Expert author: Péter Inkei
Last update: May 4th
Expert author: Péter Inkei
Last update: May 4th
The State Secretary for Culture at EMMI, the ministry in charge of human resources, has announced a project called Thank you Hungary! It offers help to independent performing artists whom the pandemic has deprived of opportunities to step on stage. Individually or in groups, artists can submit proposals of artistic performances to one of seven designated national cultural institutions according to their artistic genre (theatre, classical and contemporary music, jazz, folk, circus, dance etc.) before May 18. The proposals will be evaluated by the end of May. The artists of accepted bids will be remunerated immediately from a budget of one billion forints, about EUR 2.8 million. The seven cultural institutions (which include the National Theatre, the National Dance Theatre, and the state concert agency) will be in charge to arrange for the specific circumstances of the presentation: time, place, venue and receiving organisation. Performances will take place between 30 and 90 days after the pandemic emergency is called off.
The project is in line with the philosophy of the government about a labour-based society: instead of aid, the project offers the artists opportunity to work and income.
The Parliament discusses the proposal to transform the status of cultural public employees (civil servants) into the general condition stipulated in the Labour Code as of 1 November. This affects about 20,000 people in libraries, museums, archives, public theatres and orchestras. Act 1992/XXXIII on Public Employment has meant job security and predictable level of income. Its salary matrix has not been upgraded for long which resulted in very low average income in this domain. The proposal may enable employers to differentiate more and reward outstanding performance.
What makes this relate to COVID-19 is the procedure. The proposal was submitted to Parliament on Easter Thursday evening allowing for comments before Tuesday early morning. Critics decry the timing. Without prior formal or informal (media) discussion, trade unions and professional associations were supposed to formulate their opinions when the restrictions of the pandemic and the four-day Easter holiday practically inhibited meaningful coordination. With or without foundation, toxic political motivations are sought behind the issue.
Concerning COVID-19, the first 400 performing artists have received aid in a range around a couple hundred euros from the copyright association. The Ministry for Culture, however, has not yet come forward with specific measures and the first moves in the frame of the general governmental response to the crisis do not apply to cultural actors and operators.
In Hungary the pandemic entered and elicited effects and reactions in a similar way to most countries in Europe. Cultural institutions like almost all public places were closed down, events were cancelled or postponed, mobility is limited, several factories halted, home office mode and social distancing are the rule.
The cultural associations rose soon. They composed and issued calls and declarations, organised surveys among their members about the harms suffered, about their reactions planned or executed, and the assistance required. Plenty of public and civilian campaigns assured increased amount of free access to cultural products and performances on the internet.
One of the most professional analyses of the situation was carried out by the NGO Music Hungary, which listed 15 specific recommendations to the authorities for the solution of the crisis that live music is suffering. Most of these recommendations relate to the financing of artists and cultural operations in a variety of formations, bereft of income.
The first reaction of the government was to freeze payments from the National Cultural Fund (NKA) and the cultural state secretary’s sources. As an ironic exception is the subsidy approved by the minister from his own fund to Folkarena 2020 (Táncháztalálkozó), planned for March but cancelled: this grant helps to cover expenses accumulated during months of preparation, to address the existential challenges of the preparatory team and the performers, to keep hope of future alive. The sector hopes that this exception will become the rule.
Regarding public intervention, as of April 9th these are still in phase of preparation on the general level and about the cultural field. The cultural state secretary holds video sessions involving the various subsectors in the construction of coordinated measures. The latest item on the website of the cultural secretariat is from March 23rd about collecting information on the consequences of the crisis.
The cultural community hopes that the developments will be exempt from the political division that has been haunting this nation.