István Csurka’s anti-Semitic play in the Új Színház

Do you remember Mayor István Tarlós’s decision last October to turn over the job of theater director of Budapest’s Új Színház (New Theater) to György Dörner and István Csurka? It was described as “the scandal of the decade'” because Dörner and Csurka were not only supporters of the Hungarian far right but were planning to create a theater catering to people with far-right if not Nazi views. It was especially worrisome that Csurka’s influence would most likely make Új Színház a gathering place for anti-Semites. Background material for the latest developments can be found in an earlier post on this blog.

A lot of pressure was put on Tarlós, but the mayor is a stubborn guy and in general convinced of the soundness of all his decisions. He refused the budge. He promised, however, that if the Dörner-Csurka duo actually use the theater to expound and promote far-right, anti-democratic ideas he will act. But not until then.

Meanwhile, István Csurka died on February 2. Soon afterward there was some talk about renaming Új Színház after him, but that idea seems to have been stillborn. His hitherto unperformed last drama entitled “The Sixth Coffin,” however, was included in this year’s repertoire. Csurka’s play is in illustrious right-wing company because Dörner is also planning to perform a József Nyirő play and an Albert Wass’s work “The Witch of Funtinel”  in “modern musical form, performed in the movement theater version (mozgásszínház),” whatever that may be.

“The Sixth Coffin” is an allusion to Imre Nagy’s reburial. Beside the remains of five people executed in 1958 a sixth coffin was placed to symbolize the hundreds of people who died in or were killed after the 1956 revolution. As it turns out, this last drama is not about 1956. Csurka’s aim was to reinterpret twentieth-century Hungarian history with the Treaty of Trianon in the center of it all.

As soon as it was announced that “The Sixth Coffin” will soon be performed in Új Színház people predicted that it doesn’t matter what either Dörner or Tarlós says, this theater will specialize in performing works by writers who have been tainted by anti-Semitism and/or fascist ideas. In any case, “The Sixth Coffin” is definitely an anti-Semitic play. The man who will direct the play claims that “Csurka simply treated a historical event in its historical reality.” So, Csurka’s interpretation is a truthful reflection of Hungarian history. When he was specifically asked whether there is an anti-Semitic overtone to the whole play, he answered in the negative. But if they find something that “offends certain interests” they will handle it.

If we can believe Ádám Fischer, conductor and brother of Iván Fischer, the attempt to remove certain small offending parts will be a difficult task because “the whole play is about a secret Jewish conspiracy that plans, provokes, and directs from the  background all the tragedies of the past one hundred years, including the holocaust. Moreover, just as Csurka blamed 9/11 on the Americans and indicated that they actually deserved what they got, in ‘The Sixth Coffin’ he claims that the Jews are responsible for the fate that befell them.”

Népszava also inquired from some well known intellectuals who read the play what they thought of it. The opinion of Sándor Radnóti, a philosopher and literary critic, is not very different from that of Fischer.  According to him, Csurka’s play is about “an international conspiracy led by American Jewish bankers that was behind the Treaty of Trianon.” Why? Because their goal was the dismemberment of Hungary which under the able guidance of the Hungarian historical class, meaning the nobility, would have become within twenty years a large country of forty million inhabitants. Such a Hungary would have been one of the strongest countries in Europe.

That’s not quite enough. Csurka goes further. “World history is determined by the deadly hostility between Hungarians and Jews.” Everything was carefully planned by these evil American Jewish conspirators: the Entente victory after World War I was arranged ahead of time, and the Jews planned the Russian Revolution of 1917. The sufferings of the Hungarian Jews after the dismemberment of the country was also their doing in the name of Jewish power over the whole world. If all this doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense it doesn’t seem to bother Csurka’s Nazi admirers who were so taken with the play that they could hardly speak after a reading of it in a small right-wing theater.

Népszava also asked Márton Karinthy, grandson of Frigyes and son of Ferenc, a theater director himself, what he thought of Csurka’s play. A year ago Karinthy’s theater actually performed one of Csurka’s earlier plays. Karinthy considers “The Sixth Coffin” a mediocre play with a questionable message. According to him, Csurka’s historical interpretation is biased with a strong anti-Semitic strain.

Judit Csáki, a theater critic, considers the performance of this play “a political and cultural scandal.” Csáki thinks even less of the artistic merit of the play than Karinthy. She found nothing in the play except a questionable historical message that is basically designed  to arouse hatred. The play is “full of lies and falsifications.”

What? Lies and falsifications? On the contrary, Hunor Bucz of Magyar Fórum, Csurka’s paper, finds the play “a work designed to resurrect the collective memory and to unveil the falsification of history.” So, instead of falsifying history it uncovers the truth. And as far as the play’s artistic merits are concerned, “it is a masterpiece.”

The question is whether the play will be performed. I think it will. Foreign criticism, as we have seen in the last couple of months, doesn’t seem to have an effect on the Hungarian government. Ádám Fischer’s letter to György Schöpflin, Fidesz EP member, about this very issue was answered with a lecture on “different narratives.” I think “The Sixth Coffin” will be performed and the theater will be full of admiring anti-Semites and chauvinistic neo-Nazis. And the mayor of Budapest will refuse to say anything pro or con.

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76 comments

  1. LATEFOR – let me come to your defense. I support you in your defense of decency.

    Many Hungarians know that their duty is to maintain decency.

    Let us unite in this action.

    The sons of Deak will defend the honor of Hungary at the end.

  2. Mutt: I agree, but culture is in general subsidized by the State, and it’s probably very hard to pick on one theater and withhold the funding. I mean legally (if there’s any intent to do that of course, I’m rather pessimistic…).

    On the other note, I’m in Budapest for a few more weeks, but I couldn’t find that in any bookstores I looked at either, if I find a copy I’ll let you know. My underground search didn’t result in anything either.

    Also let me know how the Kövér mustache holds, I might try it next Haloween… that will make a pretty scary costume (and a little less painful than the liquid latex Navii bodypaint last year..ugh)

  3. I also have the suspicion watching Tarlós, that the directive to put Dörner where he is came from above him and now he wishes the whole issue to the middle of his back (love Hunglish).

  4. gdfxx :

    latefor :
    YES, there is a “cure ” for the “Naci virus” …….it is called LOVE and TOLERANCE!

    Then it seems that these two ingredients are in very short supply in today’s Hungary.

    All the more reason to increase the supply. I’m with latefor- for Fidesz supporters, Orban has a monopoly on presenting a positive image of Hungary. I think the opposition has to show that Hungary can be truly Hungarian without blaming all of our problems on an international conspiracy.

  5. gdfxx: “In a 5-1 decision, the court ruled that Zentai could not be extradited because “war crime” did not exist as a legal offence in Hungary in 1944, according to Australian media reports.”

    If you believe in legality, then you will have to accept the verdict even if you don’t like it.

  6. latefor :
    I am surprised and shocked that hardly anybody spoke up in my defense on this blog. I have spoken up many times over the last six years against hate and antisemitism, even though that I “can not read or interpret text ” and I am supposedly be a “genetically inferior moron”….BUT, dear Petofi 1, 2 and 3 (and many others who attacked me and pulled me into pieces) I can proudly say that God blessed me with a soul and YES, there is a “cure ” for the “Naci virus” …….it is called LOVE and TOLERANCE!

    Noble words.
    The German jews tried LOVE AND TOLERANCE. In fact, they considered themselves Germans FIRST and jews SECOND.
    Still they were the winners of free train journeys to Auschwitz.

    But man, they loved their ‘Germaness’ to the last. A little
    dispiriting though as the crematoria doors slammed shut and they
    were force to fight their own children for the gasps of air that came in when the ZyklonB was dropped in above them. Oh, but
    Faith, Love and Tolerance dies hard.

    It is now time again to turn the other cheek: to give Love and Tolerance for Jobbik and Fidesz another shot. We might regret
    it later, but we’ll take proud, noble steps to our fate…

    Mr. LATEFOR…nobody is ‘pulling you to pieces’. But I do suggest you access (online) the eyewitness (german) testimonies
    of the nazi gas chambers.

  7. Respect Beauty :

    gdfxx :

    latefor :
    YES, there is a “cure ” for the “Naci virus” …….it is called LOVE and TOLERANCE!

    Then it seems that these two ingredients are in very short supply in today’s Hungary.

    All the more reason to increase the supply. I’m with latefor- for Fidesz supporters, Orban has a monopoly on presenting a positive image of Hungary. I think the opposition has to show that Hungary can be truly Hungarian without blaming all of our problems on an international conspiracy.

    Orban’s use of the ‘international conspiracy’ notion was a precursor. He may cancel the next elections due to just such
    an imminent conspiracy!

  8. Louis Kovach :
    gdfxx: “In a 5-1 decision, the court ruled that Zentai could not be extradited because “war crime” did not exist as a legal offence in Hungary in 1944, according to Australian media reports.”
    If you believe in legality, then you will have to accept the verdict even if you don’t like it.

    Sure, Louis…and you probably cheered as OJ tried ‘desperately’
    to put on the killers gloves…and was later deemed innocent
    of the dual murders.

  9. So, no-no, the cure for the nazi virus is not love and tolerance but the defense of legal institutions that maintain law (justly conceived) and order and allow civilized society to exist.

  10. Petrovics: “Sure, Louis…and you probably cheered as OJ tried ‘desperately’
    to put on the killers gloves…and was later deemed innocent
    of the dual murders.”

    I accepted the verdict, but I did not agree with it. Such is life. It is still better than the closed trials of the dictators, where you knew the verdict before the trial or a bullet in the back of the scull in Katyn or anywhere else…

  11. Louis Kovach :
    gdfxx: “In a 5-1 decision, the court ruled that Zentai could not be extradited because “war crime” did not exist as a legal offence in Hungary in 1944, according to Australian media reports.”
    If you believe in legality, then you will have to accept the verdict even if you don’t like it.

    This is stupid decision. Would they do the same with Hitler?

  12. gdfxx :

    Louis Kovach :
    gdfxx: “In a 5-1 decision, the court ruled that Zentai could not be extradited because “war crime” did not exist as a legal offence in Hungary in 1944, according to Australian media reports.”
    If you believe in legality, then you will have to accept the verdict even if you don’t like it.

    This is stupid decision. Would they do the same with Hitler?

    Unbelievable decision. If we took this seriously none of the war criminals could have been punished for their crimes. And indeed, that would also mean Hitler himself.

  13. @petofi
    “The German jews tried LOVE AND TOLERANCE. In fact, they considered themselves Germans FIRST and jews SECOND.
    Still they were the winners of free train journeys to Auschwitz.”

    Ugh. I will criticize Fidesz/Jobbik to the faces of all my right-wing friends. But I’m also careful of how I do it. Yes, “LOVE AND TOLERANCE” can be pathetic, but what is the alternative here? As it is, all Hungarian blogs are full of bile on all sides, and what’s the result? Most Hungarians are disgusted at all politics. How many people want to read the nasty comments by the left and right on Hungarian blogs? Your distrust of “LOVE AND TOLERANCE” has lead to widespread Hungarian apathy, much to the benefit of Fidesz.

    I don’t really have a good answer, and to tell the truth, I love your username. Petőfi Sándor is a great example of how Hungary has a great liberal tradition.

    Why do you think people like Martin Luther King or Mohandas Gandhi used nonviolence? It can be an affective tool. Love and tolerance wins some people a free train journey to Auschwitz, but it can also be a tool in the hands of determined activists.

  14. Respect Beauty :
    @petofi
    “The German jews tried LOVE AND TOLERANCE. In fact, they considered themselves Germans FIRST and jews SECOND.
    Still they were the winners of free train journeys to Auschwitz.”
    Ugh. I will criticize Fidesz/Jobbik to the faces of all my right-wing friends. But I’m also careful of how I do it. Yes, “LOVE AND TOLERANCE” can be pathetic, but what is the alternative here? As it is, all Hungarian blogs are full of bile on all sides, and what’s the result? Most Hungarians are disgusted at all politics. How many people want to read the nasty comments by the left and right on Hungarian blogs? Your distrust of “LOVE AND TOLERANCE” has lead to widespread Hungarian apathy, much to the benefit of Fidesz.
    I don’t really have a good answer, and to tell the truth, I love your username. Petőfi Sándor is a great example of how Hungary has a great liberal tradition.
    Why do you think people like Martin Luther King or Mohandas Gandhi used nonviolence? It can be an affective tool. Love and tolerance wins some people a free train journey to Auschwitz, but it can also be a tool in the hands of determined activists.

    YES, to “Determined Activists”…but where are they?
    Why is the great majority SILENT?
    As I’ve said many a time before, in Canada, which is a much more settled and less fractious society than that of Hungary,
    acts of civil disobedience would’ve broken out about a year ago.
    A big part of the problem here is that people are not really supported in notions of “Human Rights” as opposed to Hungarian
    Rights. Nationalism is a thing of the past. Culture is fine, but
    Nationalism is used to confuse and alienate. A big problem is Hungarian education….And look what they’ve gone and done now: Nyiro and Wass and other 3rd rate mediocrities of Hungarian Nationalism. Is it any wonder that people are confused; that Orban gets away with his nonsense?

  15. I meant to finish with something else but the doorbell rang..

    Why didn’t the teachers of Hungary resign en masse? Or at the very least, why weren’t they marching in the streets?
    Why did they not refuse these changes to the curriculum.
    These writers are an affront to human decency, and should be
    considered an insult to every teacher’s professional integrity.

  16. Mutt: “It’s time to realize that choices have consequences. If a nation supports a government that finances a theatre that stages anti-semitic plays then they will be called morons”

    So any country that plays “The merchant of Venice” in its theatre is populated by morons???

  17. Louis Kovach :
    Mutt: “It’s time to realize that choices have consequences. If a nation supports a government that finances a theatre that stages anti-semitic plays then they will be called morons”
    So any country that plays “The merchant of Venice” in its theatre is populated by morons???

    Csurka ain’t Shakepeare.

  18. Louis Kovach :
    Mutt: “It’s time to realize that choices have consequences. If a nation supports a government that finances a theatre that stages anti-semitic plays then they will be called morons”
    So any country that plays “The merchant of Venice” in its theatre is populated by morons???

    He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million; laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, thwarted my bargains, scorned my nation, cooled my friends, heated my enemies – and what’s his reason? I am a Jew…….

    Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands?, organs, dimensions, senses, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like them in the rest, we will resemble them in that too. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be, by Christian example? Why, revenge? The villainy they teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.

    Only a true anti-Semite can compare this to a deranged, hateful writer’s garbage about the international Jewish conspiracy being responsible for the Holocaust.

  19. Csurka ain’t Shakepeare.

    Moreover, it is such an old and useless cliche. To compare something written today to written sometime at the end of the sixteenth century is ridiculous.

  20. Eva S. Balogh :

    Csurka ain’t Shakepeare.

    Moreover, it is such an old and useless cliche. To compare something written today to written sometime at the end of the sixteenth century is ridiculous.

    It’s like calling Michelangelo’s David porn.

  21. Matt: “Only a true anti-Semite can compare this to a deranged, hateful writer’s garbage about the international Jewish conspiracy being responsible for the Holocaust.”

    You have not read it! So how do you know, what I am comparing?

  22. Louis Kovach :
    Matt: “Only a true anti-Semite can compare this to a deranged, hateful writer’s garbage about the international Jewish conspiracy being responsible for the Holocaust.”
    You have not read it! So how do you know, what I am comparing?

    You are trying to legitimize Csurka’s play by comparing it to another “anti-Semitic play” by Shakespeare. Gosh, I can’t believe I’m arguing about this …

  23. Some1: “Have you read it Louis?”

    No I have not, and neither had anybody who commented on it here. It was obvious from her posting that Dr Balogh has not read either. She just repeats other folk’s opinion.

    Mutt: No I am not legitimizing Csurka, I complained about you calling those morons in whose country such piece is shown in a theatre!

  24. Louis Kovach :

    Some1: “Have you read it Louis?”

    No I have not, and neither had anybody who commented on it here. It was obvious from her posting that Dr Balogh has not read either. She just repeats other folk’s opinion.

    Considering that I began my university career in Canada as an English major I read it. Because I took a whole year of Shakespeare.

  25. Dr Balogh: “Considering that I began my university career in Canada as an English major I read it. Because I took a whole year of Shakespeare.”

    The statement was for Csurka’s play…presumably it was not compulsory in Canada, it was not even written yet……

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