Window Dressing

I make no apology for returning to a subject which is close to me – being as it is, the original reason for our coming to Hungary almost thirty years ago – and which illustrates well the scandalous mismanagement and stupidity of present-day “window dressing” in Hungary.

I am certain that even those with no interest whatsoever in classical music, have not failed to register the stream of reminders of Liszt’s birth 200 years ago, in 1811. Events both in Hungary and abroad have celebrated the anniversary. Yet the Music Academy in Liszt Ferenc tér was closed at the end of 2010 – just in time to coincide with this important year.

The building, though admittedly shabby, was not in danger of imminent collapse; renovation work had already been planned – and postponed – a number of times in recent years. Then, for a whole year after the series of concerts and events held to mark its closure, it remained open, and teaching continued unabated. Why then could it not have been kept open for another twelve months during this, the Liszt year? Having waited for more than five years for this huge project to begin, what difference would another few months have made?

But no. Last year, the whole institution was moved to a number of sites around the town – the main one being an office block on Ũllői út – a building devoid of sound-proofing, where singers compete to be heard above neighbouring trumpeters, while the bureaucratic wheels organising the renovation have ground rustily to a standstill. Meanwhile, unable now to hire out its concert hall (nagyterem), the Academy is losing millions of forints monthly, while millions more are being paid in rent for the totally unsuitable office space. And what of the Zeneakadémia itself, now ten months after its closure? Nothing at all. The building is home only to a few security guards – not a cobweb has been removed, no workman has set foot inside. Scholars, tourists and musicians arrive from abroad to visit in this anniversary year, but cannot enter the building.

However, priorities must be priorities: the airport has been renamed Liszt Ferenc, the cost of this change running into many millions. Maybe there is nothing to get excited about in a country where the government is seriously contemplating changing the name of the very country itself, which would cost countless billions (new bank notes, identity cards, driving licences – in essence, everything would have to be renamed). When both national and personal debt are at record levels, and when homelessness, unemployment and poverty are increasingly evident, this is window-dressing at its most worrying.

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