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Government to overhaul how culture is financed

December 11th, 2019

Left-wing and liberal commentators accuse the government of changing the way culture is financed, in order to bring it under its control. Pro-government pundits dismiss the accusations.

On Friday, Index.hu published the draft of a government bill envisaging more centralized decision-making on cultural matters. Among other elements, the bill would give the Minister of Human Resources a veto right over the appointment of directors of theatres belonging to local councils which are also subsidized by the government. ( The final version only stipulates that the local councils must agree with the government on running those theatres.) According to the original draft, the National Cultural Fund, which is currently in charge of subsidies for cultural projects, would be replaced by a National Cultural Council led by the Minister of Human Resources. According to the final version submitted to Parliament on Monday (9 December), the National Cultural Fund appears set to remain the main decision-making body in cultural funding – references to it have been withdrawn. Nonetheless, thousands of people, including prominent opposition leaders, protested against the planned changes in Budapest on Monday. 

Népszava’s Róbert Friss accuses the government of launching a ‘total culture war’ reminiscent of Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda strategy. The left-wing commentator describes the Hungarian government as a typically authoritarian regime which aims to dominate all fields of social and cultural life and oppress everyone who does not share its opinions. Friss thinks that the government wants to centralize decision-making on key cultural positions, as a  reaction to the local elections where the opposition won control of eleven cities. He predicts that the government’s ‘culture war’ will become ever more desperate in the build-up to the 2022 Parliamentary election.

On 444, László Szily interprets the government’s decision to water down the proposed centralization of cultural spending as a sign of an internal rift within the governing party.  The liberal commentator speculates that the government’s plans to centralize decision making in culture has ‘freaked out’ many right-leaning artists and even some Fidesz MPs.

In Magyar Nemzet, András Kárpáti dismisses the opposition’s accusations, and claims that the government’s amendments are actually intended to defend right-wing theatre directors in Budapest whom Mayor Karácsony may want to replace. The pro-government columnist adds that the government also wants to have more say in decisions on key cultural positions after theatre and film director Péter Gothár’s sexual harassment scandal (see BudaPost November 28). Kárpáti finds it fully justified for the government to have more leverage over theatres and other cultural projects that are mostly funded by the government.

Magyar Hírlap’s Dániel Galsai finds the opposition’s accusations nauseating. The pro-government pundit alleges that left-wing liberal artists are trying to secure more funding for themselves by accusing the government of dictatorial rule. Galsai contends that liberals want to bring back the times when they had what he calls a 95 per cent dominance over cultural life and the media.

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