The antidemocratic makeover of the cultural scene in Hungary
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Recent legislative steps in Hungary point towards the authoritarian transformation of the institutional structures and funding system of cultural life, by giving an ultra conservative artist group close to the rightwing government, the Hungarian Academy of Arts, an unassailable position of power. As a result of these decisions, the government has endangered the long term autonomy, professionalism and democratic procedures of Hungarian contemporary art.
The government established the Hungarian Academy of Arts (MMA) as the preeminent authority in the field of arts through the new constitution or Fundamental Law, which came into force on 1 January, 2012. The Academy, which was originally founded as a private association in 1992, is made up of artists strongly loyal towards the government. In order to be accepted as a member, the Academy requires a commitment to the nation, a certain “national sentiment.” In 2011 the Hungarian Academy of Arts was transformed into a public body, in a process lacking the minimum of transparency, and was provided straight off with a considerable amount of funding and its own a grandiose headquarters. In November the government further extended the cultural political role of the Hungarian Academy of Arts, endowing the organization with unprecedented power, including exclusive right of decision making over the contemporary cultural infrastructure – and a gigantic budget at the expense of the whole of the Hungarian cultural scene.
According to the announcement of the Ministry, the Academy will have the right to be involved in the committees deciding about important state awards, and next year the entire system of public cultural funding and subsidies will be reviewed in a process involving the president of the Hungarian Academy of Arts. This funding system, which up till now has been operated through advisory boards made up of representatives of the respective artistic fields – including the National Cultural Fund, the organization with the most comprehensive activity in the field of distributing state support on a professional basis – is in danger of being centralized and subordinated to a particular interest group, an ideologically based community.
The Hungarian Academy of Arts, according to their stated intentions, would take over several state tasks and responsibilities in the field of culture, thus for example they would participate in the selection of directors of cultural institutions and museums, and even encroach on how professional organizations work.
From 1 January 2013 the Műcsarnok (Kunsthalle) Budapest, which is the most significant venue and symbolic space for contemporary art in Hungary, will become the property of the Hungarian Academy of Arts. The Hungarian Academy of Arts will also have the right to define the principles and professional concepts of the art policy of the institution. Following this announcement, the present director of Műcsarnok has resigned.
The legal background of the Hungarian Academy of Arts may guarantee its legitimacy in legal terms, it does not however make up for its lack of professional legitimacy. The upgrading and extending of the role of the Hungarian Academy of Arts in cultural policy, including raising its budget without any public and professional consultation, have taken place in an antidemocratic way, excluding professional organizations and forums. Together with the general, dramatic financial restrictions in all fields of culture, these processes will result in the mutilation of the possibility of maintaining a diverse artistic environment in Hungary.
With these measures, the Hungarian government, through the Ministry of Human Resources, have given over the right to make the most important cultural decisions to a society of artists that avows and commits itself to conservative values and national culture, that also opposes the rejection of state and the church control, and rejects a contemporary culture that stands for the autonomy of art and believes in the critical social role of art. It has become evident that the political executive power intends to control contemporary culture in a direct way with the help of legal regulations and put an end to its still existing plurality.
Board of the AICA Section Hungary
(International Association of Art Critics)
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