Two weeks ago Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC), a Hungarian university with a conservative mission statement, had purchased a 67% stake at one of the country’s largest book publishing and distribution companies, Libri. It did not take long for the wholly predictable international outrage stoked by well-known left-wing media outlets to use the change of ownership for their regular Hungarophobic propaganda.
The international mainstream press had reacted with outrage to the news, headlines from Germany to the United Kingdom have warned of a far-right takeover of Hungary’s publishing sector, as well as alleged suppression of literary voices critical of the government. Chief among them, the British Guardian newspaper had lined up a number of left-wing Hungarian writers well-known for their anti-government activism.
Among them Éva Péterfy-Novák had announced that she is terminating her existing contracts with Libri, because she “did not want to be part of a family where the Fidesz is the patriarch”, as she put it. “It is inconceivable for me to celebrate Christmas dinner with those people who dominate the entire country, who lie, steal and use propaganda to brainwash society”, the author complained. The Guardian report, itself written by two well-known anti-Orbán activists, failed to mention that Éva Péterfy-Novák is an author who is not shy to air her political sympathies, as she did, for instance, in connection with recent violent student demonstration. She had accused Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of “completely loosing his mind”, when police officers were forced to use pepper spray against a small group of violent far-left student protesters who have attacked the officers and vandalized a building site in Buda Castle.
Another author quoted by the Guardian article, Mátyás Dunajcsik, went into a rant against the MCC claiming it to be “an organization… that actively spreads Russian war propaganda, misogyny, xenophobia, homo- and transphobia, and is part of the current Hungarian government’s project to crack down [on] the complete cultural infrastructure of my former homeland”. Dunajcsik went as far as saying that
in Europe, we have protection mechanisms for when writers are being arrested or shot”.
Photo: Facebook Libri
Dunajcsik did not explain what the connection between the sale of a Hungarian publisher has to do with writers being “arrested or shot”, but in the past he had complained that Hungary had been turned into “scorched ground”, which is why he as one currently living in a same-sex relationship in Berlin did not even contemplate moving back to Hungary.
The entirely tendentious and one-sided reporting exploits voices from the Hungarian liberal literary landscape to further the Guardian’s systemic anti-Hungarian bias. Not giving a voice to any author who, in contrast with the two above, has no intention to terminate their contract with Libri, or mentioning that the ones quoted are known critics of the Orbán government, thus their opposition to the sale of the publishing house might stem from their personal political preferences, is symptomatic of some of the recent reporting about Hungary.
In reality though the new owner, the MCC Foundation, is indeed a player in Hungarian academic life known for its conservative-national outlook. Its Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Balázs Orbán, is the political director of the Hungarian Prime Minister. But the entire MCC enterprise was brought to life precisely in order to answer a demand from young people who find it increasingly difficult to exercise their right to free speech and freedom of conscience at current academic institutions dominated by cancel-culture and far-left ideologies.
Director of the National Museum László L. Simon (R). Photo: Facebook Simon L. László
With regards to the sale of the publisher, many of those belonging to the Libri Group regularly apply to the National Cultural Fund for public money, for publishing subsidies – László L. Simon, director general of the Hungarian National Museum said during a television debate. Many of those authors who are now worried about the government’s alleged interference, should realize that in fact, without support from public finances, they could not publish their books even in this market-oriented segment, he added. László L. Simon concluded by saying that
those authors who are worried today about the loss of Libri’s independence do not represent even one percent of the book market.
The director general of the Hungarian National Museum said that the MCC’s acquisition of Libri was a positive news, an opportunity, and expressed the hope that the new owner could create a situation that would in fact help independent publishers.
Kinga Erős, president of the Writers’ Union believes that the acquisition of the Libri Group by MCC, a proven talent management and cultural group, is not at all a sign that the new owners want to interfere in content issues:
everyone will continue to publish what they want.
But there may at last be some hope of broadening the palette of authors and titles that will finally find their way onto the shelves of bookshops and into the hands of the reader, she said.
Featured Photo: Facebook Libri