Thanks to T.E. I learned that there was a reason for my not finding the Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn quotation János Lázár used in his open letter to Anna Schiffer. It is a hoax, one that Elek Tokfalvi unearthed way back in 2008. Elek Tokfalvi is a pseudonym, a mirror translation of ‘Alexis de Tocqueville’.
Tokfalvi’s research and his results are so fascinating that I decided to summarize the two articles for those readers who don’t know Hungarian. In the first article Tokfalvi poses the puzzle of the quotation and describes the detective work that he and some of his commenters conducted. In the second article he draws some conclusions of when, how, and why this non-existent Solzhenistyn quotation was born in Hungary and not elsewhere. After reading more about the “life” of this bogus quotation, I was not at all surprised that János Lázár found this passage so attractive.
Initially Elek Tokfalvi had the same problem I did. He couldn’t find the quotation in Russian, English or French. But, going to the Hungarian-language version of Wikipedia he read that this quotation is from a pamphlet Solzhenitsyn wrote in 1990 entitled “How can we save Russia?” I didn’t get that far. On the English version there was no sign of it (and, though I didn’t check, it has since been taken down from the Hungarian Wikipedia). At that point I stopped, admitted that I couldn’t find either the original or the English version, and concluded that there was no use in translating it from the Hungarian translation.
Tokfalvi, on the other hand, became intrigued and found the Russian original of the 1990 pamphlet where there was no sign of these few sentences. Further research revealed that the text in question was uploaded to the Hungarian Wikipedia on April 24, 2008 by an unregistered user. The editors subsequently made some changes but didn’t notice that there was a problem with the text itself and not only with the spelling of Solzhenitsyn’s given name.
While a discussion of this mysterious quotation was taking place on Tokfalvi’s blog someone, perhaps the originator of the original hoax, put up an English translation of the text on Wikiquote.org. This apparently badly written English text is no longer available on Wikiquote.
The conclusion Tokfalvi came to was that these seven sentences were not written by Solzhenitsyn, and since these sentences don’t show up in any language other than Hungarian the author must be a Hungarian.
I summarized the gist of the quotation, but since it became so famous I think I should provide the complete Hungarian text because it has a bearing on Tokfalvi’s conclusions:
A kommunistánál kártékonyabb és veszélyesebb embertípust még nem produkált a történelem. Cinizmusuk, szemtelenségük, hataloméhségük, gátlástalanságuk, rombolási hajlamuk, kultúra- és szellemellenességük elképzelhetetlen minden más, normális, azaz nem-kommunista ember számára. A kommunista nem ismeri a szégyent, az emberi méltóságot, és fogalma sincs arról, amit a keresztény etika így nevez: lelkiismeret. A kommunista eltorzult lélek! Egészséges szellemű európai ember nem lehet kommunista! Nincs olyan vastag bőrt igénylő hazugság, amit egy kommunista szemrebbenés nélkül ki ne mondana, ha azt a mozgalom érdeke vagy az elvtársak szermélyes boldogulása így kívánja.
This is a very simple-minded and primitive piece of prose. In the first sentence the author talks about “a communist” but by the second sentence he switches to the plural and in the third back to singular. More important than these grammatical snafus is the fact that the ideas expressed in these sentences are alien to Solzhenitsyn who was, as Tokfalvi correctly notes, a Christian nationalist for whom the important political dividing line was between Orthodox Christianity and Pan-Slavism and everything that fell outside.
Second, whoever wrote this piece considers “the communist” to be a “human type.” Thus all communists behave exactly the same regardless of time and place or individual character. They are all bad. But for Solzhenitsyn “the dividing line between Good and Evil is in every man’s heart.”
According to the bogus quotation, the communists’ cynicism, power-hungriness, unscrupulousness, and all sorts of other crimes “are unimaginable for a non-communist person.” So, as this author sees the world humankind can be divided into two distinct groups: the communists and the normal people. Moreover, the bogus quotation claims that “a healthy-minded European cannot be a communist.” Solzhenitsyn, by the way, didn’t have a very high opinion of Europeans (and he didn’t consider Russians to be Europeans), not because Europeans were inclined to be communists but because they were decadent and too secular.
It is at this point that Tokfalvi comes to some very interesting observations about this “Hungarian Solzhenitsyn” quotation. Finding a moral dividing line between “all good men” and “the communists” is an idea that has taken root in East-Central Europe, particularly in Hungary. Moreover, after 2004 or so it became fashionable in Hungarian right-wing circles to call communists or rather those who were so labelled not just evil but also not quite normal. Tokfalvi guesses that this Hungarian fabrication was born during the Gyurcsány period when it was fashionable in the Fidesz camp to call the prime minister “idegbeteg,” an unscientific and unspecific description of someone not quite normal.
The bogus quotation was popular only in right-wing circles. Tokfalvi found it on reakcio.blog, Vatikán Rádió, Magyar Nemzet and Tomcat (Bombagyar.hu). So, says Tokfalvi, this primitive message is believed and quoted approvingly by the whole spectrum of the Hungarian right from moderate youngsters through Catholic conservatives to a psychopath (that is, Tomcat). There is something very wrong with the Hungarian right even in comparison to other countries if such a quotation resonates with the members of this rather large group.
And finally, I return to János Lázár. The fact that he cut and pasted this bogus quotation into the very beginning of his open letter to Anna Schiffer says a lot about him. Whoever wrote these seven sentences for the Hungarian Wikipedia made a typo in the last sentence. Instead of “személyes” (personal) he typed “szermélyes.” And how do you think Lázár quoted it? Yes, with the typo. He no longer could find the quotation on the Hungarian-language Wikipedia. No, Lázár must have gone to one of those right-wing sources Tokfalvi was talking about.