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.


  1. The BUDAPEST FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA is among the 10 best symphonic orchestras in the world. The best Hungarian musical and art achievement, together with the Nobel prize for literature, over the last 50 years or more.

  2. Avatar András B. Göllner says:

    The arrogance of power and the deception is plain to see. And yet, even in Canada, none of the regular dinner guests of Orbán’s Canadian Ambassador, Bálint Ódor, are willing to do what is right and just. The influential Ottawa opinion leaders, the Bay street moguls who open the Ambassador’s door to the Canadian Jewish community, to the politicians, refuse to speak out publicly against the disgusting travesty of justice, the destruction of the rule of law and civil society in Hungary. The Orbán regime has been engaged in a massive affinity fraud for the past five years, and especially against Western Jewry. When Iván Fischer came to play in Canada, Ambassador Ódor hurried back-stage, kissing the conductor on both cheeks in front of the cameras. When Fischer got home, his funding was eliminated. Canada’s Jews should not listen to what Orbán’s mouthpiece says in Canada. They should watch what his boss is doing back home, and then speak up publicly. THAT is the right thing to do.

  3. Avatar Charlie London says:

    It was easy for Orban to cut the funding.

    Could you ever imagine him being in the audience listening to Bela Bartok?

    He maybe has to do it occasionally to keep up appearances but he’d much rather be on the terraces with the thugs spitting tökmag in tribal alliance hoping for a goal.

    The Budapest Festival Orchestra and Mr Fischer were always doomed under Orban’s Commocracy.

    He was just waiting for an excuse.

  4. Avatar Child of survivors says:

    My humble opinion: if the dumb Hungarian born Jews would stop vacationing and supporting Hungarian events in Hungary, soon they would feel the pinch back there- they all would eat Tokmag – if they were lucky..come on people: you were thrown into cattle trains, you were thrown in the icy Danube, you were stolen of your roofs over your heads, insurance policies, FAMILY!
    Go visit the USA. Israel and again Israel!


    Apparently what’s going on is (just) a tad more complicated than it sounds.

    It is not the Fidesz government ministry that finances the Festival Orchastra that has cut the funding (and their tranche is considerably bigger).

    It is the City of Budapest, which funds a smaller tranche, that has done all the cutting. Of course the mayor, Tarlos is a Fidesz man. But Orban, anticipating the likely backlash of this piece of petty punitivity, wanted the pleasure and power-play of the funding cut, but did not want to be on the receiving end of the inevitable international flak. So he let Tarlos play the role of bad cop, and reserved the option of washing his hands of the matter.

    It’s Orban’s characteristically devious way of engineering things, though Tarlos is a pretty nasty piece of work in his own right.

    It is neither the career nor the reknown of Ivan Fischer — who is one of the most distinguished conductors in the world today, much in demand everywhere — that will suffer from this latest instance of Orbanian malice. It is Hungary’s classical music-lovers, but Orban rightly reckons that these are less likely to be his voters. And it’s also the next generation’s potential music-lovers in schools, but they’re better off doing sports (which Orban has lately reckoned as part of his health budget). And the concerts in the senior homes? The seniors are no doubt better off in church church.

    And for those who want music, let them go to the pop music concerts of Orban’s pal Akos Kovacs — the one who lately opined that it is not a woman’s task to earn the same amount of money as a man…

    • Avatar Charlie London says:

      Of course the ‘Nation’ sponsors it’s best known Orchestra – just like England supports the London Symphony Orchestra.

      And Budapest sponsors it because that is where it is domiciled.

      However Orban, in ‘concert’ with Tarlos, have colluded to hobble the orchestra through its funding.

      They want to get rid of the ‘Jew’ and seek revenge on the 2011 analysis of Orban’s government which has got considerably worse and is due for another, worse analysis.

      Sans doubt.

  6. Avatar András B. Göllner says:

    Stevan Harnad is of course right – the strangling of dissent in Hungary is always “a tad more complicated” when Orbán is involved in the project and when it doesn’t take place on the Boardwalk. This is exactly such a case.

    Some of the support for the Festival Orchestra is maintained as leverage, as a reminder to Fischer, that the knife is at his jugular. Tarlós and the Fidesz spin-doctors tell us, that the conductor is hysterical, the cause for the drastic cut, has nothing to do with his personal correspondence or dislike of autocratic rule. Last but not least, the amount that is left for the orchestra is just enough to suffocate the patient if he carries on fighting for air.

    This latest maneuver is similar to an earlier strangulation, involving the Budapest municipal theater, when the anti-Semite Csurka, was appointed as co-director of that public company. There too, the fall guy was Tarlós, but Orbán pulled the strings. (The former, in case some in this audience did not know, is not only an autocrat, and happy to have an anti-Semite run the municipality’s theater, but is also homophobe. But let’s not complicate matters.) As in the case of the municipal theater’s strangulation, the Canadian-Hungarian friends of Orbán’s Canadian Ambassador are once again sitting on their mouths, and refusing to say anything publicly at the sight of the Festival Orchestra’s strangulation. They continue to legitimize the illegitimate, to provide cover for the autocracy. In the UK, the British Writer’s Guild, Equity, collectively raised their voices, refused to eat out of the hands of Hungary’s Ambassador to the UK. Here, the friends of Ódor, collectively raise their glasses to their host, and are willing participants in the affinity fraud.

  7. Avatar karl busch says:

    Orban said: ” Don’t believe what I say watch what I do” So right on with the Orchestra funding cut as well. Nothing happens in Hungary without Orban’s approval. This has been the case for over 5 years.

  8. Why can’t I read the info about the 4.7 million USD (1.15 billion Hungarian forints) governmental funding which was gaved by the Orban-regime this year to the Budapest Fedtival Orchestra? Why can’t I read that Orban-regime increased its funding by 100 million forints this year?

  9. Avatar András B. Göllner says:

    @ Laci

    Why don’t you tell us why you – or I for that matter, cannot read about these massive, and ever increasing public funds for the Budapest Festival Orchestra. ?? Why don’t you tell us why Fischer is lying through his teeth, why is he trying to mislead the world, by proclaiming that Fidesz is cutting his funding, when in fact, it is doing exactly the opposite ?? Come on, spill the beans, give is the facts, give us the evidence, prove to us that Fischer never had it so good. I am sure, Christopher Adam will give you plenty of space in the HFP to document your thesis. Here is your chance for that elusive Pulitzer Prize. Make it good, Laci.

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