Hungarian gathering at Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tuşnad: In the name of nationalism

Every year at this time of year Fidesz politicians make a pilgrimage to the picturesque resort of Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tuşnad in the middle of Hargita/Harghita County, a part of Transylvania where Hungarians are in the majority. The gathering is often called the Transylvanian Woodstock: lectures and speeches are interspersed with musical performances.

The last time I wrote about Tusnádfürdő at length was in 2009, when Romanian President Traian Băsescu attended. At that time he hoped to attract a few extra Hungarian votes in the forthcoming Romanian elections. His friend Viktor Orbán was lending Băsescu a helping hand in this endeavor, and he was grateful enough to attend Tusnádfürdő again last year. But this year the Romanian president was conspicuously absent. In fact, he didn't even receive an invitation by the organizers. Zsolt Németh, undersecretary for foreign affairs, explained that the topic of this year's gathering wouldn't have interested Băsescu. Because the main theme was "the unification and strengthening of the [Hungarian] nation across borders" and related subjects such as dual citizenship, Hungarian territorial autonomy in areas where Hungarians are in the majority, and the Romanian census and the importance of every Hungarian being properly registered.

The real reason for Băsescu's absence most likely was the strained relationship that is rapidly developing between the two countries, mostly due to an aggressively nationalistic Hungarian foreign policy. The Hungarian government more and more behaves as if territories in which Hungarians live in the neighboring countries are actually under Hungarian jurisdiction. This is quite evident in changes that are being introduced, even in the public media. For example, in the news programs "the borders will disappear," which means that there will more news from Kolozsvár/Cluj, Nagyvárad/Oradea or Kassa/Kosice. As one jaundiced commenter in Népszabadság remarked, as a result of this policy change even fewer people will watch MTV's news.

The theme of this year's Tusnádfürdő was the nation in the Carpathian Basin. It mattered not what the topic was, this theme had to be woven into the speech somehow. That effort resulted in some rather bizarre statements. Perhaps the most notable came from Rózsa Hoffmann, undersecretary in charge of education, who introduced an entirely new concept, which is unfortunately incomprehensible to "any rational human being," as Endre Aczél wrote in an opinion piece in Népszabadság. First of all, Hoffmann came up with a new Hungarian word and concept: "tudástér." "Tudás" in Hungarian means "knowledge" and "tér," "space." There is an unfortunate connotation of linguistic concoctions ending with the word "tér." Adolf Hitler's "Lebensraum," which in the original meant simply "habitat," was translated into Hungarian as "élettér." As a result, it's a word that is judiciously avoided in Hungary. So, great was the upheaval when Viktor Orbán during the 2002 election campaign talked about "economic Lebensraum/gazdasági élettér." He wanted to have a large economic Lebensraum for Hungary.

And now, Hoffmann wants to have a Hungarian "tudástér" in the whole Carpathian Basin. Aczél reminded Hoffmann that Hungary shares the Carpathian Basin with the Slovaks, Ukrainians, Romanians, Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, and Austrians. Hoffmann can do whatever Viktor Orbán allows her to do within the Hungarian borders, but "the Carpathian Basin is not ours." He warned that "every reference that connects the existence of this geographic entity to the Hungarians either revives the illusion of a historical Hungary that ceased to exist almost one hundred years ago or, even worse, the irredentist slogan of the 'Carpathian-Danube-Great Homeland' [of Ferenc Szálasi]."

A second speech worth analyzing a bit is Zsolt Semjén's "ode to the idea of the nation." "The very existence of nations is a universal value for mankind," he declared. Mankind would be poorer if "nations disappeared from history." Well, there are some people who would violently disagree with Semjén and who are convinced that nationalism is the curse of mankind and the source of incredible sufferings over the last two centuries.

In order to make devotion to the nation perhaps more palatable than it should be, Semjén decided to lecture his audience on the "extremes of nationalism" which should be avoided. One is cosmopolitanism, "which considers the nation to be an antiquated, provincial concept." Those who adhere to cosmpolitanism are "ruining true values" because "we receive our language, our culture, our thoughts from the nation." 

I'm confused.  Let's start with Semjén's definition of cosmopolitanism as simply the negation of nations, instead of viewing a cosmopolitan as someone "having worldwide rather than limited or provincial scope or bearing." Perhaps because Semjén spent the greater part of his life in Kádár's Hungary he inherited the old Marxist-Leninist definition of cosmopolitanism as "a bourgeois tendency that tries to discredit patriotism and national feeling and to disparage national culture." As for receiving our language, our culture, our thoughts from the nation, I'm really puzzled. A baby learns language from his/her immediate surroundings. I know people who were born in North America, far away from the nation, and yet they speak absolutely fluent Hungarian. Surely, these people didn't learn their language from this mythical nation. As far as my own thoughts are concerned, I don't think that they have much to do with "the nation."

Semjén's further elaboration of the concept of nation and its other extreme, chauvinism, is also peculiar. He thinks that chauvinists "because of the presumed interests of their nations deny other nations' right to life." Chauvinism is not a nice thing, but I don't think that any chauvinist would go so far as to eliminate whole nations. Let's see some definitions: "militant devotion to and glorification of one's country; fanatical patriotism; zealous and belligerent patriotism, excessive or blind patriotism." The Hungarian definitions are practically the same as the ones I just quoted from different English dictionaries.

Why is Semjén doing this? Of course, it is possible that he hasn't taken the trouble to think about nationalism, cosmopolitanism, or chauvinism and therefore the confusion and distortion comes from a lack of knowledge. But it is also possible that by exaggerating the two "extremes" of national feelings he wants to make his own government's nationalistic foreign policy less threatening. However, a few sentences later Semjén made it clear that "we will never subordinate our national interests based on our human rights to the domestic political ups and downs of other countries." In plain language, we don't give a damn what the neighbors think; we will go ahead like a bulldozer. This formula is well known from the 1998-2002 period when Viktor Orbán managed to alienate all of Hungary's neighbors. I doubt that such a policy serves Hungary's national interests. Or even the interests of the Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries.

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Member

THis is truly getting pathetic now, and plain embarrassing now. These people speak like some totally uneducated individuals, and one supposed to be responsible for education.
As for Băsescu, he should take a number after Grieboski in the long line of individuals who believe that just because Orban is their buddy-buddy when he needs their support on overstepping others, he will not dispose them when they get in the way.
On March 2nd Eva already posted something regarding the Carpathian Basin when the “National Consultation” took place.
“(9) Should the new constitution provide protection for the biodiversity of the Carpathian Basin?” Even then, the question regarding the Basin sounded ridiculous, and now it is even worst.
(“The Little Entente was an alliance formed in 1920 and 1921 by Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia with the purpose of common defense against Hungarian revision and the prevention of a Habsburg restoration. France supported the alliance by signing treaties with each member country.” We are getting there.)

Kirsten
Guest

“the borders will disappear,”
Interesting title. But the “true” borders, those of Great Hungary, can never disappear, how cunning. Some1, it is not only in a better propaganda of Fidesz, it is this folklore that appears to be irresistible. I read a text from Deak of 1861, you would not think that it is 150 years ago that he wrote it, it fits remarkably as a comment for today as regards the reference to medieval law, which he makes fun of (“collection of incomprehensible rarities”). And the same goes for the ideas of a nation. As long as the ideas as stated by Mr Semjen are “compelling”, it is not only in the PR. And it is good to point out how much this corresponds to the ideology taught before 1989.

nem-igaz-mit-akarnak-a-magyarok
Guest
nem-igaz-mit-akarnak-a-magyarok

the big embarrassment is that many hungarians feel satisfied in romania, and slovakia, and will reject orban’s tyrrany.

Sackhoes Contributor
Guest

“we receive our language, our culture, our thoughts from the nation.”
Interesting and rather uniquely Hungarian concept. A Swiss neighbor of mine who was born and raised in Zurich, reacted very differntly, when I once talked about this concept. Look, he said, I may speak the same language and have very similar culture as the Germans, but I reject the suggestion I am German. I am Swiss. And if someone calls me an Austrian, I may become violent.
Same goes for the shared cultures, religion and language of the many countries of South America. Don’t ever call an Urugayian an Argentine. You might get hurt.

Odin's lost eye
Guest
The present incumbents of the current Government High Offices are living in ‘Cloud Cuckoo Land’. Hungary with a nominal population of 10 million lives in a sea of some 37.5 non Hungarians. Europe is an open area for migration. That is any European can go and live where they like. The only thing is that migrants have to be able to support themselves. If the Hungarian minorities in other lands wish they can sell up and move to Hungary. The Great Leader of this land seems to be trying to re-establish something which never existed, ‘Greater Hungary’ ‘Greater Hungary’ was established by Austrian Bayonets. It was done to remove the danger of expansion of the Ottoman Turks. This expansion into South Eastern Europe took place as a result of the defeat of the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto and the siege of Malta. These two actions put a stop to the Ottoman expansion by sea. It was finished by the battle of Navarino. The Hungarians certainly did fight against the Turks as part of the Hapsburg armies. Greater Hungary was an administrative convenience designed by the Austrians to allow them to exploit their conquests. It was dismantled by the… Read more »
Gábor
Guest

Kirsten: “And it is good to point out how much this corresponds to the ideology taught before 1989.”
I fear the real soruce of this ideology is the ’30s. Just like in case of the social policies. And they all fit together very well in an integral nationalism borrowed again from interwar-era soruces. I could pretend that I have predicted it already in 2006 in a Népszabadság article, but unfortunately no one paid real attention, but the sorry part is that it has not been acknowledged even now.
Well, I do not want to claim Fidesz is composed of fascist or nazis (although there are definitions of the phenomenon that fit strikingly to this party), but many of the intellectual sources they draw on are directly or indirectly from this period and the ideas their ideologues come up are rarely novelties, rather – probably unconscious – regurgiutation of these ideas. It is rewarding to read András Lánczi, for example.

Kirsten
Guest
Gabor, I see your point. But there are similarities (as these ideologies have developed at around the same time) in that they share the idea that “the good ones” (must) share the same “truth”. It is a rather different concept of politics than “balancing of (legimitimately) different interests of the members of society”. Both nationalism and communism share the idea that if “the right ones” rule, conflicts will vanish or at least do not need specific procedures how to deal with them etc. But what makes this particularly problematic is that much of what those people do (MSzP or Fidesz politicians, no matter) has only little relation to ideology, which is the alleged “battlefield”. They use public money for private purposes, and thwart public control of that. Then an ideology of “if only we have the right opinions, all that we do must by definition be correct” is invaluable as their actions cannot be attacked. If you do, you are either non-Hungarian or anti-social (harming the poor man in the street). In any case, you are demonstrably not “a good one”. In that sense I think these two political camps are similar. And it can be challenged only through doubting… Read more »
Gábor
Guest

Kirsten, I agree form this particular and structural point of view there is little difefrence between communism and this type of integral natiinalism. (There are even intriguing exmaples in the Hungarian case how easy it was to switch between them, excatly because of some underlying assumptions verey almost identical.) However, maybe teher are only a handful of ideology driven politicians in Hunary, but Orbán is certainly one of them. Most of his action in the last year almost perfectly fits to this ideology and he is even willing to risk serious – and otherwise utterly unnecessary conflict – in order to bring about this national renewal in line with his vision. I’m ready to accept that many of his collaborators and companions see it cynically as a very good opportunity to establish themselvs in power, but Orbán can only be understood as an idology driven politician, at least regarding his last ten years. And it perfectly explains what you described so well: the destruction of the institutions of a “deliberative democracy”, that is a hindrance in the way of the prophet of the nation.

John T
Guest

I’m a firm believer in the phrase “you reap what you sow”. I suspect that even traditional close friends like the Poles will be troubled by these small but constant moves. So if things do go wrong (which I fear the might as rather too many Hungarians don’t really seem to understand how foreign minds work), Hungary will be on it’s own.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

John T: “I suspect that even traditional close friends like the Poles will be troubled by these small but constant moves.”
It is happening already. Hungary is furiously courting Poland and Warsaw is not responding in kind. Tusk is not interested in Orbán’s scheme of a Central European alliance and instead is looking westward. He also knows that Orbán is very much disliked in Western Europe. To be friend with him is certainly not a plus anywhere.

Member

Kirsten & Gabor:
I could not agree more. Nationalism and communism are basically pretty similar. Things are naturally good and if anything is going wrong it is because of the actions or thoughts of bad people (Capitalists/ cosmopolitans/Jews). Return power to the true representatives of the nation/proletariat (us) and everything will be fine. Don’t worry about institutions, checks and balances or anything of that nature.
IMO the real thing missing in Hungarian politics is a more robust conservatism that looks at human nature as flawed and human solutions as merely partial.

Kirsten
Guest

Gabor, if it sounded that I think that all Fidesz or MSzP politicians are only cynical, I did not mean to say that (even if cynics are certainly present). Actually I wanted to say that because they have these ideologies, it is even more complicated to challenge them in the point that they share (misappropriating public money, misunderstanding their role in working with public money, not being able to face the past) because their approach must be first fully refused at its root (the “homogeneity” idea and “the end justifies the means” approach; it does not matter that it was not transparent as I did it for my family, my village, the nation etc.). So in order for the general feeling that politicians are only “crooks” to be replaced by something more productive, transparency and accountability must rise. (And this for instance will be impossible as long as one party tries to avoid being held accountable for the 1948-89 years and the other for the 1920-1945 years and all together not for the 1989-2011 years, very roughly speaking, for which I apologise).

late night
Guest

All the talk about nation, about “we against Western Europe”, will turn out to be ineffective if/when the believers will be hit by the economic facts. Hungary as all the rest, does live by foreign credit. It all looks like the history of the 1929-32. Let’s hope there is no war in the offing(as happened then).

MihaiP
Guest

The increasingly irredentist discourse of some Hungarian politicians puts moderate Romanians (like myself) in difficulty and breathes life to Romanians nationalists who raise the “Hungarian threat”
The fact is that a Hungarian from Transylvania can graduate from university and not speak Romanian, he can read Hungarian language newspapers, have full access to the Hungarian language Internet, freely watch/listen to Hungarian language media, express himself in Hungarian, address the authorities in Hungarian, be judged in Hungarian, establish Hungarian cultural etc.. organizations, elect his own Hungarian representatives at the local, regional, national and European level, travel freely to and from Hungary. I could add more but I guess you got the picture.
In these conditions, continuing to push for separatism and the changing of the borders is dangerous and irresponsible.

Ron
Guest

An article yesterday in Nepszabadsag online with reaction of Basescu.
http://nol.hu/kulfold/basescu_hazakuldte_orbant

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