Culture, censorship, and the Hungarian National Theater

Every time foreign critics claim that the Hungarian media is not entirely free government officials are outraged and immediately ask them to point to just one occasion when censorship was used to prevent the free expression of opinion. Well, from here on the supporters of the Orbán regime can no longer boast about their “tolerance” toward contrary opinions. And it doesn’t have to be political opinion that the regime doesn’t tolerate. It can even be artistic. After all, political dominance in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary seems to be going hand in hand with ascendancy in the cultural sphere.

I covered the ongoing “Kulturkampf” through two events. First, there was the disgraceful charade that took place at the Hungarian National Theater which ensured that the government’s favorite, who considers the National Theater a depository of national values, got the job. More on the subject can be found in the post entitled “Kulturkampf is called ‘Kulturkampf’ in Hungarian too.” A few days later I highlighted another government coup in the field of culture. A right-wing gathering of writers and artists are receiving practically exclusive financial support from the Orbán government. To add insult to injury the government appointed György Fekete, whose commitment to democracy can be seriously questioned, president of this artistic academy. Fekete made it clear that literature and art will have to be in the service of national values. “Echoes of Hungary’s communist past” I called that particular post.

Since the values of the new director of the National Theater, Attila Vidnyánszky, are very close to the heart of the current political leaders, one ought not to be surprised about what happened on Magyar Rádió. Péter Esterházy, the well known Hungarian writer, was asked by the Rádió to contribute once a month to the station’s program called Trend-idők (Trend Times). He was supposed to give advice on cultural events–to call attention to a new book or an exhibition worth visiting. The last time he was the guest of the radio station he suggested a posthumously published volume by Szilárd Rubin, a book by Józsed Keresztesi on Rubin, several exhibitions organized by the Petőfi Irodalmi Múzeum (Petőfi Literary Museum), and finally he urged people to see the last few productions staged by Róbert Alföldi.

That was too much for the servile leadership of the Hungarian public radio station. Esterházy’s positive assessment of the productions of the Hungarian National Theater under the directorship of Alföldi couldn’t be tolerated. They simply left out his remarks about the theater productions.

Esterházy’s answer was an article that will come out tomorrow in Élet és Irodalom. In it he writes that the last time something like that happened to him was in 1981, in the Kádár regime, but he added that by 1986 he could openly complain about it. “Today I don’t want to live in either 1981 or 1986. I lived in those days once, and it was enough. The Regime of National Cooperation as Kádár-splotch [kádármaszat]; I wouldn’t want to national-cooperate this way.”

This story gives me an opportunity to talk a little bit about the history of the National Theater. A few days ago Attila Vidnyánszky, the incoming director, called the National Theater “a sacred place.” For Alföldi, on the other hand, the National Theater is simply a venue where one can produce good or bad plays. There is, in fact, nothing terribly special about this particular National Theater. There are many “national theaters” in the country: one in Pécs, another in Miskolc, and a third in Szeged, just to mention a few that come to mind.

The theater was originally called Pesti Magyar Színház (Hungarian Theater of Pest) and was supported by the County of Pest. It was called Magyar Színház because all the other theaters in Pest and Buda were German-language theaters. When the theater opened its doors in 1837 Hungarian speakers were in still in the minority, a little over 30% of the combined population of the two cities. Basically Pest and Buda were German cities until the 1880s.

Originally the National Theater (normally called in Hungarian simply “a Nemzeti”) was situated at the corner of Múzeum kőrút and Rákóczi Street, right across from the Hotel Astoria, where it remained until 1908. The company “temporarily” moved into the former Népszínház (Volkstheater) on Blaha Lujza Square, where it stayed until 1963 when there were plans to build a new permanent building to house the National Theater.  Nothing came of it, and for more than thirty years the members of the theater had to move every few years from one building to another. That was the case until the mid-1990s when at last the foundation for a new theater was dug on Erzsébet Square. At this point Viktor Orbán won the election and immediately halted work on the building. He threw out the plans approved by an international jury and everything began from scratch. Months went by as they looked for a different location. The theater was eventually sited in District X close to the Rákóczi Bridge. As for the architect? The new government official in charge of the project without any competition gave the job to the architect who designed his own house, a woman who had never designed a theater before.

According to architects the design is unfortunate. Some ordinary folks find it hideous and bizarre. According to Wikipedia, “the building in its outward appearance gives the notion of a ship that is swaying on the Danube.”

National Theater

I may also add that the building was erected in record time. Just a little over a year. The hurry was dictated by political considerations. Viktor Orbán and Fidesz politicians found it very important to stage the first production, Imre Madách’s play The Tragedy of Man, before the elections. And indeed, it was on March 15, 2002, that the theater opened to the public.

On April 7 Orbán lost the first round of elections and the second one on April 21. The National Theater’s charm wasn’t enough.

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koeszmeod
Guest

MTVA apologized this afternoon
http://hvg.hu/itthon/20130103_esterhazy_mtva_elnezest_ker

They should check why Senator Cardin’s Statement on Hungary was censored as well. (The MTI editor in Budapest received the statement)

Guest

London Calling!

The National looks even worse in daylight!

(And keeps company with many of the English ‘worst’ architects – The SIS building in London, for example! – Many people call it ‘Legoland’ – for obvious reasons!)

Regards

Charlie

Guest
Minusio
Guest

The National Theater was designed by an interior decorator who was a girlfriend of Orbán’s – as far as I know. Its various incongruent parts make it a “quotation architecture”. Its entrance doors are very low, acoustics are said to be below average. Even the maze is not a maze (you just walk straight in and out the same way).

Member

koeszmeod :
MTVA apologized this afternoon

They ordered disciplinary actions against the editor. They kept the name of editor secret.

This is actually very cool. It sends a chilling message to the sycophant hordes that surround the FIDESZ. We appreciate your zealotry but we will throw you under bus in a heartbeat. I can imagine this poor editor was hired 2 years ago when the Orbanites canned the 50% of employees in the radio.

And there are more and more of this. Like that principal in Balatonalmadi who called students and teachers during the student demonstrations into her office and reported the results of “investigation” to her FIDESZ pimps. When the scandal broke out and she was standing alone, she ran back to her handlers and got nothing. They probably told her, you’re on your own baby. Resign or stay if you can live the shame. We don’t care.

This army of brown noses thought that their time came when Orban took over. But without the terror this Kadaresque regime just doesn’t work.

Bottom line the foundation of the system is crumbling. These guys soon will be losing faith in the survival of the Fidesz.

Member

Just a remark: Alföldi Róbert played Lucifer in the very first pruduction in the new Nemzeti…

Member

Be still my green-and-white heart!!!! The Nemzeti is in District IX — not even close to District X.

Member

Breaking ..

Rogan announced that there will be no registration in 2014. Just like that. Does Vic know this?? What’s going on?

This is a real stink bomb for the true believers. All those semi-intellects who were arguing for the registration and doubled up on the 2/3 bulldozer (that is the Fidesz will put it into the constitution so they’ll be “right” no matter what) now are spat in the face by Orban the 5th. Yeah poor fellas, the Dear Leader abandoned you …

This is the new trend. You have to form your OWN opinion. Frightening, isn’t it?

Stinker
Guest

I guess the strategy will have to change. From winning the election the strategy will perhaps have to change to be winning – with Jobbik, if necessary – a blocking (ie. 1/3) minority.

Which means, not now, but when the unpopularity will be apparent despite the 3 times 10% decrease of natural gas prices, a new election system.

Plus the court scored big to dispell its partizan image (although the composition of the membership will also change soon – it will be conservatives vs. Fideszniks, no liberals whatsoever).

Member

The texts of the majority and minority opinions of the Constitutional Court on the voters’ registration are here:

http://www.mkab.hu/download.php?h=370

But Fidesz will have an extra 10% of the votes from Romania, and that has not been changed by the court ruling.

Member
Mutt : Breaking .. Rogan announced that there will be no registration in 2014. Just like that. Does Vic know this?? What’s going on? This is a real stink bomb for the true believers. All those semi-intellects who were arguing for the registration and doubled up on the 2/3 bulldozer (that is the Fidesz will put it into the constitution so they’ll be “right” no matter what) now are spat in the face by Orban the 5th. Yeah poor fellas, the Dear Leader abandoned you … This is the new trend. You have to form your OWN opinion. Frightening, isn’t it? According to Rogan, Orban was part of decision. Yeh, right. I am sure it was Orban’s decision. Now, what makes me wonder is what is going to happen to the Peace Marchers who announced the last couple of days that they will occupy Kossuth square if there will be demonstration against the preregistration, since the preregistration was the best idea since sliced bread, and they will support it 100%. Will they occupy the parliament now, and tell Orban that they do want preregistration? I remember when the same buh were supporting Orban in the “I do not want the… Read more »
Stinker
Guest

The foreign voters could make a difference, but their complete Fidesz-allegiance is not assured (though I guess the majority of those Romanian Hungarians, who will vote, will support Fidesz, but many will support Jobbik).

There will be about 500.000 new potential foreign voters by early 2014.

Fidesz’ advantage of the voter portion of these 500k people could be anywhere from 50-200.000. It could be a huge advantage, and this is another element in the system in which all details ensure that the opposition can only win if (A) it wins by a landslide and not only that, but (B) the opposition is united (in other words it is not enough to sack Orbán, voters, in the current new system, need to effectively positively vote for someone).

But I guess the opposition cannot aim for anything less than a landslide victory anyway.

There were 5.1m votes cast for party list in 2010. In a similar setting (a not too high 64% turn out rate) 125000 net foreign voters translates into a 2,35% point advantage for Fidesz. Not small, but in 2010 Fidesz collected 52.73% of the part list votes as opposed to MSZP’ 19.3%.

Member

Other breaking news. At the end of this month Orban is travelling to Moscow to meet with Dimitrij Medvedev and possibly with Vladimir Putin. If Hungarians are lucky enough, Putin will extend Russian citizenship to Orban (just as he recently did for Gerard Depardieu), and he will never come back.

Jano
Guest

I wouldn’t worry too much about the votes from abroad, Orban’s minion parties are not doing stelar anywhere, I’m not at all convinced of an overwhelming Fidesz support. Provided of course they bother voting at all. Only 40% cared enough to participate in the Romanian elections which was a far more important election for them.

Paul
Guest
Well, it’s no uglier than many new buildings in Hungary. But then ugliness is very much in the eye of the beholder – I’m often not sure if I like Hungarian buildings because of their eclectic architectural styles and inventiveness, or dislike them for the same reasons! On the whole, I think I prefer buildings to be adventurous and different, in the UK we tend to put up the same unoriginal, faceless buildings, or kitsch versions of earlier styles, over and over again. I’m actually a fan of Charlie’s ‘Lego Building’ – if you look along the banks of the Thames, you’ll see why. But what really strikes me about the National Theatre is it’s location – it’s almost as far from the City centre as it could get and still be (just about) in the City. I’m not a Budapesti and on our few visits we tend to stay mostly in the centre, so maybe the theatre’s location isn’t quite as remote as it seems to us. I’ve only been that far along the Duna once, and that was to catch the Hév to visit friends in the Csepel Sziget outback, but it did seem an awfully long way… Read more »
Minusio
Guest

Paul: The National Theatre is part of a larger plan which turned out to be not so bad after all. On the Buda side it included the millenium exhibtion and a small park and two (?) hotels. On the Pest side, it was the National Theatre with all its shortcomings and kitsch and a Palace of the Arts (“Müpa”) which houses one of the many Ludwig museums (not so good), exhibitions (some were very good) and an excellent concert hall. The acoustics where designed by the same people who did the acoustic of the Arts and Cultural Centre in Lucerne, said to be the best in the world. Theatre and Palace are both just upstream of the Rákóczi hid and can be reached by tram no. 2 or by car. There are sufficiently large parking lots for both. The Müpa has a free underground parking as well.

So far, the Müpa has offered concerts with top-ranking orchestras, conductors and singers. Of course, if that changes, too, into folklore and brass bands it was all for nothing.

It is true that at first, the far out location of the National Theatre was criticised. But when the Müpa opened cricism stopped.

Pete H.
Guest
An
Guest

So, no voter registration for 2014; finally some good news!
I wonder, though, when Rogan is going to announce that there won’t be elections in 2014 🙂
OK, that’s a joke, but I do wonder what they are going to come up with after this blow to their grand plan.

Stevan Harnad (@AmSciForum)
Guest
Off-topic: on the Wodianer-Vasarhely-Purgly canard. I’ve added the following on the Wikipedia Talk pages for the Miklos Horthy and Magdolna Purgly pages: The very recent attributions about Mrs. Horthy’s ancestry, based on a confusion of names, have been removed. See: http://hungarianspectrum.org/2012/12/21/karl-pfeifer-peter-daniel-and-laszlo-grespik/comment-page-1/#comment-43122 I have removed the (recently inserted) allegation that Mrs. Horthy was of Jewish origin, based on a speculative Wodianer-Vasarhely-Purgly link, in the absence of supporting evidence. (The following is adapted from material provided by Professor Eva Balogh, retired Yale University historian, in the Hungarian Spectrum: http://hungarianspectrum.org/2012/12/21/karl-pfeifer-peter-daniel-and-laszlo-grespik/comment-page-1/#comment-43122 ) The Vásárhelyis of Arad came from an ancient Szekler family with the noble title of “kézdivásárhelyi.” So, Mrs. Horthy’s mother’s full name was “kézdivásárhelyi Vásárhelyi Ilona.” The family became prominent already in the thirteenth century. Different branches of the family were active in different parts of the country. The Vásárhelyis of Arad are one of them. Jonathan Vásárhelyi was active in the middle of the 18th century. His grandson, János, was lord lieutenant of Arad County in the 1830s. The information on the Vásárhelyis originally comes from Pallas Nagylexikon (available on line) and from Kislexikon: http://www.kislexikon.hu/vasarhelyi.html So, the family goes back a long way. There are two Vásárhelyis in Magyar politikai lexikon… Read more »
Member

Eva S. Balogh :
Don’t forget to read the contrary opinions of the Fidesz appointed judges at the end of the document.

OMG! I just plowed through Dr. Pokol’s inebriated pseudo-intellectual pontifications. He still keeps worrying about the media’s unwanted influence on voters. The “demokratikus politikai akaratképzés tisztasága” – the “cleanness of the democratic political will”. Right. What happens when the oligarchs will stop investing into extra-right rags and peace marches will have to buy their own bus tickets …

Peter Haley Dunne
Guest

I agree with Minusio that placing the National Theatre where he did, in a piece of wasteland near the Rakoczi Bridge Orban created Budapest’s equivalent of London’s South Bank. The MUPA with its concert hall, theatres , exhibition spaces and cafés was later to follow. I have to admit that you will find me more often in MUPA than in the National Theatre! Peter

Ppl
Guest

One of Pokol’s mania is the media, especially the left wing hegemony and control of the media.

For those not familiar with the Hungarian situation, in the US this would be like worrying about Fox News’ liberal bias.

Kingfisher
Guest

Minusio,

Yes, MUPA is a world class institution and the concert hall is one of the few major projects in Hungary that wasn’t botched technically! So it can rightfully be claimed to be one of the best concert halls in Europe. And when there was more money about, it had a very impressive programme of all kinds of music, including the finest world orchestras coming regularly. MuPa also houses the National Philharmonic Orchestra which is about the only state funded institution that I can think of that has been impervious to political influence and is a bastion of quality.
What is outrageous, however, is that there is no public transport to it. Except for the number 2 tram which comes rarely at night, and the HEV which just goes up to the Köút and no further, and so hundreds of concert goers have to fight each other to get transport home!

Peter Haley Dunne
Guest

The 2 tram is not alone. The 24 follows a slightly different route to/from near Keleti. The 86 bus, I think, passes n earby. To cope with MUPA’s public the BKV built a large and comfortable tram stop – a big space between the two directions. Peter

Ppl
Guest
Dear Peter Haley Dunne, have you been to MÜPA or the National Theatre? MÜPA is located right (perhaps 20 feet), no kidding, by an elevated highway (2*3 lanes), and both are located about 50 feet from a double-track train line (HÉV). For every ticket you buy at MÜPA the taxpayers co-pay HUF 8,000 (USD 38). There is also a tradictional train track and bridges for only trains close by. These were not only Orbán’s idea, but had to do with the owner of the plots, Hungarian ologarch Sándor Damján, who also owned a company which was proficient in erecting concrete structures quickly. Both projects were their joint deal. I kind of also wonder what will happen when Academy of Music will be renovated, Vigadó will be renocated (both within one year), there will be huge capacities in concert halls. (Not to mention the House of Music in a dreamed-up new museum quarter, to be decided about in the coming months, to be built from concrete by Demján, I guess). If you dont have a car, it is almost imposible to get home from MÜPA/NT. YOu can wait half an hour for a nearby tram line. As to the “wasteland” district,… Read more »
Minusio
Guest

The technical term for wasteland is brownfield.

The transport situation is really not good, unless you have a car. After 22:00 hrs, driving in Budapest is easy. Somehow they all go to bed early. Some taxi companies charge rather low prices. But “low” depends on your income bracket…

Peter Haley Dunne
Guest

I have a feeling that MUPA phones the tram terminus – 2 and 24 – when a concertt is “out” cos it seems to ,e that the flow of trams increases suddenly. If not enough trams come I call Fő taxi (of whiich I am a regular user) and am back home in Buda fairly soon – at a regular user’s price. It is true, though, that I have stayed away during the recent very cold weather.

Peter Haley Dunne
Guest

Reply to PPL. What happened tp the Zeneakadémia when MUPA was built? All the orchestras desertted it and started playing at MUPA. The Zeneakadéma then closed fpr am INTERMINABLE period which is still going pn. I stopped by recently and asked a workman when it might reopen. He shrugged. “Two years”. Ditto another lovely space – the Erkel Szinhaz. Interrrminnnable….. Meantime Budapest has discovered other beautiful spaces. The Italian In stitute in Brody S utca. Peter

petofi
Guest
Some1 : Mutt : Breaking .. Rogan announced that there will be no registration in 2014. Just like that. Does Vic know this?? What’s going on? This is a real stink bomb for the true believers. All those semi-intellects who were arguing for the registration and doubled up on the 2/3 bulldozer (that is the Fidesz will put it into the constitution so they’ll be “right” no matter what) now are spat in the face by Orban the 5th. Yeah poor fellas, the Dear Leader abandoned you … This is the new trend. You have to form your OWN opinion. Frightening, isn’t it? According to Rogan, Orban was part of decision. Yeh, right. I am sure it was Orban’s decision. Now, what makes me wonder is what is going to happen to the Peace Marchers who announced the last couple of days that they will occupy Kossuth square if there will be demonstration against the preregistration, since the preregistration was the best idea since sliced bread, and they will support it 100%. Will they occupy the parliament now, and tell Orban that they do want preregistration? I remember when the same buh were supporting Orban in the “I do not… Read more »
petofi
Guest
Stinker : The foreign voters could make a difference, but their complete Fidesz-allegiance is not assured (though I guess the majority of those Romanian Hungarians, who will vote, will support Fidesz, but many will support Jobbik). There will be about 500.000 new potential foreign voters by early 2014. Fidesz’ advantage of the voter portion of these 500k people could be anywhere from 50-200.000. It could be a huge advantage, and this is another element in the system in which all details ensure that the opposition can only win if (A) it wins by a landslide and not only that, but (B) the opposition is united (in other words it is not enough to sack Orbán, voters, in the current new system, need to effectively positively vote for someone). But I guess the opposition cannot aim for anything less than a landslide victory anyway. There were 5.1m votes cast for party list in 2010. In a similar setting (a not too high 64% turn out rate) 125000 net foreign voters translates into a 2,35% point advantage for Fidesz. Not small, but in 2010 Fidesz collected 52.73% of the part list votes as opposed to MSZP’ 19.3%. It is only now, some… Read more »
Would Deak Vote in Pozsony?
Guest
Would Deak Vote in Pozsony?

better ideas:
one man – one tax., one resident – one vote.
non-residents no vote.
good joke to vote for a lost country.