Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban
Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban Reuters

American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 94, has turned down a literary award partly funded by the Hungarian government due to concerns about human rights in the central European country, his publisher said Friday, according to AFP.

Ferlinghetti is Jewish, as his mother was of French/Portuguese Sephardic Jewish heritage

The Janus Pannonius International Poetry Prize was set up in 2012 by the Hungarian PEN Club, a branch of the worldwide PEN writers' associations.

Part of the 50,000 euros prize money is funded by the Hungarian government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has faced accusations at home and abroad of undermining human rights in the European Union member state.

"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.

It added that Geza Szocs, president of the Hungarian PEN Club since 2011 and former minister of culture in Orban's cabinet, offered to take out the state contribution but Ferlinghetti rejected the proposal.

"I hereby refuse the Prize in all its forms," AFP quoted the San Francisco-based writer as having said, adding that "I am grateful to those in Hungary who may have had the purest motives in offering me the Prize."

Ferlinghetti's snub follows the decision of Jewish-American author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel to return Hungary's highest state honor in June in protest at the "whitewashing" under Orban of the country's dark wartime past.

Others have also made clear their disgust, AFP reported, with Akos Kertesz, an 80-year-old prize-winning Jewish Hungarian writer, in March going as far as applying for political asylum in Canada.

In January, internationally acclaimed 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.

After Wiesel returned his prize, fifty members of the United States Congress called on Orban to stand up against the anti-Semitic and "homophobic" remarks and positions of far-right political party Jobbik.

“We’re deeply concerned by anti-Semitic and homophobic positions espoused by members of the Jobbik party,” the lawmakers said in a letter addressed to Orban.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin recently told his Hungarian counterpart, Laszlo Kover, that he is unwelcome in Israel due to his participation in an event commemorating anti-Semitic writer Jozsef Nyiro.

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