The author Ákos Kertész was not the first to leave Hungary for fear of his liberty and personal security, nor the last, that seems certain.
It was just a mere year ago that a prominent journalist and radio personality decided to leave his job, well-established position and homeland to start anew in Montreal. Before him Imre Kertész, Nobel laureate, bolted as soon as he received the prestigious award. Not because of his inability to deal with the venom, but because of his endangered right to say and write as he pleased, because these fundamental rights were challenged by the radical and not-so-radical right and he found it wasteful to spend his energies on his own defense against them.
To form a objective opinion about the misadventure of Ákos Kertész, we can briefly survey what happened to him. This blog has recounted the events preceding Kertész’s emigration and also the purported cause that led to the hate campaign he suffered, and having had enough of it, cut short by emigrating.
It is quite possible that upon reflection and facing the repudiation of his bitter article, the starting point of this whole imbroglio, he came at first to a change of mind and withdrew the incriminated statement: namely that Hungarians at large are suffering the consequences of their “genetic servility.” The repudiation of his own statement was triggered by the uproar that followed the statement from every quarter. And this is the point where we must stop to ponder what happened. Was Kertész correct or not doesn’t matter a wit. (By the way, since his emigration he restored his statement to its original “splendor.”) The basis upon which we can judge what happened must be the old, once revolutionary, but by now universally accepted principle of human rights. For example, we have at our disposal the great philosopher and statesman Baron József Eötvös, who formulated it so: “Liberty is not a thing, that for merit, as reward we can give; that is the birthright of every person, of which, without fault, cannot be deprived by anyone…” After this we have only to assert that what Kertész did was nothing more, or less, than exercising his fundamental human right to think and to write whatever he was thinking best.
But what followed was the onslaught of venom from official and unofficial sources.
Parliament had to hear about him and his words, his Kossuth Prize in jeopardy, and the wretched mayor of Budapest revoked his Key to the City award. (Mind you he could have punished Kertész by thrusting the directorship of a theater upon him, since His Honor is given to playing fast and loose with those directorships anyway.) Encouraged by the cruelty and idiocy of officialdom, individuals also set out to intimidate the octogenarian author. Now, there is a suitable task for the members of the ultra right! And the poor old man, like the groundhog in a certain charming Petofi poem, for a while just swallowed the flood of hatred, but eventually had enough.
Just a few months ago I was also warned not to speak loudly on the street in Budapest, regardless of what I say, because “you never know who will shoot you.”
Now, however, that the granting and revoking of human rights is literally entrenched in the new constitution (precisely in spite of the maxim of Baron Eötvös), in fact their acquisition is predicated on conditions, it seems to be perfectly “normal” that anyone could be punished for thought-crimes, for writing the wrong word, or in fact not doing his sycophantic “duty,” for which Kertész berated Hungarians in the first place.
Sorry, Mr. Kertész, you had to leave against your wish, but I applaud your courage come late, and congratulate you for your excellent choice. In Canada you can write and say anything you please unimpeded and we can hardly wait to read it.