz, which won with a landslide in April, are abusing their power to rewrite the constitution and deprive the supreme court of many of its key powers that would guarantee checks and balances, a central media agency will be responsible for all public news contents, papers and magazines who don’t deliver the news promptly, objectively about all important events can be fined for 40000 to 100000 euros for a single faux pas, but what is objective and important will be decided by the head of the media empire alone, a woman appointed for nine (!) years, just as the chief district attorney etc.

Parliament will vote on the new media law on Monday, 20th and there is absolutely no doubt about the result, since the alone ruling Fidesz has over two-thirds of the votes. This will mean the end of the freedom of press in Hungary.

The same fate awaits the freedom of the arts.

A week ago the extreme right party, Jobbik organised a demonstration (about 100 went) against the director of the National Theatre, Róbert Alföldi, an outstanding artist, who’s been invited several times to work to New York, the ART and many other countries, who has recently won the Critics’ Award for renewing the National Theatre, who holds numerous other awards and manages his theatre to great critical and popular acclaim and with sound financial management (it was for the first time since its foundation in 2002 that the theatre’s balance was positive last year) and who happens to be gay.

Demonstrators called him “a fag, a pervert, a Jew, unworthy of the National Theatre” and many other names and demanded his removal, even though he has a valid contract till 2013. A hundred counter-demonstrators including celebrities of the Hungarian stage and also Tamás Ascher emphasized in live interviews from the street how crucial it is that the arts remain independent and artists’ achievements judged on the sole condition of their artistic quality.

Jobbik, who are talking about Gypsy-horror and Gypsy-crime in Parliament, demanded that Alföldi (whom they are calling “Roberta”) be fired. In the past three days papers and news sites report that they achieved their goal and Alföldi will be replaced. His successor has also been named and is now sitting at the National “to get acquainted with the ensemble”. Today he declared that “it is a sin” to interpret a great Hungarian classic the way Alföldi did.

Hungarian theatre-makers started a petition “Hands off culture and media in Hungary!”, which has already been signed by many great artists including the Nobel-laurate Elfriede Jelinek, as well as Luc Bondy, Andrea Breth, Ivan Nagel, Renate Klett and Richard Schechner among others.

It would be an invaluable asset to have your names added to an already very prestigious list.

Please sign the petition.

Thank you for your help and patience.

Best regards,

Anna Lengyel

Links in English:

ACTA International Report: Arts Freedom Under Threat in Hungary
Helen Shaw’s article in Time Out New York
The Guardian: Europe Needs to Send Hungary a Signal

  1. Dear Anna Lenygel,
    I would like to be in contact with you. PanoDrama is most impressive.
    Would you share your email?
    I am an American theatre-dance director of Hungarian descent–recent piece about early American Civil Rights movement, a story from my childhood. I will sign this petition, and want to talk with you about theatre as a way to address racism.
    Thank you, Susan Banyas

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