It was unexpected, but Imre Kerényi’s notion of national culture is even too much for the saner members of the Hungarian right. Both Magyar Nemzet and Heti Válasz consider his activities outright injurious to the government and the reputation of Fidesz. Not just because of what he had to say about the repertoire of the National Theater but because of his untenable views on “national culture.” The piece by Bálint Ablonczy in Heti Válasz goes even further. He pretty well tells Fidesz and the government “to get off culture.” It is not their thing.
I wholeheartedly agree with Ablonczy. Viktor Orbán should stick with football. Culture is not his forte; if it were, he surely would not have picked Kerényi as his “cultural commissar.”
To backtrack a bit. The first reaction to Kerényi’s homophobic words came from members of the Hungarian theater world. János Kulka, a former member of the National Theater who agreed to play a part in Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull next season when Attila Vidnyánszky will be the director of the theater, led the charge. He wrote a sharply worded letter after he learned that Vidnyánszky had been present when Kerényi delivered his outrageous opinions about the repertoire of the theater under the directorship of Róbert Alföldi. The president of the University of Performing Arts followed suit. Then came the president of the Association of Theaters. And finally Ildikó Lendvai (MSZP) demanded an explanation from Viktor Orbán. She is expecting an answer in about two weeks.
Vidnyánszky, who is apparently a talented director, in order to get the job as head of the National Theater cast himself as an ideologically committed man, a man he thought this Christian, national regime would find desirable. Lately he has been wearing a white shirt and black vest, a kind of Hungarian folk costume or a more modern version of it, the uniform of the Hungarian Guard. He also announced that the new theater building is a sacred site and that he will have to find a way to consecrate it. People have been shaking their heads at the transformation of the man.
Although it seemed from the video of the encounter that Vidnyánszky considered Kerényi’s reference to faggots too much, he said nothing on the spot. Moreover, a day after the video became public he repeated on one of the commercial television stations that he also thinks that there were too many plays with homosexual themes in the National Theater’s repertoire. I did find one, the 1993 play of Tony Kushner, Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. In fact, the play will open this weekend and will continue its run throughout June.
But then something happened. The very next day, Vidnyánszky suddenly apologized for not speaking up when he heard Kerényi’s homophobic remarks.
It is possible that Kerényi may be removed from his position. Or at least there are signs that someone may have convinced Viktor Orbán that Imre Kerényi is a burden. A few hours after Vidnyánszky’s apology an incredible statement entitled “Nine sentences about one Kerényi” appeared in Magyar Nemzet written by the editor-in-chief, Gábor Élő. He talked about the excrement that left Kerényi’s mouth that was spattered all over the national heroes. For a Christian and a nationalist (nemzeti) his behavior is especially disgusting. What he said is unacceptable to anyone who subscribes to the basic principles of human dignity.
As a media outlet from the other side of the political spectrum said, if an editorial like that can appear in Magyar Nemzet it means that Kerényi no longer enjoys the protection of Viktor Orbán.
But let’s move on to perhaps the most interesting article that appeared in the right-wing media, Bálint Ablonczy’s “The case of the lemony banana with orange which is actually a peach.” This title will need a bit of an explanation. “Banana” is used in Hungarian conversations for a case which may end in a disaster of sorts. Something someone can slip and fall on. “Orange” naturally is the symbol of Fidesz. Well, the “peach” is something new. Another atrocity the Hungarian government came up with. This time Tibor Navracsics’s Ministry of Public Administration and Justice is the culprit. They gave their blessing to a theme song for the Day of National Togetherness, June 4, the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Trianon in 1920.
But before Ablonczy gets to the Song of National Togetherness he expresses his total rejection of any kind of “national culture.” There is good and bad art, good and bad literature. He pretty well admits that on the right there are not too many first-rate artists, but the couple he can think of will be discredited by Kerényi and his ilk.
The Song of National Togetherness, according to Ablonczy, is “horror itself … which after three years one can say unfortunately manifests the government’s utter confusion, its total misunderstanding of what culture is all about.” Here are a few lines from the “masterpiece.” “I dreamed of a peach tree under which everybody dances / I stood in a large circle with you, in the soft grass on a dewy field / Our hands touch, the soles of our feet step on each other / The light of happiness burns in our eyes./ Join the circle! / Dance as your blood dictates, feel the heart of the earth beating with you because we are all in one together.”
I guess I don’t have to point out how stupid and confused these lyrics are. I especially like the line about the soles of our feet stepping on each other. And then, of course, there’s the music. Ablonczy suggests that the government “leave that culture thing alone.”
Yes, there are signs that certain people even on the right, especially those with some artistic sensitivity, are starting to realize that this government, in addition to all its other sins, is becoming a laughingstock.
And speaking of laughingstocks, here is another brilliant government idea. Miklós Soltész, undersecretary in charge of social policy in Zoltán Balog’s Ministry of Human Resources, decided that young men and women have neither the time nor the opportunity to find spouses. The government ought to assist them in their quest. And so Soltész, a Christian Democrat who found his wife at a Catholic church function, decided that the ministry should organize “mixers.” In Budapest and in larger cities young adults can attend these events, called “Are you free for a dance? The first step toward each other.” They’re sure to be a roaring success.