Comments and reactions

Today’s blog will be a bit of a hodgepodge because I would like to respond to some of the thought provoking comments made here in the last few days. So I might jump from topic to topic even though there is an overarching common theme. Basically all the writers are trying to explain the causes of the ills that plague Hungarian society.

Let’s start with New World Order’s point about Hungarians’ desire for a "strong state." Odin’s One Eye called it a "benignly dictatorial" state. Or we can call it an authoritarian state. One shouldn’t be surprised about this. After all, Hungarians never lived in an entirely democratic state, and it is becoming obvious that they don’t know what to do with their new found freedom. I think New World Order talked about the fact that Hungarians don’t know the "permissible limits of free speech." For some people democracy means that one can do anything. They can say whatever they want, they can do whatever they want. There is no limit. Anything goes.

Not only do ordinary Hungarians have difficulties with the limits of democracy, but it seems to me that the authorities (judges, prosecutors, police, etc.) have the same problems. I can’t tell you how many times I hear politicians and commentators say "ez még belefér," a slang expression meaning "that is still OK, that is still permissible." And what according to them is still permissible to my ears is horrendous. A good example would be a small group of demonstrators screaming so loud that the official speaker’s words cannot be heard. Or throwing eggs at speakers: this is also permissible. And, indeed, on March 15th one could see Gábor Demszky standing in front of the statue of Sándor Petőfi trying to give a speech while two or three security men were positioned in front of him holding up big black umbrellas trying to shield him from eggs, tomatoes, rocks, what not. And the police idly watch this incredible scene. That "nem fér bele." In my opinion, this should not be allowed. This is not democracy, it’s anarchy.

The other problem, and it is a growing problem, is that Hungarians decided that after all socialism wasn’t that bad. Okay, there were no telephones, there was a long wait for cars, limited offerings of goods in the stores, BUT there was security. A worker didn’t have to worry about learning new skills or losing his job and, sure, the salaries weren’t great but one didn’t have to work very hard either. Moreover, a person could steal quite a bit from work to supplement his income. And, very important, there were mighty few really rich people. Now everything is different. A person has to work pretty hard. He could lose his job, and stealing is increasingly difficult. And there are the rich people who are so easy to hate. The Hungarian right is using this nostalgia for the good old days to its advantage. Agitation against the rich is not very far from their thinking either. It is enough to recall Orbán’s favorite description of the Medgyessy government as the "bankers’ government."

Odin’s One Eye mentioned something about the importance of "getting down to work." Someone else mentioned the judges who work only three days a week and they are off all summer! Family physicians work only four hours a day, and I heard a dentist complain bitterly about working more than four hours a day. A dentist simply cannot stand for eight hours. I don’t know who prevents him from sitting down. My dentist sits most of the time. Moreover, the Hungarian dentist argued, he would need at least two assistants for such arduous work. I desperately tried to imagine two assistants plus a dentist around the dentist’s chair! The other day Sándor Friderikusz, the TV star reporter of Hungary, expressed his utter amazement at how American reporters manage at CNN to work all those hours, for example, at the time of the primaries last Tuesday. Well, Americans work pretty hard. Much harder than Hungarians do. Yet one hears the endless refrain of how busy life is now as opposed to those good old days when everybody had plenty of time for family and play.

As for Trianon. I would love to say a few words on that topic too but considering that I wrote my dissertation on the 1919-1920 period which led to the Treaty of Trianon, I’m afraid I know too much about the topic and as one of my professors said: "I could give my best lectures on topics about which I knew very little." What he meant was that if one knows too many details one is inclined to get lost. I don’t want to do this. Perhaps it is enough to say here that I fully agree with New World Order that it would be high time to forget about the topic. I understand why this topic has suddenly become so important to Hungarians: they were not supposed to talk about it for half a century and now, finally, there is the opportunity to tell the whole world the injustice that Hungary endured. Although one might understand the impulse, the phenomenon is harmful to the people, the country, and the country’s relations with its neighbors. It is bad enough that the topic is so much in the center of attention, but is even worse that the people are so ignorant of the causes that led to the Treaty of Trianon.

The other day an old fellow refugee student acquaintance of mine who seems to be preoccupied with Trianon asked me all sorts of questions. Somehow the topic of the War of Independence of 1848-49 came up. I tried to explain to him that if Lajos Kossuth and his friends had won the war against the Habsburgs, Trianon would have occurred fifty years earlier. Because independence and Greater Hungary were mutually exclusive concepts. I haven’t received an answer yet to my letter. I guess he is trying to think this over.

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Odin's lost eye
I must appologise for being long winded but there are so many important points here. The traditions of democratic government seem to be strongest amongst two types of state. Firstly those states where the present majority inhabitants arrived in small batches or groups (Example the Anglo-Saxon settlements of England, the USA, Australia, New Zealand etc). Secondly those states that were in some way despotically ruled which lead to a horrendous cataclysmic downfall, amongst these I will include Western Germany, France (Franco-Prussian War and the communard) etc. As I understand your history you acquired this land by a union of tribes under a single leadership. This tribal structure was sort of feudal in nature. You server the clan chief and he looked after you. Since 1526 until recently Hungary has been some form of foreign domination (actually if we include the power of the Vatican over the rulers of this land we can probably go back earlier). This has meant that the Hungarian has had no real say in controlling their own destiny. After 1956 the rulers realized that they had to raise the standard of living, which had fallen some 20% since the inflation of 1947-8. They devised a sort… Read more »

One problem in a post-totalitarian state like Hungary is that few recognise that there can be legitimate restrictions on freedom. Some say that judges here are reluctant to take firm action against the likes of Magyar Gárda or people that throw eggs because they’re afraid of being seen as puppets of a totalitarian regime.
There was a predictable outcry from the right when police erected a barricade around Kossuth tér as Parliament prepared to pass the health insurance bill on Feb 11 – violation of freedom, human rights, etc. – but no acknowledgement that protesters had thrown objects at and spat on MPs as they left the House a few months ago. Nor that the protesters who camped out on the square in the fall of 2006 had destroyed the grass, trashed the place and generally used the square a public toilet.
I’m sure it’s not possible to get near the White House. Is that a violation of human rights, or a rational precaution?