Hungary is once again caught in the international crossfire of criticism due to a shameful scandal. László L. Simon, director of the National Museum, was fired by Culture Minister János Csák because he did not take the last steps to ensure that young people under the age of 18 were not allowed access to the World Press Photo exhibition.
It featured some photos of queer older men who have lived together in a Filipino shared apartment for decades and put on revue performances in women’s clothing. There is no trace of obscenity: it takes a lot of homophobic imagination to discover a danger to young souls here.
The right-wing radical politician Dóra Dúró, president of the “Our Home Movement” party, succeeds again, to make populist capital out of it. She loudly reminds the government to adhere to its own child protection law and ban young people from visiting the photo exhibition.
On the right, the Orbán regime will not tolerate any loss of votes. Especially in the countryside, she lives from her constantly propagated myth of protecting the Christian West from the sinful world, and of course the innocence of Hungarian children.
The frightened government takes over Dóra Dúró’s position and drives out the museum director, his own party comrade, who also dared to make fun of the right-wing radicals and thank them for the advertising campaign: after all, scandals are the best advertising.
Director falls victim to his own laws
The government media, which dominates everything, is almost completely keeping quiet about the incidents; they have to report on their own catastrophe. Ms Dúró is celebrating herself in Parliament, unfortunately rightly so, because she has absolutely prevailed. Now she mocks the ousted director. He became the victim of a law that he helped introduce as a member of parliament.
The rise and fall of László L. Simon makes it clear that this law is in no way about protecting children. Rather, it is a campaign strategy of the all-powerful Fidesz party to functionalize the widespread fears of homosexuals and transsexuals for their own success. A technique of expanding power that has proven to be very successful, especially in rural areas.
Stirring up fears and channeling them for one’s own success is the basis of the illiberal rule of the last 13 years in Hungary, actually the great art of Viktor Orbán. In this case he was overtaken by Dóra Dúró. The liberal capital Budapest shakes its head in disbelief, feeling the renewed embarrassment before the whole world, but the country is cheering on the demagogues. Orbán shows the world where the hammer hangs.
Museum employees suffer
And László L. Simon? He will soon find a back entrance and sit in the chair of power again. However, the concern for the employees of the National Museum, who with moral courage and pride ignored the instructions of the Minister of Culture and allowed young people into the exhibition, is justified. You will go to work with even greater fear in the future.
And can a high school teacher still dare, Thomas Manns To address “Death in Venice”? He has to fear for his existence. Illiberality is a system of systematic uncertainty, fear and hatred replace understanding and kindness. This is how Hungary says goodbye to Europe.
Author and translator
Wilhelm Droste is a German author and translator who lives and works in Budapest. He is the editor of the German-Hungarian magazine “Három Holló/Drei Raben” and writes for various international media.