I borrowed today's title "The Hungarian carpet scandal in Brussels" from the German paper Das Bild. The scandal began with an article in EUobserver by Valentina Pop who reported that in the Justus Lipsius Building that houses the Council of Europe, the Hungarian government laid a giant 202 m2 carpet to mark the beginning of its six-month rotating presidency. The carpet was designed by Lívia Pápai, a textile designer. It is constructed from twenty-three 75 x 120 cm segments depicting important milestones in Hungarian history and Hungarian achievements. There are historical figures, famous structures, and, the cause of the scandal, a map of Greater Hungary in the middle of which is the date 1848.
As the author of the article predicted, the carpet sparked fresh controversies about the nationalistic outlook of the government in Budapest. In vain did Márton Hajdú, spokesman for the Hungarian EU presidency, try to explain that "the carpet is basically a timeline of cultural, historical, and scientific symbols of Hungary." The critics were not satisfied. For example, Austrian Green MEP Ulrike Lunacek said that the map is an illustration of Viktor Orbán's "intention to overcome the Treaty of Trianon." But she also had other objections. "It is a very backward view of Mr. Orbán, not at all in the direction of a common European future. It is also a complete misinterpretation of EU's current challenges."
Romanian Socialist MEP Ioan Mircea Pascu also complained about "the importance given to 'Greater Hungary' which is not the most inspired symbol for the Hungarian EU presidency." After all, the European Union "stands for abolishing internal borders, not for regrets over their previous existence. Such gestures are likely to fuel nationalistic reactions within the EU, at a time when the union is most in need of solidarity." These two were joined by the Slovaks when Lubos Schwarzbacher, spokesman of the Slovak Foreign ministry, announced that "the historic map of Hungary simply doesn't belong to the building where first and foremost European politicians decide on the future of the European Union."The Czech media followed suit. Právo discussed the carpet and its significance at length. According to the article, "the neighbors of Hungary look upon that carpet as an attempt to revive the idea of the pre-1920 Greater Hungary."
I have pondered this whole question and carefully read the Hungarian spokesman's account of the presence of this map on the carpet. Hajdú explained that "the map shows Hungary in 1848, in the year when revolutions broke out all over Europe." But that explanation is not satisfactory. Why should the revolutions of nations in Europe be depicted by a map of Greater Hungary that just had acquired, even if temporarily, the shape it retained until 1918 or officially until 1920? Because it was in 1848 that Hungary managed to achieve a union between Hungary proper and Transylvania, a region separately governed by Vienna for centuries. It was a temporary union because after the Hungarians lost the war of independence against the Habsburgs Transylvania again became a separate province of the Empire. That was the situation until 1867, the year of the Compromise when Hungary and Transylvania were united again.
I suspect that weaving the 1848 date into the middle of this segment was a ruse to justify displaying the map of Greater Hungary. That is my suspicion because the official explanation is rather feeble. The map of Hungary as a symbol of the revolutions in France, Germany, Austria, and Italy? It makes no sense. The map, by the way, is situated in the middle of this giant carpet and is rather large: 15 m2.
The carpet itself wasn't cheap. The Hungarian government paid 160,000 euros. Lots of money, plenty of headaches. Hungarian diplomacy is failing badly. One must remember how Viktor Orbán boasted about his great experience in international affairs as opposed to the bungling socialists' "provincialism." He promised to lead Hungary to the High Street of Europe. Up to now he has brought only embarrassment to his fellow Hungarians, I'm afraid. Unfortunately his allegedly professional diplomats are no better than he is. I really don't know where all this will lead.