Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Musicians speak out about Hungary

Sometimes, someone has to speak out. More and more frequently, it is the musicians, artists and writers who do so.

Just look at what is happening in Hungary. A new law threatens to muzzle the media; racist, xenophobic and homophobic attitudes are taking a powerful hold; and who leads the way to protest? Musicians. Yesterday the conductor Adam Fischer, who resigned his post at the Hungarian State Opera in anger at the increasingly heavy-handed influence of the government, raised the issues in Brussels, along with a group of Hungarian authors and artists.

Hungary now holds the EU presidency. Andras Schiff wrote an eloquent letter to the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago (here is the original link, but I am pasting the letter in below):

Hungary's E.U. role questioned

Saturday, January 1, 2011; 5:50 PM
Congratulations for the Dec. 26 editorial "The Putinization of Hungary." Vladimir Putin's Russia is not a member of the European Union; Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Hungary is. This formidable institution is not only a business and trade organization, it also claims to represent common European values. In view of the latter, is Hungary ready and worthy to take on the presidency of the community, as it was scheduled to do Saturday?
The latest news is indeed alarming. Tolerance levels are extremely low. Racism, discrimination against the Roma, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, chauvinism and reactionary nationalism - these symptoms are deeply worrying. They evoke memories that we have hoped were long forgotten. Many people are scared.
The latest media laws are just the last link in a sequence of shocking events. Many of these concern the arts. The E.U. presidency is an honor and responsibility. The E.U. and the United States must keep an eye on Hungary. The E.U. must set the standard for member countries. We must guard and respect our common values.
Andras Schiff, Florence, Italy
The writer, who was born in Hungary, is a concert pianist.
The racist nature of the Internet attacks directed at him since then prove his point.

And now the big London Hungarian concert is nearly upon us: the Budapest Festival Orchestra with its conductor Ivan Fischer (brother of Adam) is performing a major gig at the Royal Festival Hall on Sunday to launch both the Hungarian EU presidency and the Liszt bicentenary. It's one of the greatest orchestras on earth; Fischer is an inspirational musician and is Jewish himself (I've just written a piece about him for the JC, plugging this very concert). Hungarian dignitaries aplenty will be there.

Hungary, the country of Liszt, Bartok and Kodaly, has possibly the best, most egalitarian musical tradition of all, one that represents quite the reverse of the political and societal attitudes that are on the rise there. So it is only right that today's great musical performers should use their fame as a platform to protest against these ugly, disgraceful elements. Hungary can and should do better.

Here's a pertinent report from The Independent today. 

UPDATE: Who will confront the hatred in Hungary? asks Nick Cohen (The Guardian)