The Frightening Hungarian Crackdown
My friend has asked to remain anonymous, as he fears that if he is publicly identified as a critic of the government it could cause problems for him and the company where he works. His fears appear to be well founded. Across Hungary, the cultural scene is in a state of crisis.
The current Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, has rebranded Fidesz, once a liberal youth party (with the vintage countercultural slogan “Don’t trust anyone over thirty-five”) as a right-wing Christian nationalist organization. After Fidesz won a large majority in national elections in 2010, Orbán set about remaking the country, changing the constitution in ways that observers allege have removed important checks on the power of government. The courts are being packed with government loyalists, and media is scrutinized for “balance,” with the threat of crippling fines for those deemed to have strayed. Dozens of “opposition” journalists have been fired from state-run media, and Klubrádió, the country’s most prominent independent radio station, has been refused a broadcasting license.
The new constitution “recognizes the role of Christianity in preserving nationhood,” and art that is deemed blasphemous or “anti-national” is now the target of a full-blown campaign of suppression. After the election, the mayor of Budapest fired the head of the New Theatre (one of the country’s leading producers of contemporary drama) and appointed in his place György Dörner, an actor who supports the far-right Jobbik opposition party, an openly anti-Semitic, anti-gay, and anti-Roma organization with a recently disbanded paramilitary wing, whose Presidential candidate has declared that Israeli Jews are “lice-infested dirty murderers.” Dörner has promised to reverse what he sees as a “degenerate, sick liberal hegemony,” and to produce only Hungarian plays. Last August, protests forced him to cancel a proposed production of “The Sixth Coffin,” a play set in France after the First World War, featuring “a group of powerful Jews plotting to destroy Hungary and plunge humanity into another world war.”