Monday, 11 November 2013

Why I won't be submiting work to The Hungarian Quarterly

This will be of relatively little interest to anyone who is not Hungarian but recently I was asked to translate three poems by a fine Hungarian poet for a magazine titled The Hungarian Quarterly. I have translated the poems but have refused permission to The HQ. It is a magazine to which I will not be contributing in the foreseeable future.

The magazine had a record to pre-WWII and had survived both fascism and communism. Under the new regime it was temporarily closed down, its old editorial team departed (or was sacked, I don't know which), there was a hiatus, then it reappeared under a new editor who left it after one issue and the present one has now taken over. I believe the changes were politically motivated and are part of an intensive cultural campaign or kulturkampf to control cultural thought.

The latest editor - who may be a perfectly decent person - had begun his defence of the new regime at the HQ by bad-mouthing some of my translations in order to demonstrate that the old editorship was far from perfect. I don't care whether he thinks those particular translations were good or bad, he has a right to think so - he might even be right - but I object to the criticism being used in the political context of the take-over of a magazine. 

Having said what he said, the editor's next action was to ask me for translations. Why would he want anything from me? I think it is - he more or less says so - to look inclusive. I think it is a form of literary money-laundering. The text of a part of my reply:

I know nothing of your personal politics. What I know is that there was an HQ that brought me up as a translator, whose editors I loved. They commissioned my very first translations in 1984. I know I have seen that HQ closed down and that, whoever the previous editor was, you are now the editor. I know that Fidesz has worked successfully to take over insitutions, to starve people, organisations and institutions of money and to replace them with their own appointees. I know that it has terminated contracts where it didn't approve of incumbents, I think the Orbán government is determined to control anything it can lay its hands on and that its hands are getting stronger all the time. I think the HQ is in its hands but that, being aware of its history, they would not want to make it appear so.

Cultural pressure is being applied with a heavy hand in Hungary. The government is keen that there should be only one ideology and that the rest should be criminalised or simply crushed.

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