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Flare ups in culture wars

July 23rd, 2018

After a pro-government historian complained that literature and the arts are still ruled by left-liberal pundits and called for a shift in attitudes, left-wing commentators accuse the government side of nursing dictatorial ambitions in the arts world.

In a lengthy essay in Magyar Idők, historian Márton Békés warns that the potential 16 years of Fidesz rule in politics will not constitute an historical era unless the conservative side becomes dominant in the cultural sphere and unless social habits, convictions and worldviews change in their favour as a result. He says 28 years after the fall of communism, culture must be ‘decolonised’ from left-liberal domination.

His remarks were interpreted by Heti Világgazdaság as ‘an attack on left-liberal writers’. The weekly quoted a Facebook post by writer Gergely Péterfy who argued that left-wingers are not to blame if conservative authors are not successful enough. He challenged Békés to identify one single conservative writer or artist who is oppressed by leftists.

Following the first outburst of protest on the left-liberal side, Békés told Klubrádió’s daily talkshow that he is merely asking conservatives to drop their habit of seeking approval from liberal pundits or wanting to conform to the expectations of the Magyar Narancs weekly. He has never denigrated any left-wing writer, he said.

In 168 óra, philosopher György Gábor compares the endeavour to change the cultural norms of a country to communist and Nazi practices or the cult of the Supreme Being forcibly introduced by Robespierre in the wake of the French revolution. Such attempts brought enormous suffering but were invariably futile, he warns. He accuses the right-wing side of being motivated by ‘hunger for money’ in their attacks on leading artists.

In one of their customary two weekly editorials, the editors of Magyar Narancs also suspect that right-wing authors merely intend to get ‘closer to the till’ and that is why some of them even wage a culture war against some of their own people, namely the director of the Petőfi Museum of Literature who promoted left-liberal leaning writers, and the director of the State Opera (see BudaPost, June 5). The editors accuse proponents of change in the cultural world of wanting to annihilate those superior to them and being moved by an ‘incommensurable inferiority complex’.

Responding to these objections in Figyelő, Márton Békés explains that the changes he advocates must come ‘from below’ and ‘politicians have no business there’. Political will cannot replace quality films, books and theatre plays, he adds.