Thursday, March 05, 2015

Walls of Disappointment

Lumme. I haven't posted here since the day I made it clear that Victor Ponta would win the presidential election. What a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. I'm very familiar with being wrong, but in some cases I'm delighted to have been so.

Anyway, moving on...

Last weekend a travelling exhibition visited Csikszereda. It is called Walls of Silence (or Hallgatás Fala in Hungarian). It's purportedly an exhibition about the years of Communism in Romania and the 1989 revolution. It has been displayed in Brussels and in various locations around Romania (I think, though I can't find much detail on when and where.)  The website of the exhibition is here:  - though you will note when you try and open the English version of that site that, despite it claiming to have one, it doesn't. The same happens with the Romanian version.

Anyway, along we went, to see what it was like and to also educate our teenage daughter on some things that might be new for her regarding the period pre-1989.  It was a series of poster panels, depicting various aspects of post WWII life, of the events of Timisoara and beyond in 1989 and then various post 1989 events.  There were a couple of videos too, such as an interview with Tőkés László made on Hungarian TV before the revolution in Romania.

Now the first thing that struck me about this exhibition is that it was in two languages. But these two languages were not, as you might expect, Hungarian and Romanian, but rather Hungarian and English. There was no Romanian at all (well there was a sort of sort of take away pamphlet in Romanian, but the exhibition itself was in just the two languages). An exhibition about Romanian under communism and the Romanian revolution, on display in Romania. But not in Romanian.  It just struck me as needlessly and wantonly provocative.  Obviously in Csikszereda the vast majority of people who visited it would be Hungarian but some Romanians at least would be interested (and indeed the guest book featured an angry comment in Romanian),

The exhibition itself was OK for the most part, at least in terms of the section pre-1989 and the revolution itself.  The focus was very much on Tőkés, and it seems that he, or his people, somehow were behind the exhibition, so it felt a bit like the Tőkés show, but obviously his role in the 1989 revolution was fairly big and so he deserves to be included in such a thing. But then there were two sections that really jarred a bit.  One was a large section documenting all the awards and medals he has been awarded around the world in regards his role in the 89 uprising, which then concluded with a long section on how some Romanian politicians last year had tried to have one of his national medals withdrawn because of his Hungarian nationalism. There was no mention of what kind of nationalist actions might have triggered this, and while I fully believe that whatever he has done since should not detract from what he did to actually win that medal in the first place, the lack of any form of explanation was slightly troubling.

That was a minor quibble, however, and had that been the only issue I never would have bothered writing this blog post. No the thing that really got my back up was a panel depicting the events of 1989 in Hungary. Front and centre in this display, in the photos and the text, were a young Orban Viktor. Now I recognise that as a student Orban was there and was involved in the protests against the government, but he was not the  Tőkés or the Havel or the Walesa of Hungary (The wikipedia article on the end of communism in Hungary doesn't even mention him for example). He was one of many involved in a groundswell of popular unrest that eventually led to the toppling of the system.The highlighting of him is particularly jarring give that the exhibition is about the lack of freedoms before 89, the control of the media and the silence imposed on the population of Romania .  And here, in the middle is something conveying hero status on the European leader who is the most undemocratic and most authoritarian and the most acting against a free media in his country. Orban is not Ceausescu, but he is also not a democrat and he is clearly not someone who believes in freedom of speech.

In short, this exhibition was deeply disappointing, and basically a pro-FIDESZ whitewash (Tőkés  has close ties to FIDESZ). I left it feeling much more antipathy towards Tőkés than I had before for putting his name to such a poorly argued and presented piece of propaganda.  I suspect that wasn't the intention. It is difficult to know what the intention actually was, in fact.