Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Exclusive: Hungary's art and politics fuse as Facebook protest fizzles at Ronald Reagan hoopla in Budapest

Ronald Reagan in Repose, exclusive to ArtTraveler by Kinga Kalocsal

29 June 2011--Budapest, Hungary

A Facebook-inspired protest against Hungary's unveiling of a bronze statue of Ronald Reagan only attracted 9 people, the organizer of the protest said after the event of 29 June.

The 2.18 meter (7 ft. 2 in.) sculpture by Hungarian maestro Istvan Mate (b.1952), revealed to the public for the first time at Freedom Square (Szabadsag ter) near the Hungarian Parliament, commemorates 100 years since Reagan's birth.

It's the second likeness of the U.S. 40th president in Budapest.

The bronze Ronald Reagan at U.S. Capitol building, Washington, D.C.

The other is a bronze bust, installed in September 2006 under a socialist regime. It appears near a statue of George Washington.

Mate's work, more than a little controversial, comes after six months of planning by the Hungarian Ronald Reagan Memorial Committee.

Mate, whose bronze casting studio is in Budpest, was born in Csongrad in the southern part of the country.

He was graduated from the Hungarian College of Fine Arts in 1976 and in 2002, received the Gold Cross of the Hungarian Republic.

The Ronald Reagan Resurrection

Today's resurrection of Reagan happens close to the U.S. Embassy and to another sacred monument, the only Soviet-era statue and memorial left standing in the city (and not in Memento Park, where the rest are tourist attractions).

A Hungarian arts professional showed me the Soviet monument and provided its history.

"If we were to take it down, it would cause real problems with Russia," she said. The monument commemorates the Red Army's liberation of Budapest and Hungary from Nazi control.

If you follow the thematic logic, each is compatible with the other.

Historical irony?

Today's event, starting at 2:30 p.m. (as I write, it's 11 a.m.), will see former U.S. Secretary of State Condolezza Rice and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (leader of the country's conservative majority in parliament) officiate at the ceremony commemorating the Cold Warrior U.S. dead president, credited with helping take own the Iron Curtain, returning sovereignty to Hungary.

According to at least six Hungarian arts professionals, from artists, art historians, museum directors and a host of others I've talked to in my 12 days here, Hungarian PM Orban is not only autocratic, dictatorial and wildly erratic, but also a "fascist."

Mr. Orban, tear down this statue

Today's march and demonstration may be as much against his regime--a year old with three more to go--as anything. (I will be at the demonstration and report later.)

Reagan's oft-remembered sound bite: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."

He's also known for inventing what Reagan dubbed his "11th Commandment": "Thou shall not speak ill of another Republican."

Revisionists heap credit on him for stalwart opposition to Communism.

On the home front he's remembered as an icon of the neo-conservative movement; the California governor who stamped out student unrest, cut state budgets on the backs of his state's poor; and as president, emasculated collective bargaining in the United States, starting with the air traffic controllers' union, which all but died with a stroke of his pen.

Reagan gets a statue, Elvis a park

In addition to Hungary's bronze, 400 pound salute to Reagan, other countries are lining up to pay tribute.

In Krakow, Poland, the archbishop conducted a "Mass of Thanksgiving" remembering Reagan; Prague is naming a street after him (about three weeks ago, the mayor of Budapest named not only a street but an entire park after Elvis Presley); and on July 4 in central London close to the U.S Embassy, another bronze Ronald Reagan will be installed.

Neither Reagan nor Elvis ever visited Hungary.

Elvis Presley Park Photograph courtesy of Peter Fitz of Budapest (2011)

You can credit U.S. politicians for starting the remember Reagan through art movement.

In June 2009, the government unveiled a bronze Reagan at the U.S. Capitol.

Rock on and practice peace and love.
Stefan, the ArtTraveler ™
After nearly two weeks living at the 3.5-star Hotel Queen Mary in the center of Budapest's 7th District (Jewish Quarter), I heartily recommend it: totally renovated, old on the outside, otherwise totally modern; it's an extremely excellent value. (I'm not getting a discount for's my idea because it is what it is.) 
The owner and staff are great and speak English and German. Tel: 0036-1-413-3510;; 
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Visit Andalusia for a walking holiday or week-long sculpture or mosaics workshop. See: and

"Spanish life stilled," photograph by Stefan van Drake (2009)

ArtTraveler´s video: an interview with Scottish illustrator and painter, Gordon Wilson, about his new "I Love Fish" exhibition, inspired by a commissioned mural he did 12 years ago for a West Glasgow gangster, who loved supporting writers and artists as well as organized crime.

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  1. I suppose Mr. van Drake's is unaware of the fact Presley's call for help to feed refugees after the invasion of Hungary by Soviet troops, channeled in front of 50 million americans on January 6, 1957, resulted in contributions in excess of 26 million Swiss Francs, which at the then exchange rate of 4.34 per dollar, amounted to US$ 6 million, in 1957 dollars. Adjusted for inflation, that would represent US$44 million, in today's dollars. That money was passed on to refugees, in the next 55 years. So, I guess it would have been nice for Presley to visit Hungary say, when he was in the service in Germany (LOL), but I would doubt whether the authorities would even let him in. Not after calling for help after the invasion, seventeen months prior. Since he died in 1977, years before the fall of the comunist governments in Eastern Europe, I guess he was just not meant to go to Hungary. There are people who still keep the heart-shaped food items sent to refugees, under the Red Cross banner, and this is fifty years after they were first sent there. That's why he got a park with his name there...

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  3. Of the 50 million Americans tuned to the Ed Sullivan Show on January 6, 1957, when the call for help was made, it is estimated (by TRENDEX, the precursor to Nielsen), that 33 million were teenagers unable to send but the tiniest of contributions. Therefore, the bulk of the US$ 6 million must have oame from a high percentage of the remaining 27 million viewers, including parents or just average citizens impressed by Presley's performance of "Peace in the Valley", the song he chose to close that night's show, and which was performed precisely after the call was made by Sullivan himself, on his behalf. I leave those with a strong knowledge of math to make up who contributed the most, amongst the American public but I'm inclined to believe most came from parents watching the show.

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  5. Too bad Presley's call could not come on 9 September 1956, the night he garnered an estimated 62 million TV audience for his first appearance on the Sullivan show. And I say he couldn't since the invasion took place on October 24.