The time between December 23 and January 2 in Hungary is devoid of political news. As if life stopped. Of course, it is quite possible that in Hungary nothing is happening because there seems to be an unspoken rule that no conversation can be conducted, even with politicians, about politics. So come the trivia. Politicians have to say how they will spend their Christmas, how many people will be sitting around the table, who will eat what, or did they manage to buy all the Christmas presents. Conversations with historians center around Christmases of the past and their own recollections. This morning a couple, both formerly politicians, were promoting their cookbook. The wife wrote the receipes and the husband took the pictures. A few years back Nap-kelte visited all the leading politicians at home, starting with Ferenc Gyurcsány, continuing with Viktor Orbán, Ibolya Dávid, and Gábor Kuncze. The most amusing of these was the visit with the Orbáns in their new rather controversial house in the hills of Buda where the crew was instructed to show practically nothing of the house. The wife was modestly washing dishes in the kitchen, back to the cameras, not saying a word, and the kids were squeezed together, all five of them, alongside papa and mama, on the lower two treads of a staircase. That way there was no need to chase them around the house and show any of the surroundings. Dávid was proudly showing off her hats while the Gyurcsány family was having breakfast, kids running around, and Gyurcsány gave a brief tour of his study and library.
This kind of programming will be going on for over a week. The usual programs are scrapped and the moderator kindly informs us that "we will be back on January 8th as usual." Wow, how happy TV personalities would be in the United States if they could take almost two weeks off around this time of the year. Most of them are not that lucky. The day after Christmas the usual programming resumes in the U.S. while in Hungary people can watch old soaps and movies.
Given the dearth of news from Hungary I decided to return to my current reading: Sándor Friderikusz's book based on interviews with Zsófia Mihancsik. I understand that it is a best seller. The first edition is completely sold out already although it is not exactly cheap: 3,700 Ft. Almost twenty dollars. Mind you, it is fascinating reading and I assume a lot of people will especially enjoy some of the gossip from the world of the media. Friderikusz doesn't mince words about some well known figures, and I must admit that some of his very negative portraits came as a surprise to me. Of course, one must keep in mind that these portraits are one sided, seen through the eyes of a man who felt that he was very often wronged and maligned. I can well imagine the reaction in the Hungarian media: outrage. Friderikusz calls them ill-informed, untalented, cynical, ill-willed, easily bribed, intimidated, superficial. Should I continue?
I heard Friderikusz talking about his book, especially about his portraits of Gyurcsány and Orbán, with György Bolgár on Bolgár's talk show, "Megbeszéljük!" He observed that although a lot of articles appeared about his book not one of them quoted his passages about Gyurcsány and Orbán. They would rather talk about his very negative opinions of Tamás Vitray, the pioneer of early Hungarian television, and Tamás Mészáros, the publicist. Friderikusz is convinced and I suspect he is right that today's journalists behave exactly like their predecessors in the Kádár regime. It was the era of self-censorship. They instinctively knew what the limits were. They knew what was a safe topic and what was not. If you didn't want to jeopardize your career you avoided sensitive topics. Today there are a lot of journalists who are fully committed on the side of the right but few are ready to be too zealous on the left. The difference is that the former group doesn't even pretend to be impartial. They are totally committed. The world for them is either black or white. Either evil or good. The other side is evil, their side is good. It is that simple. On the liberal side the journalists try to be "more balanced." The partisans of the government are rather unhappy with this balancing act and accuse them of not defending the "right" side. Then there are those who are ready to serve the winning side. Friderikusz writes about one journalist who was paid by a politician to write something bad about him every day for a month. Nice journalist, nice politician. Or he talks about a certain Krisztián K. who started his journalistic career as a teenager by faking an interview with Friderikusz, an interview that never took place. The same guy later was in the employ of Fidesz and obviously was ready even to commit a crime for the cause. Whether on his own initiative or at someone's suggestion the young Krisztián "stole" a message off Friderikusz's cell phone that put an end to his being considered for the job of president of MTV. There are only a handful of liberal journalists who don't seem to be worried about their career in case Viktor Orbán wins the elections and who speak their own mind. Friderikusz belongs to this small group.
The epilogue of the book was written by András Gerő, the historian and a friend of Friderikusz. According to Gerő, talent and ambition are not sought-after commodities in Hungary. All those who are less talented and who are where they are through "connections," a very important word in Hungary, certainly do everything in their power to make the lives of few very talented people miserable and put an end to their career. Today, says Gerő, "neither Friderikusz nor Mihancsik have a place in Hungarian public life. They are not making television or radio programs, they are not needed by anybody." Gerő is only partially right. With this book Friderikusz and Mihancsik are back.