Hungary: Pressure on Independent Theatres

 Hungarian theatre artists are on the streets of Budapest, protesting against new attempts of the Orban government against the remaining independent theatres. The well known Katona József Theatre experiences a defamation attack and sends the following letter, which we received via Mitos21  (please, note also the link to the online petition below):

Dear all,

We are writing to you because we need your help to make the international theatre scene aware of the attack that is currently taking place in Hungary against the cultural life and the Katona József Theatre.

The Hungarian government and Parliament will discuss a draft law next week in an exceptional procedure aimed at a drastical attack of the independent culture and independent companies (indirectly also against the directors of the classical theatres) and directly against those local governments led by the opposition supported that maintain theatres, including the Budapest municipal which are supposed to finance theatres.

The Independent companies will no longer have the system of operating subsidies (“TAO”) that existed before (but had already been cut down) that would mean the end of the entire independent scene.

In the case of classical theatres, the Minister of Culture would encroach on the appointment and eventual recall of directors, in exchange for possible state support. In the current structure, municipal-owned theatres (like Katona) receive most of their operating support from the central budget, with a share contribution from the municipalities.

This would also mean that the government could interfere in the appointment of the directors of the municipal theatres.

So while we thought we could breathe a little after the local elections, now we see that theatres are going into a much greater and more serious trouble.

One of the reasons for the changing of the law is a direct political attack against Gábor and the Katona.

A harassment case broke out in our theatre in mid-November. The case was treated by the theatre according to a previously (2 years ago) established procedure. The intruder (Péter Gothár) was banned from the theatre and the case was communicated transparently. The company, the victim and Gábor himself have been consulting a psychologist. In a “normal” democracy here we could put en end to this sad thing.

However, in Hungary, this seems like a great opportunity for the government and the media channeled to it to terminate the Katona that has always been considered a “left-liberal fortress”.
This is being created by a law to be adopted next week which explicitly requires performing arts organizations to work in accordance with the government in exchange for their support. This sentence itself is included in the draft law.

Of course, we try to fight against the law together with the professionals as a whole but we have no illusions that this will have no effect on decision-makers.

We know that the possibilities of our colleagues abroad are also quite limited but it would be important somehow to raise awareness of international cultural life and politics on the attack of Katona, the theatres and Hungarian culture as a whole.

Gábor Máté
Gábor Zsámbéki
Edina Weber
and the Katona


A demonstration is being organized next Monday (details soon) and a petition has been launched

(translated to English) that all our friends abroad could sign:

It would be great if you could share the link. Thank you.

WÉBER edina
katona józsef theatre
t. 36 1 3183269