Fears of Hungary’s neighbors

One of the first items I saw this morning was an opinion piece in Krónika, a Hungarian-language paper from Cluj (Kolozsvár). The author, Szabolcs Rostás, is bitterly complaining that “more than twenty years after the change of regime, after the fall of the national-bolshevik dictatorship we haven’t moved forward. Bucharest is still looking upon the demands for Hungarian national rights as before 1989.” He simply doesn’t understand why this is so.

A few minutes later I learned that Zsolt Semjén, the deputy prime minister in charge of minority affairs in the neighboring countries, delivered a speech from which it became clear that if it depended on the Hungarian government it would introduce a “unitary curriculum” in the Carpathian basin. In other words, in all Hungarian-language schools, be they in Hungary proper or in the neighboring countries, the same material should be taught.

First, of course, they have to “nationalize” the schools in Hungary within its Trianon borders. As it stands now, a teacher can pick his or her favorite textbook from an approved list. Rózsa Hoffmann, the undersecretary in charge of education, already hinted that she was in favor of returning to the Kádár regime when every student learned the required material from the same textbooks. It is possible that Hoffmann would make an exception for the parochial schools which receive special treatment as it is from the government. Including more money. Hoffmann was also willing to make exceptions when it came to Catholic and Protestant universities: her stringent requirements concerning the educational attainment of the faculty didn’t apply to them. So, one never knows. It might easily happen that the ever growing number of parochial schools will have a different set of textbooks. But only one set.

In any event, once this Christian Democratic agenda is accomplished can come the extension of Hoffmann’s educational ideas beyond the borders. Or at least this is what the Christian Democrat Zsolt Semjén was hinting at.

It is worth quoting a few choice sentences from Semjén’s speech delivered at the University of Óbuda. The occasion was a gathering of the leaders of Hungarian-language colleges and universities from Romania, Slovakia and Serbia. Semjén likes big words and some of his allusions can be puzzling. They certainly could be interpreted by Slovaks and Romanians as a threat to their countries. As usual he emphasized that “although over the centuries the nation was torn into pieces, linguistically, culturally, and intellectually we are one reality.” There are of course those who doubt the validity of this assertion. After all, soon enough those Hungarians (and their descendants) who found themselves outside the borders of Trianon Hungary will have lived in another country, in another culture for almost a hundred years. And we know from our own experiences that socialization in another country can have a powerful influence on our thinking. Just think about our attitudes toward cheating in school, something we discussed here a few days ago. Or, I was astonished to see the articles that appeared about Dominique Strauss-Kahn in French and Hungarian papers where he was portrayed as a victim instead of the maid whom he allegedly tried to rape.

Another mysterious sentence had something to do with “the heritage of Saint Stephen.” According to Semjén, the essence of that heritage is “founding a country” (actually literally “building a country” = országépítés). And then comes the most baffling of all: “every national community, smaller or larger, as little Saint Stephens, must build” a structure. Since he was talking earlier about Saint Stephen founding a country this could be interpreted to be a prod for the scattered minorities to embark on a second founding of Hungary.

Let’s try to imagine what would happen if the neighboring governments allowed the curriculum prevalent in Hungary proper to be taught in their own Hungarian-language schools. It is enough to think of the greatly divergent interpretations of history. The endless and futile discussions on the origin of Romanians. Or whether Máté Csák was simply a powerful lord carving out for himself a mini-kingdom during the reign of a very weak king or the forerunner of the idea of a separate Slovakia.

As long as Semjén and his fellow nationalists make extravagant claims of this sort, one cannot be terribly surprised about Romanian and Slovak suspicions. Surely, they will say with some justification, that the Hungarians know that by force they cannot get territories back but listen to Semjén. He wants to build little Hungarian countries like little Saint Stephens. We ought to be on our guard.

But one doesn’t have to listen to Zsolt Semjén’s confused stories about little Saint Stephens and country building. It’s enough to watch MTV, Hungary’s public television, when the weather man gives the forecast. The station is not satisfied with the weather in Hungary proper; it shows the whole Carpathian Basin, including the borders of Greater Hungary.

 

I thank one of our readers and contributors for this picture.

The truth of the matter is that Semjén’s peaceful country building is just as illusory as taking back territories by force. The general tendency is assimilation of the minority to the majority. One doesn’t even have to force the issue. People move from villages to larger cities with a Romanian, Slovak or Serbian majority and the assimilation through schools, friendships, marriages is inevitable. No little Saint Stephens can help. That is “reality” and not the unitary bond of all Hungarians.

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MAGYAResBalLIBERAL
Guest

I heard some feedback from Hungarians in Transylvania. The resounding opinion is to stay in Romania, and not to accept the subversive political invitations from Budapest. The people have seen Bosnia, and they want peace, under Romanian rule, without the Budapest adventures.
I hope that that the Catholic leadership will not support the Orban-Semjen calls for civil wars.

Jano
Guest
I mostly agree with the post, if only I didn’t feel a lot of satisfaction from you about the situation. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel that you would be pretty happy if all the Hungarian minorities would disappear and assimilate because that would hurt right wingers so much. As long as I’ve been reading this blog you tried to justify everything the surrounding countries and their nationalists did (especially the Fico government) and despised of every single aspect of the Hungarian minorities fighting for their cultural survival. If your verdict about the general tendency would be universally true, then there would not be e.g. Jewish people today. But they fought for the survival of their cultural identity more than any group of people ever in the world. I think that’s something to respect and never to despise of. I hate Semjén, I hate KDNP, I hate the arrogant foreign policy, hate nationalism (from everyone, not just from the Hungarian far right) I’m repelled by the hard right revisionists but I understand why the Hungarian culture and identity and unity of all people who care about this nation and culture and identity is important to someone as it… Read more »
littlelambfound
Guest

I can see no fault in the broadcasting weather to all the Hungarian speakers who are able to receive the TV signal. Of course, if those outside of Hungarian borders cannot receive it, then it is just a political pose.

Ivan
Guest

Unfortunately the weather broadcast is not just a practical linguistic thing – which would be fine – but has to be seen in the context of Greater Hungary maps being displayed everywhere – on bumper stickers, keyrings, office walls, souvenirs, hallways, clothing, absolutely everywhere; and in the context of even liberal newspapers reporting the arrest of Mladic by using the Hungarian name for the Serb village in which he was discovered … the irony of employing a territorially aspirational name in connection with this particular individual seems to be lost on most people. In general, I don’t think there’s enough debate in Hungary about what went on with its neighbours when they actually put their ‘Greater’ aspirations into effect and attempted to actually redraw the map along historical lines. Result – 100,000plus dead. I don’t think this is on the cards in Hungary. The will might be there, but not the army. However, the new conscription news from Fidesz is a worry. As is the belligerence being shown towards the European Union and all of Hungary’s neighbours (except, bizarrely, as ever, Austria).

Odin's lost eye
Guest
I now live in a place where I am a stranger in a strange land. We use the same alphabet but the letters do not make the same noises. At time I marvel at people like Zsolt Semjén who wants to as the professor writes * “He wants to build little Hungarian countries like little Saint Stephens” *. Why? Most people only want to work, have a good life and see their grand children have a better life than they. They do not want horrors and destruction of civil war! I tell the story of a Hungarian who was captured by the French army in 1944. He was sent to work on a farm run by two French women (a mother and daughter, both widows). He was at home there and seems to have slipped through the ‘repatriation net’ (French officialdom can be very understanding at times). There are children (his?) and grand children. I met him when at his ‘employer’s insistence’ he visited his Hungarian relatives. Yes he is Hungarian but his home is in Herault in France. I think he prefers Beziers to Budapest, Boef Bourguignon to mara-porkolt and Vin du Payee to Voros bor. His employer she… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Magyaresballiberal: “I heard some feedback from Hungarians in Transylvania. The resounding opinion is to stay in Romania,”
I’m surprised to hear that up to now only 90,000 people applied for citizenship and I assume a goodly number comes from Serbia. For them it is a great advantage.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Jano: “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel that you would be pretty happy if all the Hungarian minorities would disappear and assimilate because that would hurt right wingers so much.”
This is pretty low but I answer it. The fact is that assimilation in the long run is inevitable especially with modernization, urbanization, and mobility. It is self-evident and proven many times all over the world. Maybe it can be slowed but the numbers will shrink.

T.Sanyi
Guest

I don’t know St. Stephan personally and to be honest, my knowledge of Hungarian history is limited (at least the first is nothing I feel ashamed of, having it in common with everony else nowadays). Despite I’d like to offer my interpretation of St. Stephan with the hypothetical game “what would he do/think if he was living now?”
Fist of all, I think he was a great innovator, going radically new ways and indeed, building something new. What would he think about the backward orientation and obsession with the past so prevailing now? Would he feel proud that there are so many people trying to imitate him or would he think: “what a shame, I wouldn’t orientate myself so much on others, I’d go my own way”?
It’s speculation, but maybe it’s worth confronting the little St. Stephans of 2011 with possible alternative heritages from “the real St. Stephan”: Look forward, be modern, get engaged with foreigners, introduce a new religion (or maybe reforming an old one would do).

Ovidiu
Guest

Assimilation goes on even when there is freedom. Actually it almost seems that political freedom helps it !
For instance, in Romania in 1992- two years after the falling of the Ceausescu regime- the rate of mixed marriages in the city of Cluj-Napoca/Kolozsvar was 20%.
But 16 years after, in 2008, it jumped to 77% (Kiss Tamas, 2008). Almost every single Hungarian in Romania has a Romanian in his/her extended family ( István Horváth/2002).
And this despite all freedoms achieved after 1992. Despite : practically complete segregation of schools, official status for the Hungarian language in administration (where minority is +20%), and continuous presence of the Hungarian party (DAHR/RMDSZ) in the coalition governments (from 1996-to 2011/now).

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Ovidiu: “Assimilation goes on even when there is freedom.”
I just read that in Slovakia one can fill out the census questionnaires in either Slovak or Hungarian. Almost no one used Hungarian. Today’s MTI news.

Jano
Guest
Eva: That was no answer to what I said. Are you happy about it? Other then that what you wrote is not entirely true either cultural assimilation is not a necessity as the Jewish example clearly indicates. Also there is a difference between total assimilation and creating a fusion of cultures in which the heritage lives on in some modified form (as the example of multicultural cities like NY, London, etc. again clearly shows). Of course, if you think that total assimilation is a desirable thing, then I accept it, it’s just nothing else to discuss on this topic between us as you obviously won’t ever be able to comprehend what and why I’m saying. Ivan: “even liberal newspapers reporting the arrest of Mladic by using the Hungarian name for the Serb village”. What’s more, even liberal newspapers report about Vienna as Bécs. Wait a minute… English language newspapers report from Vienna as Vienna instead of Wien… and also I’ve just seen a dutch TV show talking about Budapest as Boedapest. Omg they want our city… Or… But it’s just a thought… some cities and towns might just have different names on different languages. Maybe this thing doesn’t matter at… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Jano: “Are you happy about it?” Meaning assimilation. A historian’s job is not to be happy or unhappy about a phenomenon. Only to note it and recorded.

Kirsten
Guest
Jano: “but I understand why the Hungarian culture and identity and unity of all people who care about this nation and culture and identity is important to someone as it is very important to me.” Jano, without any offence, the problem is that what you describe as “culture and identity and unity of all people who care about this nation” is vague. For me it somehow always boils down to requests to respect that Hungary is a great nation which has been robbed of its glory through a series of injustice inflicted by others. It is seldom defined in terms of: how should our nation be in the (better) future, and if so the better future is often defined with reference to the aristocratic past. If the “better future” is seen from the “modernisation angle” you are half-way of being excommunicated from the Hungarian nation. This is certainly very mundane and fully abstracts from the emotional aspect which I understand to be very strong. But the problem remains that it has to be clarified what this unity means (where does it end: if one differs in income, political preferences, if one has a partner of a different nationality; could people… Read more »
Ivan
Guest

jano, that Serb village is claimed by a large section of Hungarian society via bumper stickers, t-shirts, tea towels, posters etc. It’s not claimed by Britain, so the comparison is ridiculous. And that shape might just be a harmless bit of yearning for a country outline that existed, or sort-of-existed, for just a few decades over a century ago, but it causes enormous offence to enormous numbers of people now. So why persist?

Member

I honestly o not understand the big hoopla about the “Hungarians outside the borders”. Yes, before the fall of the communism, the horror stories from Romania were true, and I can understand the upset, but today, when most countries are part of the European Union, I do not see why is it so important to have voting rights and such. THat has nothing to do with retaining one’s culture. Do you believe that in Romania, Hungarians are still suffering? If yes, then why keep Orban in power who is very cosy with Romanis. Why wouldn’t he pressure them instead. As far as Jewish people go. Jews have no voting right in the affairs of Israel! THat is a huge difference. I do not think that Eva or anyone has a problem with supporting Hungarian cultures across Hungary’s border, the problem is that Orban tries to behave as there would be no borders, not to “protect Hungarians, but to use an other popularity tool to remain in power.

Guest

Regarding assimilation- whether you like it or not, it’s happening. Three examples from my and my wife’s family and from friends:
Next week friends will visit us in Hungary on their way from Germany to their birthplace in Romania:
Mother is of Hungarian descent, father is a Schwab – amongst themselves they speak Romanian (sometimes). Their children speak mainly, their grandchildren only German, all have German passports now. On this holiday they’ll visit the grandmother – probably for the last time, since she’s 85 years old.
A nephew of my wife is a professor now in the USA – his younger sons were born there and speak only English …
One of my sisters married an Englishman. After working all over the world (also in Budapest for a few years) they now settled in Britain. Their children speak fluent German of course, but they regard themselves as British – which language(s ?) will their children speak ?
“That’s the way the cookie crumbles …”

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