Fidesz’s ideas on culture

I'm not terribly familiar with the current Hungarian literary scene with the exception of the writers who are well known even abroad: Péter Esterházy, Péter Nádas, Imre Kertész, and György Konrád. As for the literature of the 1970s and 1980s I'm slowly trying to make up my deficiencies. Just the other day I began reading one of the excellent short novels of István Örkény. Another name from that period is Anna Jókai whose best known book, Napok (Days), I admit couldn't finish.

Of course, I realize that the Hungarian literary scene is fractured. The Writers' Alliance (Írószövetség) a few years ago became a gathering place for those writers who sympathize with the right; those whose outlook is closer to the liberal worldview left the organization. The roster is long but there are relatively few names that rang a bell with me.

I assume you recall that Viktor Orbán talked about the cultural elite that is supposed to support the work of the government by passing on the new administration's values to the masses. This is an idea that has its antecedents in the Bolshevik practice of using literature for political purposes. The question of the cultural elite's role after Fidesz wins the elections cropped up again, this time in an interview with a certain László L. Simon who was described as a "writer and editor." The list of his jobs is a mile long and my first reaction was: it is impossible to do justice to so many obligations. Actually one day I will describe this man's activities. You'll be amazed what a hard-working Hungarian can do in twenty-four hours a day minus a few hours sleep. In any case, among his many jobs he is the secretary of the Writers' Alliance. When it comes to the new government's plans, I assume he knows what he is talking about because he is also running as a Fidesz candidate for parliament. Moreover, he talked as if he had already been promised the job of undersecretary in charge of culture in the new "key ministry." That's the only way I know how to translate "csúcsminisztérium." This "key ministry" will include education, social services, culture, and who knows what else.

So, what kind of cultural policy is in the making? As usual, one gets only muddled answers. "The most important element of our cultural policy is that it is based on quality." To the question of who will decide what quality is, the answer is equally muddled but the little I understand I find somewhat frightening. According to L. Simon "quality can be looked at both from the point of view of the artists and from the point of view of their audience. The two are not necessarily the same but the media might be the catalyst here. We want to create such a situation in the media that it would facilitate a decrease of the distance between the creators and the recipients." The most benign interpretation would be that the media would provide more coverage of Hungarian culture. But this might be extended so that, for instance, on television and radio only "quality" programming would be available. No more "Desperate Housewives" since that program most certainly doesn't reflect Fidesz family values. Again I remember the days only too well when the communists in the 1950s were certain that the masses would be avid consumers of high culture and popular literature was not only banished from the libraries but the books were actually destroyed. As a teenager I did volunteer work in our local public library and I still remember the disappointed faces of older women who wanted to read romances and instead were offered either a socialist realist Soviet novel or Thomas Mann!

Viktor Orbán's speech delivered at Kötcse came up and thus the question of whether the new Fidesz government was planning to favor the right-wing elite and push into the background the currently well known names. L. Simon assured the reporter that "Hungary has only one set of elite and therefore there can be no question of a switch." However, there seem to be two elites after all because he bitterly complained that right-wing scientists, writers and artists don't get really high government prizes. I don't know why he's complaining. After all, he himself received the Attila József Prize for literature in 2007 and another well known right-winger, Péter Blaskó, an actor and a friend of his, in 2008 declined the highest honor, the Kossuth Prize, because he refused to shake hands with Ferenc Gyurcsány. Or only today a mathematician at ELTE, Antal Járai, accepted the prize but refused to shake hands with István Hiller, the minister of education and a former colleague at the same university. Obviously for political reasons. On the other hand, the Orbán government wasn't that generous with the left-liberal side. I can't recall one person from the "other side" who received a really high honor between 1998 and 2002.

And finally there was a question about the reconciliation of the two elites that according to L. Simon don't exist. Are the points of views getting closer? Not really because reconciliation is impossible "so long as the left-liberal elite fails to acknowledge the fact that the last eight years ruined the country economically." What does that have to do with culture? Don't ask me. Total nonsense as far as I can tell. "They should also give up their Orbán phobia." In plain language, their political views must change. However, not all is lost because they are generous people who will "work for them too." Well, I wouldn't bet on that.

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Odin's lost eye
Guest

When the arts and sciences are politicised and only those who are politically acceptable receive the rewards. Then both suffer and atrophy. We all know what will happen. I wonder if there will be a new‘ Orban Prize’ (shades of old Joe Stalin).
It may surprise you that the ‘All Highest’ of Fidesz’ is not the ‘Top Dog’ in the world. Strangely another Hungarian is. According to a report I found in the MSN (UK) news. “A Hungarian Vizsla has taken the coveted title of Best in Show at the world famous Crufts dog show”. I wonder what the “All Highest” will have to say about that?

John T
Guest

Lets hope the Vizsla doesn’t suddenly go missing. If it does, we perhaps know where to look 🙂

Odin's lost eye
Guest
John T – If the Vizsla were to ‘vanish’ then the World’s ‘Top Dog’ is the Reserve Champion’ which is a ‘Scotty’ –Scots terrier-. So the ‘All Highest’ still cannot win. A lurid image came to my mind with Orban Victor being displayed (on all fours) on the judging platform having his teeth and tail looked at and then him being lead round the judging ring so that the judge can see his posture and gait. On a more serious note The Bolsheviks tried to re-educate the people, especially the young, from the time they came to power. The result occurred in October 1956. Who judges the quality of book, short story or article? How do you judge it? What are the criteria used etc? I detest ‘Good Literature’ it generally bores me. I choose what I enjoy and will not be told by some twerp what I should read ‘because it is good for you’. I am what I am and that is all that I am. As to science the very fact that an oaf of the like of Trofim Lysenko who is generally agreed to have been a ‘charlatan’ could gain overall control of ‘life sciences and… Read more »
Pete H.
Guest

If the moderate right heralds the idea that “the cultural elite that is supposed to support the work of the government by passing on the new administration’s values to the masses”, no wonder so many fear the far-right who would demolish the offices of their media rivals and expel their managers from Hungary.
It’s a shame Hungary has no truly centrist party.

John T
Guest

“It’s a shame Hungary has no truly centrist party.”
Very true. And sadly, it will be some time before one does emerge. If it allowed to of course.

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