Hungarian Government Uses Cultural Festival in Montreal to Conceal Civil Rights Abuses at Home

Hungary’s government, criticized internationally for trampling on the civil liberties of its citizens and for attacking artists and civic groups that dare to criticize it is staging its largest and most expensive public relations campaign in Canada since the restoration of diplomatic ties between the two countries in the sixties. The million dollar PR extravaganza kicked off at the end of August in Montreal, with a week of cultural performances – entitled La Semaine de la Hongrie à Montréal – and will close on November 5th, with a Gala Dinner-Dance. (For details please visit their website.)

The Canadian Hungarian Democratic Charter (CHDC), a politically non-partisan, pro-democracy advocacy group  wishes to remind Canadians that art should not be used as a mask, to hide political oppression. We applaud Hungarian artists, and condemn those politicians who exploit artistic creativity in order to generate political capital for themselves. We applaud Hungary’s cultural achievements but condemn Hungary’s government for trying to use the achievements of its cultural communities to mask its political failures.

The Hungarian government’s failure to uphold civil liberties, the rule of law and free speech has been widely documented during the past six years. Its anti-constitutional practices have been condemned by the European Union’s Venice Commission, and its unfair electoral practices have been denounced by the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Its rule of law violations have been censured time and time again by majority vote in the European Parliament and by most Western leaders, including Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and the Prime Minister of Italy. Hungary’s human rights abuses have also been frequently criticized by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

While the Hungarian government is rolling out its PR show in Canada’s most culturally diversified metropolis it is also launching an attack on multiculturalism back home. In a referendum, Viktor Orbán’s government is urging Hungarians around the world to support the government’s strategy to bar entry to all refugees fleeing the war torn regions of the Middle East and North Africa. Orbán’s stand on refugees is diametrically opposed to Justin Trudeau’s and mirrors Donald Trump’s wildest anti-Muslim scare-mongering. While Trump wants to make America great again, Orbán wants to make Hungary and Europe Muslim-free again.

The Hungarian government’s anti-refugee stand could not have come at a worse time, as Canadians get ready to celebrate the 60th anniversary of their liberal government’s decision to allow 38,000 Hungarians to settle in this country, following the brutal Soviet repression of Hungary’s fight for freedom in 1956.

The most recent evidence of the Hungarian government’s disrespect for cultural diversity and of its support for racist agitators came on August 20th of this year. On that day, which is Hungary’s National Day, the country’s President gave the government’s Order of Merit to a writer – Zsolt Bayer – who is the country’s most notorious bigot and hate monger. Bayer considers Roma as a people unfit for human co-existence. He blames the Jews for the hatred that resulted in the massacre of 600,000 Jews in Hungary during WWII.

On hearing about the decoration given to Hungary’s champion of hatred, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a global human rights watchdog agency, issued the following statement: “For the Hungarian government to take this step, less than a year after chairing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, gives credence to the claim that their chairmanship was just a cynical act of political manipulation. The true face of the Orbán government is revealed in its continued efforts to honor racist and anti-Semitic figures of Hungary’s past.”

The Washington based Holocaust Memorial Museum also expressed its outrage about Bayer’s award : “[It] reflects the long-standing refusal of the leadership of Hungary to distance itself from …xenophobic, antisemitic, and anti-Roma incitement”.

Since August 20th more than a hundred previous recipients of the Order of Merit have returned their awards in protest. Among them are László Rajk, the artistic director of the Oscar winning Hungarian film, The Son of Saul, and the President of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, András Heisler. It is time that Canadians also make their voices heard.

While some artists and community activists are dealt with by the Orbán government using detention and intimidation, others–like Hungarian composer and conductor Iván Fischer–have seen their funding cut, for political reasons. Mr. Fischer had been critical of the politics of Prime Minister Orbán and this was reason enough to slash public funds to his organization.

In England, the British Writers’ Guild and Equity, the two bodies that speak for British writers, screenwriters and actors, have refused for years to have anything to do with events organized in the UK by the Hungarian government because of its well documented support for hate mongers. It is time for Canadians of good will and all those who respect artistic freedom, freedom of speech, and civil rights to raise their voices against the Hungarian government’s abusive civil rights practices. The CHDC applauds the artists and all the performers at the Montreal Hungarian Festival, but condemns the Hungarian government for using art as a camouflage for its wrongdoings.

Dr. Christopher Adam. Co-Founder and International Spokesperson
Sessional Lecturer, Department of History, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ont.

Dr. András B. Göllner. Founder and Spokesperson
Emeritus Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Concordia University, Montreal, Que.

Dr. Stevan Harnad. Co-fondateur et porte-parole, langue française
Professeur de psychologie, UQÀM, and External Member, Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Peter Klein. Founder and Spokesperson
Associate Professor, Graduate School of Journalism, University of British Columbia.

Dr. Imre Szeman. Co-Founder and Spokesperson
Canada Research Chair in Cultural Studies and Professor of English, Film Studies, and Sociology, University of Alberta.

The Canadian Hungarian Democratic Charter  

 Ottawa, ON   September 1st, 2016


The Canadian-Hungarian Democratic Charter (CHDC) is a non-partisan civil rights advocacy group, based in Ottawa, Canada. It was launched on the occasion of the 55th anniversary of the Hungarian people’s 1956 uprising for freedom against Soviet occupation.


For more information, please contact: Christopher Adam (

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