Jewish American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 94, has turned down the Janus Pannonius International Poetry Prize, which is partly funded by the Hungarian government, due to concerns about human rights in the central European country, his publisher told AFP Friday.
“The policies of this right-wing regime tend toward authoritarian rule and the consequent curtailing of freedom of expression and civil liberties,” Ferlinghetti told the Hungarian PEN Club, according to his publishers New Directions.
“I hereby refuse the Prize in all its forms,” the San Francisco-based writer, famous for his 1958 “A Coney Island of the Mind,” said. “I am grateful to those in Hungary who may have had the purest motives in offering me the Prize,” he added.
According to AFP, the president of Hungary’s PEN Club offered to take out the state’s contribution to the 50,000 euros ($64,730) prize, but Ferlinghetti rejected the proposal.
In June, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel repudiated a Hungarian award he received in 2004 because top officials from Budapest had attended a ceremony for a Nazi sympathizer.
The memorial rite offended the 83-year-old Holocaust survivor, whose parents and sister were sent to their deaths by wartime Hungarian officials.
Wiesel said in a letter to Hungarian Parliamentary Speaker Laszlo Kover that he doesn’t want to be associated with activities such as the May 27 ceremony for Jozsef Nyiro, a World War II member of Hungary’s parliament whom Wiesel calls a “fascist ideologue” and “an anti-Semite.”
“It is with profound dismay and indignation that I learned of your participation,” along with Hungarian Secretary of State for Culture Geza Szocs and Gabor Vona, the leader of the far-right Jobbik party, Wiesel wrote.
“I hereby repudiate the Grand Cross Order of Merit” bestowed by Hungary’s president, wrote Wiesel, an author awarded the Nobel in 1986 for being a “messenger to mankind.”
Wiesel, who lives in New York, told the AP that another reason he’s rejecting the award is “because the late wartime dictator Miklos Horthy who sent 500,000 Jews to Auschwitz in 1944 is becoming a heroic figure again in his country.”
Wiesel says he’s not blaming the Hungarian people for what their leaders did, or are doing.
“I don’t believe in collective guilt, but I do believe in taking a position about matters that happen today,” he said. “To celebrate and honor leaders of fascist Hungary is wrong.”
Wiesel wrote Kover that in recent months, “it has become increasingly clear that Hungarian authorities are encouraging the whitewashing of tragic and criminal episodes in Hungary’s past, namely the wartime Hungarian government’s involvement in the deportation and murder of hundreds of thousands of its Jewish citizens.”
In January, Hungarian-born pianist Andras Schiff said he would no longer perform in his native country because of the increasingly hostile environment not only for Jews but also other minorities like Roma.