Sunday, 8 January 2012

Independent piece on Hungary

The statue of Attila József by the Danube, next to Parliament. It may not remain there for very long. (Source)

Normal service will be resumed but these are important times in Hungary and I would like to do my small part in keeping our attention on it. I am grateful for any links offered by readers. This article is by Tony Paterson in yesterday's Independent, thanks to commentator Anne. Excerpts:

In the centre of Budapest yesterday, the number 26 stood picked out in big red letters above the magnificent blue and gold Art Nouveau facade of the city's renowned New Theatre, where Schiller's Don Carlos is on its final run.

The number is the liberals' last stand.

It tells passers-by just how many days the New Theatre's leftist director, Istvan Marta, has left before he is forcibly evicted on the orders of Hungary's new conservative nationalist government. He is to be replaced by a dramatist notorious for his anti-Semitic views and an actor who recently campaigned for Hungary's neo-fascist Jobbik party...

...The nationalist Fidesz government of Viktor Orban is not merely interested in wielding greater control over financial institutions. It has embarked on a Kulturkampf – a cultural revolution – which seems bent on imposing its right-wing and xenophobic ideology on all walks of life, ranging from minorities and religions to the media, judiciary and arts.

Thousands of demonstrators thronged the streets of Budapest on Monday night to protest against the battery of political and cultural reforms that were formally enshrined in the constitution by parliament and came into force on 1 January.

While the Prime Minister celebrated the occasion inside the Budapest Opera House, the protesters gathered outside, forcing him and his entourage to leave by the back door. It was the biggest political protest Hungary has witnessed since 1989...

..Anything that smacks of unacceptable left-wing thinking is being singled out as a target for denunciation or destruction by the Orban government's culture police. Appropriately, its Kulturkampf starts right in front of Budapest's magnificent neo-Gothic parliament building where Fidesz was swept into office with an apparently omnipotent two-thirds majority in 2010.

On a patch of grass outside stands a monument to the working class poet Attila Jozsef, depicting him humbly sitting on the ground. Jozsef committed suicide by throwing himself under a train in 1937, but his poems are regarded as classic examples of Marxist humanist writing. Yet the Orban government has plans to permanently remove the Jozsef monument from its present commanding position. Fidesz MPs have let it be known they object to monuments to such left-wing icons being displayed outside parliament...

...Mr Orban's Kulturkampf does not end with theatres. His government is investigating 82-year-old Agnes Heller, a former dissident and one of Hungary's most renowned philosophers. She stands accused of wasting EU subsidies and has been subjected to a vigorous denunciation campaign by the right-wing press.

The media is another key target. Critical voices are unwelcome. Budapest's Klubradio is a prime example. The station was one of the few broadcasters critical of the government and had about half a million listeners. The station suddenly lost its licence last year and was replaced by Autoradio, a pro-government broadcaster. Andras Arato, former owner of Klubradio, accused the government of destroying freedom of opinion. "We are experiencing a war between Viktor Orban and democrats," he said.

The new constitution also withdraws official recognition from over 300 religious denominations, including Islam, Buddhism and several Catholic orders.
And a small piece of vox pop from an academic researcher:
"Orban is like Italy's Berlusconi – many voted for him, not because they like him, but because they are like him. We are all little Orbans, doing in small what he does on a great scale: big words, but small steps, improvising instead of planning, martyrdom instead of responsibility."

From the removal of the statue of Attila József - universally acknowledged to be one of the greatest European poets of the 20th century - to the burning of his books is not a very big step. That is the kind of disgrace the country is becoming.


Borsó said...

George, thank you. I'm afraid the disgrace is a sign of things to come elsewhere as the recklessness of despair follows debt crises, history shows. I wonder what you think of Bruno Ventavoli's take here on the fragility of a way of life as expressed by the novels of Márai.

Orbán is the product of a fraught history

Caroline M Davies said...

No apology necessary George. What is happening in Hungary is being so little reported you and others are providing a vital service by keeping us informed.

Gwil W said...

According to a radio report in Austria a Hungarian newspaper is now basically discrediting an ex-Hungarian President (I think Schmidt or something similar is the man's name) by saying he had copied 90% of his degree work word for word from a translated Bulgarian sports writers website. I only half-caught this story unfortunately. Whether its true or merely a smear campaign I cannot say.

Borsó said...

Gwil, the alleged plagiarist is the current president of Hungary, Pál Schmitt. The presidency is a relatively weak position in the Hungarian form of government. You might be interested in Hungarian Spectrum's explanation of the controversy.

Gwil W said...

Latest item on the news is that many Hungarians are crossing the border into Eastern Austria to open savings accounts in Burgenland; towns like Neusiedl/See.