Protesters rallied in downtown Budapest against the government’s new culture bill on Monday evening.
The crowd completely filled Madach Square, partially impeding traffic on Karoly ring road. Addressing the protest organised by the Katona Jozsef Theatre, Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony said the stage and culture as a whole belonged to the artists and the audience, not politicians. “When we defend the freedom of theatres, we’re also defending the city’s freedom,” Karacsony said. “This is our rightful act of self-defence.” He said that even if the bill passed parliament, it would still be a “dictate” rather than a law.
The mayor said the bill was the ruling Fidesz-Christian Democrat alliance’s attempt at revenge for “losing Budapest” in October’s municipal elections. “The capital will protect its theatres, artists and its freedom,” the mayor said.
Tamas Jordan, director of the Weores Sandor Theatre in Szombathely, in western Hungary, said “every Hungarian who has a clear conscience” must take a stand against the culture bill. Stage director Martin Boross said that an online petition against the bill launched by Hungary’s Alliance for Independent Performing Arts has already attracted some 50,000 signatures.
The demonstration was also addressed by Bela Pinter, founder of Bela Pinter and Company, Pal Macsai, director of the Orkeny Theatre, Katona Jozsef Theatre actress Andrea Fullajtar, Beata Barda, CEO of Budapest’s Trafo House of Contemporary Arts, and actress Franciska Farkas.
Ministry: Culture bill will create clear conditions around funding of theatres
The new culture bill before parliament will create “crystal clear and predictable” conditions around the funding and operation of theatres, the Ministry of Human Resources said on Monday.
Under the bill, local councils will still be free to decide whether or not they want to operate their own theatres, the ministry said in a statement. If they choose to run a theatre, they will also have to determine whether it should be entirely locally funded or operated under a mixed funding scheme involving both the state and the local council, it added. “This will create clear conditions,” the statement said. “The upkeep of the theatre will be the full responsibility of its manager.”
Local council-run theatres will be financed from the local council’s budget, state theatres from the state budget and theatres with a mixed operating structure will be financed by both entities, the ministry said.
As regards a sexual harassment scandal at Budapest’s Katona Jozsef Theatre, which involved acclaimed stage and film director Peter Gothar, the ministry said there would have to be consequences regarding the affair. Meanwhile, it said the opposition’s “attempts to provoke an uproar” over the bill was built on “the usual concocting of fake news”. It slammed reports that Budapest’s theatres would have to close down as “lies”, arguing that the municipal council would be free to operate and finance its own theatres.
A theatre owned by the municipal council would only have to close if the municipal assembly decided it no longer wanted to operate it, the ministry insisted.
Source and photo: MTI