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.