Kulturkampf is called “Kulturkampf” in Hungarian too

When a government administration changes there is also a change in personnel. In most countries the personnel changes follow long-accepted customs. There are positions that turn over more or less automatically because they are held by political appointees who accepted the job knowing that in four years they will probably have to depart. In the United States all ambassadors turn in their resignations after a change of administration in order to give the new president and his secretary of state a free hand to appoint their own people.   High-level government officials also depart while the traditional civil service corps remains.

In Hungary the situation is a great deal more fluid. Naturally each new government brings along its own people. After all, the new prime minister and the cabinet ministers prefer to work with people who share their political views and goals for political change. The size of the “political cleansing,” however, is far less constant than in western Europe or North America. On the whole, the liberal-socialist governments were less “ruthless” and left in place a lot of people even though the political leadership knew that they were not really supporters of the government. Fidesz, on the other hand, was already pretty heavy-handed between 1998 and 2002. Moreover, the “political cleansing” wasn’t restricted to the political sphere but was extended to the public media and the cultural world as well.

The situation during Viktor Orbán’s first tenure as prime minister, however, pales in comparison to what has been going on in the last two and a half years. In fact, in cultural matters one can actually go back to 2006 when Fidesz managed to capture the leadership of practically all cities. In the video about the Kubatov campaign in Pécs (2009) we hear that Pécs was “the last stronghold of MSZP that is now captured.” In fact, Szeged also remained in MSZP hands in 2006 and even in 2010, but the situation of the MSZP mayor of Szeged, László Botka, is not exactly enviable since Fidesz with the help of the sole Jobbik council member is in the majority.

So, the Kulturkampf has been going on at the local level ever since 2006. For one reason or another which I can’t quite figure out, Fidesz politicos are especially concerned with the leadership of theaters, which are mostly in the hands of the cities. Since the 2010 elections the cultural campaign was ramped up: the entire cultural elite is under siege. The Fidesz administration doesn’t hide its intention: there was a revolution in the voting booths and that allows the current government with the help of the two-thirds majority to stage a cultural revolution as well.

I’m pretty sure that Viktor Orbán and his old college friends would loudly protest, but I still have to make a comparison to the revolutionary changes that took place after World War II and especially after 1948. Admittedly, the methods were a great deal harsher then. The former CEOs of larger concerns not only lost their jobs, they ended up in jail. In their stead came workers newly recruited to the Magyar Kommunista Párt (MKP). The communists also wanted to make sure that the children of workers and peasants would fill the high schools and universities while the children of the intelligentsia and the middle- and upper-middle classes struggled to get a good education. This practice was continued until the mid-1960s.

The situation of course is different now. The Hungarian right claims that writers, artists, journalists, and theater and film directors who didn’t share the liberal-socialist side’s views were discriminated against. As far as the right-wingers are concerned, the whole Hungarian intellectual elite should have been prevented from practicing their art after 1990. They should have been thrown out from the positions they achieved during the long years of Kádárism.  Who should take their place? As far as I can see, those people who discovered their true right-wing convictions very suddenly, after the change of regime. Prior to that date they happily served Kádár’s regime. In fact, I’m sure that there are more former MSZMP members in the Orbán government than there were in the liberal-socialist governments.

This right-wing elite is frustrated. They want to occupy practically all the important positions in the cultural field, and Orbán is ready to oblige. Take the case of the Hungarian National Theater.

It was pretty well decided two years ago that the current director would not be reappointed at the end of his term in 2013. I wrote about the case already once or twice. Zoltán Balog, our Calvinist minister who is in charge of cultural policy, made it clear that “the National Theater is not simply any theater but an institution that must present national values.” And in the eyes of the committee, consisting mostly of government officials and Fidesz supporters from the theater world, Róbert Alföldi’s proposal was not nationalistic enough. Balog further elaborated on the theme that “in the last five years Alföldi created a theater after his own image but now we must allow other talented candidates to create a theater based on their ideas.” The man who is deemed the ideal man for the job is Attila Vidnyánszky, director of the Csokonai Theater  in Debrecen.

Attila Vidnyánszky. Note the picture of János vitéz on the wall

Attila Vidnyánszky. Note the picture of János vitéz on the wall

Vidnyánszky is obviously a favorite of the regime. Besides his political views I assume that it is a plus that he is one of those patriotic Hungarians whose families found themselves outside the borders of Trianon Hungary. He was born in Beregove (Beregszász) in Ukraine. He majored in Hungarian at the Uzhgorod (Ungvár) State University. Later he received another degree in directing from the Kiev Academy of  Dramatic Art. In 1992 he established a Hungarian-language theater in Beregove which had to be a modest affair considering that Beregove’s population is 25,000 and only 45% of the town’s population is Hungarian speaking. In 2004 he moved to Hungary where he worked for the Hungarian State Opera and later moved on to be the director of the Debrecen Theater. You can read about his accomplishments in Magyar Narancs.

Vidnyánszky explained that the new National Theater will be different in every possible way from what it has been in the last five years under the directorship of Alföldi. Under Vidnyánszky’s guidance “besides innovation, the cultivation of tradition, the Hungarian soul and the Hungarian idea will also be present…. This theater will send out different messages from here on.”

The new director has been eyeing the position as head of the National Theater for a long time. As early as the winter of 2010 he told Origo‘s reporter that he would gladly accept the position currently occupied by Alföldi who, according to Vidnyánszky, falsified Sándor Petőfi’s János vitéz. What Vidnyánszky forgot was that the play Alföldi staged was the Pongrác Kacsóh version. The difference lies in the ending, as the article in Wikipedia explains. But don’t fret, the very first production under Vidnyánszky’s direction will be the “true” János vitéz.

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Piroska Markus
Guest
Piroska Markus
December 17, 2012 5:53 pm

Another good and informative article. I know this does not directly connect to the subject, but I have just read this article, and I think it tells more about Hungarian realities than anything else I have read for the last few months, so I would like to share it in case the readers are interested. http://www.vasarnapihirek.hu/fokusz/zebrarol_a_bortonbe

Member
Some1
December 17, 2012 6:23 pm

It is a sad day indeed for anyone who cares about the future of Hungarian theatre. I think what illustrates the best, what this decision was based on is the photo on the HVG. PLease note the coat. What is more interesting that there was a nine member committee that made the decision. Each member could support both candidates. Vidnyanszky received nine votes, Alfoldi received one vote, four abstained, three against. What does the four abstention tell? People do not have the guts. THese are nine people, and form the nine, four did not have the guts to vote for or against Alfoldi. How is it possible that for such a position in a nine member committee is it even allowed someone not to vote? …and for the person who voted for both, reported it is Mari Torocsik.. Shame on her. I loved her as an actress. I loved her as an individual, she openly supported Alfoldy, but did not have the guts to go against this farce. A true disappointment.

gdfxx
Guest
gdfxx
December 17, 2012 6:39 pm

“For one reason or another which I can’t quite figure out, Fidesz politicos are especially concerned with the leadership of theaters, which are mostly in the hands of the cities.”

I would guess that they know from experience how influential theater was during the communist totalitarian system and how it could get through censors’ attention with – more or less hidden – anti-regime ideas, reaching relatively large segments of the population. Now it’s their turn to be afraid of the same so they are trying to get insurance against it.

tappanch
Guest
tappanch
December 17, 2012 7:52 pm

Kuturkampf in the streets:

The most urgent concern of the mayor of Budapest, Herr Tarlos is to rename the last street named after a Jewish left-winger, Leo Frankel (1844-1896).

http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leo_Frankel

tappanch
Guest
tappanch
December 17, 2012 8:09 pm

Kulturkampf in the Parliament:

After January 1, 2013, the new “házőrség” can physically remove or silence opposition deputies. The “házőrség” was set up for the first time a hundred years ago, in 1913 by then Speaker (and formerly Premier) Tisza as a preparation for the Great War.

Tisza was also infamous for opposing the people’s right to vote, so less than 7% had this right before the war.

Next year, Fidesz will put up a new, 10-14 meter tall statue of Tisza in the place of the removed statue of democratic Karolyi as well

Orban & Fidesz are obviously determined to extend their war against the Hungarians.

Ron
Guest
Ron
December 18, 2012 4:36 am

OT The forint is about to crash again (stand currently at HUF/EUR 290). This time the crash is not due to IMF and other foreign influences, but due to concern regarding Matolcsy taking over as Hungarian National Bank Governor, and the fact regarding the statement Matolcsy made about the future co-operation between the Government and the MNB.

http://www.portfolio.hu/en/fx/hungary_forint_freefall_halted_but_why.25305.html
http://www.portfolio.hu/en/fx/scary_hungary_forint_crash_eur/huf_at_290.25308.html
http://www.portfolio.hu/en/economy/hungarys_matolcsy_on_govt_plans_what_will_happen_to_nbh.25303.html

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest
December 18, 2012 5:04 am
When culture is subsidized by public authorities, it is only natural that the alternation of political power should have consequences on the management of cultural institutions. I would even say it’s healthy… It would be naïve to think that many artists leaning to the left, when it is their time to be in favour at court, do not consider culture to be a Kulturkampf as well. Moreover, should one political family hold the field for a long time, it has lasting consequences on Art History – since it heavily depends on the works that have been actually presented throughout a given period. However, there are two key factors of success for such an enterprise. Firstly, the skills of the new management teams. It’s not only about those of the man or woman who gets the job, but those of whom he chooses to surround him/herself with. When it comes to big institutions, be it in the performing or visual arts, the ‘political messages’ have little to do with efficiency, and bad management simply gives bad productions. Second, the audience. I don’t have a global vision of the cultural practices in Hungary, however I’d be surprised if the theater, for instance,… Read more »
Econ
Guest
Econ
December 18, 2012 6:10 am
The issue will be to what extent will any new government agressive enough to fire all these crazy wackos like György Fekete, whose private organisation was enshrined in the new constitution and was recently given the old Műcsarnok (Exhibition Hall) and the freshly renovated Vigadó (both pieces of real estate are worth billions of HUF, ie. tens of millions of USD), Vidnyányszky, the Új Színház (New Theatre) leadership, other countryside directors etc. Fidesz has been very good at setting a new baseline, a new normal to which any change is measured and should be justified (as MSZP and its politicans run away from conflicts or rather from what they percieve as conflicts; perhaps after Fidesz’ propaganda which has been very successful in sowing fear in ordinary MSZP politicians). Vidnyányszky, Fekete, Új Színház are most assuredly not just conservatives in any Western, European sense. They are radicals, extreme conservatives with a nationalistic, religious, anti-critical, anti-modernist agenda. If these people become the new normal (on which Fidesz is hell-bent of course), then obviously even a moderate (or a moderate conservative) will look like an extremist liberal (so MSZP will feel very successful at placing a moderately conservative person to any position). This… Read more »
Kingfisher
Guest
Kingfisher
December 18, 2012 6:35 am

The Vidnyányszky thing is tricky. He isn’t a bad director. Alföldi certainly isn’t a great one. So on merit, there isn’t much between them although I have little time for either. But it isn’t fair to equate Vidnányszky with Fekete or the Újszinház, nor would Alföldi make that mistake himself.

The problem that Vidnyánszky and Alföldi both share is that there is virtually nothing in Hungarian that is worth performing (the Ember Tragediája is popular but hardly Shakespeare and just how any times can one sit through that in a life time?) So why is a National Theatre even needed?

Member
Some1
December 18, 2012 9:34 am

Kingfisher :
The Vidnyányszky thing is tricky. He isn’t a bad director. Alföldi certainly isn’t a great one. .

..and that is your opinion based on what? Did you see any of the plays Vidnyanszky directed? How about Alfoldi’s directions? Did you see any? Did you ever take a look on how many awards any of those artists received and form where? NOw that would be an objective opinion.

BY the way I hope Vidnyanszky or the Fidesz will repay his education expenses to the Uzhhorod National University and to the Karpenko-Karij University in Ukraine. You know so they do not become hypocritical.

Zoo
Guest
Zoo
December 18, 2012 9:51 am

Plus Vidnyánszky will have Szami, the great (completely crazy) Szami, aka Szamóca, Eperjes Károly, who was the kingmaker at Új Színház.

Member
Some1
December 18, 2012 11:29 am
Let me predict something here again. Hungary’s National Theatre will become the symbol of theatre kitsch. WIll it have full houses? Possible. At this point Fidesz will unbeknown amount of money into advertising and subsidies. Tickets will be sold to students as mandatory theatre visits, and free buses provided to the further most part of Hungary to bring everyone to see the productions, as to prove it successes. Of course nobody will compare the story to what would it be without all the money that no other theatre company prior or at the same time gets. THe same propaganda, just like on the buses against Bajnai, like the Peace March where Fidesz provided the money to travel and feed the “volunteer” attendees. WHat we will know is the “successes”, not the cost of the propaganda piece. It is like the May 1st waving of flags at Hero’s Square, the posters and the happy marching workers under the Kadar Regime. Let me quote wikipedia here: “A cult of personality arises when an individual uses mass media, propaganda, or other methods, to create an idealized, heroic, and, at times god-like public image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise.” I would like to… Read more »
spectator
Guest
spectator
December 18, 2012 1:02 pm

@Some1
“Hungary’s National Theatre will become the symbol of theatre kitsch.”

It already is!
Just look at it – hard to find such a dreadful building anywhere near human civilization, built recently..! At least the substance going to get synchronized, the look will fit the kitschy repertoire quite well.

“…art is gone, commerce is in.”
Even worse, because not even the commerce side working – you can sell only limited amount nationalized bullshit disguised as art – not all of the consumers that retarded yet..!

gdfxx
Guest
gdfxx
December 18, 2012 2:07 pm

Marcel Dé:”When culture is subsidized by public authorities, it is only natural that the alternation of political power should have consequences on the management of cultural institutions. I would even say it’s healthy… ”

I disagree. Culture, real culture, not the Wass and Co.-type, is universal, does not depend on the current powers to be. Just look around: the PBS management in the US or the BBC management in the UK (both getting government subsidies, although the BBC much more than PBS) have an apolitical management. My assumption is that this is true for other similar institutions in the West. What should count are talent and management skills. Nothing else, except maybe political independence, after all one would not want in charge.an extremist on either side…

spectator
Guest
spectator
December 18, 2012 2:39 pm

Slightly OT. – I just stumbled upon right this moment – but there is some hope, ladies and gentlemen:

http://index.hu/belfold/2012/12/18/orban-ellenes_oriasplakat_budapesten/

Not for the ‘excellence’ of the product, but because of the message:

„Együtt tették tönkre az oktatást. Ebből most már elég!”
approximately:
-Together they destroyed the education. Now it’s enough![of them…]

Member
December 18, 2012 2:43 pm
Vidnyánszky’s application is now available (in Hungarian) on the Csokonai theatre web site: http://szinhaz.hu/szinhazi-hirek/49733-elerheto-vidnyanszky-attila-palyazata I guess he learned the lesson from Gyorgy Dorner and his fascist buddies – even if he got the position by obvious cheating, he at least provides an intelligent looking application. I just glanced at it. Scrolled down to section 3, “Repertoar” (hey, that’s a French word). Well it starts with the Bank Ban (gag!), Az Ember Tragediaja and Csongor es Tunde so no surprise here. I was expecting the Magnas Miska or similar operettas as the ultimate Hungarian cultural values, but nothing like that. No Csurka either. But the rest is actually not bad, even though it’s a huge list, probably only a fraction of it will make it to the stage. It seems we have to wait a few years for a another blow job in a play, but who knows, a sexually charged Csongor es Tunde actually sounds like a good material … It’s utter shame how Vidnyánszky got this position but let’s see what shakes out. He is at least not stupid like the typical Fidesz crop. Regarding Bank Ban. I hate it. It’s one of the most boring stories. Once I… Read more »
Member
December 18, 2012 2:57 pm

spectator :
Slightly OT. – I just stumbled upon right this moment – but there is some hope, ladies and gentlemen:

My favorite is this. The Ramil Safarov Elementary School sign:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151498781050116&set=a.312789050115.148110.184334725115

spectator
Guest
spectator
December 18, 2012 3:26 pm

Mutt :

spectator :
Slightly OT. – I just stumbled upon right this moment – but there is some hope, ladies and gentlemen:

My favorite is this. The Ramil Safarov Elementary School sign:
https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151498781050116&set=a.312789050115.148110.184334725115

Oh man, It really is something!

Kirsten
Guest
Kirsten
December 18, 2012 5:54 pm

Kingfisher :
there is virtually nothing in Hungarian that is worth performing

Quite a statement. But perhaps OV will manage to persuade some authors to come up with something brilliant. A true blockbuster should be the play How Gyurcsany robbed the country blind. Interesting for many people could also be a modern variation on the theme how to create a pre-modern society in an industrialised country (“Great Transformation, undone”.) The audience will certainly appreciate Turul – a true story. So, do not despair, as OV managed to lift the quality of national paintings, I believe he will also contribute substantive works to the national drama.

Kirsten
Guest
Kirsten
December 18, 2012 6:30 pm

Eva S. Balogh :
First of all not only Hungarian plays are performed in the National Theater.

I also think that the “National” in National Theatre does not refer to the origin of the plays shown. It is meant to be the most important theatre of the country, best actors, best facilities etc. Kingfisher might find this odd but it does not mean (except one is completely blinded by national feelings) that the theatre will stage only “national heritage”. And even if the national heritage may not belong to the globally most relevant pieces, it will have a national audience. I can imagine some Czech plays where it could be difficult to attract foreigners and yet it is no “imposition” for some Czechs to watch it in the “National Theatre”. So what is wrong with Bank Ban if the theatre has a broad repertoire?

Member
December 18, 2012 7:01 pm

Kirsten :

Eva S. Balogh :
First of all not only Hungarian plays are performed in the National Theater.

So what is wrong with Bank Ban if the theatre has a broad repertoire?

Oh, nothing. I just developed a severe case of bankbanophobia in high school.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest
December 19, 2012 5:22 am
gdfxx : I disagree. Culture, real culture, not the Wass and Co.-type, is universal, does not depend on the current powers to be. Just look around: the PBS management in the US or the BBC management in the UK (both getting government subsidies, although the BBC much more than PBS) have an apolitical management. I don’t know about PBS, but it took a conservative takeover in the Thatcher era for the BBC to become ‘balanced’. Another example in the visual arts: in France after WWII, Cubism became the only avant-garde worth mentioning and presenting, obscuring many other movements of the early XXth century. The hypertrophy was largely due to the proximity of several cubist masters with communism – and to the strong marxist influence among a generation of art historians, exhibition curators and museum managers. Only in recent years has this view been officially revisited, and other movements like Futurism have been reevaluated… in national institutions under new management appointed by the right. Cultural policy isn’t neutral, meaning it is not devoid of general political arguments. What we can hope for is 1) That official cultural productions are not the only ones available to the public and 2) That shifts… Read more »
Bulkers
Guest
Bulkers
December 19, 2012 5:53 am
Mutt : Vidnyánszky’s application is now available (in Hungarian) on the Csokonai theatre web site: http://szinhaz.hu/szinhazi-hirek/49733-elerheto-vidnyanszky-attila-palyazata I guess he learned the lesson from Gyorgy Dorner and his fascist buddies – even if he got the position by obvious cheating, he at least provides an intelligent looking application. I just glanced at it. Scrolled down to section 3, “Repertoar” (hey, that’s a French word). Well it starts with the Bank Ban (gag!), Az Ember Tragediaja and Csongor es Tunde so no surprise here. I was expecting the Magnas Miska or similar operettas as the ultimate Hungarian cultural values, but nothing like that. No Csurka either. But the rest is actually not bad, even though it’s a huge list, probably only a fraction of it will make it to the stage. It seems we have to wait a few years for a another blow job in a play, but who knows, a sexually charged Csongor es Tunde actually sounds like a good material … It’s utter shame how Vidnyánszky got this position but let’s see what shakes out. He is at least not stupid like the typical Fidesz crop. Regarding Bank Ban. I hate it. It’s one of the most boring stories.… Read more »
Ron
Guest
Ron
December 19, 2012 8:37 am
Some1 : It is a sad day indeed for anyone who cares about the future of Hungarian theatre. I think what illustrates the best, what this decision was based on is the photo on the HVG. PLease note the coat. What is more interesting that there was a nine member committee that made the decision. Each member could support both candidates. Vidnyanszky received nine votes, Alfoldi received one vote, four abstained, three against. What does the four abstention tell? People do not have the guts. THese are nine people, and form the nine, four did not have the guts to vote for or against Alfoldi. How is it possible that for such a position in a nine member committee is it even allowed someone not to vote? …and for the person who voted for both, reported it is Mari Torocsik.. Shame on her. I loved her as an actress. I loved her as an individual, she openly supported Alfoldy, but did not have the guts to go against this farce. A true disappointment. According to her she voted for Alfoldi. http://szinhaz.hu/szinhazi-hirek/49760-igazabol-uvolteni-szeretnek-torocsik-mari-a-nemzeti-palyazatrol Somebody told me, but I do not have the background information with it, Vidnyanszky first appointed the Board members… Read more »
Member
December 19, 2012 2:47 pm

Ron :
According to her she voted for Alfoldi

She was the representative of the actors of the theatre who’s majority supported Alfoldi. Again the mind blowing arrogance of the Orban government and their cronies.

Kirsten
Guest
Kirsten
December 19, 2012 4:06 pm

Bulkers :

Mutt
It resembles when Hungary was a strong country, part of the contemporary western christian world (more western than present-day or 20th century Hungary) . That is very painful for you, whose ancestors are immigrants from Russia (Ukraine) in the 19th century.

OV should read that! More western than present-day Hungary! Is this the official party position…? Confusion!

To Mutt, I see that all your efforts to conceal your identity were in vain. 🙂 He knows even where your ancestors came from and when!

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