Do you remember Mayor István Tarlós’s decision last October to turn over the job of theater director of Budapest’s Új Színház (New Theater) to György Dörner and István Csurka? It was described as “the scandal of the decade'” because Dörner and Csurka were not only supporters of the Hungarian far right but were planning to create a theater catering to people with far-right if not Nazi views. It was especially worrisome that Csurka’s influence would most likely make Új Színház a gathering place for anti-Semites. Background material for the latest developments can be found in an earlier post on this blog.
A lot of pressure was put on Tarlós, but the mayor is a stubborn guy and in general convinced of the soundness of all his decisions. He refused the budge. He promised, however, that if the Dörner-Csurka duo actually use the theater to expound and promote far-right, anti-democratic ideas he will act. But not until then.
Meanwhile, István Csurka died on February 2. Soon afterward there was some talk about renaming Új Színház after him, but that idea seems to have been stillborn. His hitherto unperformed last drama entitled “The Sixth Coffin,” however, was included in this year’s repertoire. Csurka’s play is in illustrious right-wing company because Dörner is also planning to perform a József Nyirő play and an Albert Wass’s work “The Witch of Funtinel” in “modern musical form, performed in the movement theater version (mozgásszínház),” whatever that may be.
“The Sixth Coffin” is an allusion to Imre Nagy’s reburial. Beside the remains of five people executed in 1958 a sixth coffin was placed to symbolize the hundreds of people who died in or were killed after the 1956 revolution. As it turns out, this last drama is not about 1956. Csurka’s aim was to reinterpret twentieth-century Hungarian history with the Treaty of Trianon in the center of it all.
As soon as it was announced that “The Sixth Coffin” will soon be performed in Új Színház people predicted that it doesn’t matter what either Dörner or Tarlós says, this theater will specialize in performing works by writers who have been tainted by anti-Semitism and/or fascist ideas. In any case, “The Sixth Coffin” is definitely an anti-Semitic play. The man who will direct the play claims that “Csurka simply treated a historical event in its historical reality.” So, Csurka’s interpretation is a truthful reflection of Hungarian history. When he was specifically asked whether there is an anti-Semitic overtone to the whole play, he answered in the negative. But if they find something that “offends certain interests” they will handle it.
If we can believe Ádám Fischer, conductor and brother of Iván Fischer, the attempt to remove certain small offending parts will be a difficult task because “the whole play is about a secret Jewish conspiracy that plans, provokes, and directs from the background all the tragedies of the past one hundred years, including the holocaust. Moreover, just as Csurka blamed 9/11 on the Americans and indicated that they actually deserved what they got, in ‘The Sixth Coffin’ he claims that the Jews are responsible for the fate that befell them.”
Népszava also inquired from some well known intellectuals who read the play what they thought of it. The opinion of Sándor Radnóti, a philosopher and literary critic, is not very different from that of Fischer. According to him, Csurka’s play is about “an international conspiracy led by American Jewish bankers that was behind the Treaty of Trianon.” Why? Because their goal was the dismemberment of Hungary which under the able guidance of the Hungarian historical class, meaning the nobility, would have become within twenty years a large country of forty million inhabitants. Such a Hungary would have been one of the strongest countries in Europe.
That’s not quite enough. Csurka goes further. “World history is determined by the deadly hostility between Hungarians and Jews.” Everything was carefully planned by these evil American Jewish conspirators: the Entente victory after World War I was arranged ahead of time, and the Jews planned the Russian Revolution of 1917. The sufferings of the Hungarian Jews after the dismemberment of the country was also their doing in the name of Jewish power over the whole world. If all this doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense it doesn’t seem to bother Csurka’s Nazi admirers who were so taken with the play that they could hardly speak after a reading of it in a small right-wing theater.
Népszava also asked Márton Karinthy, grandson of Frigyes and son of Ferenc, a theater director himself, what he thought of Csurka’s play. A year ago Karinthy’s theater actually performed one of Csurka’s earlier plays. Karinthy considers “The Sixth Coffin” a mediocre play with a questionable message. According to him, Csurka’s historical interpretation is biased with a strong anti-Semitic strain.
Judit Csáki, a theater critic, considers the performance of this play “a political and cultural scandal.” Csáki thinks even less of the artistic merit of the play than Karinthy. She found nothing in the play except a questionable historical message that is basically designed to arouse hatred. The play is “full of lies and falsifications.”
What? Lies and falsifications? On the contrary, Hunor Bucz of Magyar Fórum, Csurka’s paper, finds the play “a work designed to resurrect the collective memory and to unveil the falsification of history.” So, instead of falsifying history it uncovers the truth. And as far as the play’s artistic merits are concerned, “it is a masterpiece.”
The question is whether the play will be performed. I think it will. Foreign criticism, as we have seen in the last couple of months, doesn’t seem to have an effect on the Hungarian government. Ádám Fischer’s letter to György Schöpflin, Fidesz EP member, about this very issue was answered with a lecture on “different narratives.” I think “The Sixth Coffin” will be performed and the theater will be full of admiring anti-Semites and chauvinistic neo-Nazis. And the mayor of Budapest will refuse to say anything pro or con.