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Budapest theatre directors appointed under double political pressure

February 28th, 2020

A right-wing columnist castigates the Budapest Mayor for taking what he calls politically motivated decisions against the advice of a professional panel, while a left-wing outlet accuses the government of meddling in theatre nominations.

In December 2019, Parliament passed a law requiring government consentin the nomination of directors to head those theatres which are at least partly financed from the state budget (see BudaPost, December 11). In response, the Budapest City Council decided to keep five of Budapest’s eleven big theatres under its exclusive control. When the Budapest Council prepared to nominate a new director to head the Szabad Tér (Open Space) theatre company, which operates two open-air theatres, apparently overwriting the unanimous opinion of a professional panel, the government threatened to cancel talks on financing the remaining six theatres. Index wrote that before being ‘blackmailed’ by the government, Mayor Gergely Karácsony had been ‘blackmailed’ by DK Leader Ferenc Gyurcsány, who supposedly told him his people would not approve this year’s budget unless he sides with their candidate to head Szabad Tér. Deputy Mayor Csaba Horváth told Klub Rádió that this information was not exact, but declined ‘to divide the public with further details’. Eventually, the Council decided to nominate both candidates, one responsible for the open-air theatre on Margaret Island, the other in charge of the one in Buda.

In the headline of his Magyar Hírlap column, Dániel Galsai describes Mayor Karácsony as being under the ‘manual control’ of DK leader Ferenc Gyurcsány. Furthermore, he accuses the Mayor of sacrificing his original ideals under pressure from his political partners. While liberals have been loudly warning politicians to stay away from theatres, he writes, the Mayor simply disregarded the opinion of the panel he himself appointed and opted to propose a ‘political’ candidate to head the Szabad Tér theatre company.

On Városi Kurír, on the other hand, Viktória Láng condemns the government for ‘blackmailing’ the Budapest Council. She describes the government’s threat to suspend talks on financing six Budapest theatres as based on ‘a wicked and cheap lie’, namely that any government contribution to the finances of a Budapest theatre is a charitable act. In reality, she writes, Budapest’s big theatres are ‘national institutions’ which are regularly visited by people who live outside the capital.

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