Viktor Orbán’s authoritarian government plans to turn the Budapest International Book Festival (April 20–23) into a political propaganda event.
The festival is supposed to be for book lovers. It is an annual four-day extravaganza with panel discussions, book signings, readings where thousands of newly published and older books can be purchased. (Click here to see this year’s program of the festival.)
This year the event will be packed with government politicians. It will be opened by István Íjgyártó, Minister of State for Cultural and Science Diplomacy and Judit Hammerstein, Deputy Secretary of State of the Ministry of Human Resources of Hungary. Budapest deputy mayor Alexandra Szalay-Bobrovniczky will honor the star guest, Nobel-laureate Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, who will receive the Budapest Grand Prize. Almost ten years ago I had a chance to meet Pamuk in Berkeley, California, and I enjoyed his literary evening.
The organizers this year added a surprise “Guest of Honour” – The Visegrad Countries (V4). Yes, the loose alliance of Poland, Czechia, Slovakia and Hungary is the honorary guest of the festival. This way officials can demonstrate the unity of the four countries and also showcase political propaganda books.
To show that the V4 Countries are fully behind Orban’s anti-immigration policies, the festival will introduce Polish author Pawel Lisicki’s book Jihad and the suicide of the West, a highly controversial book about the dangers of Islamic beliefs. The book will be discussed by András Lánczi, currently the Rector of Corvinus University and ex-boss of Orbán’s lobbying organization, Századvég. (The English language program strategically left out Lánczi’s name!)
I also wonder if Mr. Pamuk is aware of the fact that Mr. Orbán is a great admirer of Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s authoritarian leader. As I understand Mr. Pamuk is less enthusiastic about the Erdogan regime.
It seems that the embattled Orbán government is using every possible venue to advance their political agenda and the Budapest International Book Festival is no exception.
Mr. Pamuk, if I were you, I’d skip this event and find other opportunities to meet Hungarian readers.