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Secretary of state for culture is leaving office

February 15th, 2013

A centre-right journalist describes László L. Simon as a moderate, unjustly reviled by liberals, who lost his battle against the far more conservative chairmann of the Hungarian Art Academy. A left-liberal commentator writes that the removal of László Simon is another sign of culture wars raging within the governing party, in which the loyalty of office holders is prized above their expertise.

László L. Simon, the state secretary for culture who has been in office for less than 8 months, is expected to leave on Friday. Although there has been no official comment from government sources, it has been reported that he will be removed for criticizing György Fekete, leader of the Hungarian Arts Academy (MMA), a public body with considerable resources and authority over cultural funds. Fekete and the MMA have also been criticized by conservative intellectuals (see BudaPost December 19, 2012).

In Heti Válasz, András Stumpf recalls his interview (see BudaPost, December 15, 2012) with Levente Szörényi, a cultural icon of the Hungarian right, who dismissed Fekete’s views on culture as narrow-minded and said that L. Simon was “being choked out” by fellow right-wingers. Now, with László Simon leaving, ’the hystero-liberals’ might regret their attacks against him, Stumpf notes. Simon has provided some counter-weight against the highly controversial MMA-leader who reiterated in a recent interview that his foremost concern in art and culture is that it should strengthen Hungarian identity, even at the price of supporting mediocre arts. Simon on the other hand found national feeling important but secondary to artistic quality, Stumpf remarks. He adds that those liberal critics who were happy with favouritism when cultural funds were distributed by their own friends, have attacked Simon for his views on appointments (see BudaPost November 23, 2012). Such critics like to forget that Simon fought for the financial support of independent theatres and do not seem to have realized that his successor will be far less open-minded, Stumpf concludes.

Reacting to Stumpf’s article in Heti Világgazdaság, Árpád W. Tóta suggests there is no reason to feel sorry for Simon, whom he blames for having contributed to ’this regime’. He accuses PM Orbán of demanding uncritical support from government politicians. The liberal commentator pokes fun at moderate government supporters by saying that ’You cannot be a half-hearted Bolshevik.’

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