The Hungarian parliament passed a law changing the system governing how theaters are financed on Wednesday, setting off a debate between Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party and the opposition over the purpose of the bill.
Fidesz says the law is meant to create a more transparent financing system while the opposition claims it is an attempt to starve independent artists.
The law, which passed with 115 voting yes, 53 voting no and three abstentions, introduces some major changes to Hungary’s world of theater.
In the future, there will be three types of financing: theaters run by the state, those financed by municipalities and a third that features mixed financing.
In the third case, municipalities can apply for partial financing from the central budget through the Ministry of Human Capacities. If the ministry approves central financing, the Hungarian central government along with the municipalities in question will have to reach an agreement on how to run the theater production, including on the system of designating theater management.
State Minister for Culture Péter Fekete said during the debate of the bill that it will create a “transparent, more balanced and cleaner system of theater financing.”
The opposition parties, on the other hand, took a different view. The Socialists see it as an assault on artistic freedom and cultural autonomy, while the Democratic Coalition said the Orbán-government was “attempting to control minds, hearts and souls.”
MPs from the green-style party, Párbeszéd (Dialogue for Hungary), said it was a black day for Hungarian culture and opposition MPs donned black theatrical masks in protest.
“It cannot be that while we are the country which spends most on theater financing in per capita terms, the state is left without a way to assert control or have influence over how these theaters are managed,” Fekete said. “It is not true that the Hungarian government would want to choke independent performing arts. On the contrary, they will have more funding available.”
On the same day, parliament also passed an amendment of the criminal code, making unlicensed healing punishable by up to one year in prison.
Title image: Opposition MPs don black theater masks during the debate of the financing bill (Magyar Nemzet/István Mirkó)