Read this, and weep. It’s the most authoritative demonstration yet of how racist forces are taking over Hungarian culture and politics. Eva Balogh, the author, is a former Dean at Yale University.


The Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his party Fidesz controls over two-thirds of the parliamentary seats. Now they are putting the country through a thorough makeover.

The Canadian-Hungarian historian Éva S Balogh, who runs the internationally acclaimed blog Hungarian Spectrum, describes the political landscape in Orbán‘s Hungary.

December 13 2011 Éva S Balogh

At the end of October the Associated Press reported that Christoph von Dohnanyi, well-known German conductor and grandson of Hungarian composer Ern? von Dohnányi (1877–1960), had cancelled a pair of appearances at the Hungarian State Opera because he didn’t want to “appear in a city whose mayor entrusted the direction of a theatre to two known, extreme right-wing anti-Semites.”[1]

Theatre lovers of Budapest—and they are many in a city of ninety some theatres—staged a demonstration demanding a reversal of the mayor’s decision that was made against the recommendation of a panel of experts. The appointment of two extremist anti-Semites was a political decision, most likely dictated by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán himself. Orbán is willing to appease or even work with the extreme right if his political goals so dictate. As Al Kamen of The Washington Post wrote not long ago, “Viktor Orbán has no appetite for democracy.”[2]

It is not only on my side of the Atlantic that observers consider Prime Minister Orbán antidemocratic and autocratic. The same opinion can be heard in Europe. Ian Bremmer in The Financial Times noted that “Mr. Orban has veered from an ancient Greek path, one that underpins the entire European Union—that of democracy.” Bremmer complains that the European Union not only “lacks the institutions to police its members’ fiscal policies … but alarmingly, there is no institutional or legal recourse that the EU can fall back on to enforce the rules” that would guarantee democracy and civil liberties.[3] Jan-Werner Mueller complains about the same thing in The Guardian.Attention is focused on the fiscal crisis while nobody is paying much attention to “what has been going on in Budapest—the dismantling of the rule of law, the systematic weakening of oppositional media, the creation of a new nationalist and in many ways authoritarian constitution—which arguably put European integration much more in doubt than any problems with the euro.”[4]

What has happened? How could it have happened? In 1989–1990 Hungary was considered to be a model among the former socialist countries where the change of regime occurred smoothly based on a compromise between the representatives of the former regime and those of the opposition. This peaceful changeover was achievable because in its later years the Kádár regime, which with Soviet military help had managed to quash a fledgling multi-party system in 1956, was no longer a harsh dictatorship.

But what was a definite advantage in 1989–1990 became an impediment later. Preparatory negotiations involved only a few dozen men. Although the old Stalinist constitution of 1949 was completely rewritten, there was no nationwide discussion of its key points. What people hoped for was a more prosperous existence; the political structure of the country was of secondary importance in their eyes.

And then came the disappointment, because with the introduction of democracy came existential insecurity, a huge drop in living standards, high unemployment, and of all things, homelessness. All sorts of things Hungarians were unaccustomed to. That was twenty years ago, and the people are still waiting for that prosperity they were seeking at the end of the 1980s. Instead came one austerity program after the other because the new political elite was either inexperienced or irresponsible. Sometimes both.

By now more than 50% of the electorate cannot even pick a party they would be willing to vote for, while a year and a half ago at the national elections 52.73% of the voters opted for Orbán’s party, Fidesz-KDNP. It was a landslide that translated into 67.88% of the parliamentary seats. That meant that Orbán achieved what he hoped for: a two-thirds majority that would enable him to completely change the political structure of the country. It is likely that most people didn’t realize the dangers this super-majority posed to the checks and balances that are essential to any democracy. They were fed up with waiting for the Promised Land that seemed to be farther and farther away—especially in the wake of the financial crisis. They had had enough of reforms and didn’t want to hear the word “austerity.” Orbán promised instant paradise.

Were the socialist-liberal governments between 2002 and 2010 that bad? No, they were not. Expectations of the population were too great and pressure from Orbán in opposition was merciless and vicious. In his relentless attacks on the government Orbán was expressing his fundamental political philosophy. When April H. Foley, theU.S. Ambassador to Hungary between 2006 and 2009, called his attention to the fact that in a democracy the opposition is supposed to work out compromises with the government parties, Orbán’s answer was that it may be so in the West but not in Hungary where there is only one political goal: to win elections.

And win he did, with a margin that allows him to do whatever he wants. He can turn the whole country upside down, and if he has “no appetite for democracy,” he can get rid of it. This is what Orbán is doing at the moment with the assistance of hundreds and hundreds of willing ideologues who have been waiting breathlessly for their time to come.

Yes, there have been several missteps, but these “mistakes” occurred mainly in the economic and financial sectors. And that was because the plan that had been worked out by him and his economic “right-hand” as he called György Matolcsy, the minister in charge of the economy, couldn’t be implemented because of the resistance of the European Union. He was not allowed to increase the deficit. Thus, the government had to improvise: bank levies, the nationalization of private pension funds, lowering and raising taxes.

The rest of the important changes made since April 2010 were premeditated and worked out to the last detail. Without going into all the particulars, Orbán is building a government structure and a political system that has mighty little to do with democracy. The system that is being formed is highly centralized; the state will be paramount at the expense of the local governments. Hospitals and schools are being nationalized without compensation. This move requires a change in the constitution which, given the two-thirds majority, is no problem at all. In fact, in the last year or so, the constitution has been changed at least four or five times.

The Constitutional Court’s powers have been severely curtailed and diluted with the addition of five new judges, all handpicked by Orbán. A new office whose head will be appointed by the prime minister will select judges to replace the almost three hundred judges who were let go when the compulsory retirement age was lowered from 70 to 62. The prosecutor’s office has been in Fidesz hands ever since the appointment of Péter Polt as chief prosecutor in 2002.

Orbán also has rather peculiar ideas about the role of education. According to common wisdom the better educated the population the more successful the society and economy of the country. Orbán and his fellow politicians are following a different path. They are lowering the age of compulsory education to 16 from 18. They are planning to cut back on higher education so that fewer students will be able to attend colleges and universities. In any case, Orbán is not the intellectual type and one suspect that he has only disdain for people interested in the liberal arts. He keeps talking about a “work-based society” and gives examples of the kind of physical work that will bring prosperity to Hungary. A rather retrograde view in the twenty-first century from the Prime Minister of a relatively well developed country.

What kind of society does Orbán have in mind as the result of his efforts? First and foremost one in which he and his party will be in power for many years to come. He made that clear already in September 2008 in a speech before a select audience. He outlined his vision of a new Hungary in which there will be one “central power,” a governing party that will be in charge for decades. According to him “dual power,” meaning a political system in which the opposition has a significant role to play, leads only to superfluous bickering which impedes effective governing. In brief, Orbán is trying to build a system in which there will be an opposition giving the appearance of democracy, but where the opposition will be so weak that it will not be able to exert any influence on the course of events.

For the time being he seems to be successful. The opposition is divided. On the one hand, there is a fairly large contingent of parliamentary members from the extreme right (Jobbik) and, on the other, there are two parties on the left which between themselves do not see eye to eye. Moreover, one of them, the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), just split along ideological lines. At the moment in the 384-member parliament Fidesz-KDNP has 262 and the far-right Jobbik party has 45 members. These two parties often vote together. On the left, MSZP used to have 58 members, ten of who now sit with the independents. LMP, a party that is hard to characterize but whose members usually vote against the Government, holds 15 seats. In brief, the Government can do whatever it wants.

In the last year and a half, Orbán has made sure that the media would not pose difficulties. A media law was adopted which, although it didn’t introduce outright censorship, put severe restraints on media workers. They are simply afraid to express views that the almighty Media Authority might deem punishable by huge fines that would put their newspapers, radio stations, and television stations at risk. As it is, most of the media outlets that are critical of the government are on the brink of bankruptcy. Companies are afraid to support them with advertising for fear of not receiving government contracts or of being the target of some other harassment. The frequency of the country’s only liberal radio station will most likely be taken away soon.

The public television stations and radio have for some time been under Fidesz’ influence, but their coverage since the election has become blatantly one-sided. For example, on October 23, 100,000 people staged a demonstration with the call “I don’t like this regime!” MTV, the Hungarian government controlled television station, simply ignored it. Even commercial television stations are reluctant to cover political news in fear of retaliation. Thus, a lot of people are being left in ignorance about what is going on in the country.

What is missing to ensure a couple of decades of Orbán rule is a change in the electoral law. But such a revision is already in the works. According to estimates, the new law will further distort the electoral results. If at the last elections 53% of the votes was sufficient to receive 69% of the parliamentary seats, with the new law that same 53% would translate into well over 75% of the seats! Currently, the election is conducted in two rounds so that candidates who trail after the first round can make deals in the hope of a reversal. According to Fidesz’ plans, the second round will be eliminated. That would mean that in order to defeat the current government party the opposition parties would have to agree on a single candidate. Given the fragmentation of the opposition, this will be very difficult.

As the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during a meeting with members of the Hungarian liberal-socialist opposition in Budapest, “the key question from the point of view of Hungarian democracy is what kind of electoral law will be enacted.” As long as “there are free and fair elections Hungarians will be able to express their political will.” Indeed, but on the basis of the experiences of the last year and half one is not at all sure whether this will be the case.


Éva S. Balogh

Éva S. Balogh runs the English-language blog Hungarian Spectrum, which has a large international following. As a young student she left Hungary in 1956 after the Soviets crushed Hungary’s popular anti-communist uprising. She immigrated to Canada and later moved to the United States to continue her studies. After receiving her Ph.D. she taught East European history and was a college dean at Yale University. Her published work focuses on Hungarian history between the two world wars. In October 2011 she was one of the founders of the Canadian-Hungarian Democratic Charter.




Marshall Marcus quit as head of music to find his inner Venezuelan.  Today they announced his successors.

No due process, no proper search. It’s a double inside job, buggins turn for a pair of loyal staffers.

UPDATE: Some fastidious souls have criticised my headline. My defence: when an inside appointment is made without external candidates being considered, whether in the city or a football stadium, that is popularly referred to as ‘jobs for the boys’. When the same fix is performed for women, equal opportunity terminology applies.

Here’s the press release:


Gillian Moore has been appointed Head of Classical Music and Jane Beese has been appointed Head of Contemporary Music at Southbank Centre from immediate effect. The change of roles for both Gillian and Jane follows the announcement last month that Marshall Marcus has relinquished his role as Head of Music to develop a programme of work, which will significantly deepen the relationship between Southbank Centre and El Sistema.

Southbank Centre has reviewed the structure of the music programming team and created two senior appointments. Gillian Moore Gillian Moorewill be responsible for the development and programming of classical music and Jane will have responsibility for the development and programming of a wide range of contemporary music from rock and electronica to world and folk traditions. Gillian and Jane will work closely together on the whole range of music on offer at Southbank Centre. Gillian’s and Jane’s Jane Beeserespective previous roles as Head of Contemporary Culture and Senior Programmer of Contemporary Music will cease to exist.

Jude Kelly, Artistic Director at Southbank Centre, said: “I am pleased to announce Gillian and Jane will take up these two appointments, who will work jointly with me developing all aspects of music at Southbank Centre. As a leading and respected international figure in the classical music field and an expert in contemporary classical music and music education, Gillian Moore is uniquely qualified for this role. Gillian was the Artistic Director of London Sinfonietta from 1998–2006 and has played a significant part in the classical music programme we have been proud to build up. She has been responsible for notable festivals such as Varèse, Boulez, Lachenmann and Stockhausen.

Something very weird is happening in Finland.

You may recall that, last month, sketches were found for the Sibelius eighth symphony, thought to have been completely destroyed. Before news of the discovery broke in Helsingin Sanomat, the local Disney Donald Duck magazine had gone to print with a story called “Sipulius and lost symphony” by Kari Korhonen.


In the story, “Sipulius” writes an eighth symphony on commission for Uncle Scrooge who finds that the main theme has a a Morse rhythm that reads: “Uncle Scrooge is a cheapskate penny pincher”. Scrooge then hid the symphony in his safe for decades.

Challenged by his nephews, Scrooge produces the score for a world premiere. The late “Sipilius” is seen leaving the concert hall after decades of silence. “Will you ever compose another symphony”, nephews ask. “I was a composer, not a fortune teller”, answers Sipulius.

The editor of the magazine spilled his coffee on reading Vesa Siren’s story in the Sanomat and went rushing to the magazine’s web page to post a video of the first performance of fragments of Sibelius 8 onto the Donald Duck website.

Doesn’t get much weirder than that.


UPDATE: Vesa Siren adds:

When duck story appeared I phoned the editor to congratulate him and Mr. Korhonen,  and the editor told me the story was comissioned last year. Mr. Korhonen’s work is really good. He lets our Donald search the symphony from the house where “Sipulius” was born, for example, and the house looks just like the real house in Hämeenlinna. Also, of course, the famous painting by Akseli Gallen-Kallela, showing Sibelius drinking with Kajanus and Gallen-Kallela, is versioned etc.


It is really nice to think that some kids that are interested in music and like the cartoon story might use the link and hear this strange music.


But no, I can’t find the “morse alphabet theme” from actual sketches:-)

The English composer John Gardner has died in Hampshire, aged 94.

His chief claim to popularity was the Christmas carol, Tomorrow shall be my dancing day,a perennial at Kings and on TV. Watch it here.

In the 1950s, Gardner was much in demand. He had an opera. The Moon and Sixpence, staged at Sadlers Wells and a piano concerto chosen by John Barbirolli for the Cheltenham Festival. But public success proved ephemeral and he dedicated himself to teaching. His last work, a bassoon concerto, opus 249, was completed in 2005.

John Gardner conducting, 1967

The death is reported of Russell Hoban, author of The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz. He was 86.

Hoban was a pioneer of magic realist fiction, a successful children’s writer and the librettist of a Harrison Birtwistle opera, The Second Mrs Kong.

His son, Wieland Hoban, is a composer.

Press Gazette reports that the vanity website is opening a UK culture section on which selected amateurs can post their thoughts.

Among the chief bloggers will be the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, following the lead given yesterday by his Arts Council lackey, Alan Davey.

And that is the diving line between HuffPo and real media. The job of journalism is to speak truth to power. The role of HuffPo is pet poodle.

It’s Karl Jenkins’s The Peacemakers, coming up on January 16.

I once described Jenkins’ music as disposable – in the very sense, in the way that much of what Haydn and Mozart turned out was never intended to be heard more than once or twice. Karl seems to have got around that drawback by seeding a load of Google-search named into his work to ensure that it gets repeated widely and often.

Good luck to him.

More here.

The reggae singer who went Chassidic is now going somewhere else. Mattisyahu has tweeted a beardless shot of himself Matisyahu posted pictures of himself on Twitter after shaving his signature beard, Dec. 13, 2011. (Photo via Twitter)

and announced a split with the Chabad movement that brought him back to devout Jewish observance.

Where he’s going next is unclear, though it is major-network news in the US.

I was much taken by his energy and sincerity when we talked five years ago and hope some of that will carry over into his next incarnation. One thing is certain, he says: No more Chassidic reggae superstar.

I guess that leaves a gap in the market. Any takers?

Matsiyahu, pictured with and without his beard