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A new report says Hungary’s leader, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and his right-wing populist agenda centered on Christian and nationalist ideas have created “existential crises” among individual artists and cultural institutions in Hungary.
The report’s authors claim that Orbán and his party, FIDESZ, achieved this through a combination of consolidated state power and pressure on artists that culminated in self-censorship.
An example cited is the musical Billy Elliot, which performed at the Hungarian State Opera in Budapest in 2018. The musical tells the story of a young boy from an English mining town who pursues his dream of becoming a ballet dancer. After the Billy Elliot run was strongly criticized by pro-Orbán media, including the newspaper Magyar Idők – who called the musical “sharp and unbridled gay propaganda” – the opera’s general manager, Szilveszter Ókovács, has canceled the last 15 shows.
The report, titled “Systematic Suppression: Hungary’s Arts and Culture in Crisis,” was released on Monday by the Artistic Freedom Initiative, an organization that connects at-risk international artists with pro bono representation of art. immigration and overseas resettlement assistance. It was created in partnership with the University of California, Berkeley Law School, and Columbia University’s Harriman Institute.
The authors of the report write that over the past decade, “Orbán’s government implemented a new cultural policy in order to advance a unique nationalist narrative and define alternative viewpoints such as anti-Hungarian. This has had the effect of limiting creative expression and diminishing plurality in the arts.”
They say such movements have affected a wide variety of artistic disciplines, including literature, theater and music, as well as what is taught in Hungarian schools, through a combination of consolidated power and increased self-censorship among Hungarian artists.
For example, some Hungarian authors have been removed from the national school curriculum, including works by Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Imre Kertész as well as contemporary novelist Péter Esterházy, who opposes the Orbán government. According to the AFI report, the works of József Nyírő and Albert Wass were placed in their place: “Nyírő was a member of the fascist Arrow Cross party, and Wass was ‘an avowed anti-Semite and a convicted war criminal’ . “
The report also notes that government loyalists have been appointed to key positions in the two government bureaucratic divisions that oversee the arts, as well as to senior positions in important institutions.
As NPR has previously reported, Orbán’s government has also tightened its control over the media. Reporters Without Borders’ 2021 World Press Freedom Index ranks Hungary 92nd in its ranking.
The full AFI report is available online.