When Hungarians keep cracking political jokes one knows that something is wrong. When every second person I get a letter from or every second Hungarian blogger I read keeps calling Viktor Orbán the Dear Leader, I sense deep trouble. The original, official name of Orbán’s party used to be Fiatal Demokraták Szövetsége (Association of Young Democrats) that was abbreviated to Fi-de-sz which sounded so good. After all, fides- fidei means trust or faith in Latin. But what about when a gentleman today in a call-in show called them Fiatalok Diktátorok Szövetsége. How embarrassing!
I received several circular letters in which people ask all those who oppose Fidesz and its new media law to make the Media Authority work a bit. The authors of the e-mails ask the recipient to watch one television program or one radio program on a right-wing media outlet every week and look for racist, antisemitic, hateful sentences, write them down and send them to the Media Authority. People I know are split on the issue. Some liberal journalists and thinkers consider such a move beneath them. This is the kind of thing right-wing supporters of Fidesz did in the past. The predecessor of the Media Authority was inundated with complaints about liberal media outlets. All the while the right-wing media were spewing absolutely vile stuff but nobody bothered to report them and ask them to be punished. Others think that it is not enough to write lofty treatises about freedom. Other kinds of protest are necessary. I like the idea of monitoring the right-wing television and radio stations because as it stands now the journalists who work at these media outlets perhaps rightly think that the new media law will not apply to them. Only to the liberal press and electronic media.
Népszabadság came out with a front page saying: “In Hungary there is no longer freedom of the press.” For good measure that sentence was translated into twenty-three languages.
Népszava came out with the old logo of the Hungarian Social Democratic Party. The man with the hammer.
These are deadly serious questions, but there is always something that can cheer up the Hungarians. One doesn’t have to go very far. The butt of jokes again is Pál Schmitt, president of the republic. Perhaps you remember that Pál Schmitt considers the purity of the Hungarian language of foremost importance and that he will spend a considerable amount of time promoting the cultivation of the language. There are some people who simply can’t leave the language alone. It doesn’t matter what kind of language we are talking about. Often enough one can hear people, especially seniors, complaining bitterly about the dire state of the language. Every since their childhood their mother tongue has been going down the drain. And all those foreign words! Dreadful.
A nationalist is especially prone to thinking about language this way. And Pál Schmitt is no exception. The problem is that he himself would have to go back to elementary school to learn the basic rules of spelling and grammar. Moreover, it seems that in his whole office there is no one who is any better than he is. Once already it happened that a terribly primitive “study” left his office in which he aired his thoughts on history and religion. Not only were the thoughts primitive; the piece that was sent to the committee charged with setting out guidelines for the new constitution was full of grammatical and spelling errors.
Well, it seems that Schmitt doesn’t learn from his mistakes. His New Year’s speech was put up on the website of his office. If possible, that short text had even more mistakes than the earlier “study.” People found seventeen spelling errors on one page. The speech with corrections can be seen on the Internet. It is worth taking a look at it. Once magnified, it is quite readable. Put it this way, a smarter fourth grader wouldn’t make the kinds of mistakes the president of the republic did. Apparently, he wrote it himself. To give but a single example, there are two spelling errors in the first line of the Hungarian national anthem!
It seems that his office manager’s Hungarian is not much better. This morning on “Ma Reggel” (MTV morning political show) he admitted that mistakes were made and promised–and now I will do a mirror translation of the original–“we will look up and we will fix every mistakes.” If you don’t think this makes much sense, don’t worry, it doesn’t in Hungarian either. He suggested that such mistakes are actually helpful. As he said: “The mistakes build us in a positive way.” Strange sentence. Just as strange in Hungarian, trust me.
Meanwhile criticism is still pouring in from all over the world. I read several French, German, and English language paper reports on Hungary. But for today’s blog I picked a pictorial one from Brussels. I assume many of you are familiar with Manneken Pis, the famous Brussels landmark. It is a small bronze fountain sculpture depicting a naked little boy urinating into the fountain’s basin. It was designed by Jerome Duquesnoy and put in place in 1618. The statue is dressed in costume several times each week, according to a published schedule. Apparently there are 700 costumes for him stored in the City Museum. According to the Hungarian Cultural Institute in Brussels, in honor of the Hungarian presidency today Manneken Pis will be in a hussar costume. On March 7th he will don a Matyó folk custume. Later he will be in a “suba,” a wide sheepskin coat worn by herders on the Great Plains and then once again he will be a dashing hussar. However, look what happened on the very first day:
Perhaps this cartoon from the Austrian Der Standard is even worse:
The scene is the hallway of the European Union. Our early ancestor named Hungary is threateningly grabbing the official’s necktie while dragging a dead man whose name is Press Freedom. The caption reads: “The Presidency! Which way?”
By the way, I just heard that the media law will not come into effect until July 1. I guess they can begin the witch hunt after all those Europeans leave Budapest.