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.