6.7.2023, 16 Uhr

The Silent Way towards Totalitarianism

Performance “Just Started to Listen”, 31 May 2023, Central European University Budapest

Since the founding of the European Alliance of Academies in 2020, there has been a special focus on the cultural policy mechanisms that the Hungarian government has been using for years to restrict independent art and cultural production. Based on the report Freedom of Art and Autonomy of Cultural Institutions in Hungary the European Alliance of Academies submitted a Letter of Complaint with the then UN Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights Karima Bennoune and an Online Petition at the European Parliament in May 2021. With a solidarity event in Budapest Alliance members supported the Hungarian writers' association Szépírók Társasága, a founding member of the European Alliance.

For the past two weeks, Alliance members have been following the very disturbing developments in the Hungarian book market – Cécile Wajsbrot, author and member of the European Alliance of Academies, summarises the concerns of Alliance members about the situation for art and culture in Hungary:

“The Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC) – originally founded in 1996 as a private university for art and social sciences – has over the years become an institution to shape the elite of Orbán’s society as well as helping to create an international network of right and far-right forces in Europe. Last May the MCC bought 90% shares of the private Modul University in Vienna. It will not infer with the University curricula or academics, was the announcement from MCC. But on the Kahlenberg, where the university is located, many were concerned about the future.

Two weeks ago, the same MCC has acquired a 98,41% stake in Libri, which is, along with Lirà, one of the two main players in the Hungarian publishing landscape. The MCC had already acquired 25,4% of Libri in 2020, enough to block decisions. Libri, as well as other commercial or most prestigious publishing houses featuring authors such as Péter Nádas, Colm Tóibín or Carlo Rovelli, possesses about sixty bookstores all over Hungary. Despite reassurances, a few authors already informed they would step out from Libri. The very official Hungarian Writers’ Union on the contrary welcomed the news.

And now the Parliament is considering a new set of restrictions in order to diminish professional autonomy for teachers in response to their demands for higher wages and reduced centralization.

We all know or should know how it works. At the beginning, dictators tends to offer a rather friendly face. But in the secrecy of offices and departments, they are carefully preparing the coming assaults against every kind of freedom – education, art, culture. And they later or earlier show their true faces. This is happening in Hungary, it is happening now in Poland, it is beginning to happen in Italy. Who will be the next in line?

Having just come back from Budapest, going soon to Cracow, the European Alliance of Academies wants to express its great concern about increasing aggressions against freedom of expression and creation in Europe, all the more as it happens under cover – without too much noise, without too much publicity.”

Cécile Wajsbrot