“Kulturkampf” in Hungary:The case of Eger

As usual, there are plenty of topics one could write about but I decided to focus today on the tendency in Hungary to mix politics and the arts. This tendency has been apparent for some time, but lately there are signs that Fidesz has been making a concerted effort to divide the country’s artistic and intellectual elite.

Ever since the 2006 local elections, when Fidesz won in practically all the larger cities and towns, there has been a systematic reshaping of local cultural institutions. The most obvious was the hiring of new theater directors. I couldn’t understand then or even now why theaters are so important to Fidesz. What did they want to achieve by having their own men as theater directors?

On the national level there was a more spontaneous movement among writers and artists to gather in separate groups. Because of ideological differences, formerly single organizations serving writers, newspapermen, or artists split into liberal and conservative or more precisely pro-SZDSZ/MSZP and pro-Fidesz factions. If one looks at the list of members of some of these organizations one immediately knows who stands where politically.

About a year ago I started a folder that I called “Kulturkampf.” I was inspired by a report by Deutschlandradio with the same title. According to the German report by Stephen Ozsváth, in 2010 alone 17,000 people were sacked in the cultural sphere. Géza Szőcs, the new undersecretary in charge of cultural affairs, openly talked about “a necessary purge.” At that time Die Zeit also wrote about the adverse effect of the anti-gay and anti-Semitic atmosphere that Fidesz created after April-May 2010.

Since then most of the theaters outside of Budapest have been taken over by Fidesz loyalists who also make sure that only Fidesz loyalists are hired by the company. Naturally, it is very difficult to prove this systematic purging of political undesirables, but a few days ago a documented case came to the surface. Since then the case has received considerable attention.

Thanks to local investigative journalists, it became known that in Eger the committee on culture and tourism prepared a list of undesirables in the city’s cultural life. On April 18 a local Internet newspaper, Egri Ügyek, received the minutes of a meeting held last September at which one of the city fathers suggested that in order to make the life of the committee easier a list of forbidden persons should be prepared. Otherwise, the problem they had just experienced can easily recur: the program was already printed when it turned out that one of the invited actors, József Székhelyi, “was not welcome by the inhabitants of the city.” In the opinion of Mrs. László Orosz, the chairman of the committee, in this case the city council had to act to prevent the appearance of the person the local residents objected to. Because of this “mishap” the committee decided to prepare a list. The next day Egri Ügyek came out with another case: a local actress was first asked to appear in a production but a few days later was told that she was no longer wanted. Moreover, the person who was responsible for inviting her was told that he might lose his job if he insists.


The theater in Eger

Stop, another online publication, got national coverage for this story when on April 19 it reported the details of Eger’s list of undesirables. A member of the committee denied the existence of such a list. “Naturally there is no such list in Eger. The reference to a list in the minutes was uttered in jest.” At this point MTI came into the picture and from there the story went to all the major Hungarian newspapers.

One would have thought that the incident in Eger wouldn’t have much traction after a few days. Such cases, however, normally illustrate an attitude that permeates the city’s political leadership. Of the nineteen council members in Eger, by the way, thirteen are Fidesz-KDNP, two Jobbik, two MSZP, one LMP, and one independent.

About a week went by when Stop received a tape that had been recorded at the aforementioned meeting of the committee on culture and tourism. As it turned out, the minutes were not a verbatim transcript. What one can hear on the tape is actually much worse than the written description of it.

According to the tape recording, a fairly heated discussion ensued over József Székhelyi’s appearance in Eger. According to one of the participants, just because “everybody says that Székhelyi is a filthy Jew of SZDSZ sympathies” he is still a good actor who is fantastic at reciting Villon.

The chairman of the committee on culture and tourism, Mrs. László Orosz, didn’t even know who Székhelyi was although the actor has had important roles in at least fifty films and has received several prizes. Stop also found out that Mrs. Orosz in civilian life is a teacher.

The scandal was growing and growing, and at last the Fidesz mayor of Eger had to say something. László Habis expressed his open-mindedness in artistic matters. He now finds “the stigmatization of members of the cultural sphere unacceptable and absurd.” He also promised an investigation of the meeting of the committee on culture and tourism. It is unlikely that there will be serious consequences of the incident. It is also very unlikely that the selection of artists on political grounds will come to a stop. But at least we now have proof of what’s going on in some councils when it comes to the cultural life of their cities.


  1. Mrs. László Orosz also said on the tape “We can do this now!” Here you go. The 2/3 in action.
    Kingfisher was right. The FIDESZ is not anti-semitic. Only it’s members are.

  2. @ bullet, it is great but beside that you are using this as a free advertising opportunity what are your thoughts on the Kulturkampf? You know it makes me very suspicious when someone jumps in the first time, says nothing but puts on a press release. Being neutral does not mean not having any opinion, as a supporter of the art (as it seems you are) should know better.

  3. Thanks Bullet for sharing that! It is really hard to put down the creativity of young independent artists. I remember last year when Tűzraktér was closed by a Fidesz dominated district council. Fidesz may try and corner the market, but artists will always push back against this type of control. I did not see your post as free advertising but rather as an attempt to bring some attention to alternatives. It is clearly related to Eva’s post. I’ll drop by this space when I am in Budapest this summer and donate a few forints.
    To me it seems clear that Bullet doesn’t like the Kulturkampf and simply provided some information on an artists space that is working outside the government funded and controlled networks. The bolded text in the linked page is clearly criticizing the Kulturkampf.

  4. I find this story from Eger quite positive. Perhaps I misunderstood the story but I read in it that investigative journalism through making some dubious practices public is still able to put some pressure on politicians, even if nothing will follow from the investigation of the meeting. An apathetic public is certainly not very helpful, but for me this shows that the apathy could vanish quickly if workable alternatives to Fidesz (and to Jobbik) emerge.

  5. @Pete H, you coul be right, so I am waiting his opinion regarding why artists need to express so hard that they are independent from political “forces”. I want hear what Bullet thinks of that. I yet to hear that in CanDa artist have to put a sign on that they are non-partisans. Frankly no one cares because it is a non-issue. Obviously in Hungary it is, so if someoneust declare independence, he/she shoul clarify or forever hold their peace. I cannot agree with you until I hear more from Bullet.

  6. Enuff: “I just learnt from husband that apparently Székhelyi offended the dear leader some time back.
    Correct, this is the problem. He made fun of him.

  7. My 5:26 comment was typed out on my iPhone (autocorrect), hence CanDa, should of been Canada.. and some other typos.

  8. When someone sent me the article about this Madness of Eger, I answered him:
    As I explained this before, it doesn’t matter who is and who isn’t a Jew. What matters is the fact that somebody keeps a record of that. And that is the ante room to disaster.
    By the way, this came to light first just a few months ago, when the conductor of the national Philharmonics in an interview protested the charge of anti-Semitism saying that even in his orchestra there are six Jews playing. He was keeping a precise record of who is Jewish in the orchestra.

  9. @Some1 I am neither a spammer nor a troll. My “opinion” is a strong belief that the government actions concerning the arts and its cultural institutions should remain independent of the prevailing political trends. I believe that politicians should stick to politics and artists should stick to art. Now if that art happens to engage politics, then it enters the realm of politicians. However as Rueben Fowlkes pointed out in his article, making sudden changes at the administrative level can have long lasting cultural and financial implications that affect an exponetially greater number of innocent citizens. This in my “opinion” is bad politics.
    When a group of over a hundred young Hungarian artists opt out of a system that they believe is using them as pawns for its political games AND does so through a transparent real estate transaction, I cannot fathom how this does not relate to the above article as well as the general theme of this blog. Please understand that most of these kids were born after 1990, these political squabbles are not theirs.
    My “opinion” that you seek should be transparent based on the words “hopefully” and “good news”. I applaud their efforts to create a community that is based on creative differences, cooperation, and outreach rather than divisiveness and retribution. I have high hopes for the future of Hungarian arts due to the efforts of such motivated individuals as I believe that these will be acheived through education rather than inculcation.
    @PeteH Thank you for your kind words. Yes I am against not only the Kulturkampf listed above, but the inevitable counterstrike Kulturkampf that will ensue when the political winds shift. Yes, please stop by Müszi when you happen to be in Budapest and see the projekt for yourself. If you could spare a few forints, I do believe that it would be appreciated and a shrewd investment in the future as this group of young Hungarian artists weans itself off the teat of Hungarian taxpayer as well as EU taxpayer funds.

  10. Bullet: “When a group of over a hundred young Hungarian artists opt out of a system that they believe is using them as pawns for its political games AND does so through a transparent real estate transaction, I cannot fathom how this does not relate to the above article as well as the general theme of this blog. Please understand that most of these kids were born after 1990, these political squabbles are not theirs.”
    Thank you. THis is your message, and this is what makes it relevant. DO not misunderstand, I am a big supporter of art, probably more so then you can imagine. It was important that you point out to the readers of the blog n black and white how the students feel under new Hungary’s political games.

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