The restriction of cultural and film work under FIDESZ has been systematic. The key initiative that marked a retreat of democracy under the current government has been the controversial new media law, which created a Media Council (five officials appointed to nine-year terms) to determine whether media reports are balanced, family-friendly, and Hungarian. The vagueness with which each of these categories has been defined, argue observers from the EU, enables the government to apply these norms arbitrarily or to promote their own political goals. More than a blow to the freedom of the press, this law illustrates how the government is dismantling the democratic balance of power and the rule of law.
But the accusations of autocratic, even authoritarian rule come from a series of other accounts, including moves to put the national bank under state control. Towards the end of 2011 the government has undertaken to entirely re-write the Hungarian Constitution and include laws on “intellectual and spiritual unity of the nation”, the rights of an unborn child, the re-naming of streets and a revision of the national history. In this context of re-creation of the national identity, the complete absence of filmmaking ventures has been paradoxical.
The anthology film MAGYARORSZÁG 2011 (Hungary 2011) produced by Béla Tarr together with eleven filmmakers from Hungary is hence a public outcry on this new situation that has paralyzed the artistic scene. “In the situation that evolved around Hungarian film we see no other possibility to prove our existence than with the help of a video series calling the viewers’ attention to the fact that we are still capable of working and expressing our thoughts, reflections and feelings,” says Tarr as an introduction to the film. “These films are produced on virtual cents. The creators accepted to work without receiving any kind of payment and to use the most inexpensive technique possible.” The omnibus of several short films, often tied together by little more than a common underlying theme, is meant to reflect the diversity of Hungarian film-making rather than tell a single story. Tarr produced the piece without giving any clues or directions to the filmmakers, asking them instead to direct a piece with complete freedom of artistic expression. In that sense, says Tarr, “this is really not a film. And yet, it has been screened everywhere: Berlin, Shanghai, now Sarajevo…”
The short films featuring the correlation between film and politics indeed are diverse: from a meditative take on Cogito ergo sum by Andras Jeles and on Navigare necesse est by Jankso Miklos, over two films reflecting the recent law that made homelessness punishable by law, ending with a No film piece by Gyorgy Palfi, they each represent a different generation of film workers. Perhaps the most provocative piece is made by Peter Forgacs, where the protagonist meets his friend M, a goat carcass, who became a politician and lives in a trash container next to the Schickedanz palace. The protagonist tries to begin a conversation, then concludes with a Heidegger statement: “Nur noch ein Gott kann uns retten” ("Only a God Can Save Us").
Hungary 2011 is a piece on the correlation between film and politics, and about the power of moving pictures. And yet during our Q&A session, when asked whether this film can make a difference, Béla Tarr somewhat unexpectedly concludes: “No, we cannot make any difference. We made this piece because as film-makers this is our job, a job we haven’t been able to do in the last two years. But we cannot make any difference”.