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Tempest over a Budapest theatre

October 17th, 2011

Left wing columnists are united in condemning a decision by the mayor of Budapest to appoint actor György Dörner as head of Új Színház (New Theater). They focus on what they regard as the low professional level of Mr Dörner’s application, and his political support of the extreme right. A popular right wing journalist counters that the attack is due to Mr Dörner’s political beliefs rather than his professional standard.

Budapest mayor István Tarlós overruled the opinion of the professional jury and entrusted György Dörner with the direction of Új Színház (New Theatre). The actor is a self-confessed supporter of extreme right wing party leader István Csurka, whose party (MIÉP) was voted out of parliament in 2002. Dörner also campaigned for Jobbik last year, but Mr Csurka himself is an opponent of Jobbik and campaigned on the side of Fidesz in 2010. (See BudaPost October 10.)

György Dörner’s mission statement resembles a military-political action plan, rather than an artistic concept – writes Győző Mátyás in 168 óra. The left wing weekly acknowledges that „not every statement is insupportable in this waffle (of assertions), but the way in which these are mushed up together to form a sort of mantra, is pure stupidity.” The columnist has “no problems with conservative theatres so long as they are of a high standard, but you do not need political slogans to create a good artistic concept”.

Népszabadság’s columnist compares the submissions for the job advanced by the outgoing director, István Márta, and György Dörner. The former is a 200 page document, full of plans for the future of the theatre, while the latter is nothing more than waffle and political manifestos – the „most original idea is that of investing in a bus.”

Gusztáv Megyesi does not believe that Budapest mayor István Tarlós was ignorant of the content of the applications or that he failed to appreciate István Márta’s performance as a director: „After carefully reading the submitted applications he made a conscious decision to ignore the (non-binding) advice of the professional committee and decided that Budapest needs a theatre led by Mr Dörner and Mr Csurka.”

„There should be no place for István Csurka in a public institution” – suggests Krisztina Ferenczi, also in Népszabadság, adding that the MIÉP leader has been ‘playing the antisemitic card’ for nearly two decades now.

„This attack against the republican ideal is actually a political game,’ Krisztina Ferenczi writes. ‘the real intention of Fidesz is to incite two extreme right wing forces (Jobbik and MIÉP) against one another.

The theatre will not be directed either by an author of rather good short-stories, István Csurka, or the prominent actor György Dörner. Magyar Fórum (MIÉP’s radical weekly, edited by Mr Csurka) and an „uproarious participant in Jobbik programmes have been given the task instead,” – writes Péter Esterházy in Élet és Irodalom. The acclaimed writer urges the Ministry of Culture and the Mayor of Budapest to explain the decision.

György Dörner is one of the best actors in Hungary – Zsolt Bayer points out in Magyar Hírlap – and István Csurka is one of the best playwrights. The right wing publicist complains that in Hungary, the success of a play and its author are in the hands of a small clique which considers the appointment of the new theatre director a challenge to its authority.

Zsolt Bayer wishes every success to the new heads of Új Színház, adding that their task will not be an easy one, govern the unfriendly environment they will have to operate in.

I can live with György Dörner’s appointment– remarks Szilárd Szőnyi in Heti Válasz, comparing the current case to the uproar surrounding György Schwajda’s appointment as head of the theatre in Kaposvár several years ago. On that occasion, Mr Schwajda presented an application in which he cricised the liberal intellectuals of Budapest. His record as director then proved to be a success.

Once we peel the ideological garnish off György Dörner’s concept, a vision appears in which the newly appointed director wants the plays of classical Hungarian authors to be performed – writes the moderate conservative commentator.

The real question now is whether his programme will attract an audience in the long run, once the ideological fallout dies down. His biggest opponent will be the political commitment of the audience, not some kind of liberalism – Szőnyi believes.

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