Budapest's New Theatre is at center of culture wars
"The Sixth Coffin" has been officially buried. Derided as anti-Semitic agitprop, this work by recently deceased Hungarian playwright-politician-polemicist Istvan Csurka has been the focal point of controversy until it was finally scrubbed from Budapest's Uj Szinhaz's — or New Theater's — new season. But how this production (think: the Hungarian equivalent of "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion") ever got anywhere near the performance schedule of a major municipal venue in the first place is part of a larger drama involving this country's leadership and its assault on culture. And that drama has a few more acts to go.
"'The Sixth Coffin' is more a manifesto than a play," explains theater critic Judit Csaki, a columnist at the weekly Magyar Narancs. "Its vision is that the greatest Hungarian historical trauma, the Versailles Peace Treaty — called Trianon — is the result of a plot by rich American Jews." The narrative further descends into the idea of Jews bringing the Holocaust on themselves. For Csaki, like many others here, this cultural embarrassment is the logical outcome of of Budapest's conservative Mayor Istvan Tarlos's announcement
that when the contract of Uj Szinhaz's then director, Istvan Marta, expired, he would be replaced by Gyorgy Dorner, who, in addition to being an actor and the Hungarian-dubbed voice of Bruce Willis and Michael Douglas, is seen by Budapest's urban sophisticates as an uncouth and reactionary extremist. Dorner, in his job tender, proposed taking the "New" out of the New Theater, since "new" did not, he believed, always connote good, especially in "a degenerate, sickly liberal hegemony."
Though Marta's tenure could not be characterized as anything particularly subversive or avant-garde, Dorner envisioned turning the theater into a "pure" Hungarian institution (Hungarian themes, Hungarian playwrights) that would "instill patriotic values." He called for changing the name to "Hatorszag" or "Hinterland Theater," which suggests something like "Home Front Theater." Dorner also proposed an advisory role for Csurka, another right-wing reactionary (he was the founder of another ultranationalist party, MIEP, which lately has been eclipsed by the equally extreme Jobbik party), reviled for his support of skinheads and his exhortations of the "Christian Hungarian masses."