The situation for Hungarian writers is no less fraught. In 2011 and 2012, the same Géza Szocs (who came to prominence as a poet) was the president of Hungarian PEN, which, despite its mandate to protect freedom of speech, has become closely associated with the Orbán government. In 2012, Hungarian PEN instituted a fifty-thousand-euro government-funded literary prize, which it offered to Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The American turned it down, stating that “the policies of this right-wing regime tend toward authoritarian rule and the consequent curtailing of freedom of expression and civil liberties… I hereby refuse the prize in all its forms.” The activist Elie Wiesel has also returned a Hungarian award, in protest against the attendance of government officials at the reburial of a writer who was a member of the National Socialist Arrow Cross Party, which, for a few months at the end of the Second World War, led a brief and bloody “government of national unity,” murdering between ten and fifteen thousand of their countrymen and deporting around eighty thousand to Auschwitz.
Intellectuals who live in Hungary, or who wish to work or lecture there, are extremely circumspect in their criticism. Two internationally renowned novelists I contacted for this article declined to comment. One writer who would speak is the poet and translator George Szirtes, who lives in the U.K. “The government has been looking to impose itself and its view of what it considers to be ‘the nation’ on not only the political sphere but the cultural, too,” he told me. “In effect, it wants to return the country to the condition of the thirties… the atmosphere is full of hatred.” Szirtes laments “the creation of a climate that seems to me inimical to the country I have loved and admired. Little by little, I find every part of it is being dismantled and banished.”
Hari Kunzru on “the frightening Hungarian crackdown”. [via the New Yorker]