Enemies of globalization have been fighting a losing battle. The world is indeed a big village where a Hollywood scandal can easily spark a very similar reaction in far-away Hungary. This is exactly what happened. Only a few days after the news broke about Harvey Weinstein’s 30 years of abuse in Hollywood, Lilla Sárosdi, an actress in Budapest, accused a very famous theater director of trying to take advantage of her 20 years earlier when she was still a naïve admirer of the already famous László Marton.
Marton began his career in 1968 as a stage director for Vígszinház, a highly regarded theater in the Hungarian capital. In addition, he became an instructor at Színház- és Filművészeti Egyetem (Drama School). He is well known in theatrical circles abroad, both as a director and as an instructor. He is the recipient of all sorts of prizes, including the Kossuth and Mari Jászai Prizes. So, accusing him of sexual abuse is a serious affair. Sárosdi first told her story on Facebook, on October 14, without mentioning the sex offender’s name. Five days later, on October 19, she revealed his name as well.
The reaction was instantaneous. Within hours, Marton’s theater issued a statement, from which it was well nigh impossible to determine whether they condemned the accuser or the accused. Soon afterward, the Drama School issued a communiqué which basically said that “as long as an independent authority does not take cognizance of a legal infraction, the university has no right to proceed in the case.” However, the students and some of the faculty members of the university thought otherwise. They demanded the suspension of Marton’s activities at the university until the case is settled.
Meanwhile, television producers were madly looking for people from the theater world to comment on the general state of the profession. István Verebes, a former director, told the audience of ATV about the incredible power directors have over the actors. But he added that “László Marton cannot be suspended because he was the theater director of Vígszinház; he is an excellent stage director; and a lot of actors must thank him for their careers.” Verebes was not the only one to suggest that fame and/or talent is a license for sexual abuse. This was the excuse in the case of László Kiss, the famous swimming coach, a few years ago. As the Hungarian cliché goes, this or that man “already put something down on the table,” and therefore he is untouchable.
Marton’s first reaction was denial. He called Sárosdi’s accusation slander and promised to sue her. But within hours he changed his mind and suspended his professorship at the university. A day later he announced that he would step down from Vígszinház while his case is pending.
On October 21 Lilla Sárosdi was the guest on Alinda Veiszer’s show on HírTV. By that time there were two other women who, anonymously, told their stories via telephone. By early morning today, seven women had contacted 444.hu saying they were ready to share, in vivid detail, their experiences with László Marton.
All of the above is background for what I really want to talk about, which is how the centrally manipulated Hungarian pro-government media handles a case of this sort. Let’s start with the official news agency, MTI. It hasn’t published anything about the case. Not a word. Consequently, the state television’s news hasn’t carried the item either. Interestingly, Magyar Idők, however belatedly (about three days late), repeated Marton’s threat of a suit against Sárosdi and made reference to Marton’s temporary retirement from Vígszinház.
One pro-government internet site, however, has been lapping up the story. Since the story broke, Origo has published four articles about László Marton. During the summer, Ádám Matolcsy, son of György Matolcsy, chairman of Hungary’s central bank, purchased Origo, but for a while he left the old CEO in place. Six days ago Ádám Matolcsy took over the management of the publication. I don’t know whether Origo’s somewhat independent handling of the Marton affair has anything to do with the management change, but Origo doesn’t seem to care about the lack of “official news” from MTI.
In Origo the scandal is portrayed as a purely political affair. “Who is László Marton really?” Origo wants to know. He is described as a typical theater director of the Kádár regime. The author admits that, given the times, the theater under Marton’s direction was “upright,” although perhaps not as brave as it had been during the tenure of his predecessors. But the article admits that “Marton couldn’t be accused of fawning.”
From the second article, published this morning, we learn that “people on the liberal side are perceptibly unhappy about the fall of the sex offender.” Some of those who talked about the issue “consider it a great loss of a well-known hyper-liberal man.” Without mentioning names, the author accuses a number of well-known liberal commentators of trying to defend Marton by talking about “the defense of human dignity, the liberals’ favorite topic.” The article points out that only left-liberal governments showered prizes and awards on Marton. After giving a partial list of cases against Marton, the article ends with “This is László Marton, a great liberal theater director. That’s all. An ordinary sex offender. Period.”
After this article Origo published two more. One was a simple rehash of 444.hu’s article on the stories of the seven women who had so far come forward. A few hours later the paper reported that it had gotten in touch with the police. They wanted to know whether anyone had filed charges against Marton. The Budapest police refused to answer, referring to the law on the right of informational self-determination and the freedom of information. So, Origo gleefully remarked that “on the basis of the answer, we cannot rule out that, yes, the police are already following the case.” As, I would add, well they should.