Caught in the cogs of the Orbán regime: The case of Péter György

It is amazing how shortsighted people can be when their hearts, for one reason or another, are set on a project. This is what happened to Péter György, aesthete and media researcher, who since 2000 has been the director of the Media Center at ELTE.

He never hid his suspicions of Viktor Orbán’s political designs and his contempt for the political system he built. He was the first person who publicly expressed his misgivings about Viktor Orbán’s less than transparent use of the money Fidesz received from the sale of a building the party had acquired from the Antall government. A video of that 1993 exchange is still available, in which the outraged young Orbán makes an impassioned defense of his reputation. As we learned later, by that time Orbán’s father had already received a sizable “loan” from the secret coffers of Fidesz. No one should doubt Viktor Orbán’s theatrical abilities.

Great was the surprise in April of this year when people discovered György’s name among the signatories on a statement endorsing the Orbán’s government’s plan to establish a museum quarters. Even a cursory look at the list of names, which includes a hockey player, reveals that most of the signatories are supporters of Fidesz and the government. What was Péter György doing in this group?

Soon enough György answered this question in several articles in Élet és Irodalom. For György, museums–all kinds of museums but especially museums of fine arts–are vitally important in spreading appreciation of the arts. In his opinion, the system of museums devised during the Kádár regime no longer reflects the modern role of museums. He admitted that after 2010 the Orbán government destroyed the existing structure without replacing it with something better. Yet he embraced the idea of a museum quarters, which originated with László Baán, the successful director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest. Among Baán’s accomplishments, the museum’s 2010 exhibition “From Botticelli to Titian” was visited by 231,000 people, which propelled the museum to seventh place in the western world in the number of visitors that year.

György became Baán’s chief adviser, which largely explains why he wholeheartedly endorsed the erection of seven new buildings in Budapest’s City Park, where demonstrations ever since February against the destruction of hundreds of trees “have become the symbol of political resistance.”

Gyorgy Peter

György’s initial mistake was that he refused to see any connection between Viktor Orbán’s pathological desire to move part of his government to the Castle District overlooking the city and the resulting necessity of moving the National Gallery elsewhere. György hates the plans for the Castle District, which will result in “emptying” the area of any meaning. The reconstructed buildings will be mere facades of a world that no longer exists. It will be a monstrosity, but, says György, that has nothing to do with the marvelous idea of having several museums all in the same place. György’s models are Berlin’s Museum Island and Washington, D.C.‘s Museum Mall, but what he forgets to add is that both developed over decades. In fact, Museum Island’s first building was erected in 1834 and the last in 1930. The same is true of Washington, where the buildings were erected between 1910 and 2003. Both developed in an organic and natural way.

György was so enamored with the idea that he even forgot about the unsavory way in which the Orbán government transgressed regulations to achieve its aims. Exceptions to building codes were approved, protests were ignored, and attempts at a referendum on the project were blocked. The government, I guess, thought that eventually the demonstrations would stop.

Moreover, György most likely didn’t even realize that he was repeating Viktor Orbán’s undemocratic arguments when he claimed that endless arguments over large city projects shouldn’t be allowed because that would only result in inaction. Nothing would be built if we listened to contrary voices. I hope György remembers the infamous speech Viktor Orbán made at the Kötcse Fidesz picnic in 2009 where he outlined his vision of a central political power as a great improvement over the endless political debates in a democratic political system. How much better it is to have a strong government party without real opposition.

In several of the articles in which he answered his critics György argued that his support of the Liget project has nothing to do with politics, even if it has a tangential connection to the Castle project he hates. Although he believes that Orbán is taking the country in the wrong direction, the Liget project is a monumental one, which will serve the country well. By now, however, it is impossible to separate the two issues. The presence of skinhead security guards who use undue force against the protesters while the police look on has created an entirely new situation. Something that started as an environmental movement has become political resistance to the Orbán government. György has been caught in the middle.

As Balázs Böcskei and Márton Vay pointed out in Népszabadság the other day, in Hungary “anyone who wants to go through with such a huge and worrisomely non-transparent investment has to count on participating in immeasurable corruption, and the indirect justification of a political thinking and cultural policy which in this situation means the unwanted support of illiberal democracy.” In brief, György, without ever wanting to, has ended up supporting the current regime. Moreover, the authors claimed, the whole project will have the same kind of shadow cast over it as the National Theater, whose construction during the first Orbán government was forced through just as is happening with the Liget Project. György didn’t answer this opinion piece, which was intended as an open letter, and instead called the authors’ attention to his earlier writings on the subject.

Péter György is slowly acknowledging that his enthusiasm for a great artistic project carried him away, that he failed to take into account that behind this project stands an illiberal, dictatorial government. And that the museum quarters will probably end up like other large architectural projects of the government–hated or unfinished. It’s enough to think of the Memorial to the German Occupation or the House of Fates, which still stands empty.

Nonetheless, György remains loath to abandon the project. In an interview in today’s Magyar Narancs he admitted that “what is happening in the Liget is unacceptable to me. If you like, it is a reason for divorce.” But it seems that if the skinheads disappear, he is ready to continue work on the project. He still maintains that “if we held fast to democratic procedures … nothing would be built because there would always be somebody who doesn’t like it…. The problem is that Liget has become a symbol of the hatred toward the Orbán government.”

So, what next? By now György is convinced that no “professional debate” can be resumed “on the ruins of such a war,” and therefore he will wait it out and decide what to do next. He even acknowledges that the whole project might be scrapped. This “might be a political necessity … which would mean this project cannot be accomplished in the Fidesz-created, empty, culturally regressive and totally useless symbolic political space [which produced] the House of Fates, memorial on Szabadság Square, Hóman statue, [and] the totality of the Castle District.”

György is an intelligent man and someone who is intensely interested in politics. I don’t know how he allowed himself to be caught in the cogs of the Orbán political machinery. He should have known that Orbán has no concern for the arts, that György’s cherished project is only a vehicle for the power-driven prime minister to carve his name into the very architectural fabric of Budapest.

July 15, 2016
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Gábor Halmai
Guest

One possible explanation for Péter’s behaviour is that he is a paid advisor to Baán as he admits in the recent interview to Magyar Narancs.

Manu
Guest

In other words, Peter Gyorgy was bought off. Megvettek kilora. Sorry, otherwise intelligent liberals can also be bought off and coopted. What is more, liberals are usually pretty cheap, at least compared to what Rogan et al tend to steal. Sad, but I am not surprised. It is probably terrible to feel as an oppressed loser for years when politically connected idiots are amassing power and wealth. Andras Gero did it too. Move on, folks, there is nothing to see here.

Paul Stone
Guest
“György is an intelligent man and someone who is intensely interested in politics.” I agree with you. And **because** I agree with you on this one, I can’t see how he could have ” … refused to see any connection between Viktor Orbán’s pathological desire to move part of his government to the Castle District overlooking the city and the resulting necessity of moving the National Gallery elsewhere. ” Way less intelligent persons saw this connection. Similarly how could “he […] forgot about the unsavory way in which the Orbán government transgressed regulations to achieve its aims.” And how come that he “… didn’t even realize that he was repeating Viktor Orbán’s undemocratic arguments when he claimed that endless arguments over large city projects shouldn’t be allowed because that would only result in inaction. ” He actually repeated this “argument” (in lieu of better word) in today’s interview. Without realizing it??!! And how could have an intelligent man who is intensely interested in politics “… failed to take into account that behind this project stands an illiberal, dictatorial government.” What did he think? That this specific project (unlike every “minor” issues, like the (independent) national bank, (independent) court system, (independent)… Read more »
Observer
Guest

@Paul S
You see through as most of us do. Actually György is trying to explain the compromise. I guess what prevailed is the factor Gábor Halmai mentioned above – money (van ez a pénz). Simple.

tappanch
Guest

Orban spent 1 billion forints of taxpayers’ money on his 86 trips abroad in the last two years,

Twenty-one of his trips were to Brussels. Let me note that one can find round-trip tickets for Brussels for as low as 20 euros (6 thousand forints) with Ryan or Wizz.

comment image

Guest
I found a propaganda publication titled Ligetvaros in my temporary Budapest mail box. I cannot tell what’s written in it because I don’t read Hungarian but I can tell something about its layout. It stinks from incompetence although it has probably cost the tax payers a pretty penny. The front page shows a picture of a Mum, Dad, two children and dog family walking on a lawn in a park. They radiate happiness the same way as similar families we have seen on the covers of Watchtower publications. Their feet are buried in lush grass as a result of clumsy picture manipulation. The illustrations inside the the publication are too many and too small. Many of them not bigger than the stamps issued in the good old days when collectors bought big stamps. None of them gives an immediate positive message. The technique of a postcard designer has been used to squeeze the pictures into small areas by overlapping them. The only picture that told me something was an areal view with a model of the planned museum building inserted. It told me that the museum would fit nicely on the island which is at present occupied by the thoroughly… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

International reserves of the Hungarian National Bank:

2015-06-30: 34.761
2016-06-30: 24.785 billion euros, a 28.7% decline

Observer
Guest

See also the national debt post on Hungarian Free Press.

petofi
Guest

Good work, tap.

Member

Just a small correction: the area in DC is more commonly known as the “National Mall,” not “Museum Mall.”

Guest

Regarding the ‘National Mall’, it’s possible a light bulb went off in Mr. ‘Arts’ head about his place in posterity like for example Washington and Jefferson who live in stone where the history of the US resides. The ‘carvings’ must have gone to his head and gave him the big idea. Thing is it is evident that the contemplated ‘symbolic political space’ appears to be going up with a different type of integrity and focus than the National Mall.

Guest
London Calling! Orban is a true philistine – see how he allowed his architect to come up with the unbelievably kitsch ‘cathedral’ arches of Felcsút football stadium? ‘Museum Quarters’ take years to develop – London’s ‘Exhibition Row’ evolved after the Great Exhibition occurred in Hyde Park in 1851 – in the famous Crystal Palace designed by Paxton and which was moved pane of glass by pane of glass to a part of South London called……? Crystal Palace! – Which burnt down in 1936 – when molten rivers of glass flowed into the surrounding area. The area is a park now (enormous compared with Városliget) and you can dig down into flower beds and retrieve chunks of glass in cold molten nuggets! The museums’ construction was paid for mainly by the admission charge to the Hyde Park Exhibition which was extremely successful – with many attending from throughout the empire. Land in ‘Exhibition Row’ was very cheap at that time too. However if you want ‘Instant Museum Quarter’ you can pre-fab it with plastic columns and plasterboard to keep the people happy – and an existing pak is free! Over 11million people a year visit our museums – and they are… Read more »
Observer
Guest

Of course he is – his vocabulary, ideas and likes are all level Felcsut, max. Székesfehérvár. Look at anything built during his rule, a parade of kitsch culminating with the National Theater.
He’s never been caught visiting a museum or concert or gallery or just a beautiful place. Never seen with a book or computer for that matter. Soccer is the beginning and the end. Simple.

Observer
Guest

Note: ” …visited by 231,000 people, which propelled the museum to seventh place in the western world..”

The figures refer to a single exhibition.
Otherwise the Budapest Fine Arts Museum’s recent best world ranking was no. 46 in 2007.
In 2010 it was no. 96 in the world with 252 000 visitors, which is still 1/3 of the 70th place in Europe and the USA.

Guest

Not too much OT:

Compared to the Problems after Brexit or the attempted Putsch that happened in Turkey Hungary’s problems are nothing on the international scale …

So it’s no wonder that all the machinations of Fidesz are kind of shrugged off as minor nuisances. Will that change one day? I don’t know …

Member

Orbán Ordibál — For Erdogan
http://hungarianfreepress.com/2016/07/16/hungary-seeks-deeper-ties-with-erdogan-after-failed-coup-in-turkey/

Orban’s relief at the failed Turkish coup and his rush to embrace Erdogan closer is no surprise: He of course fears the counterparts, in his own burgeoning autocracy, of the democratic and secularist sentiments that motivate Erdogan’s opponents, civil and military. He will predictably spin both the Turkish coup and the French tragedy toward his own sinister and sociopathic ends.

The saddest part is the way democratic leaders, including those of the US, the UK and Germany, are falling over one another in their haste to solemnly express their support for Erdogan’s “democratically elected” regime. Of course they are (rightly) worried about more violence and instability in the Middle East (and elsewhere), but it’s ironic that circumstances are making them into the enablers of the likes of Erdogan and Orban, and the notably undemocratic direction in which they are hurtling.

Observer
Guest

I have used the hypothetical scenario of civil disturbances or war in Turkey in the refugees debate – the flight of millions to relatives in Germany/Europe. Mit ad Isten …

Istvan
Guest
I assume Hungarians are aware that Incirlik Air Base is the largest tactical nuclear weapons storage site in Europe with 25 underground vaults installed inside as many protective aircraft shelters. Each vault can hold up to four bombs for a maximum total base capacity of 100 bombs. There were 90 B61 nuclear bombs in 2000, or 3-4 bombs per vault. This included 40 bombs earmarked for deliver by Turkish F-16 jets at Balikesir Air Base and Akinci Air Base. There are currently an estimated 50 bombs at the base, or an average of 2-3 bombs in each of the 21 vaults inside a new security perimeter. The alleged mastermind of the failed coup was Gen. Akin Ozturk, who commanded the Turkish air force until last summer and was a member of the Supreme Military Council. He has been detained and will be charged with treason. The commander of Turkish forces at Incirlik has been detained as part of a government crackdown on those behind a failed military coup according to Reuters. US forces guarding the tactical nuclear weapons storage site went on DELTA, the highest level of security and U.S. personnel are still now ordered restricted base and Turkish forces… Read more »
Guest

Thanks again, Istvan!

For all who are interested, more info on the air base – the German air force also uses or will use it:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incirlik_Air_Base

PS: wiki also the mentions the “tactical nuclear weapons” stored there.

Member

Esthetics Trumps Ethics: PGy’s uncharacteristic stance won’t be the first case in the world, nor the last, where taste has triumphed over truth. I hope he now proves to have the sense — and decency, and sense of proportion, and character — to recant, frankly, openly and fully. That would both restore and raise his credit. If he persists out of fealty to Baán then it is folie à deux and all the more regrettable for it: moral philistinism.

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