By Tjeerd Royaards, Cartoon Movement editor
These past few days, I had the opportunity to spend some time getting to know the cartooning scene in Hungary. Cartoon Movement was in Budapest for Cartoons in Court, a research project into satire and the law. The research team consists of four academics from various universities around the world. Representing Cartoon Movement, I am the fifth member of the project as a so-called stakeholder, providing a link to actual practitioners of satire (cartoonists).
As Hungarian democracy slowly slides towards authoritarianism under the leadership of Victor Orbán, being a cartoonist in Hungary is increasingly challenging. I met with some cartoonists from the cartoonist association at the Association of Hungarian journalists. The fact that they are part of the journalist association is a good thing, but that's one of the few positives that I can say about political cartoons in Hungary (aside from the excellent cartoons and the cartoonists themselves, of course).
First of all, there is basically only one full-time cartoonist in the country. His name is Gábor Pápai and he is perhaps the most renowned cartoonist in Hungary, making a daily cartoon for Népszava, the last independent newspaper left. The rest is working part-time, unpaid, or is struggling to find any publication to run their work, as the vast majority of Hungarian media is under control of Orbán and therefore not very open to political satire.
One other gem of political satire can be found on the covers of economic magazine HVG, which has a decade-long tradition of making sharp satirical covers.
Gábor and his colleagues have gotten into trouble numerous times in the past two years and Gabor's newspaper is currently in the process of appealing to the European Court of Human Rights after the Hungarian Supreme Court ruled one of Gabor's cartoons to be insulting to Christians. I'm not going to go into the details of the court proceedings here, but you can head over to the website of Cartooning for Peace for a detailed explanation of both the cartoon and the court case. You can also watch this video, made when Gábor was named one of the recipients (alongside Ukrainian cartoonist Vladimir Kazanevsky) of the Kofi Annan Courage in Cartooning Award 2022:
Suffice it to say that the red lines are many. Religion is one, but other cartoonists have gotten in trouble for depicting Orbán as a painful boil on the body of Europe, or by drawing the Hungarian people as pigs. Although the latter two examples haven't lead to court cases, the artists and their publications have faced threats and harassment from government officials and people close to the regime.
His underlying condition caused dependence'
Cartoon by Gábor Pápai, for which his newspaper had to pay a fine and publish a formal apology.
I don’t have the slightest wish to have it, not even on my back but it stings and itches as if there was an ugly ulcer on my splendid body, Doctor.'
Cartoon by Weisz Béla
In this comic the Hungarian people are portrayed as pigs. In panel 1, they are arguing about politics; in panel 2, Orbán comes along asking if he can help rid hem of the 'migrant pest'. In panel 3, two pigs who support Orbán are trying to get the third pig in line; and finally, in panel 4, they all end up in the same place, the butcher shop.
Cartoon by Marabu
On November 8, we held an event at the Central European University, to present our ongoing research. I invited Gábor to come and speak about his work and the challenges he faces. Unfortunately, students couldn't attend in person, as the CEU is no longer allowed to teach students in Budapest, because Orbán took away the accreditation and all the student facilities have moved to Vienna.
Gábor was pessimistic about the future of press freedom in his country, which in his opinion will go the same route as Russia, restricting free speech further and further. In the face of this growing oppression, Gábor has continued to create sharp cartoons, trying to provoke the authorities. However, the new strategy of the government has veered away from stimulating public outrage and court cases, opting for silence and indifference instead. This indifference, along with the insidious and unrelenting takeover of Hungarian media, might well prove successful.
Stay tuned for a recording of the event and a more in-depth interview with Gábor Pápai in the near future.