Budapest, Hungary – According to draft legislation seen by Reuters on Friday, Hungary’s nationalist government plans to set up a National Cultural Council, headed by a minister, with the task of “setting priorities and directions to be followed in Hungarian culture”.
“It is a fundamental requirement for activities belonging under the auspices of this law to actively defend the interests of the nation’s wellbeing,” the bill says.
If approved, the new minister would be responsible for appointing and/or sacking theatre directors at institutions that are jointly financed by the state and municipality. The draft was created without asking the opinion of neither people working in theatre nor Budapest’s municipal council.
Critics claims this latest episode of Orbán’s “Kulturkampf” could undermine their independence and stifle artistic freedom.
Since coming to power in 2010, Viktor Orbán and his right-wing populist Fidesz party has already rewritten Hungary’s constitution, gained control of state media, large parts of the economy, education, with his intention to hinder the operation of Central European University in the country, and, more recently, scientific research.
“An era is determined by cultural trends, collective beliefs and social customs. This is now the task we are faced with: we must embed the political system in a cultural era,” Orbán said last year.
According to Reuters, his supporters have called for an end to what they see as the dominance in Hungarian culture of leftist-liberal ideas.
The bill is a step “in a very bad direction”, said Budapest’s recently elected socialist mayor Gergely Karácsony on his Facebook page. “This proposal would eliminate cultural diversity, which stems from freedom – which means artists are not kept on a political leash”, he added.
Protests took place last night at Madách tér, in front of Örkény Theatre, one of the Hungarian capital’s most important independently operating municipality-backed theatres. At the protest, several prominent Hungarian actors and actresses, directors as well as the mayor of Budapest spoke about the importance of cultural independence.
By Zsofi Borsi
A Budapest-born politics and economics graduate of Durham University, UK, Zsofi Borsi wrote her thesis on conspiracy theories present in Hungarian online political discourse. Zsofi has worked as an intern at various political and non-governmental organisations in Hungary, such as Political Capital Research and Consultancy Institute, Tom Lantos Institute or Klubrádió. To check out her latest articles, it’s right here!