Very troubling situation in the land that gave us Krasznahorkai.
Then there is the question of what the Culture Secretary said to Béla Tarr. After the director of “The Turin Horse” picked up the Silver Bear at the sixty-first Berlin International Film Festival, he gave an interview to Berlin’s Der Tagesspiegel in which he claimed that the Orbán government was cracking down on cultural dissenters. “The government hates intellectuals because they are liberal and oppositional,” he reportedly said. “It insults us as traitors.” Forty-eight hours later, he appeared to repudiate that statement. “That writing is not in my style,” he told a Hungarian news agency. “I do not fight, debate, or argue that way. I consider it very humiliating that all this has soiled the success and reception of our film, sinking it to the level of quotidian politics.” The State Secretary for Culture, Géza Szocs, claimed that during that time he had phoned Tarr “to congratulate him on his win,” and that Tarr had assured him the quotes were fake. Meanwhile, the Hungarian distributor of “The Turin Horse” cancelled its première, and shelved plans to distribute the film.
The situation for Hungarian writers is no less fraught. In 2011and 2012, the same Géza Szocs (who came to prominence as a poet) was the president of Hungarian PEN, which, despite its mandate to protect freedom of speech, has become closely associated with the Orbán government. In 2012, Hungarian PEN instituted a fifty-thousand-euro government-funded literary prize, which it offered to Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The American turned it down, stating that “the policies of this right-wing regime tend toward authoritarian rule and the consequent curtailing of freedom of expression and civil liberties… I hereby refuse the prize in all its forms.” The activist Elie Wiesel has also returned a Hungarian award, in protest against the attendance of government officials at the reburial of a writer who was a member of the National Socialist Arrow Cross Party, which, for a few months at the end of the Second World War, led a brief and bloody “government of national unity,” murdering between ten and fifteen thousand of their countrymen and deporting around eighty thousand to Auschwitz.