I'm back with an entirely different topic. Something that we might call the orbanite Kulturkampf. Nothing is being spared. First came the philosophers, then the historians, and now the artists–sculptors, an orchestra, and filmmakers.
Gyula Budai is "investigating" seventy-eight contemporary artists who received grants under the Universitas Program. It was Bálint Magyar, liberal minister of education, who came up with the idea. Crumbling university buildings were being renovated on a large scale. Magyar thought that perhaps the presidents and the senates of the universities would also like to decorate the campuses with contemporary fine arts. Mostly modern statues. I already wrote about the Hungarian right's detestation of modern art. There is a certain pressure from Fidesz supporters to return to the kind of art done in the nineteenth century. Therefore I'm not at all surprised that Budai's attention turned to this, according to him, totally useless project.
In the world of music there are two famous Hungarian orchestras: the Budapest Festival Orchestra and the National Philharmonic. The conductor of the former is Iván Fischer and Zoltán Kocsis, also a renowned pianist, conducts the National Philharmonic. Kocsis is a favorite of the right. Already during the first Orbán government he received an incredible amount of money to "redo" the orchestra. And when I say "redo" I mean it literally. Apparently before he became the music director and conductor of the orchestra the Philharmonic had worked on a seniority system. Once you got a job there as a young man you stayed and stayed. Kocsis got rid of about half of the orchestra and hired new talent. I'm sure that this was a necessary move and that Kocsis's reforms made the orchestra much better. The problem was that while the Philharmonic got a great deal more money the Budapest Festival Orchestra got less than before. Now that Orbán is back in power, Kocsis is again the favorite. The Philharmonic will receive 300 million forints more than before while the Budapest Festival Orchestra will receive 170 million forints less than last year. Whether the Fischer brothers' outspoken criticism of the government has anything to do with it I don't know, but I have my suspicions.
The Hungarian film industry is highly regarded, but obviously the work of the Hungarian filmmakers is not to the liking of those who are conducting the Kulturkampf. They would like to return to the kinds of films that are entertaining and patriotic. Historical blockbusters are especially to their liking. During the first Orbán government they put an awful lot of money into a film version of István Széchenyi's life and because the actor playing Széchenyi is a bigoted Catholic for his sake even history was falsified. The actor refused to play the role if the truth that Széchenyi committed suicide was revealed in the film. It was at that point that Domokos Kosáry, the doyen of Hungarian history and an expert on Széchenyi who was supposed to be the watchdog over the film's historical accuracy, quit in disgust. The second Orbán government's historical blockbuster will be another very expensive and most likely easily forgettable film on the life of Ferenc Liszt.
The Hungarian government is apparently putting money into a production of the country's national opera, Ferenc Erkel's Bánk bán, that will be staged in Los Angeles. Bánk bán is another hobbyhorse of Fidesz. Besides the movie about Széchenyi, they made a huge financial commitment to a screen version of the opera. Another flop. And now the Hungarian government is footing the bill for a U.S. premier of Bánk bán. One must wonder why no American opera company performed this opera in the last one hundred and fifty years and why the Hungarian government thinks it is necessary to help finance the Los Angeles production.
But back to the Hungarian film industry. A government commissioner in the person of Andrew Vajna, the American film producer who has been an ardent supporter of Viktor Orbán and his party, was named to oversee the industry. Hungarian filmmakers are outraged. While the financing of Hungarian filmmaking was on fairly equitable and solid professional basis in the last four or five years, the industry is in total limbo at the moment. I assume the chaos is not only in the ministries but also in all facets of cultural life.
On February 9th a number of Hungarian filmmakers, including Béla Tarr who just won the Silver Bear at the Berlinale, wrote an open letter in which they rejected the appointment of Vajna as an overseer of Hungarian cinema. After all, they are different filmmakers with different ideas, but now the government wants to "direct" Hungarian filmmaking. After receiving the prize Tarr gave an interview to Der Tagesspiegel. In the interview he made a few very critical remarks about Viktor Orbán's Hungary. For example, that "he lives in a country that is no longer free."The government hates the intellectuals and harrasses them. He brought up the example of the eighty-one-year-old Ágnes Heller.
Then he went on about the woes of the Hungarian film industry. He himself has three approved projects and although the Hungarian government in writing promised a certain amount of money to support them, everything "was put on ice." In any case, for this government "signed contracts are no more than toilet paper." Without mentioning Vajna's name he called him "a kind a censor who can single handedly make decisions." When the interviewer asked him whether he is considering leaving Hungary and continuing his work abroad, Tarr answered: "I am a Hungarian. This government is changing the constitution and is settling down for twenty years in office. But it is the government that must go–not me."
I guess I don't have to detail the reaction at home. One official after another immediately attacked Tarr. The head of MOKÉP, distributor of Hungarian films, announced that he was very distraught by Tarr's thoughtless remarks. Next came the head of the association of Hungarian movie producers, Gábor Kálomista, who has strong ties to Fidesz. And finally Géza Szőcs, the undersecretary for cultural affairs, announced that when he phoned Tarr to congratulate him the film director told him that what appeared in Der Tagesspiegel was not quite what he said. In fact, it was exactly the opposite.
Apparently Der Tagesspiegel's journalist has the tape of the conversation and the paper has no intention of publishing the correction demanded by Tarr. I'm certain that the filmmaker said exactly what appeared in print. Why is he retreating? I guess because he truly doesn't want to leave Hungary. Orbán doesn't easily forgive or forget. Moreover, criticism of him and his regime has serious consequences. Even so, I regret that Tarr didn't have the guts to stand up and remaining standing.