Conservative controls on the Hungarian art scene

Interesting times here in Hungary, and I mean “interesting” with all the connotations of the unexpressed negative opinion. A conservative government led by Victor Orban recently, after achieving a two-thirds majority in Parliament that effectively gives him carte blanche, pushed through a number of measures intended to centralize the government. In the terms of the arts here in Hungary, this means that:

“Up to now the public funding for several arts and science-related activities and social welfare tasks was distributed through public foundations, some of which amassed considerable assets. They embodied a specific form of professional autonomy and self-governance; boards of trustees consisted of representatives of the art or science concerned, or of experts involved in welfare activity, and the subsidies awarded were decided in line with their professional consciences. Most of the public foundations – 24 in number – have been abolished and their assets and decision-making functions transferred to state authorities.

The 1956 Institute, a hitherto independent body, has been annexed to the National Széchenyi Library. The Lukács Archives have similarly lost their independence, by being subsumed into the library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

The Budapest State Opera is being run by a government commissioner appointed not by the minister of culture, but personally by the prime minister.

The Museum of Fine Arts and the Hungarian National Gallery are being merged.

So is the Mikroszkóp, a cabaret theatre, with the Thália, a theatre devoted usually to serious drama.

The Budapest Assembly has resolved to merge Petőfi Hall with the Trafó House of Contemporary Arts.

The Budapest Gallery will merge into the Budapest History Museum.

The state funding for film production is being centralised. Andy Vajna, the government commissioner, is demanding the ‘right of final cut’ on the films mainly funded by the state.”

Economist Janos Kornai’s article, quoted above, also has more information about changes in all sectors. The control that the Magyar Művészeti Akadémia (Hungarian Academy of Artists) now has over institutions is sweeping. Public funding will now be fed through controls of the right-wing government, which is also to a substantial degree replacing the leaders of arts institutions with those who hold similar political views.  As an outsider, I doubt I understand all the nuances of the current situation. But a conservative mindset and government intervention in the arts rarely encourages artistic freedom.

Gyorgy Fekete, head of the Hungarian Academy of Artists

The Magyar Művészeti Akadémia released this statement, and if anything should give you creepy intimations of the past, in its phrasing and posturing, this really should:

“Statement by Hungarian Writers, Artists and Scientists

We, Hungarian citizens—writers, artists and scientists by profession— who live in the everyday life of our country and sense and bear the consequences of government decisions, have read and heard with increasing indignation the libellous statements made in the world press and media by certain political circles on the ‘democracy deficit’ in Hungary.

We are aware that such allegations are also made by some Hungarian intellectuals—writers, philosophers, musicians and journalists—with socialist or neo-liberal party affiliations, whose names are known in the West and who are accorded wide publicity for incitements against their country.

It is imperative that we, intellectuals, belonging to the significant majority of the Hungarian society speak up and reassure those in the Western democracies who are concerned with Hungary’s future. We declare that the Hungarian Government has made no encroachments on the basic democratic rights, which the overwhelming majority of Hungary’s inhabitants themselves embrace, as they demonstrated in 1956.

Those Hungarian electors who, in 2010, voted the conservative political forces into government with a two-thirds majority, entrusting them with the improvement of social and economic conditions, which had severely deteriorated under the previous socialist administrations, feel especially great responsibility for their homeland. They therefore feel that Hungary should not break away from the democratic community of European nations and the Atlantic world.

The present Hungarian Government, despite external circumstances that have proved more difficult than expected, and despite a few errors they may have made, still enjoys the confidence of this majority. However, they have had to experience that by throwing in false news and lies and hiding behind democratic slogans, some forces aim to divest our people of the very essential democratic right they cherish − the right to judge the performance and the achievements of our Government at the ballot box.

We hope that the intentions that jeopardise Hungary’s freedom will be overwhelmed by unbiased public opinion in the Western democracies.

Presidency of the Hungarian Writers’ Association, Presidency of the Hungarian Academy of Arts, Presidency of the Batthyány Society of Professors”

In general, the members of this group are highly conservative and notably old (I believe Fekete, pictured above, is in his 80s). And they now are responsible for the art is being publicly funded and shown at major institutions. These changes certainly seem to be not merely in the efforts of good governance, but ideological as well. In response, the International Association of Art Critics (AICA)- Hungarian Section has created a petition. With the next elections not until 2014, and considering Hungary’s lack of interest in criticism of its tightened media controls, how effective such words might be is limited. And how much the majority of society cares is questionable.

3 thoughts on “Conservative controls on the Hungarian art scene

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