To mark Frida Kahlo’s 111th birth anniversary, the National Gallery of Budapest hosts an exhibition on the life and work of the world-famous Mexican painter. Mainly comprising loans from Mexico City’s Museo Dolores Almedo, the exhibit has attracted over 3.000 visitors a day since its opening on July 6, and will run until November 4. During the opening ceremony, state secretary for cultural affairs Péter Fekete called Kahlo a “significant painter of world art” who expressed her “vast love of life and some of her existential uncertainties”.
The tone has, however, radically changed since then.
Right-wing pro-government newspaper Magyar Idők recently came out against the exhibition. In an article entitled “This is the way communism is promoted using state money”, the outlet listed galleries, artists and exhibitions, including Frida Kahlo’s, supposedly guilty of such a horrendous crime. “Trotsky has emerged in Budapest again, this time from Frida Kahlo’s bed”, the article read, a reference to the Mexican painter’s love affair with Leon Trotsky during his exile in Mexico.
Frida Kahlo indeed joined Mexico’s Communist Party in 1928. However, when her husband Diego Rivera was expelled the following year, she left the party as a sign of solidarity.
A new cultural era
This criticism is only the latest of a series of attacks launched by Viktor Orbán’s followers ever since Hungary’s strongman won a third consecutive term during last April’s elections. Not long ago, the musical comedy Billy Elliot was accused of homosexual propaganda and corrupting the country’s youth. Following the controversy, the State Opera cancelled 15 of 44 performances that were originally scheduled for June and July saying, in a statement, that the public had apparently lost interest in the show due to negative coverage.
Speaking during a rally two weeks ago, Viktor Orbán said that his re-election was “nothing short of a mandate to build a new era”, adding that “we must embed the political system in a cultural era”. With the help of his supporters, the illiberal Prime Minister seems to be leading Hungary on the path of a cultural revolution, cracking down on what is perceived as nefarious leftist-liberalism and promoting, instead, his own conservative and nationalist views in all areas of society.
Fricz Tamás, a right-wing political analyst involved in organizing rallies for Orbán, said: “The autonomy of individual institutions should be preserved but I think the government… has the right to firmly and consciously favour and support conservative thinking, artists, works of culture”. Recent developments indicate that they seem significantly more inclined to support the latter than to preserve the former.
Same story, different actors?
The irony of the whole story shouldn’t be overlooked. To some, Viktor Orbán’s methods and policies bear a growing resemblance to the Communist regime’s. Last year, European MP and leader of the ALDE group Guy Verhofstadt lashed out at him: “What I see is a modern day version of communist Hungary. Your economic protectionism, your excessive nationalism, your illiberal state. Your paranoia as well […]. It’s almost as if Stalin is back”.
Stalin. The man believed to have ordered the assassination of Trotsky in Mexico, not long after his affair with Frida Kahlo.
History does have a way of playing little tricks on us.