What happened to the National Cultural Fund?

By 2016, with the involvement of the Hungarian Academy of Arts, they managed to destroy the National Cultural Fund in it's entirety. We can’t yet see what this actions long term effects are going to be, but what we know for sure is that the government has two-thirds power in the decision making on who is going to get funded, and it seems as if the Eötvös Loránd University is not going to be on the list anytime soon.
This article was created using the Transparency International's Assist project and individual research.

A great idea

After 1989, there was a need for a better, more accessible, sustainable cultural funding. In 1993, the parliament created the National Cultural Fund (NKA) institution, which goal was to help artists the broadest way possible. During the creation of the fund, one of the most important aspect was to keep it independent from the government. One of the ways to ensure this was that the funds weren’t coming from the ministry directly, but through the Fund institution. The leadership consisted of ten people, five of which appointed by the ministry and five appointed by professionals. The Fund consisted of 14 divisions in the end, and just like with the leadership, half of each divisions curators were selected by professionals, half appointed by the ministry. In the beginning, the funding came from the cultural tax, this got changed in 2010, when the funding was allocated from 90% of the game tax on the Lottery 5. Both the ministry and the divisions can allocate funds, but one of the rules declare that no more than 50% can be given by the ministry.

The first instance of a political power trying to get their hands around the NKA was in 1998. During the first Orbán-government, the institution was placed back into the works of the ministry and could only continue work as a program not as an independent entity, this went on until 2006. For this, a member of the leadership between 1996 and 1998, a dr. László Harsányi, signed his resignation. The economist by profession, Harsányi, couldn’t stay away from the NKA for too long, because in 2002, he was asked back into the leadership, as a chairman of the group. The previous chairman, Marcell Jankovics was let go by the Cultural Minister, Gábor Görgey.. The minister told the press that this action was needed, because Marcell haven’t raised his voice for the ministry continuously using half of the funds. The new direction was to keep the ministry usage around 20-30%. Of course, behind all of this was pretty much to clean away the people from the earlier leadership, and make space for their own.

László Harsányi ended up in the chairman position until 2010, when he had to resign again. Just a year before, the parliament voted on the NKA to be funded not by the cultural tax, but by the game tax of the lottery.. What this meant was that the funds of the institution was now over 10 Billion Hungarian Forints. But in 2010, there was a new government in play, and they blocked two Billion Forints from the NKA. Harsányi said the following after the decision:

“I wrote to the Minister, that while I understand the blocking of two billion, I cannot accept it. This does not mean that I won’t do what I can from this, but I can see now that our possibilities are now clear.”

After his resignation, the ministry appointed Marcell Jankovics again for the position, who only stayed for a who only stayed for a little over a year . It didn’t matter how good his connections were with the right-wing government, the budget of the NKA got decreased by an another Billion, and there was no promise that it won’t continue the cuts. After his resignation, the real turn in the NKA’s history have happened.

Jankovics Marcell forrás:Oroscafé

Marcell Jankovics source: Oroscafé

The Party

Before 2010, the government and partisan politics tried to stay away from NKA, at least with more or less success. The Fund was created so it could support artists independently, without consideration of the artists or institutions beliefs. The wide range of curators in the divisions and the democratic selection process created a great, free and independent way of supporting the Hungarian culture. Of course, it had it's shortcomings, like conflict of interest with some curators, an artificial influence in a subgenre, or corruption, but even with all these, it was a very democratic system, where the opinion of a cultural minister could appear, it didn't necessarily controlled the decision-making.

After Marcell Jankovics's resignation, a politician took over, a László L. Simon. While we can't say that Jankovics was free from government influence, during his leadership, he hasn't made changes in the divisions, nor did he change the way people could apply for the funds— Writes Attila Horányi, in the three-part blogpost he wrote for the NKA's 20th anniversary. L. Simon decreased the numbers of divisions from 17 to ten, tightened the connection between NKA's leadership and the ministry, widened the possibilities for veto, and on top of deciding on the quarter of NKA's budget, with directed tenders, the Ministry decided on more then half of the money.

A year later, in 2012, Zoltán Balog, the director of the Ministry of Human Capacities became the president of the NKA, L. Simon became the vice-president, but only until 2014, when Parlamentary State Secretary, András Doncsev took over.

Fekete György fanclub

The latest blow to NKA's evaporating independence came in 2016, when on April 1st, the organization got revamped. The number of divisions got restored to 17, but the members of the divisions and leadership no longer consisted only of people delegated by only the Ministry and professionals, but also by the Hungarian Academy of Arts (Magyar Művészeti Akadémia or MMA). The Hungarian Academy of Arts had delegated equally as the Ministry or the professionals did. The problem is that MMA is not an independent artistic group, but rather, a hightly, ideologically driven, conservative, not critical, government friendly group, funded heavily by public funds. It also hardly created anything worth mentioning in the past years. It has also made it into the new constitution, as a good example for a independent, non-government artistic group, in 2012
MTI Fotó: Koszticsák Szilárd
György Fekete, the leader of MMA in an exhibition source:MTI

To understand the system, we can take an example from 2012, when the NKA halved the 700 Million Forint funds allocated for journals , so numberous literary and public journals went out of business. This happened to a paper called 2000, a cultural monthly magazine. It started around the regime change in 1989, and it gained quite a reputation, but still, in 2016 the NKA declined support from the paper. It was widely accepted that these kind of papers are on governmental life support, but it was considered worthy because of the important intellectual and cultural values they have.

While they received less then before, but still got funded the right-wing Hitel magazine and the magazine of the Hungarian Writer's Guild (Magyar Írószövetség) called Magyar Napló. It's interesting because the leader of the Writer's Guild, Kinga Erős, and editor of Hitel, Márton Falusi is part of the division of literature, which decide over who will get funded. Not only this, but Falusi is also part of MMA, so with him, there's four people out of the nine, whom are part of the MMA in the division of literature. .

While the Hungarian Academy of Arts haven't done anything that I would have encounter over the years, this didn't stop the government from giving them the Műcsarnok (Kunsthalle) for 15 years , and multiple luxurious, important buildings like the Schwanzer-palace, under Andrássy út 101. , Pesti Vigadó, and the Hild-palace. The group also received four Billion of public funds in 2014, and will get 7.2 Billion Forints in 2017. Meanwhile, the allovance of the group members increased from 150 000 to 250 000.

This is how we ended up in a situation where from the second half of 2016, in two-thirds a government-friendly, ultranationalist group, and the government can decide on who is getting funded or not.

Disclaimer: The following divisions are not on the graph: public cultivation, pop music, cultural festivals, and protection of heritage.

What happened to ELTE?

The Eötvös Loránd University received tens of millions of Forints past years, but currrently it seems as if the funds are starting to disappear. Last year, in 2016, the amount of received grants were the lowest in the observed timeframe. It was only a little over five Million Forints. This could be explained by that maybe ELTE didn't apply on as many tenders as before, or, it can be that the new divisions didn't like ELTE's applications.

If we are to exclude the 198 Names memorial, built in ELTE BTK between 2014 and 2015 in celebration of the Holocaust memorial year, there's a declining tendency on the amount of funds ELTE has received. While in 2013 the grants were above 26 Million Forints, a year later it decreased to 20 Million. A year later, in 2015, if we were to exlude the Holocaust memorial, the funds given would only be around 13 Million Forints. Last year it decreased to a shocking Five Million. The data for the current year is not entirely uploaded, but in the time of the writing, there was no sign of ELTE receiving anything.

On the next table, you can see what a decisive part did the funds granted by the Ministry have over the past years. One of the reasons why this past year turned out so badly was that ELTE received absolutely no money from the Ministry. Just like in 2011, when the total amount is again very small. That was the year when the Jankovics — L. Simon change happened, and L. Simon radically reduced the number of curators in the institute. The most money ELTE has received happened just a year before the change of government in 2009, when ELTE received almost 35 Million Forints, especially shocking that if we take a look at it, there wasn't any big projects in the pipeline. Sixty percent, about 20 and half Million Forints came from the Ministry. The most percentage of money coming from the Ministry happened in 2010, when after the election and before leaving office, István Hiller lead Ministry granted 16 and a half Million Forints in one month.

It's hard to draw conclusions from this, but currently it seems as if the ELTE can only hope for a very small sum, or at least, less then past years. This won't stop the slow decline of the Hungarian universities quality, and the decline of the number of Hungarian students in higher education. In the 2016-2017 school year, 287 018 students learned in higher education. The last time this number was this low was in 1998-1999 and years before that. Without new research, opportunities and development, it'll be really hard to convince students to continue their education, especially to continue them in Hungary.

To wrap things up, I included a graph, which shows the position of the two Hungarian universities which made it into the Shanghai World Rankings Top 500 University list. This list is published annually by this independent NGO, and the University of Szeged has been on the list ever since 2003, and Eötvös Loránd University got there a year later. At least they have been there, since in 2016, both university fell out of the TOP 500 university list.

2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Szegedi Tudományegyetem 203-300 301-400 305-402 305-401 303-401 303-401 301-400 301-400 401-500 401-500 401-500 -
Eötvös Loránd Tudományegyetem 301-400 301-401 305-402 305-401 303-401 303-401 303-401 303-401 303-401 303-401 401-500 -