Yourope Rallies Around Sziget

An organisation representing most of Europe’s major festivals has rallied around Sziget because the mayor of Budapest wants to charge Hungary’s main festival so much site rent that organizers say the event wouldn’t be financially viable.

Christoph Huber, chairman of Yourope, which represents 64 European festivals, wrote to Mayor Istvan Tarlos Jan. 21, describing the festival as “an incredible phenomenon” that helps spread the good name of Hungary all over the cultural world.

“Sziget Festival increases the cultural credit of the city you are in charge of,” he wrote.

Mayor Tarlos, formerly mayor of Budapest’s 3rd District, where Sziget is staged, wants to charge the festival millions of euros to use the Danube island site where it’s always staged.

Largely because of its international cultural importance and the tourist dollars it brings to Budapest, the city has previously allowed the event free use of the 108-hectare Óbuda site.

Various Hungarian newspaper and radio reports suggest Tarlos now wants to charge anything between euro 4 million and euro 10 million each year.

The upper end of that range would likely wipe Sziget’s entire annual budget and the lower end would involve the festival being cut drastically.

Michal Kascak, head of Slovakia’s Pohoda Festival, believes Tarlos – one of the Hungary’s growing number of right-wing politicians – simply doesn’t like “open-minded” events and sees the sky-high rent as a way of stopping them.

The mayor has certainly had earlier run-ins with Sziget, particularly when in 2001 he said he was not prepared to grant Sziget a license on the grounds that it openly encouraged homosexual practices.

The event went ahead only after the organisers signed an undertaking that the event would not give official encouragement to homosexuality.

Sziget managing director Gábor Takács told Pollstar he’s confident the event will happen in 2011.

He says a compromise will be reached, as was the case in previous disputes with the city of Budapest. He declined further comment until after the meeting he’s trying to set up with the mayor.

When the initial radio reports said Tarlos wanted euro 10 million per year for the use of the site, Sziget released a statement that said “the organisers presume that this unrealistic figure must be the result of a miscalculation.”