Conductor Iván Fischer pays the price for his criticism of Orbán regime

Hungarians received yet another reminder of the consequences of speaking out against the Orbán regime. The Budapest Festival Orchestra (BFZ), which is known for innovative, even experimental presentations of music, in order to promote what it refers to as “communal creativity, tolerance and equal opportunities,” saw its municipal funding from the Budapest City Council cut by two thirds, from 260 million forints to just 60 million (approx. $280,000). The BFZ is led by Founder and Music Director Iván Fischer. The 65 year old conductor is internationally renowned and respected, being the recipient of the French Republic’s Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, an honourary member of the Royal Academy of Music in London, as well being the recipient of the Golden Medal from the Republic of Hungary.

Iván Fischer. Photo: Péter Kollányi.

Iván Fischer. Photo: Péter Kollányi / MTI.

But Mr. Fischer is also an outspoken critic of growing antisemitism in Hungary and of the policies of the Orbán government. In December 2015, the pro-government Magyar Idők daily newspaper ran a story about how the conductor has “stabbed Hungary in the back,” because it was revealed that four years earlier, he had written a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, observing that “the Orbán government was dismantling democracy in Hungary.” Mr. Fischer’s letter was sent to Mrs. Clinton’s lawyer and confidant, Vernon Jordan, prior to her visit to Hungary, in which the conductor added that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was “building a bleak regime.” The letter became public in December 2015, as part of documentation released in an unrelated American court case.

It is clear as day, that the decision of the Fidesz-dominated Budapest municipal government and council to massively cut Mr. Fischer’s funding five months after this letter came to light is yet another example of the political revenge that we have already witnessed in many quarters. This time, however, over a thousand Hungarian supporters of the Budapest Festival Orchestra and Mr. Fischer took to the streets Saturday, and protested in Vörösmarty Square, at an event that doubled as an open air concert and a demonstration.

Meanwhile, Budapest’s Fidesz Mayor, István Tarlós, launched a lengthy verbal assault against Mr. Fischer and his orchestra.

“It’s possible to curse us free of charge–you don’t even need 60 million forints for that,” noted Mr. Tarlós, in reference to the modest funding that BFZ will be receiving, following the major cut. “Not everything is running well with the Orchestra’s productions. If three or four people visit pensioners and play music for them, then that’s a nice project, but it isn’t a concert,” added Mayor Tarlós, sarcastically.

Mr. Fischer noted that the major decrease in funding from the municipal government will mean that the Orchestra will have to cancel 30 visits to schools, where their goal is to introduce children to the world of music and musical instruments. As well, another 10 operas, geared towards children, will also face the chopping block; so will a series of smaller concerts in nursing homes.

The Budapest Festival Orchestra is an important social outreach program in Hungary, bringing music to small children, to the elderly in nursing care and to the vulnerable in general. It is shameful that Mr. Fischer’s personal, critical views of the Orbán government resulted in such a major cut in funding.

But it’s also a reminder that the Orbán regime never forgets and never forgives any public criticism of its policies. There will always come a time when those who voice their opinions will have to pay the price.

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