After the Fidesz landslide at the municipal elections in 2006 when almost all larger cities and towns turned orange one theater after the other in these municipalities had new directors. Some observers suspected a centrally orchestrated attempt at capturing theaters. There were many who simply didn’t understand what Fidesz wants to do with theaters. They hypothesized some kind of ideological conspiracy.
I didn’t share their suspicion. Elsewhere I talked about the different artistic tastes prevalent in the two ideological camps. The right prefers much more traditional art and literature. In those cities where there was a change in the composition of the city councils in favor of Fidesz, the newly constituted council naturally opted for proposals that promised more traditional theater. Admittedly the applicant’s political preferences mattered when it came to the decision, but I’m inclined to believe that literary taste was also a very important factor. There were several places where the Fidesz majority didn’t want to have a theater in town that puts too much of an emphasis on “the heavy stuff.” They preferred light entertainment which most likely appealed to the majority of theatergoers in their towns. But there it was the city council’s majority that decided the fate of the theater.
In Budapest today the situation is different. Before István Tarlós became mayor it was the city council that decided such matters. But Tarlós, with a slight Fidesz majority behind him, changed the rules. Appointments have become his prerogative. He can disregard the decision of the panel reviewing the applications and do whatever he feels like doing. He is a crude fellow who only recently turned to the leader of the MSZP delegation and said: “Your mommy will be very dissatisfied with you when you join her in the netherworld.” He has also been known to physically threaten his fellow politicians.
One must keep in mind that this is not the first time that Tarlós satisfies political demands. Only a few months ago Tarlós received applications for the post of director of the Attila József Theater. There were, just as in this case, two applicants: Péter Horgas and Károly Nemcsák. Five of the seven-member panel opted for Horgas. Yet when it came to the appointment, Tarlós appointed Nemcsák, whose proposal wasn’t even made public. So no one knew then or knows even today what Nemcsák’s plans were for the theater. Tarlós made an obviously political decision.
Nemcsák is a permanent fixture at Fidesz gatherings. In fact, he was among those who in the fall of 2006 when Fidesz tried desperately to topple the Gyurcsány government appeared on Kossuth Square. He recited a Sándor Petőfi poem called “To the Nation.” This particular Petőfi poem seems to be one of the favorites of the far right because it can be found on several far-right Internet sites. So, surely, here Tarlós was trying to please Viktor Orbán who felt that Nemcsák’s steadfast support of his cause deserved some recognition.
However, the Dörner-Csurka appointment is very different from the Nemcsák case. Tarlós should have realized that appointing a Fidesz supporter to a post in a Budapest theater is one thing but throwing a thriving theater to a Nazi party is something else. Because more and more people consider Jobbik and MIÉP Nazi parties. The caricature I found on Facebook says a lot about how some people feel about this appointment. Der Spiegel carried an article yesterday entitled “Far Rightists Take over Running of a Theatre,” which described Csurka as “a well known anti-Semite”. Belgium’s RTL described Dörner and Csurka as “far-right figures,” adding that their appointment has filled the entire Hungarian theatrical community with anxiety. So, the scandal has spread beyond the borders of Hungary. I don’t think that Tarlós, a real provincial, ever thought of such an outcome.
More and more people are raising their voices against the appointment, among them not only those connected to the theater but, for example, Mazsihisz, the Association of Jewish Communities of Hungary. Péter Feldmájer, the head of the association, pointed to István Csurka’s anti-semitism and his constant anti-Jewish propaganda. He said that a theater under Csurka’s direction in a city in which “the Jewish middle class is still an important factor even today” is considered to be a frontal attack against the Jewish community. He warned Tarlós that his decision is moving Budapest in the direction of Vienna when it was led by Karl Lueger, the anti-semitic mayor of the Austrian capital between 1897 and 1910. Well, that’s quite something. My only hope is that Tarlós, who is so proud of his engineering background, has never heard of Karl Lueger.
Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy, who was recently attacked on a streetcar because of his activity in the anti-Orbán camp and who promised at the time that he would work even harder against the current regime, kept his promise. As director of the conservative-liberal Freedom and Reform Institute he published the following against the decision:
Another Attack Against Culture—The Freedom and Reform Institute about the Change in Directorship of Új Színház
Hungarian democrats were shocked the other day that István Márta, the greatly valued director of Új Színház, must step down from this position on February 1, 2012. The commission considering applications for the directorship recommended István Márta’s proposal 6 to 2. István Tarlós, mayor of Budapest, made the final decision against the professional commission. Mr. Tarlós declared the application of György Dörner and István Csurka the winner.
We consider the mayor’s decision unequivocally political.
1. Mr. Márta’s versatile, apolitical and outstanding professional work is unquestionably appreciated.
2. This work is esteemed by both theatergoers and colleagues who have recently made numerous declarations in favor of Mr. Márta.
3. Mr. Tarlós completely ignored the view of professionals and considered the entire procedure merely formal.
4. Supporters of Messrs. Dörner and Csurka, openly and proudly calling themselves right extremists, regard the victory a political one. Thus, this decision was a clear gesture of István Tarlós and his Fidesz supporters toward Hungarian racists and neo-Nazis.
The Orbán government made a decision with regard to the directorship of Új Színház completely disregarding any professional considerations: this is a serious attack against the cultural life of Hungary and we, liberal conservatives protest against it. We believe that this is an another proof that the cabinet wants to silence not only its opponents but also those who serve Hungary in an apolitical fashion.
Freedom and Reform Institute
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For the time being at least Tarlós is standing by his decision. His only concession is that he will not allow the theater to be renamed. So, apparently the people in Budapest won’t have the pleasure of having a theater named “Hinterland.” But Dörner stays. The has-been actor and the has-been playwright thus “will be able to wage war on the liberal entertainment that has sunk to the level of a brothel.” I found a picture of Dörner as Falstaff; I hope you enjoy it.