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.