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Weeklies on the firing of the director of the National Museum

November 13th, 2023

Opposition-leaning commentators believe that the decision to sack the director was a typical example of how things work under the incumbent government, while their pro-government counterpart expresses his appreciation of the dismissed director, without taking sides over the cause of his dismissal.

László L. Simon was abruptly fired from his post as director of the National Museum because he failed to prevent minors from attending the World Press Photo exhibition where a few pictures represented a gay old age home in the Philippines (see BudaPost, November 7).

In Heti Világgazdaság, Péter Morvay suggests the director didn’t understand the workings of the system when he thought that he could behave like an intellectual, disregarding orders and poking fun at those who use homophobia as a political weapon. His successor, Judit Hammerstein was dismissed from her earlier post as director of the National Library without becoming persona non grata forever, he remarks, which suggests to him that Mr Simon may be similarly rehabilitated sometime in the future.

In Magyar Hang, Benedek Ficsor and Ádám Makkai describe László Simon as someone deeply embedded in the hierarchy of the regime and therefore suspect that his dismissal was decided at levels higher than the Ministry of Culture. They believe he overestimated his elbow room when he openly stood up to his Minister, ironically indicating the absurdity of confining the exhibition to visitors over 18 years of age. The problem was that, by the same token, he inadvertently also made fun of the regime itself, they add.

In its first page editorial, Magyar Narancs also believes that László Simon felt too secure in his position and didn’t realise that the government is extremely keen on not allowing the far right to seduce some of its voters. In fact, the exhibition was denounced to the minister by far-right MP Dóra Dúró, for violating the recently adopted Child Protection Law which prohibits the portrayal of paedophilia and homosexuality in places where minors might see it. Throughout his career, the editors write, Mr Simon has worked tirelessly to build the system. That he now expresses surprise that the same system has spat him out, they write, suggests a failure on his part.

In an entirely different vein, Demokrata’s András Bencsik reassures the Minister of Culture that he has no intention of either opposing or interpreting his decision to dismiss the director of the museum. However, he assures Mr Simon of his appreciation and respect for his erudition and sharp spirit. He also remarks that 120 years ago, the National Museum employed in a leading position László Réthy, a well-known scholar who was also the author of extremely witty but obscene poems. Luckily enough, he concludes, no Dóra Dúrós existed at the time in Hungary and thus, Dr Réthy could keep his post.

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