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Art For Squabbling's Sake

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (left) and Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme hold the European flag at the Presidency handover ceremony in Budapest on January 6.
Remember "Entropa," that monumental poke in Europe's eye by the Czech art scene's prolific imp, David Cerny?

It was an embarrassing start to the Czech Republic's EU Presidency in 2009 that probably made Czechs thankful their tenure lasted just six months. After all, the period was fraught with financial turmoil abroad and government fecklessness at home.

Indeed, the towering model kit hung in the EU's Council of Ministers building in Brussels -- complete with its Bulgarian pit toilets and provocatively laid German autobahn -- might be about the only thing most people remember about the Czech Republic's EU Presidency.

Czech Deputy Prime Minister tried to turn Cerny's lemons into lemonade, hailing the work as a testament to the fact that "20 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, there is no place for censorship in Europe." But there was never much doubt about who pressured Cerny into to his painfully awkward apology (from about the 15-minute mark here).

Now comes Hungary.

That country's EU Presidency kicked off this month with a black eye over a potentially restrictive media law that the bloc and others regarded as unacceptably open to abuse. Prime Minister Viktor Orban eventually climbed down in an effort to cut his government's losses.

So Budapest must be thrilled to see a new art scandal arising amid charges of runaway Hungarian nationalism. Its own art installation in Brussels -- including a carpet celebrating Hungarian history that also happens to depict the country's expansive 1848 borders -- has been condemned as presenting a "very backwards view."

Romanian legislator Ioan Mircea Pascu deadpanned that "the importance given to 'Greater Hungary' is not the most inspired symbol for the Hungarian EU presidency."

Just 5 1/2 months to go, Hungary.

-- Andy Heil

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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