Getting acquainted with Katalin Kondor

Because yesterday there was a demonstration on behalf of Katalin Kondor, former director of the Magyar Rádió and recently on the list of those staff members whose program was cut, I decided that I should get better acquainted with her and listen to some of her programs (available on the Magyar Rádió’s audio archives). A while back I almost had a real encounter with her on account of a letter to the editor I wrote in which I dared to correct her recollection of a short story she had read as a child. Katalin Kondor is not the kind of person who would let herself be contradicted. After the appearance of my piece, she wrote an angry letter to the editor-in-chief. As for the wrong facts, she was ready to concede that the author was not Alexei Tolstoy but, according to her, Leo Tolstoy.  I still maintain that it was most likely Maxim Gorky, but fortunately the whole controversy came to naught. The paper didn’t publish her letter and I didn’t insist on Gorky.

Katalin Kondor had two one-hour programs. On Saturdays, she put together a program called Reggeli Krónika (Morning Chronicle). This seems to be a mixed bag: songs, poetry, interviews with authors, etc. The Sunday program is called Névjegy (Calling Card) which seems to be an interview with a single person of the "correct" political persuasion.

Let’s start with the Morning Chronicle. Although by all her writings and utterances Kondor seems to be hard as nails, in this program her behavior bordered on the sugary phoney. The music, at least this past Saturday, was heavily patriotic: the birds sing nicer in Hungary than anywhere else. Or, Ferenc Rákóczi’s yearning to return to Hungary, sung by an opera singer who was already losing his voice in my childhood in the 1950s. There was more "modern" fare too, but this had a jarring quality to it: the group put modern lyrics to music that imitated the ancient Hungarian pentatonic scale. We also learned about the enthusiastic and wonderful God-fearing people who organized an exchange program between Transylvanian Hungarians and the "fatherland." Where did the money come from? They prayed and prayed (in Hungarian it sounds really funny: kiimádkozták). Then there was a heartwarming interview with a man whose hobby is to act as "vőfély" at weddings. In the old days in the villages the "vőfély" called the people to the wedding and acted as the master of ceremonies at the celebration. Our modern "vőfély" proudly announced that he has already fulfilled this role in seven hundred weddings. He does all this without compensation because he thinks that’s his calling. He immediately produced a few traditional doggerels. From the above I think it is quite clear that the whole program has a musty, antiquated atmosphere with a nationalistic, folkish, Trianon-laden overlay. At the end, Kondor had an interview with an author who wrote a "novel" about a real-life high school teacher in Veszprém who was executed after the 1956 revolution. What was interesting was that Kondor made sure the author included in the interview his contempt of "those people" who now take part in the yearly remembrance of the school teacher but who, had they lived then, would have asked for a heavier sentence just as the local party secretary did in 1958.

The "Névjegy" (Calling Card) is, as its name reveals, an interview with a single person. This time it was a sculptor, János Blaskó. I learned from the interview that Blaskó was asked by the town of Székelyudvarhely in the center of Transylvania to have a Hero’s Square, somewhat similar to, although certainly more modest than, the monumental group of statues of famous Hungarian kings in Budapest. One can see the Budapest statues here:

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a picture of Blaskó’s heroes in Székelyudvarhely. Blaskó’s heroes are not just kings, but writers as well. He did a statue of Albert Wass, although Wass couldn’t be identified because after the war he was condemned to death for his activities against Romanians and Jews. But we are told that "we can learn a lot of history from Wass, especially when it comes to the truth about Trianon." The sculptor also included Attila’s youngest son, Csaba, who allegedly, after the Huns’ defeat, led his people to Transylvania. Of course, there is absolutely no historical evidence for this, but Blaskó is not too fussy about historical accuracy. According to him, Attila the Hun was a highly cultured man who was educated in Byzantium and who spoke both Greek and Latin. Well, that was also new to me.

Blaskó reassured the Transylvanian Hungarians that at least 2.5 million people, those who today would vote for the Fidesz, "love Transylvania." Presumably, those who don’t vote for the Fidesz don’t care a hoot about the Hungarian brethren in Romania. Blaskó gave a lengthy lecture on xenophobia. According to him, very soon there will be more "aliens" than natives in Hungary and Hungarians will not be able to speak their own language. These aliens will give an entirely different character to the whole country. Moreover, the current government ruins the villages, "annihilates" (kiirtja) the mailmen, and very soon there won’t be even pubs where people can talk about politics. The villages will be ravaged, the land that contains "the ashes of our ancestors" will be in foreign hands. Western Europeans will invade the still pure land of Hungary, everybody will be on the move "except us," who will be too poor to move anywhere.

And this program appears on Hungary public radio financed from the central budget. This is how they "enlighten" the average undereducated Hungarian who listens to Kondor’s program. It’s a shame.

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Hervai Mihály vőfély

700 hundred weddings as “vőfély”? That’s really something!