It will be only one meter tall and will be on display for only two weeks. However, a planned art installation dedicated to the Black Lives Matter theme is causing a stir in Budapest, where the right-wing nationalist government of Viktor Orbán has targeted the movement and all that it stands for.
The installation won a recent tender for public art in the 9th district of Budapest, an area on the Pest side of the city that combines streets of large buildings from the turn of the century with social housing projects from the communist era.
“BLM’s goals to oppose racism and police brutality are as relevant in Hungary as anywhere else,” said Krisztina Baranyi, mayor of the 9th district, citing the Orbán government’s tireless campaign against migrants and refugees, as well as systematic discrimination against Hungarian Roma minority.
In all, seven pieces were chosen to display over two-week periods next spring in different venues, but it is the BLM sculpture that has made headlines.
The issue was enthusiastically broached by government officials and loyal government media. “Black Lives Matter is basically a racist movement. The racist is not the person who opposes a BLM statue, but the person who erects one, ”said Orbán’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyás.
Commentators on pro-government television programs threatened to topple the statue if it was erected and compared it to the placement of a monument to Adolf Hitler. Others laughed that it was absurd given that there are few black people in Budapest.
Hardly anyone looked at the details of the project. Notably, most of the pro-government coverage failed to point out that the statue will only be a two-week installation, not a permanent addition to the city.
“This whole scandal is typical of the way the pro-government media works in Hungary. Everybody is angry about this and nobody knows anything about it, ”Baranyi said. Independent, he seized control of the ninth district late last year, in municipal elections that dealt a blow to Orbán’s Fidesz party monopoly, as Budapest and most of its districts were won over by the opposition.
Ahead of the 2022 parliamentary elections, the government has been pushing hard on its ultra-conservative credentials. Even in a pandemic year, the government has been busy passing laws to promote its position as the biggest defender of right-wing “traditional values” in Europe and to fight what Orbán calls “crazy liberals.”
In mid-December, the government amended the constitution to clarify that in a family, “the mother is a woman and the father is a man,” and made it explicit that only heterosexual couples can adopt children. Family Minister Katalin Novák posted a video telling women that they “shouldn’t compete with men” or expect to earn the same amount of money. In May, Hungary ended the legal recognition of gender changes for trans people.
The government also recently launched a billboard campaign with the slogan “All lives matter” in Hungarian. Apparently, it relates to the fight against the coronavirus, but it seems likely that the decision to use it was a nod to the culture war the government believes it is waging, particularly when Orbán published a video with the English version of the slogan on his Instagram account.
Péter Szalay, the sculptor behind the BLM project, said that after the news broke, he had received a threatening email from a well-known far-right figure, promising that he would be “punished” if the installation continued.
The sculpture, which will be made in 12 pieces with a 3D printer and assembled with magnets, is a “paraphrase of the Statue of Liberty,” Szalay said. The figure kneels, raises his right hand into a fist and holds a tablet with the inscription “Black Lives Matter.” There is also an LGBT rights theme in the installation, with rainbow colors used to illuminate the monument.
Szalay said that despite the government’s reaction, the work was not intended to be a show of support or solidarity with the BLM movement. “He does not come out for or against BLM. According to my artistic purpose, it balances indecisively between the two readings, ”he said.
The art tender was organized by Baranyi MP Suzi Dada from the satirical Two-Tailed Dog party. He said he wanted to restart a tradition of public art, something for which the current government has little time. “For Fidesz, cultural policy has to do with historical memory and monuments, relativizing Hungary’s role in World War II and depicting us as victims,” he said.
In the year since she took office, Baranyi said it had been difficult to implement new policies, due both to the coronavirus pandemic and a restriction on government funding that she said has cut about a third of the district’s budget. . In mid-December, she was embroiled in a new scandal when a recording of her using anti-Semitic language was leaked. She has claimed it was taken out of context and has said she plans to sue public television.
When it comes to the BLM facility, Baranyi said he realized that the government’s campaign was doing well when he got into a taxi in recent days. The driver, not knowing the identity of his passenger, began a lengthy and abusive tirade about Baranyi, saying that he had heard that she wanted to build a monument to gay blacks.
“I tried to tell him the true story, and the amazing thing was that he didn’t believe me, even though I explained that I knew everything. He said he knew he was right because he had read it in the newspaper, ”he said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism