National pride

A few days ago Tárki, a polling company, together with Image Factory, a firm offering "political and business solutions," looked into the question of national pride and the nation's self image. Three years ago 40% of all Hungarians were proud of being Hungarian. Today, only 32%. This question of national pride has always puzzled me. Where we are born and what language we learn as infants is really happenstance. Something over which we have no control. Why anyone should feel pride because of it is beyond me. Especially if we try to flesh out the basis of this pride. For most people the source of national pride is sports. So there will be a frenzy this summer if the Hungarians do well in the Beijing Olympics. On the other hand, I guess a certain shame will set in if they don't get as many medals as they are hoping for. Some think that the Hungarians are a very talented people. Proof of this is the number of Nobel Prize winners. Alas, with the exception of one, all of them achieved world fame abroad. Others think that Hungarian cuisine is just fantastic. They like to say that the three best cuisines in the world are the French, the Chinese, and the Hungarian. Hmmm! What about the Italian, the Spanish, the Thai, the Vietnamese, and I could mention many more. Hungarian men are proud that Hungarian women are so beautiful. Again beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. We like what we are accustomed to. For example, I once had a Hungarian visitor who told me that she had never in her life seen so many ugly people as in the United States. In any case, 57% of those polled are actually ashamed of certain things they associate with the country. In 2005 that number was only 41%.

This news item inspired many people, especially on the right, to ponder the idea of national pride. Among them was Klári Fekete, the mother of Krisztina Morvai whose exaggerated political utterances bordering on the unacceptable have made their rounds in the last few years. Klári Fekete phoned György Bolgár today to share with him and the many thousands of listeners her own feelings about national pride. She thinks that Viktor Orbán's emphasis on national pride is very important and that the trouble in Hungary is that there is not enough of it. Not as in the United States. And then she told a story that is hard to believe. She claimed that she happened to be in New York watching the Fourth of July fireworks when the national anthem was played. Next to her a young American man who was well over 200 pounds began to sob. She, who always has a white handkerchief in her purse, offered it to him, but he rejected it, saying that on this day "'we don't wipe away our tears." I have been living in the United States for the last forty years and have never had the privilege to witness such a moving scene. To tell you the truth, I very much doubt that it ever happened. In the United States the national anthem is most closely linked with sports events–a rendering of the national anthem and then, "play ball!" My personal memories of the national anthem come from years of attending and participating in dog shows. Every dog show in the United States begins with the national anthem. Some people actually stop in their tracks, but most go on grooming their dogs or whatever they were doing, sometimes with a little less gusto.

Her second story also had something to do with the United States. She is very good in languages (she herself claimed) and makes sure that she keeps her skills well oiled. Therefore she watches foreign-language programs on television all the time. Back in the days of the Clinton administration she didn't follow politics, but her interest was suddenly aroused by Viktor Orbán when she saw him on BBC as he told off Bill Clinton. According to her what happened was the following. Viktor Orbán, the guest in the White House in 1998, told President Clinton: "In this room there are five Hungarians and only two of you who don't speak Hungarian; therefore I will speak in Hungarian." When she saw this, she said to herself, that's my man. This is called national pride. This is how proud people should behave. (Some would call it outright rude, if it happened that way. Luckily it didn't.)

Well, this is not how I remembered the affair. Orbán visited the United States because of Hungary's admission to NATO. There was a photo op in the White House gardens. Orbán began to speak in English, but halfway through he apologized to Clinton for continuing in Hungarian. Of course, our memories are not always perfect, but I was pretty sure that this is what I heard on the National Public Radio one morning when I was doing my constitutional. I decided to write a quick note to the program's forum and behold Bolgár noticed it and decided to read it in the middle of the program. Later on I even remembered that Orbán rather disingenuously reminded Clinton that not only the American president studied in Oxford but he himself as well. He mentioned that Clinton and he shared the same tutor and he brought greetings from him. Was I right? Was I wrong? Thanks to the internet and Google, the answer came within seconds. I was right. I found the official transcript of this photo op.

Let me quote a few sentences. After Clinton's introductory words, mostly about Kosovo, this is what Orbán had to say.

"I'm very much delighted to be here. I'm very happy that I was invited to have this discussion with your President. I'm very happy to be here as probably the first time in the history of Hungary as Prime Minister of an ally to the United States, a future member of NATO. And I would express all of the Hungarian citizens' gratitude to the President that he was tough enough to convince all the members of the Senate that enlargement of NATO and to involve Hungary into the process of enlargement is a step which is not just good for Hungary, but it is in the interest of NATO as well. And he was a tough fighter to convince everybody around the Western Hemisphere that NATO enlargement is in the interest of those countries living in Central Europe who just got through the occupation of another empire.

"So we consider your President as a person who brought his name into the history of Hungary, the Hungarian history, as a person who provided security and national independence to Hungary.

*Just for a second, I have a letter to your President, anyway, which was sent by Mr. Pachinski (phonetic), who was your tutor in Oxford and who was my tutor in Oxford as well, and I just met him a week ago in Budapest. And he asked me to give this letter to you, his best wishes probably you can find inside it.*

We will discuss definitely about Kosovo, the Hungarian and foreign policies in the Middle East, that they should look for a peaceful solution. But if a decision would be taken by NATO, we are ready to contribute as an ally to do. Host nation support could be provided. Up until now, Hungary and foreign policy was not invited into this action, but we are ready to take part. And we will discuss many other points as well. It will be too long to explain just now here. Thank you very much."

After these introductory remarks in Orbán's best English, the reporters bombarded Clinton with questions, most concerning his possible impeachment. Eventually Clinton managed to close this rather uncomfortable line of questioning and returned to the Hungarian prime minister:

"So these are some of the things that I hope to discuss with the Prime Minister. Now, perhaps he would like to make a few opening remarks, and then we'll answer a couple of questions.

*PRIME MINISTER ORBAN: If you don't mind, I would like to do it in Hungarian – *


PRIME MINISTER ORBAN: (Speaks in Hungarian — translated.) ….."

In brief, Orbán had to switch into Hungarian because he was unable to express himself well enough in English.

That is the trouble with some of these people like Morvai and her mother. Truthfulness is not exactly their strong point.