Tag Archives: György Fekete

The case of the Bálint Hóman statue from a different angle

You may find it strange that I am starting a post about the controversial statue of an anti-Semitic minister of education and culture, Bálint Hóman, with a quotation from an opinion piece on Viktor Orbán in a recent issue of politico.hu, but I hope that by the end of this article I will be able to justify this choice. Here are the crucial sentences in which the author, Luke Walker, explains why the European Union tolerates Viktor Orbán’s behavior:

Once a critic of most things Russian, Orbán embraces Putin and seeks to secure Russian energy supplies for Hungary, even as he signs off on EU sanctions against Moscow. Many Hungarians say, in hushed tones, that Orbán is better than the alternative: Jobbik, the openly anti-Semitic far-right party that has a fifth of the vote [sic]. One imagines that Brussels agrees.

Those Hungarians who whispered their opinions into Walker’s ears are sadly mistaken in their belief that supporting Viktor Orbán will stave off the ascent of the worse alternative, Jobbik. And if the politicians of the European Union fall for this Fidesz propaganda they deserve what they get. Because as this Bálint Hóman statue controversy clearly indicates, Jobbik and Fidesz work hand in hand. To support Fidesz is to support the main tenets of Jobbik’s platform.

I’ve already written two posts on Bálint Hóman, one in May and another in August. The first one was published when a Hungarian court rehabilitated Hóman, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment in 1946 for taking part in the cabinet meeting that gave its blessing to the declaration of war on the Soviet Union. The second was written when it became known that the city of Székesfehérvár was planning to erect a statue of Hóman in Hungarian gala-dress (díszmagyar) in front of a gymnasium on, of all places, Béla Bartók tér.  The anti-German Bartók left Hungary in 1940 when the strongly pro-German Hóman was still minister of education. In both posts it was Hóman’s anti-Semitism that was the center of attention, as it still is.

Ever since domestic and international Jewish organizations got wind of the impending erection of the statue protest followed protest. Just lately Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, “called on Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to intervene in this matter and to ensure that this statue is not built with public funds.” A couple of days later the co-chairs of the U.S. House Bipartisan Taskforce for Combatting Anti-Semitism sent a letter to Viktor Orbán protesting the monument. In Hungary, conferences were organized where historians explained yet again why Hóman doesn’t deserve a statue, and last night a small group of people gathered in Székesfehérvár to protest. Meanwhile, work has begun on the pedestal. The statue is supposed to be erected by the 130th anniversary of Hóman’s birthday, which is December 29.

I don’t think I can add anything new to the subject of Hóman’s anti-Semitism. I have already covered what historians know to date about his political career. Instead, today I would like to take a couple of steps back and look at the issue from a different perspective.

Who came up with the idea of a Hóman statue in the first place?  In 2011 a local Jobbik politician, Gábor Kováts, obviously a great admirer of Bálint Hóman, decided to establish the Bálint Hóman Cultural Foundation. On the board of the foundation was Mrs. Marth, née Krisztina Vida, who in 2010 was Jobbik’s parliamentary candidate in Székesfehérvár. According to an article that appeared on kettosmerce.blog.hu, Kováts’s Facebook profile includes the number 88, the normal code for Heil Hitler. By now, gone with the wind.

From the beginning, the Hóman Cultural Foundation was supported by such Fidesz organizations as the Hungarian Academy of Arts led by György Fekete which, thanks to Viktor Orbán’s special favor, was given equal standing with the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in the new constitution of Hungary.  In 2012 the foundation received 1.5 million forints for a conference and a poetry competition. In 2013 it received, also from the Hungarian Academy of Arts, 2 million forints to organize a “poetry camp” in Szekler country in Romania. Kettősmérce has been unable to discover where the roughly 5 million forints came from in 2013 and 2014. It is also a mystery how many employees the foundation has, whose “personal expenses” last year were over 2.5 million forints.

András Cser-Palkovics, mayor of Székesfehérvár

András Cser-Palkovics, mayor of Székesfehérvár

In 2013 another conference was held on Bálint Hóman, which was opened by András Cser-Palkovics, Fidesz mayor of Székesfehérvár. According to him, during the years of socialism “they concealed the real history of the city,” a bizarre claim because the authorities didn’t prevent historians from writing local histories during the Kádár regime.

Obviously, the far-right Hóman Foundation and the Fidesz leadership of the city get along splendidly. In fact, it was the foundation that came up with the idea of a statue for Hóman back in 2011. At that time, however, Hóman was still considered to be a war criminal, and thus Cser-Palkovics couldn’t possibly embark on such a project. But then came May 2015 when Hóman was rehabilitated. The doors were opened for the foundation to realize its cherished dream, and the Fidesz majority with the one Jobbik member of the city council happily voted for the statue.

Normally one cannot extrapolate from local politics, where party affiliations are often not so sharply delineated as on the national level. But the Hóman case highlights the close ties between Jobbik and Fidesz on the national level. Otherwise, it couldn’t have happened that the Hóman Foundation received 15 million forints for the statue from the Ministry of Justice in addition to the 2 million that was given to them by the city.

There is a puzzling aspect to the grant from the Ministry of Justice. Although the rehabilitation of Hóman didn’t take place until May of 2015, the grant had already been awarded to the Bálint Hóman Cultural Foundation sometime prior to June 6, 2014 because, according to the current minister of justice, László Trócsányi, the foundation received the money for the statue during Tibor Navracsics’s tenure. This is the same Navracisics who was allegedly “exiled” to Brussels for his moderate political views. Indeed, in Brussels he tried his very best to convince members of the European Parliament that he agreed with practically nothing the Orbán government had done between 2010 and 2014. And yet this “moderate” man gave 15 million forints to Gábor Kováts’s Hóman Foundation. Surely, even if most people in Székesfehérvár have no idea of who Hóman was, Navracsics certainly does.

Tibor Navracsics, sweating it in Brussels at his hearing

Tibor Navracsics, sweating it in Brussels at his hearing

Currently three cabinet members–János Lázár, Zoltán Balog, and László Trócsányi–are against the erection of the statue, but surely it will go up. This hideous statue is in the corner of some studio, waiting to be installed in late December. But if these three important members of the cabinet are against the statue, who is insisting on it? It can be only one person, Viktor Orbán, who seems to follow in the footsteps of Jobbik in practically everything. And his strategy is working. Fidesz’s popularity is growing and Jobbik’s is the lowest it has been since 2010. Yielding to domestic and foreign pressure and nixing the statue would show him to be weak, which might result in some Jobbik sympathizers leaving the fold.

Let me repeat: there is no appreciable difference between the two parties, and Fidesz is the more dangerous because it is the party in power. The real enemy is not Jobbik but Fidesz. The dangerous man is not Gábor Vona but Viktor Orbán. Dangerous for his own people and dangerous for Europe.

Culture and education in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary

Now that it is almost certain that Tibor Navracsics will be responsible for education and culture in the European Commission, perhaps it is appropriate to focus on how these areas have fared under the watchful eye of Viktor Orbán. I am not exaggerating the prime minister’s role here because we have seen a carefully orchestrated Kulturkampf in Hungary ever since 2010. The government purposely fosters the kind of artistic and literary work that appeals to the political leadership, whose taste is not exactly avant garde. Abstract art is frowned upon, as are the kinds of novels that Péter Nádas, Péter Esterházy or László Krasznahorkai write, although they are the best known contemporary Hungarian writers. The statues that are being ordered or resurrected by the government take us back not to the twentieth but rather to the nineteenth century. I wrote several posts about the fate of Róbert Alföldi’s National Theater, now under the direction of Attila Vidnyánszky, originally from Ukraine. His productions have resulted in a loss of 40,000 theatergoers.

The fate of the fine arts was handed over to György Fekete, a rather bizarre interior decorator, in the form of a new Fine Arts Academy. Its future was ensured when it was included in the new constitution. The academy also got full ownership of the Műcsarnok (Art Gallery/Kunsthalle), until now in the hands of the Hungarian state. It is the largest art gallery in Hungary. It specializes in contemporary art. Or at least until now it did.

Fekete, who is 82 years old and an arch-conservative in politics as well as in artistic taste, picked a man after his own heart, György Szegő, to be the director of the gallery. He is an architect best known for his stage sets. Despite his appointment as director of a gallery devoted to contemporary art, he actually despises the genre that “has become fashionable in the last twenty-five years.” He also has some frightening ideas about art which, according to him, should not “criticize” but “only delight.” Instead of the “art of the technical media” one must concentrate on traditional art forms, especially painting with its 8,000-10,000 year tradition. What the West presents as art is a “soap-bubble” that will burst in no time. So, the gallery that is supposed to give space to contemporary art will be headed by a man who hates it. He will undoubtedly force his own taste on the public. Very soon we will be back to the fifties when only socialist realism could be exhibited.

I’m no art critic, but the man whom Szegő extolled as his guiding light produced this work.

The Two of Us (2010)

György Fekete: The Two of Us (2010)

By contrast, Szegő mentioned by name one of those soap-bubble artists–Jeff Koons, whose exhibit in the Whitney Museum of American Art has been a great success this summer and fall. The Koons retrospective is moving to the Centre Pompidou, Musée d’art moderne, and from there to the Guggenheim in Bilbao.

Here is an example of Koons’s work.

Jeff Koons: Tulips (1995-1998)

Jeff Koons: Tulips (1995-1998)

I guess from here on Hungarian art lovers will have to go to Vienna for major contemporary art exhibits, but I’m happy to announce that Szegő will receive twice as much money as his predecessor to run the gallery.

And now we can turn to education and all that the Orbán government did and did not do for it. I talked about the Net of University Lecturers who wrote an open letter to José Manuel Barroso on the sad state of Hungarian higher education. Today Budapest Beacon published the English translation of the document, which I republish here with the permission of the editor of the internet portal.

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September 11, 2014

Dear President:

On behalf of university lecturers working in Hungarian higher education, we would like to congratulate you on the occasion of receiving an honorary degree from the Budapest Corvinus University.  All of us greatly appreciate the highly responsible work you performed as president of the European Commission over the past ten years in the interest of advancing the cause of Europe. We would like to use the occasion of your visit to Budapest to call your attention to the crisis situation in Hungarian education.

Over the past five years the Hungarian government has decreased public funding of higher education in real terms by half, and to this day has not created a measured, predictable financial system for the sector.  The Hungarian budget for 2013 allocates 0.43 percent of GDP to education in place of the minimum 1 percent recommended by the European Union.  The current government seriously limits the autonomy of universities by forcing the dismissal of the directors of financially dependent institutions.  The head of government personally appoints chancellors to serve next to rectors through which he can directly interfere in the running of universities.  The government also threatens the independent operation of the Hungarian Accreditation Committee, thereby discrediting its quality inspections and endangering the international integration of our universities. The financial austerity measures have resulted in many being forced into retirement or dismissed. The body of teachers has suffered significant losses, with those retaining their jobs forced to work more for extremely low wages by European standards.

For five years the Hungarian government has failed to adopt a well-grounded strategy for higher education.  The rights and responsibilities of those running higher education are not transparent.  Meanwhile, the government’s administration for education divvies up resources and provides unlawful advantages to institutions close to them or founded by them.  For example, they intend to give 90% of the support for higher education obtained through tender from the European Horizon 2020 program to the National Public Service University.

Alongside existing higher educational and research facilities struggling to retain what is left of their autonomy, the government is building a parallel higher education and research network to service its own goals.  Part of this strategy is the creation and funding (often circumventing normative criteria) of the National Public Service University and the University of Physical Education.  The latter institution was established by the parliamentary majority with an ad hoc modification to a law.  The rules governing the title of university teacher were changed in a manner custom-tailored to a specific individual in such a way that devalues the title of university teacher.  Recently, it came to light that the Hungarian National Bank awarded an amount equal to one and a half times the annual higher education budget, HUF 200 billion (USD 850 million), to its own foundations with which to endow the teaching of its own “unorthodox” economic theories.  This means that state responsibilities are being funded with public money outside the budgetary process in a manner that cannot be controlled, and on ideological grounds.

As a devoted adherent to European values it may be important for you to know that the current Hungarian government does not help, but obstructs the possibility of social advancement.  The Hungarian government undertakes to strengthen the middle class, abandoning the social strata that is increasingly impoverished.  It lowered the obligatory age for attending school to 16. Instead of real programs intending to close the gap and adequate family support and scholarship system, it pursues policies that are harmful to the poor and encourages segregation in Roma schools.  With these actions it makes it impossible for socially disadvantaged students to continue their education.

In the field of education policy the Hungarian government decreased by 30% the number of students beginning their studies in higher educational institutions, which first and foremost destroys the chances of disadvantaged youth.  It is especially important to state here at the Budapest Corvinus College that the limits placed on the legal, economics and other social studies departments by the Orban government mean only those in exceptional circumstances are to be given the chance to join the economic and political elite.

Through its words and deeds the Hungarian government devalues knowledge and expertise.  Its decisions are made without broad consultation or the involvement of experts, with the exclusion of openness.   Europe must see that the Hungarian government intentionally, deliberately and systematically abandons the values of a democratic Europe and the declared goals of the European Union.

In light of the above, we ask that the European Union more determinedly stand up for its own principles, and take action in every instance when the Hungarian government works against European values.

Translated by Éva Nagy

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A few years ago Tibor Navracsics unabashedly admitted that he faithfully executes all tasks he receives from his superior. Let’s hope that he will be severely constrained if he tries to inject Viktor Orbán’s ideas into the EU’s educational and cultural policies. What is happening in Hungary in these fields goes against everything the European Union stands for.