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Harvey Weinstein Scandal Reaches Hungary As Famous Theater Director Accused of Sexual Harassment

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal in the US, Hungarian actress Lilla Sárosdi accused renowned Hungarian theater director László Marton of sexual harassing her two decades ago. Marton threatened to sue Lilla Sárosdi for her claims, but when other women came forward with similar stories about him, he was advised against legal action by his lawyer.

According to the accusations, over the last three decades Marton sexually insulted at least eight different young women, who might have seemed to be vulnerable at the beginning of their artistic careers. For example, Sárosdi was allegedly invited for oral sex with Marton in a car, while others were insulted in Marton’s office or in the theater building during rehearsals. The case of the „Hungarian Weinstein”, as many are labelling Marton now, has triggered harsh and mixed reactions in Hungarian film and theater circles as well as in national media.

While many were shocked by the news and turned imminently against Marton, some colleagues have spoken out in defense of him. Popular actress Szonja Oroszlán, who – as she admits – during her career often played the role of the “blondie”, reacted in a surprising manner. In lengthy comment on Facebook, Oroszlán says she had worked a lot with Marton in the past but she has never experienced anything harassing from the director. Women need to be able to walk away when men are trying to harass them verbally or sexually, she insists.

Actor András Stohl, who himself has had several alcohol and drug scandals in the past, said that Marton has always been a “gentleman”, and the women involved in the scandal must have played their part in the story too. According to Stohl, it is quite usual, not only in theaters but also at companies, retail stores and offices, that bosses have sex with employees. Stohl’s remarks sparked harsh criticism, so later he added he strongly condemns any form of sexual abuse.

Fellow famed theater director István Verebes said he simply did not understand why the insulted women are going public with their stories now, decades after when the actual incidents took place. The accusation may even push Marton to suicide, Verebes warned in an interview with news channel ATV.

photo: Gyula Czimbal – MTI

Commenting on the sexual harassment cases in the US and Hungary, Hungarian newspapers across the political spectrum agree that widespread violent abuse should get more attention. However, commentators – as press reviewer budapost.eu points out, do not agree how to handle cases of non-violent misconduct.

In weekly 168 Óra, Dóra Ónody-Molnár comments on the scandal around Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, and speculates that sexual harassment is a common, but unreported phenomenon in Hungary. Although a couple of Hungarian actresses have reported similar abuses, most women are unwilling to talk about such insults, the left-liberal pundit suspects. Ónody-Molnár finds it sad that in Hungary, only sexual assault that involves physical violence is considered a crime. In her view, non-violent sexual misconduct by male bosses and superiors should also be considered as harassment, in order to protect women. Ónody-Molnár suggests that sex offered in exchange for professional promotion or employment is not any less consensual than rape.

Left-wing daily Népszava’s Judit Kósa also believes that sexual abuse is widespread in Hungary. The left-wing commentator too blames all this on male chauvinist social structures and ideologies. Sexual harassment can only be uprooted if society overcomes male chauvinism, Kósa concludes.

Writing in right-wing daily Magyar Hírlap, Zoltán Veczán underscores that both violent sexual assault and non-violent forms of harassment are unacceptable. The conservative commentator also finds it striking that according to surveys, while as many as 400,000 women have been victims, very few cases of sexual harassment are reported. While he agrees that sexual offenders should be punished, Veczán cautions against ‘mob mentality’ and hysteria. Veczán points out that one should clearly distinguish morally abhorrent non-violent sexual misconduct in which women exchange sex for employment related benefits, from cases of violent assaults. Veczán finds highly problematic the claim that sexist slurs or even looks should be considered as if they amounted to sexual violence. Unless we make this distinction, victims of violent abuse will not be taken seriously enough, we cannot give the proper attention to violent abuse, Veczán concludes.

In a conservative Magyar Nemzet editorial, Dávid Lakner appreciates the courage actress Lilla Sárosdi showed by making public her ordeal with László Marton. Lakner admits Marton’s merits as a theatre director, but says that is beside the point. He quotes one of Marton’s frequent TV interviews about how he always found it easy to follow the path of civility and civic values and exposes the hypocrisy behind those words. Lakner severely condemns those who ask why Sárosdi, who was less than 20 at the time, allowed herself to remain alone with the famous man, and who question why she has only come out with her trauma decades later. Women should not be discouraged from revealing similar abuses, and later is better than never, because potential perpetrators must know that they cannot take their immunity for granted, Lakner warns.

One week after the scandal broke out, László Marton has issued a statement on Thursday, offering an apology to “everyone offended, insulted or put into a difficult position unintentionally by his alleged past behavior, acts and words.” Marton also said that the mostly “unfounded rumors” from “unknown sources” that have been circulating in the Hungarian media over the past week, have seriously damaged his reputation, work, personal and family life. Marton, however, vowed to remain at the Comedy Theater of Budapest (Vígszínház), despite he had to leave his post as artistic director. A premier of Ibsen’s “The Wild Duck” directed by Marton was also cancelled on Tuesday.

Born to a distinguished family in Budapest in 1943, László Marton has become a renowned theater director and university lecturer in Hungary. He is known for directing classics through a new lens and his productions have been seen in more than 40 cities throughout the world, receiving rave reviews. Marton’s productions of great emotional resonance are highly acclaimed by critics for revealing a deep psychological intimacy and bringing new life to classics. According to Wikipedia, an actress said that working with him is “incredibly demanding but he’s incredibly kind as well. It just creates an atmosphere where it feels safe to risk things”.

via budapost.eu, index.hu and 24.hu; photo: Zsolt Szigetváry – MTI