A couple of days ago I wasn’t quite sure whether I should mention a distasteful episode in the “cultural life” of Hungary. I use quotation marks here because what I’m going to talk about has nothing to do with culture. In fact, the topic is the total lack of civility and proper behavior. And here I’m not talking about the man on the street but rather about the boorishness and vulgarity of Hungarian politicians and those who are ready to serve them.
I will be focusing on two public figures here. One is a former theater director who, according to many, is “not quite normal” and therefore cannot be taken seriously. That may be, but he was appointed by Prime Minister Victor Orbán to be his personal representative responsible for cultural matters. So, when he opens his mouth one must assume he speaks in the name of his boss. And that is the problem. Imre Kerényi, the man in question, would be unacceptable in any civilized society, especially as a spokesman for the prime minister of the country. This is not the first time that his words create consternation and dismay in the civilized half of Hungarian society. He comes out with outlandish, often laughable, plans, and unfortunately receives money from the government to execute them. The subject of his ire this time around was the theater world, where he finds the influence of gays intolerable.
The other person is a key Fidesz politician, Lajos Kósa, deputy chairman of Fidesz, member of parliament, and mayor of Debrecen. He is an important man in Fidesz’s inner circle, and now that members of parliament cannot be mayors at the same time, he was persuaded by Viktor Orbán to relinquish his post as mayor despite the fact that he has ruled Debrecen ever since 1998. Viktor Orbán obviously finds him useful to himself and to the party.
A few days ago, in interview on HírTV, he had a few words to say about Jean-Claude Juncker, the candidate for the presidency of the European Commission. The exchange revealed that Kósa knows absolutely nothing about Juncker or what’s going on in Brussels at the moment, but that didn’t prevent him from speaking of the matter in the most boorish, crass, and vulgar manner. The behavior of these two, and they are naturally not alone, is symptomatic of the atmosphere that has been created by the uncouth characters who managed to win an election and who have been working furiously ever since to ensure that they will stay forever and bring the country down to the level where they feel comfortable. In the gutter.
So, let’s start with Kerényi. I have written about him several times, so anyone who’s not familiar with him can easily catch up, starting with my summary of his earlier life. Kerényi, the former communist party member, discovered his real right-wing roots and became an ardent admirer of Viktor Orbán. Those in the theatrical world who do not share his convictions are his enemies who must be purged from the nation’s theaters. He has outlandish ideas about the theater in general. According to him, 80% of all Hungarian plays are “sacred works” inspired by Christianity, and therefore it is important that the director himself be a Christian. Kerényi finds the present state of affairs abominable. What Hungary needs is “Christian” theater,” whatever that means. He would like to see a Christian Theater Festival. After all, there are festivals galore: Festival of the Mangalica (a hairy Hungarian pig), Jewish Festival, and what not. Therefore, there should be a Christian Theater Festival. The theatrical world should be liberated from the “lobby of the fags.” And while we are at it, why not establish an “anti-college of the performing arts” and let the present one rot.
The reaction was predictable. Several people demanded an explanation from Viktor Orbán. After all, as I said, Kerényi is his personal representative in matters of culture. Well-known actors and the president of the College of the Performing Arts bombarded Orbán with letters demanding an explanation. Some people called for Kerényi to be sacked. To date they have received no answer, although one of the many spokesmen for Fidesz said that Kerényi’s language was not to his liking. When asked whether Kerényi should leave his government post, the spokesman answered that “it is the decision of the person who appointed him.”
Kerényi is not the kind of man who can be easily intimidated. A few days later in an interview he reiterated his opinion on the subject and proudly announced that his opinions coincide with the views of the majority. Well, actually, attitudes toward gays are changing in Hungary, especially among young people. Moreover, what kind of a government is it where one of its members incites base prejudice against a minority? Yes, that kind!
The story was reported in Der Spiegel by Keno Verseck, a German journalist fluent in Hungarian. The title of his article was “Cultural representative stirs up hatred against gays.” As for Kerényi’s style, Verseck compared it to “graffiti in public toilets.”
Now let’s move on to another illustrious member of Fidesz, Lajos Kósa. As far as I know, Kósa does not know any foreign languages and therefore his knowledge of the outside world is based solely on the Hungarian media and his party’s interpretation of the news. (An aside, the Hungarian Parliament’s webpage has been redesigned. Earlier we could find out, among other things, what language skills the MPs have. Currently no information of any kind about the members is available.) Two days ago Kósa was a guest on HírTV’s Friday evening political program called P8. He gave a 45-minute interview in which the conversation turned to, among other things, the nomination of Jean-Claude Juncker for the post of president of the European Commission. Regardless of what one might think of Juncker as a man and as a politician, Kósa’s remarks were unacceptable by any standard.
As we know, Viktor Orbán, along with the heads of state of Great Britain, Sweden, and the Netherlands, indicated that he would vote against Juncker’s candidacy. Let’s look at Kósa’s opinion of the man. Not surprisingly, he does not think that Juncker is suitable for the job because he is not a “characteristic” politician. What one needs today is a man of exceptional talent. Someone who can be accepted by all Europeans, from the Portuguese to the Greeks. It was appropriate for Viktor Orbán to raise his voice against Juncker because if “everybody keeps his mouth shut and we keep looking at each other, if we all just ask ‘Lord Almighty who the hell imposed that joker on us’… Otherwise, this is how things are normally. Let’s take a look at the commissioners. One of them is a greater loser than the next. We have had experience with them. Up and down from Neelie Kroes and through Olli Rhen who after three years admitted that ‘sorry, I was wrong.’ What a great guy and in the meantime Europe goes to shit. Enough of that. What we want to say is that one cannot talk seriously about the European Union as long as everybody shuts up and exports domestically discredited people and acts as if all that was okay.”*
These kinds of people are in charge of Hungarian politics and culture. György Dalos quoted in Der Spiegel is right. Such “tirades are only reflections of the political atmosphere under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.”
*In the Hungarian original: “Ha mindenki kussol meg nézzük egymást, azt gondoljuk, hogy: Úristen, ezt a jóembert – aki lehet, hogy tényleg jó ember, de – ki a bánat tette a nyakunkra? Egyébként mindig ez van, nézzük ezeket az európai biztosokat, hát egyik nagyobb gáz, mint a másik. Azért volt ebben tapasztalatunk, nem? Neelie Kroestól kezdve lefele-felfele, Olli Rehnen át… és akkor egy európai pénzügyi biztos majd három év múlva azt találja mondani, hogy „bocsi, nem volt igazam”. Hát nagyon jó fej, közben meg Európa gajra megy. Elég volt ebből. Pont azt akarjuk mondani, hogy nem lehet az Európai Unióról komolyan véve beszélni, ha mindenki sumákol és exportálja az otthon már levitézlett embereket és úgy csinálunk, mintha ez nagyon rendben lenne.”