Hungary: A cultural scene in a state of crisis

“The situation is desperate, but not serious” is the final sentence of this excellent New Yorker article detailing responses to the growing neo-Facist political control of Hungarian culture; For example, Nobel laureate Imre Kertesz–whose most famous novel is a semi-autobiographical account of surviving Auchwitz– had decided to give his archives to Germany instead of the land of his birth, Hungary:

January 8, 2013


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In November, 2012, the Nobel prize-winning novelist Imre Kertész announced his retirement. The writer, who as a fourteen year-old was transported to Auschwitz, has become one of Europe’s most eloquent and respected literary witnesses to the Holocaust. In books such as “Fateless” and “Kaddish for an Unborn Child,” he has made the paradoxical case that “the concentration camp is imaginable only and exclusively as literature, never as reality—not even—or rather least of all—when we have directly experienced it.” Since his working life has been devoted to this act of imagination, his decision to house his archive not in his native Hungary but, rather, in Germany appears to be a profound gesture of reconciliation. Yet, when I said so on Twitter, a Hungarian writer friend e-mailed to tell me that Kertész’s decision was also driven by more negative concerns:

I’m afraid there is something more to it: he has also good reasons to believe that in Hungary his legacy wouldn’t be treated with as much respect as in Germany, as he is regarded by the current political elite as an “unHungarian” and then I’ve been euphemistic. For example, currently his work is not part of the Hungarian national education programme, due to some changes in school material in which, at the same time, three famously antisemitic writers have been included.

My friend has asked to remain anonymous, as he fears that if he is publicly identified as a critic of the government it could cause problems for him and the company where he works. His fears appear to be well founded. Across Hungary, the cultural scene is in a state of crisis.


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