Letter from Budapest

Last week I went to Budapest to see, at the «neo-brassy» National Theater, a tragedy that seemed to me to be a slapstick version of an acrobatic «Antigone.» Directed by Laszlo Bocsardi, a well-known Hungarian director from Romania, with his Sfintu-Gheorghe company, this precise version of Sophocles’ «Antigone» successfully broke the exhausted tradition of staging ancient Greek plays. It was an unusual, classy political theater with a lot of ironic gestures. And a lot of nifty solutions too. Antigone’s dead brother is not only on stage through most of the action, but the awkward cadaver also reacts and participates in what is said and happening around him. Also there was a lot that reminded the spectator of present-day European political circumstances. And not just in Hungary, a country which has been beset by bickering and poor leadership over the centuries; a landlocked country where over the past 100 years many of its unfortunate political leaders have been executed, assassinated, exiled, have committed suicide or died in office; a Hungary which next May will join the European Union, and which is already a very different place today, having emerged from the communist nightmare and embraced the benefits of a Westernized mixed economy. In «Antigone» one can certainly decipher parallels with modern Greece as well. In Sophocles’ drama, the king, Creon, had many wise counselors and advisers, but chose to act on his own free will, which eventually led him to utter despair in his life. Well, you probably know the strange events that followed. His wife and son committed suicide. Antigone died as well. Despite his many wise counselors and advisers, our «enigmatic» Prime Minister Simitis – as Antonis Karakousis described him in this paper last Saturday – could eventually provoke a sudden, yet not unexpected, change in PASOK’s leadership shortly before elections, as some political analysts predict. This would be a major shock that would certainly upset the present correlation of political forces and consequently would not be specially greeted by the opposition parties. But even so, I believe most people would agree there are worse things to worry about these days. Many Greek myths are centered on the subject of fate anyway. And it still is the same fate as the one that harassed Creon, when at the very end of the play he discovers the error of his ways and desperately wails: «O sins of a mind that is minded to stray!» In ancient times dramas were written not only for entertainment, but also to teach moral lessons of good and evil. All the virtuous characters in «Antigone» die because of the lack of discretion displayed by an arrogant king. Yet enough of historical foreign events. Local issues and impressions from travels always trump foreign issues in the Greek press. So: the start of winter is irresistibly pleasurable in Budapest, with a climate permitting you to stroll along the broad boulevards on the Pest side of the Danube, a city with its turn-of-the-century feel that distinguishes it and that has earned it the nickname «Paris of Eastern Europe.»