Budapest Festival Orchestra
Uncategorized September 26, 2013


Conductor Iván Fischer got the bit between his teeth: as announced on 25 September 2013 by Néphazugság (translator’s note: Hungarian play on words, changing the newspaper name of “Népszabadság” meaning “popular liberty” to “Néphazugság” meaning “popular lies”) , he has written an opera about the Tiszaeszlár criminal case, which will premiere on 13 and 14 October in the Millenáris. From an interview given on this occasion, we learn, among other things, that what troubles him most with regard to public life is "the spread of malignant anger that bears no relation to reality, the fact that the paranoid nationalism, which is now spreading, teaches children to feel scared and as if their country were threatened by domestic and foreign enemies". But then he admitted that the trial of policemen on duty during the 2006 shootings reminds him of the former trial of those innocently accused in Tiszaeszlár, that the football fans turning their backs on the national anthem of Israel last year deserves all the penalties dished out, and, last but not least, that he is proud to be among the "enemies of the people". But of course, the question then arises as to why is he earning his daily bread in our country? (Ifj. László Tompó - Hunhí

Because it’s quite a banal psychological fact, at least for the majority of society, that if somebody in that society acts against the community and, by doing so, lessens or even abuses its historical identity, then this person will go and try their luck and earn their living somewhere else. Yet Fischer does this here, thinking that it behoves him to conduct not only on the stage, but also in public opinion, and his paramount concern is therefore to tell the story of the Tiszaeszlár affair, which he sees in black and white, since there is no question that even today, just like back then, the majority of society blames one of the minorities for everything.

But let’s get specific. "Iván Fischer wrote a one-act grotesque lyrical opera about the Tiszaeszlár trial entitled “The Red Heifer”. The composition about Eszter Solymosi’s murder directed by Tamás Ascher and Kriszta Székely – adapting the novel by Krúdy, letters by Kossuth and poems by Lajos Parti Nagy – will premiere on 13-14 October in the Millenáris. We talked with the composer about fear, football hooligans and the fact that nothing has changed since the Tiszaeszlár trial." – announced the Néphazugság, then to the reporter’s question as to whether it is possible that a similar trial could take place even today, Fischer replied:

"This is unlikely in such a primitive way. But otherwise it happens continuously. Two kinds of will are fighting in Hungary: one is the desire to belong to the West. This was represented by Kálmán Tisza and the citizens of Budapest 130 years ago. Paranoid men from Szabolcs county, who grimly held on to traditions, fought with them, and wanted to protect the country against Jews as a result of national fervency. This was the background to the Tiszaeszlár trial in 1883. The fact that such a crazy witch hunt began in Hungary based on an unbelievable blood libel and superstition created a sensation throughout Europe. Every European newspaper published reports on the trial in Nyíregyháza. When the innocent Jews held on remand for a year were acquitted after having their names dragged through the mire, riots shook the country. Budapest was in a state of siege for a week. It reminds me eerily of the tempers that have got out of control since 2006.’

Without giving a Hunhír lecture on the real background to the Tiszaeszlár criminal case, we would like to respond to the potentially leading idea of the above quotation ("When the innocent Jews held on remand for a year were acquitted after having their names dragged through the mire, riots shook the country. Budapest was in a state of siege for a week.") that when the majority is in such mass opposition to the minority, it would make good sense, especially for a conductor who does his bit for forming public opinion, to finally examine the real reasons for this, exploiting the wisdom of the saying ‘there’s no smoke without fire’, and then he might not respond to the reporter asking about the motive for the things that happened at the time by saying it was none other than the fact that the "political bias of the time" met "primitive bias".

Exactly, especially if he immediately adds that: "The Jewish wave of immigration triggered repugnance since the villages in North East Hungary were engulfed by people fleeing from Russian and Polish pogroms. They were poor, spoke Yiddish, and didn’t speak any Hungarian." And – as our good Fischer goes on – instead of denying the "rumour" about the ritual murder of Eszter Solymosi "that flew around the village" as being "nonsense originating from the Middle Ages", the county leaders "waged something of a war against Europe: back then, just like today, we began a battle against the entire world." But here he is, a conductor forming public opinion, who wishes to conduct the choir of the blood libel majority, which forced poor Móric Scharf to give "false evidence"’, according to the partiture of Károly Eötvös and Gyula Krúdy:

"In my opera, football fans are yelling and screaming in the county courtroom. As if they were sitting in the stadium, blowing vuvuzelas and chanting football songs. There is something inexpressibly grotesque in it, just like in the fact that poor Móric Scharf, the trained crown witness, was betrayed, and then he testified at the trial that through the keyhole he had seen his father and his companions kill and ritually sacrifice the peasant girl. Let us put ourselves into the shoes of the 14-year old boy, who is forced, tortured, threatened, betrayed and used as a tool in order to condemn and hang his innocent father and companions. After the accused were acquitted, he moved back to his family. What could have happened on that train trip when he was sitting in front of his father for the first time after the case? We know that the father tried to rescue him from this role all the time during the trial. It must have been terribly difficult to become a man again after being used as a tool. Even today, 130 years later, we can see how difficult it is for people to face their former deeds, to contemplate how they were once made a scapegoat. Unfortunately, many people defiantly preserve their hatred, which they then dredge up 100 years later in a new wave."

Of course, our conductor, who is perceptibly averse to historical sources but inclined to form public opinion, did not go into any detail about who forced the mashgiach boy Scharf to do this, where and how, just like we learned no more substantive details about his play than those in the above quotation. Over and over again, he just claimed that he is rather troubled by "the spread of malignant anger that bears no relation to reality" and "the fact that the paranoid nationalism, which is now spreading, teaches children to feel scared and as if their country were threatened by domestic and foreign enemies, people are impatient, and it is frightening to see how tolerance is gradually decreasing towards those who think or live their life differently’. He is troubled, indeed, especially since

"a raving mob marched into the courtroom the other day where the trial of policemen on duty during the 2006 riots is taking place. It was exactly like Nyíregyháza in 1883. A bunch of football fans turned their backs in the stadium last year while the national anthem of Israel was played, after which half the country lamented that we were severely punished. Eventually, we had no choice but to play against Romania behind closed doors. A logical and appropriate reaction to this would have been to say: it was such a horrible thing to do that there is no punishment which would be extreme.’

In other words, turning the back on the national anthem of Israel deserves all penalties. As a finale to all this, he responded imperiously to the last question of the reporter – "aren’t you afraid that with this opera you are going to be pigeonholed as an enemy of the people?" – with the answer: "I’ve already been one for a long time, just like Lajos Kossuth, Endre Ady, Béla Bartók or Mihály Károlyi and many of the great Hungarian thinkers, who are considered enemies by the snarling mob in the courtroom in Nyíregyháza or football hooligans in stadiums. It is an honour to be pigeonholed like that."

Again, let us not start delivering any Hunhír lecture, particularly to our readers, on the candid – and therefore, of course, rarely expressed – opinion of Lajos Kossuth or Endre Ady about the relation of most of Fischer’s ancestors to our country, and on how Mihály Károlyi ranks with them in this way. Instead, we merely ask: in the increasing camp of the "enemies of the people", wouldn’t it be a true honour for everyone if he was only a conductor shaping public opinion in the place he deserves, i.e. in his people’s state that has already existed for sixty-five years?