How much has Hungarian influenced Slovakia?

"He marks his territory."

Ilona Németh, Slovak artist, hesitated for a moment and wondered if she would like to have one of her exhibitions in the Ludwig Museum in Budapest. A museum supported by Orbán's government. When one selected her critical conversations about the responsibility of intellectual personalities in times of the turning point, she decided to use her exhibition to help those who openly denounce the domestic situation. With the construction of expensive stadiums in southern Slovakia, Orbán marked his territory, according to the artist, who was born in Dunajská Streda. "Children in Hungarian schools are now afraid of the gentleman who can be seen on posters everywhere and play in teams called 'Stop Soros'," said Németh about the consequences of the hysteria in the Hungarian media.

You once said in the past that you forbade your mother to watch Hungarian television. Did she listen to you?

(Laughs) I expressed myself a bit clumsily. I meant the Hungarian state television. Because of course there are still a few TV channels that you can just watch. The refugee debate and the propaganda of the Hungarian government are so heavily manipulated on the state broadcasters that I had to reassure my mother that she doesn't have to fear migrants in her small apartment in Dunajská Streda. And she doesn't have to worry about us when we travel a lot, because she was afraid then too.

Does television still have such an impact?

In fact, the propaganda is so strong that those who do not have access to other media or who do not speak a foreign language have come under so much pressure that they no longer ask questions and take a critical look at them Lost things. The government in Budapest has managed to secure the people's trust for each subsequent round of its hate campaign. It's a very thoughtful strategy for staying in power. When I turn on the Hungarian radio by chance, the word "migrant" jumps at me almost every time. But unfortunately it has no counterproductive effect, people are still not tired of this topic.

"The government in Budapest has managed to secure the trust of the people for each subsequent round of their hate campaign."

According to one study, it seems to be working, Hungarians are most afraid of migrants and Soros.

It has even reached such proportions, my Hungarian friends told me, that children in schools are already afraid of Soros pictures. But it has already happened in my family. My nine-year-old niece came home from playing soccer and said that one of the teams was called "Stop Soros". Afterwards she was really afraid that the Lord, who can be seen on posters everywhere, would take the land away from her. It also affects children of preschool age and penetrates the sensitive structures of families.

The Hungarian sociologist Anikó Félix claims that the posters with the smiling Soros are an example of so-called conspiratorial anti-Semitism. Can you recognize him too?

Clearly, anti-Semitism infiltrated society primarily in 2007 and 2008. Before that, anti-Semitic allusions were not spoken of that often about Jews. First, attention began to be drawn to where in the culture Jews worked. They talked about who was Jewish and the debate began to spread until it became part of the daily conversation so socially acceptable. If something anti-Semitic is said in a common conversation among friends in Hungary or in southern Slovakia, nobody will respond. It became a tolerable topic. I do not want to generalize, but in recent years it has of course been similar in combination with the immigrant problem. The word “refugee” got lost in the Hungarian media and only migrants are mentioned. I believe that the Hungarian government worked on this programmatically.

Fidesz seems to be successful with the hate campaign, the party won the elections and leads in the long term in polls. Does this campaign also have an impact on Hungarians living in Slovakia?

I think yes to a certain extent. On the other hand, I have to say that the Hungarian-language radio station "Patria", a station in Slovakia for the Hungarian minority, is in my opinion the best Hungarian radio station at the moment. Compared to various Hungarian radio stations, including private ones, one tries to report more objectively here. However, the majority of Hungarians living in Slovakia predominantly continue to watch the state broadcasters, believing that these are their main source of information about culture and Hungarian politics. Of course, these stations then have an influence on them. The fact that the Slovak media are more objective has a partly compensatory effect. But those who choose the Hungarian state broadcasters as their source are easy prey for Hungarian propaganda in Slovakia too.

Why Patria?

The coverage of this radio station is certainly the most objective and balanced and the comments are of good quality. Hungarian experts also contribute, including university educators and researchers who have been pushed out of the Hungarian media. And that's not a coincidence. When the independence of the media was continuously reduced in Hungary, the critical voices were lost, also in the cultural scene. These voices are now reappearing on the Patria radio station. János Széky, for example, who used to write for opinion-forming media in Hungary, now works for the Slovak internet newspaper “Parameter”. For critical quality authors from Hungary, the south of Slovakia has become the place where they can express themselves.

The critical daily “Népszabadság” ended its work two years ago. Is there anything else you can read?

In Hungary, print media were continuously being bought up and the internet media are slowly being affected as well. For example, “Index”, the internet medium that I used to enjoy reading and that was comparable to the daily newspaper “Denník N” or “SME”, has changed hands and is no longer so good. You can no longer read the "Origo" internet platform. "444" is still at a certain level. But now I have read that from September Fidesz will pursue a completely different cultural policy. I imagine it to be like a giant roller, with which everything that is left is rolled over.

Does that also apply to critical artists?

It's not just about critical artists. Media have been bought up and personnel on television have been replaced. In addition, your own people are now being promoted in the art scene. For years there has been talk of the change in the canon in art, i.e. the system in the scene that distinguishes the qualitative, representative and most important works of their time from the others. In Hungary, however, it was used to say that canonized art is influenced by Jews or left-wing liberal circles and that real artists have no chance there. Therefore, it is currently being discussed that the state should determine who should be brought into the consciousness of the people. But that's not how it works in art. The state cannot determine who should and who should not be included in the canon.

Of course there are always artists who are not given so much space because they don't offend anywhere. They live in the present but they do not do any contemporary art. Fidesz knowingly creates a scene of so-called "national" artists who support his ideology. For them, ideology is more important than the quality of the works. You can see that, for example, in the visual arts scene at the Hungarian National Academy, which is financed above average, including through the monthly salaries of its members.

Ilona Németh

Ilona Németh (1963) comes from Dunajská Streda, studied in Budapest and is a professor at the University of Fine Arts in Bratislava. Here she runs her own studio. She has organized numerous exhibitions of her own as well as group exhibitions, both in Slovakia and in the international art scene. Last year she was awarded the Prince Pribina Order of 2nd Class by the Slovak President for extraordinary services to the cultural development of the Slovak Republic in the field of fine arts. She recently exhibited the work "Eastern Sugar" in the city's art gallery. Her son, Ábel Ravasz, is the vice chairman of the Slovak party for the Hungarian minority “Most-Híd” (bridge).

Photo: © Tomáš Benedikovič

You did your habilitation at the University of Budapest. Was Fidesz politics also present in the academic world?

When the Ministry of Education installed its chancellors at the universities four to five years ago, who decide on the financing of the university and have responsibilities through which they can influence the direction of the institution, that was the summit. Their position is even higher than that of the academic senate. It was very strange that the rectors did not join forces and did not organize large demonstrations.

Were the universities no longer independent?

Absolutely right. The Chancellor can arbitrarily amend decisions of the Rector or the Senate. At that moment they lost their autonomy. In Hungary there was a constant mood of fear. They managed to polarize Hungarian society. When you come to Hungary you either avoid sensitive topics if you don't want to argue with friends or you argue or you and the others go your separate ways. And that also succeeded in the families. An example of the negative development is the abolition of gender studies, which still existed at the Central European University (CEU) and at the Eötvös Loránd ELTE University. The justification for the abolition was that the problems with which these faculties were grappling did not exist, they were marginal. And few students would register for this course anyway, so funding from the state budget would not be worthwhile. That is an absolutely unacceptable and cynical point of view.


With the Fidesz party, archaic, gender-specific stereotypes and hierarchical Catholic culture have come back and they are being pushed more and more. The course was abolished so that such content would not become an issue. Attacks against women MPs in the opposition were heard several times in the Hungarian parliament. There are even fewer in number than with us. During Orban's second reign, Lászloné Németh was the only female minister. In Hungary can Mrs Take not only the surname but also the first name of the husband. Access to women and emancipation are still in their infancy in Hungary. Basically, this is very unfortunate, because in 1989 it was the Fidesz party that advocated modern values.

"In Hungary there was a constant mood of fear."

Orbán himself was also the recipient of a Soros Fellowship. He made Soros public enemy number one. Is there calculating cynicism behind it or something more?

It is computation that works with the easiest ways, those in which the most voters can be reached. It is a situation where you need an enemy from within (non-governmental organizations) and an enemy from outside (migrants) to stir up fear and hatred. In Slovakia, the national card is always drawn, in Hungary anti-Semitism is used and external danger is a common phenomenon.

In contrast to Slovakia, however, it is surprising that Fidesz is funding the anti-Soros campaign from taxpayers' money. Robert Fico can talk in Slovakia about the "children of Soros" being behind it all, but it would probably not pass that Pellegrini's government financed posters with state funds to attack the demonstrators who are campaigning for a decent Slovakia . Why do you let Orbán get away with this?

It happened continuously with the party taking control of most of the media, nationalizing advertising and media agencies, and leaving everything in the hands of powerful Fidesz-affiliated oligarchs. With the loss of control, the inhibitions also decreased. This was also evident at the Constitutional Court, where posts were also filled by Fideszers. The program is working to destroy democracy.

What would you call Orbán's regime?

It is one hundred percent an autocracy, almost a return to feudalism. The power affects individual fates. Everything has been lost that otherwise exists in a developed state. I don't think that such a small autocracy as Hungary could throw Europe off course. It becomes problematic, however, when these small autocracies begin to multiply and join forces. Slovakia is something very interesting in the middle of it all because it has a much healthier political culture. There is a critical mass of people here who, although limited, can influence power.

When I tell you in Hungary that we have found a new Prime Minister and a new Minister of the Interior in Slovakia, everyone wonders how that was possible. When there was no demonstration in Hungary, people stopped demonstrating for the tenth time and stayed at home. Fidesz plays on resignation and the plan works.

Can't Orbán also pull Slovak politicians with him?

Fico is already trying, but I think we are still hesitant here, because there are still some media outlets, for example, that are not influenced by state power. There are also control mechanisms and institutions that would stand in his way should he choose Orbán's path. For example, while in Slovakia the story began with the newspaper “Denník”, the last critical daily newspaper “Népszabadság” barely finished its work, and a book was already published about her in which the loss was reported. That is the very big difference in the way journalists and the Hungarian cultural community react to the loss of independence. The low point of Hungarian politics was also recently reached when, not so long ago, Le Pen joined Orbán and the Italian Interior Minister Salvini and proposed forming a joint alliance against migrants.

How do you perceive Orbán's “football diplomacy” and that he is now investing in Slovak football stadiums and clubs?

I have nothing against supporting mass sports, but I am against large investments from government funds or other sources, which are then used to build huge, expensive stadiums. I also see the construction of stadiums in areas where Hungarians live as a “marking of one's own territory” and thus as an ideological and political matter. If you want to promote culture, you should know that culture is generally underfunded, even though, in my opinion, it contributes to the quality of life. I cannot imagine to what extent a huge football stadium improves the quality of life in which 10,000 people shout the Hungarian and Slovak national anthems and nationalist outbursts break out on both sides. It would be much more useful if those millions were invested in the quality of health or education.

"For critical quality authors from Hungary, the south of Slovakia has become the place where they can express themselves."

Orbán's government also invested 1.5 million euros in a new weekly magazine in southern Slovakia. How do you like that?

As absolutely unnecessary propaganda intended to help the Slovakian Hungarian party SMK into parliament. Perhaps it is also covert financing of the party itself. In Hungary there is already a model in which parties are financed through different media companies or newspapers. The Hungarian government simply decided to interfere in Slovak politics and influence the Hungarians who live here. However, they have already indicated several times that they prefer a different model of coexistence and not the one based exclusively on Hungarian nationalism. Budapest should accept that.

You are very critical of Orbán. Are you still given the opportunity for your exhibitions in Hungary?

The answer is complicated. It's not just a question of whether to invite me or not. It is also about the fact that there are only a few places from which one can accept an invitation. And for a variety of reasons. For example if this position is supported by the Hungarian Art Academy MMA. There are few opportunities even for Hungarian and foreign authors who think critically. About my last project Eastern Sugar In the Kunsthalle in Bratislava, surprisingly, two reviews appeared in art journals in Hungary. But I cannot say that I would be invited often. Now I've finally accepted an invitation for an exhibition at the Ludwig Museum in Budapest. This will take place at the end of September and my work Statement from 2015 will be exhibited there.

What is the work about?

The video installation consists of five conversations with artists who are internationally known and who live or were born in neighboring countries of Hungary. In these conversations I ask them about the responsibility of intellectuals and artists when making wrong decisions in the history of a people. We thought together about whether we would not be witnessing those wrong political decisions again, and if so, whether we would not have the opportunity to influence decisions positively. Recently, the Ludwig Museum, which is partially supported by government funds, has been expressly criticized by ideologues in the media. By agreeing to my work being exhibited, I would like to support your critical point of view.

Original in Slovak. First published on September 10, 2018 on Denník N.
Translated from the Slovak by Nikolett Losonci.

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Copyright information on images, graphics and videos is noted directly next to the images. Cover picture: The opulent "Pancho Arena" holds 4,000 visitors - more than twice as many as the village has inhabitants. Photo: © György Dénes.