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Jessica Duchen
Wednesday 12th January 2011
Musicians speak out about Hungary

Sometimes, someone has to speak out. More and more frequently, it is the musicians, artists and writers who do so.

Just look at what is happening in Hungary. A new law threatens to muzzle the media; racist, xenophobic and homophobic attitudes are taking a powerful hold; and who leads the way to protest? Musicians. Yesterday the conductor Adam Fischer, who resigned his post at the Hungarian State Opera in anger at the increasingly heavy-handed influence of the government, raised the issues in Brussels, along with a group of Hungarian authors and artists.

Hungary now holds the EU presidency. Andras Schiff wrote an eloquent letter to the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago (here is the original link, but I am pasting the letter in below):

Hungary's E.U. role questioned

Saturday January 1, 2011; 5:50 PM

Congratulations for the Dec. 26 editorial "The Putinization of Hungary." Vladimir Putin's Russia is not a member of the European Union; Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Hungary is. This formidable institution is not only a business and trade organization, it also claims to represent common European values. In view of the latter, is Hungary ready and worthy to take on the presidency of the community, as it was scheduled to do Saturday?

The latest news is indeed alarming. Tolerance levels are extremely low. Racism, discrimination against the Roma, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, chauvinism and reactionary nationalism — these symptoms are deeply worrying. They evoke memories that we have hoped were long forgotten. Many people are scared.

The latest media laws are just the last link in a sequence of shocking events. Many of these concern the arts. The E.U. presidency is an honor and responsibility. The E.U. and the United States must keep an eye on Hungary. The E.U. must set the standard for member countries. We must guard and respect our common values.

Andras Schiff, Florence, Italy

The writer, who was born in Hungary, is a concert pianist.

The racist nature of the Internet attacks directed at him since then prove his point.

And now the big London Hungarian concert is nearly upon us: the Budapest Festival Orchestra with its conductor Ivan Fischer (brother of Adam) is performing a major gig at the Royal Festival Hall on Sunday to launch both the Hungarian EU presidency and the Liszt bicentenary. It's one of the greatest orchestras on earth; Fischer is an inspirational musician and is Jewish himself (I've just written a piece about him for the JC, plugging this very concert). Hungarian dignitaries aplenty will be there.

Hungary, the country of Liszt, Bartok and Kodaly, has possibly the best, most egalitarian musical tradition of all, one that represents quite the reverse of the political and societal attitudes that are on the rise there. So it is only right that today's great musical performers should use their fame as a platform to protest against these ugly, disgraceful elements. Hungary can and should do better.

Here's a pertinent report from The Independent today.

UPDATE: Who will confront the hatred in Hungary, asks Nick Cohen (The Guardian)


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Fischer György
January 14th, 2011
12:01 PM
I have no objections to musicians and a music journalist making utter fools of themselves but shouldn't they familiarize themselves with the score before they play a single note ? If these distinguished people had taken the trouble of informing themselves from primary sources about the Hungarian Media Law and its equivalents in western Europe they might be worth listening to. As it is all we have is a jumble of false notes. Hungary and Viktor Orbán deserve better,

David Nice
January 13th, 2011
9:01 PM
Yes, thanks, Jessica, I did see that at the time, but it still doesn't make entirely clear what the law's about. The good news as I understand it is that EU pressure seems to have worked and there's been quite a bit of backing down, so no need to take Europe to task for caving in. They need to be watched like a hawk, though.

Jessica Duchen
January 13th, 2011
2:01 PM
This article from The Guardian by Nick Cohen has much more:

David Nice
January 13th, 2011
8:01 AM
Thanks for drawing our attention to this alarming state of affairs, Jessica. I didn't even know that Adam Fischer had resigned at the end of last year. What I'd like to know is exactly what the new law says. The Independent article wasn't clear on this.

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About Jessica Duchen

Jessica Duchen is a music journalist and the author of four novels, two biographies and several stage works. She writes regularly for The Independent and BBC Music Magazine. Her latest novel, Songs of Triumphant Love, is published by Hodder.

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