Hungary government′s theater control plan triggers actor protests | News | DW | 09.12.2019

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Hungary government's theater control plan triggers actor protests

Thousands of Hungarians, including actors and directors, have rallied in Budapest protesting against a government plan to wrest control from theaters, saying it would curb artistic freedom.

Thousands of Hungarians demonstrated in Budapest on Monday against a government plan to wrest control of theaters, saying that it would restrict artistic freedom in the country. Hungary's right-wing national government submitted the controversial draft bill to parliament on Monday. It proposes an overhaul of the financing and management of state-funded theaters.

If the bill is adopted, funding could be conditional on a state appointee having a say in selecting theater directors, Istvan Hollik, a government spokesperson, said on Monday.

The bill, which could be adopted on Wednesday, is significantly shorter and narrower in scope than government plans for much of the culture sector leaked last week that drew condemnation from across the cultural landscape.

The proposal came after a scandal involving a high-profile director rocked one of Budapest's most popular theaters. A senior official in Prime Minister Viktor Orban's ruling Fidesz party later hit out at theaters that "demand money from the government while denying them access to their internal affairs and hiding crimes for years."

Divisions over Orban's policies in Hungary

Sharp criticism

Culture in Hungary is heavily subsidized by the state, with museum, opera and theater tickets generally much cheaper than in Western Europe, for example. At the same time, few municipalities have the means to finance their theaters and often rely on government funds for their upkeep.

The government said the new rules would create transparency and predictability in theater financing, while creating a "totally clear situation'' where the theater's operation is the responsibility of the financial backer. The legislation says that the "basic expectation'' of cultural activities covered by the law is that they "actively protect the interests of the nation's survival, well-being and growth.''

But critics view the bill as a new effort by Orban's government to stifle independence in the arts. Over 45,000 people have signed a petition condemning the proposal.

Renowned actor and director Tamas Jordan highlighted criticism of the government's plans by the leadership of the Hungarian Academy of Arts, which is close to the Orban government. "In decisions about important professional questions, it's possible to rise above political points of view,'' Jordan said.

"When we defend the freedom of theater, we defend the freedom of the city," the recently elected liberal mayor of Budapest, Gergely Karacsony, told protesters gathered in the capital on Monday.

The move is the latest squeeze on independent institutions in the country since Orban came to power in 2010 and launched a centralization drive that has transformed the judiciary, media and education system, among other sectors.

sri/dr (AFP, AP, dpa)

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