László Kövér and the Hungarian nation

It was on Monday, June 6, that László Kövér, speaker of the House and the right-hand man of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, gave an interview to Hospodárské Noviny. Since then this interview has caused quite a stir.

First I read only the MTI summary of the interview: "According to László Kövér the Hungarian nation cannot give up any of its parts and the Hungarians of Slovakia in an intellectual and cultural sense belong to the Hungarian nation, belong to Hungary." I checked the same sentence in the Slovak version of Hospodárské Noviny and with my meager knowledge of the Slovak language I came to the conclusion that what Kövér said was something slightly different: "The Hungarians in Slovakia in the spiritual and cultural sense belong to us." That might sound a bit threatening to Slovak ears, especially if the speaker adds that "the Hungarian minority in Slovakia is in the best situation." In what sense? From whose point of view? Certainly from the Hungarian point of view because "they live compactly and close to the Hungarian border. They are relatively numerous in the total population of Slovakia." These are exactly the points Slovak politicians are worried about. Interestingly enough, this sentence seems to have escaped the attention of Slovak politicians and commentators.

The further elaboration of this point most likely didn't quiet the fears of certain politicians whom Kövér accused of "people with too little self-confidence." That of course is an old Hungarian accusation that can be translated as "you, Slovaks, knew that you received too large a chunk of Hungarian territories and therefore it's no wonder that you don't feel secure." As for the role of the borderless European Union that would solve these problems, Kövér agreed up to a point and continued: "When I go across the bridge from Komárom north to Komárno, I feel just as much at home as in the southern part of the city. This is also the situation when I visit Cluj in Romania. There I'm also at home. In a spiritual, cultural or historical sense it is my country."

It was at this point that the reporter mentioned that the Slovaks in turn could argue that every Hungarian politician is a bit "wel'komadárskosti." How could Kövér reassure them? It was Kövér's answer that was even more controversial than the rest: "When you built Gabčikova-Nagymaros the Slovak side brutally changed the borders. The Hungarian state sought a legal rather than military solution, which we could have used in this situation." So, the Slovaks have nothing to fear.

Mikulás Dzurinda, the Slovak foreign minister, tried to downplay the interivew. He suggested that Kövér's remarks were "ill-advised" but posed "no threat to Slovakia." The speaker of the Slovak parliament, Richard Sulík, used stronger words: "These statements were boorish." The very mention of military action is unacceptable, said Sulík. "We reject these statements that belong to the nineteeth century." He rightly pointed out that the border between Czechoslovakia and Hungary was determined by the Supreme Council of the Allies and Associated Powers on June 12, 1919, and "if Kövér wants to revise the results of the first and second world wars he must turn to the victorious powers." As for the drastic border change, Sulík called it a "brazen lie."

But Kövér is not the kind of man who is willing to reexamine anything he uttered. A day after Sulík's and other Slovak politicians' complaints he reiterated that he meant every word of it. Although initially he said that he really didn't want to comment on the Slovak objections, he added that he "encouragingly would like to tell our Slovak colleagues–quoting [famous Transylvanian writer] Áron Tamási's words–that one can get used to the truth." 

That was not the end of the story. György Bolgár interviewed a Hungarian political scientist from Slovakia and asked his opinion. I'm sure that he didn't know anything about László Öllös, who is the president of the Institute of the Fórum Minority Research in Slovakia. As it turned out, Öllös is a Hungarian nationalist who didn't think that there was anything wrong with the Kövér interview. In fact, it wasn't a strong enough statement and it should followed by many more strongly worded interviews from the Hungarian side.

Öllös admitted that the Slovaks fear Hungarian revisionism. "The Hungarian side must react [to this fear] because if it doesn't it strengthens Slovak worries about revisionism. A good example of such a situation is the last six or eight years when Hungary tried to solve the problem by avoiding conflicts." Mr. Öllös has a peculiar interpretation of diplomacy between two countries within the European Union.

I know György Bolgár well enough to figure that he didn't agree with Öllös, and indeed in today's Népszava he expressed his own views on the op-ed page. He sarcastically remarked that "the most loyal follower of the commanding general threatened Slovakia with a retroactive war and after he won it in his head he generously withdrew his troops before the battle from the line of the Danube." "The commanding general" jokingly refers to Viktor Orbán who years ago was admiringly described as such by a faithful follower. In the rest of the article in his precise manner he calls attention to the Fidesz politicians' attitude to the Czechoslovak-Hungarian controversy over the Gabčikova-Nagymaros dam at the time. Fidesz loyally supported the Antall government's decision to turn to the International Court of Justice at the Hague.

And finally I would like to call attention to an article by Peter Morvay that appeared in Sme, a liberal Bratislava paper. He, I think correctly, notes that in Hungary Kövér is considered to be "the darker, more honest face of Viktor Orbán's soul who always tells what the majority of Orbán's supporters think but cannot utter." According to Morvay some of Kövér's pronouncements may even be true, but the trouble is that he sees the world only in black and white. That the Hungarians of Slovakia constitute part of the Hungarian nation culturally is true, but the situation of the minorities is much more complicated than that.

Both the possibility of changing borders and the use of military force are out of the realm of possibilities and Kövér knows that. Morvay believes that Kövér wanted to satisfy the demands of radical Fidesz voters. He also wanted to provoke the Slovak nationalists, which immediately bore fruit. Sme is a liberal paper; other Slovak papers were less charitable and accused the Slovak government of not reacting forcefully enough to Kövér's words.

Whatever Kövér's motives were, this interview is one of the worst examples of the kind of "diplomacy" Fidesz leaders are capable of. The first Orbán government managed to ruin relations with all the neighbors and then Kövér was working only in the background. Today he can do much more damage and I am sure that he will.

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Kirsten
Guest

In the end of the interview there are further marvels:
Question: How then [a few sentences earlier it was said that Jobbik is not a nationalist but an anti-Roma party, so apparently no problem here…] does nationalism manifest itself in Hungarian politics?
Answer: Admittedly in the verbal statements of Jobbik. But their radicalism cannot be compared with that of the parties of Jan Slota or Robert Fico. In Hungary the national question in this sense is not a leading topic, it does not have any mobilising power. People are more concerned with social issues.
No doubt about that if the twelfth salary is wiped out while the national creed is everywhere.

Johnny Boy
Guest

No wonder that any time Hungary is in any kind of conflict with another country (however mild that conflict may be), you side with the foreign country.
Don’t be outraged next time if Hungarians say you’re no Hungarian. Because you are not. Even the Turks killed the Hungarian traitors on moral grounds – after exploiting their betrayal.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

JB: “Even the Turks killed the Hungarian traitors on moral grounds – after exploiting their betrayal.”
What a nice idea! If you don’t like someone’s opinion, kill him or her. Charming.

Member
Eva, I vote for removing Johnny Boy from this board. His comments go way beyond responding and discussing. His personal attacks, and insults over and over again on anyone who has a different stance is tiresome and a waste of time. He is an outright homophobe, anti-semite, with a slight dent of nazism combined with a dirty mouth, someone who would not be tolerated in the same room as I am, but certainly welcomed in his parents house (where he shall remain) as his parents never taught him how to behave. As any feral human, he is surely more welcomed on Magyar Nemzet and Magyar Hirlap, ob the kind of forums that are populated by this organism. I understand the sentiment of keeping him here as an example what Fidesz stands for but he pulls down this forum to the level of the publications I have mentioned above. THe only thing that saves us from his kind is that most of them do not speak an other language. If this blog’s conversations does not want to sunk to the levels of those publications that reflect Johnny Boy’s kocsma mentality, and discourage the open exchange of different ideas without insults and… Read more »
kis fiu
Guest

thats a real gem of a post! You manage to
1) denigrate the Turks,
2) state that people who disagree are traitors
and best of all 3) imply that people who make well reasoned arguments do not deserve to be called Hungarian.
I guess if Eva was a racist and insinuated that you deserve to die plus added in several swear words she would become an honorable Hungarian again?

Odin's lost eye
Guest

Please do not get rid of Johnny Boy (yet). His stupidity, xenophobia, and unreasoning bigotry make me seem nearly a liberal and almost intelligent.
In a way he makes me laugh (every circus has to have its clown). His rhetoric shows us (who do not want it to happen) that Hungary is once again treading the path to a dictatorial autocracy and a slid into yet another tragedy.
Again I must ask myself “WHY?”. They win (or get given) ‘that most precious of gifts, the gift of ‘freedom’. Then they let themselves be ‘conned’ by someone and throw away that precious gift for empty promises, hollow rhetoric, and nebulous ideas, bondage and poverty!

GW
Guest
I find that Johnny Boy’s opinions are often vile and that he has frequently come close to violating his welcome as a guest here, his refusal to answer simple direct questions or stick to the topic thread indicates his inability to sustain a rational conversation, and the program he supports, I fear, will lead to the ruin of Hungary. However, to censor the fool would be to lower ourselves to the same illiberal, anti-democratic censorship that the government Johnny Boy so strong supports. If anything — hope against all hope — our continued tolerance of his voice here might eventually teach the fellow a basic lesson in civil society. In civil society, we recognize each others’ humanity, and that includes our fallibility. Save for the pope, and only then when he speaks ex-cathedra, we are all fallible and that is why there is no greater gift to a nation than the possibility to hold, express and argue for an alternative opinion. Yes, even a government run by your idols may become wrong or corrupt and without the possibility of making this public, it will stay wrong or corrupt. Johnny Boy, though I find your opinion often profoundly incorrect, I would… Read more »
Member

Janissary Boy: “Even the Turks killed the Hungarian traitors on moral grounds – after exploiting their betrayal”
Interesting analogy. I’m wondering what would have happen to Horthy (aka. dude on the white horse) if he doesn’t cooperate after the Nazis arrested him. First he betrayed his country by siding with Hitler then he betrayed the Germans … then nobody left to betray so went to another country and kept looking for things to betray until his death.

Odin's lost eye
Guest

G.W. I fear that Johnny Boy cannot change. He gets a large dose of a drug called ‘Orbanite’ in his daily coffee.

Member

According to certain historians he betrayed his horse before he left for Portugal.

Guest

There is an old German joke which can be applied to JB:
Everybody has a purpose in life – some people are just meant to serve as deterrent examples (“Abschreckendes Beispiel”) …
Let him remain here – every place needs a clown to make people laugh – even if it’s gallows humour!

Member

I agree. On the serious note (I’m not sure how credible I am) we should learn how to get along with him otherwise our country will stay in gutter.

Member

@Wolfi “Abschreckendes Beispiel”
http://bit.ly/lvLdJo

Member
Mutt, Wolfi, GW: I believe in the basic principal you are suggesting but we are not talking about the “government trying to silence the opposition” here. E.B. Hall (or Voltaire) certainly did not have little loosers, like Johnny Boy in mind, but the expression is about the freedom of the press, freedom of expression, freedom of speech. As many newspaper decide what to publish based on its profile, the blog can decide who can contribute. You would unlikely read an opinion piece from Bayer in Nepszabadsag or a an article from Hiller in Magyar Hirlap. That has nothing to do with freedom of expression. They re still free to publish that piece and they would not have to go to jail for it (not yet). We are talking about someone stepping in to your living room, in your own house, and he spits around, relives himself on the carpet, while tossing slurs around especially to host and to anyone who tries to housebroke him. Nobody tries to silence him, he simply is not that important, but I do not want to go down to his level, and hate to see some of you going down to his level. I do… Read more »
Kirsten
Guest

someone, I understand your uneasiness but I think that if JB in some way expresses opinions that Fidesz supporters really hold (if he is not just making fun of us but on several occasions when I was not fully sure it turned out that the “arguments” were meant seriously) it makes sense to show him (and potential other readers of HS who may share some of his ideas) that the “match has not yet been won”. It is not one guest spitting in your flat, it is a group of people testing where and when the others will set them limits. If there are none, “groupthink” alone will make sure that they start to believe that they really have “arguments” although they have just been provoking. So if necessary JB can hear over and over from me that his opinions fail to make much of an impression.

Member

someone: Johnny is one of us (our kin). He is Hungarian, like you and me. Painful, but it’s true. We have to deal with it. Let him speak ..

Member

We don’t want the hamsters say we tried to assimilate them by force … Every creature, including the ones who’s mother was a hamster (Hamsterian heritage), should speak their mind. Now Hamsteristan is part of the EU it really doesn’t make sense to bicker about differences.

Peter
Guest

IMHO The best way to deal with Johnny Boy is to let him have his say and ignore him!

Member

You’re right. I know. I can take his stupidity, but it bothers me how he treats others, how he “speaks” to people who are way above him in intelligent, IQ, experience and class. His way of winning an argument is not based on facts and listening to others but repetitive name calling, when most of the time he does not even understands what he is saying. Ok that is enough from my rumbling and lets return to discuss the real issues.
Thanks for your understanding.

Jano
Guest
Someone: “I can take his stupidity, but it bothers me how he treats others” I know it’s hard but if you keep on reacting to him than you will help him divert the thread. Just take a look at almost any post here. Some comments discussing the topic, then comes JB says something you (or someone else) jump at and then the next 10-15 comments or so is all the same every time. About Kövér. My most important question is: Why? Really why was this necessary know. Even if he was right, he has to know that just mentioning military action was going to raise a lot of unwanted eyebrows. I wouldn’t be wondering if Martonyi was tearing his last fibers of hair out these days. Of course some (not all by far) of what Kövér said is right, but dressed up in this aggressive, arrogant style discredits and actually weakens the Hungarian position. Of course, he’s right about Smer and Slota. We all remember when Slota was talking about jumping into tanks and ruin Budapest but at least he wasn’t the speaker of the house. I think Jobbik is a good comparison for SNS, but while in my opinion… Read more »
Erik the Reader
Guest

With all due respect,you should all come to terms with the fact that this blog is a distortian of the Hungarian realaties written by an expat living across the ocean and who has no tangible or day to day living experience of Hungarian life since decades. Her source is at best second hand, especially the leftist news she reverberates. Considering that she is not living in Hungary, the truthfullness of her post can be highly questioned.
Her methodology is like distorted phone effect. She picks up this or that in the news or from her entrenched leftists contacts in Hungary and often misreading and misjudging comes up with this post whose target audience are the foreigners.
With respect for Eva her activity is causing more misinformation than real and honest opinions.

Hongormaa
Guest

“Maďari na Slovensku v duchovnom a kultúrnom zmysle patria k nám”
Translation: Hungarians in Slovakia, in the spiritual and cultural sense, belong to us.
You did get it right, Eva, and it is a very disturbing statement.

Erik the Reader
Guest

“Maďari na Slovensku v duchovnom a kultúrnom zmysle patria k nám”
@Hongormaa Translation: Hungarians in Slovakia, in the spiritual and cultural sense, belong to us.
I don’t find anything disturbing in that statement. They are Hungarians in spiritual and cultural sense.

NWO
Guest
Can I ask what “us” means in that quote? If all Kover was trying to say is that there is some larger “spiritual and cultural” Hungarian identity for which the Hungarian State has some responsibility, I do not have a huge issue with the statement. If the implication, of course, is that this connection requires the Hungarian State to then play a more direct political role in the lives of Slovaks of Hungarian descent, then a potential problem does arise (much like I do not think the Israeli PM has an obligation to protect the rights and privileges of American Jews, but Israel may have a cultural and historical interest in American Jewry). Interestingly, those Hungarians most sensitive to the “spiritual and cultural” rights of Hungarians outside of Hungary would likely feel that Israel should not have such a similar interest in Hungarian Jewry, or if Hungarian Jews have such an interest in such a connection, that almost disqualifies these Hungarians from being Hungarian. In the end, Kover may believe what he says, the main point of what he says and the Government says on the “Slovak question” is not to protect or foster the rights of Hungarian Slovaks, but… Read more »
Kirsten
Guest
Hongormaa, my impression is also that irrespective of which translation you take, it is a problematic statement. Perhaps it sounds “good” first, because after all why should there not be cultural unity between Hungarians even if they live in different countries? They share a language and traditions and so forth. Certainly nobody can oppose that. The difficulty starts at the point (not said but resonating in the ears of the neighbours) when this cultural unity is exploited to divide the countries politically. It is not actually stated but as it is said while speaking about the right of the Hungarians in the neighbouring countries to vote in Hungary, perhaps not too much imagination is necessary to see such a link. And it also appears to be a threat addressed to the Hungarians in these areas not to depart too much from Hungary “proper”, if some are blamed for not being “pure enough” Hungarians anymore. When thinking about it, I am not sure who the prime addressee of this statement was meant to be. “the Hungarian nation cannot give up any of its parts” This sentence alone (certainly shared in its logic by Slovak nationalists when speaking about the Slovak nation… Read more »
Odin's lost eye
Guest

NOW I will agree with you that part (if not all) of Orban, Kover et. Al statements are for internal political consumption. There is however a temptation for these folk to ‘sort of’ believe their own propaganda.
One day when their rule is on the brink of the precipice (because of popular dissent) they will ‘lash out’ in order to retain power. This can be in the form that Gaddafi and Assad (of Syria) are currently doing to suppress dissents. Or it could be in the form that Galtieri & Co of Argentina took to boost their popularity at home. This was to start a foreign war.
It is quite possible that Orban Viktor and Fidesz will follow suite either with a regime of repression and terror to kill off (literally) dissent. They will be able to identify such people because of their current opinion survey.
They could start a foreign war, ostensibly to protect people of Hungarian descent, but in reality it would be to enhance their own power and bolster their dwindling legitimacy

Member
Jano: “Even if he was right, he has to know that just mentioning military action was going to raise a lot of unwanted eyebrows” I believe many of his statements and actions are for the shock effect. Bad publicity or good, he is there (on Oban side) to attract the voters away from Jobbik. Erik the Reader: “you should all come to terms with the fact that this blog is a distortian of the Hungarian realaties written by an expat living across the ocean and who has no tangible or day to day living experience of Hungarian life since decades.” I would strongly disagree with the the “distortion” part. Eva’s opinion does not reflect everyone’s opinion, but it reflects many-many people’s opinion who live there. I do read some other sources, but I like the “from far away” approach. I do like that she is an “outsider” in a certain way. I am not saying that her opinion is the truth all the time, but it is her opinion. Magyar Hirlap and Magyar Nemzet are “internal ” sources that constantly dent the truth and withheld information on the daily basis, so “buyers beware”. I assume when you are reading International… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Kirsten: “my impression is also that irrespective of which translation you take, it is a problematic statement.”
We are talking about the choice of words MTI decided to use translating the passage about the Hungarians of Slovakia belonging “to us.” I don’t think that it is an oversight on part of the translator. I feel that using the personal pronoun makes the statement even stronger. My hunch is that the translator at MTI also felt that and therefore decided to change it slightly.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

I think JB’s presence on this blog actually serves a purpose. Those readers who don’t have strong political views concerning the Hungarian events by reading JB’s comments can have a pretty good example of the kind of people who belong to Fidesz’s hardcore. And after reading a few of his comments, I am convinced that most of the politically neutral readers will agree with those of us who are critical of the Orbán revolution.

Member

Erik: “Considering that she is not living in Hungary, the truthfulness of her post can be highly questioned”
Erik tell me what is that we don’t know in the US and a person Hungary does? I just talked to a high school buddy of mine from Budapest. She was quiet upset learning that the Roosevelt square got renamed. What do you want me to tell you? How much is a liter milk in the Tesco? Give me 3 minutes … have you seen the TV Hirado? I did.
See, Kover does live in Hungary and still makes statements that are totally out of touch with reality. Please try not to misunderstand this: it is nice when he wants to assure the Hungarians abroad about our support. It’s the way he does it, that’s what s idiotic. Why do we need to live at home to have an opinion on this??

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