After 2010, when Fidesz, the governing party gained constitutional power at the elections, the previous focus on European integration and values moved towards national traditions and conservatism. This included, among others, increased attention on the culture of the approximately two million ethnic Hungarians in neighbouring countries. However, the objectives of cultural policy have not been enacted in official policy declarations. The statements of the Prime Minister suggest the main clues to the subsequent priorities in the cultural arena.
Until recently, culture did not figure among the top priorities in the evolution of the System of National Cooperation (Nemzeti Együttműködés Rendszere – NER), as the current political power self-identifies. A new era began in 2019, when the Prime Minister announced a focus on the cultural transformation of the country, in the political sense ot the term. From the ideological stance the emphasis shifted towards competitiveness: the programmes and institutions connected to the ruling power are expected to achieve and exhibit excellence.
The system does not operate along the conventional algorithm of defining cultural policy priorities, preparing and executing implementation; a politicised culture without policies. Participatory planning and negotiated decision-making are almost entirely absent. The state Secretariat for Culture in the Ministry for Human Resources or the Committee for Culture of the Parliament have negligible roles, and the same applies to the main bodies of the system: the Hungarian Arts Academy – Magyar Művészeti Akadémia, MMA, or the National Council for Culture. Fundamental changesoccur overnight and are often linked to influential personalities.
Continued centralisation is an important feature of the system. Mandates and resources of local governments are limited and social and professional partners are seldom consulted. Annual budgets reveal little of the next priorities as their provisions are significantly overwritten by ad hoc government decisions during the year. The lack of detailed clear strategies does not mean financial neglect: on the contrary, the public cultural spending of the government is among the highest in the continent. In particular, a significant amount is spent on preservation and reconstruction of built cultural heritage and new buildings. An eminent example of the latter is the Eiffel Forum: a vast complex of locomotive repair shops turned into high quality concert halls, rehearsal rooms, warehouses, and workshops of the State Opera, inaugurated in September 2021.
Hand in hand with the accelerated reorganisation of the institutional structures of higher education, research and media, the past few years have seen a basic overhaul of the cultural arena. An iconic step was the establishment of the Foundation for Hungarian Culture (Magyar Kultúráért Alapítvány) in April 2021, a “Public Interest Foundation Performing Public Functions”, as a new kind of institution introduced by the Parliament on the same day. Sizeable assets and competences as well as huge current and prospected financial resources and properties have been donated to the new Foundation.
1918- 1945: Hungary was a relatively small East-Central European country, whose cultural performance reflected the legacies of a once momentous middle power of a thousand-year-old kingdom, and had the features of a semi-feudal societal arrangement.
1945-1956: Up until the revolution of 1956, a crude, schematic political course prevailed, slavishly imitating the Soviets, oppressing every kind of autonomy in cultural life, applying nevertheless important measures in the democratisation of culture.
1960-1989: Cultural dogmatism began to melt away in the early 1960s. Up until 1989, in culture, like in other areas of life, a protracted process of revision was in progress and the most gradual transition within the entire communist bloc had taken place. As a result of state subsidies, culture was accessible at low cost, and cultural consumption (reading of books, attendance at the theatre, cinema, concerts, libraries, museums, and exhibitions) was growing. Under dictatorship, art acquired a specific political significance, which contributes to the view of many that culture has been one of the losers in the transition.
1990-2010: Transition from communism took place amidst great economic difficulties. The national objective of European integration defined the priorities and modalities of cultural policies. Nevertheless, a fatigue from the decades of reforms and expectations led to increasing economic and social crisis in Hungary – aggravated, but not really caused, by the 1998 world crisis. Those years did not favour concerted action for culture.
Since 2010: The System of National Cooperation (Nemzeti Együttműködés Rendszere – NER) has prevailed.
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