Cultural isolation of the Hungarian right and Hungary’s political quarantine

It was about a year ago that Bohut Pahor, prime minister of Slovenia, made a rather undiplomatic remark to reporters that after Hungary’s presidency of the European Union is over “Hungary will be isolated” as a result of Viktor Orbán’s behavior and policies. Pahor added that Orbán was ignored even before July 1, 2011, the end of Hungary’s six-month tenure.

A few months later HVG noted that the Slovenian prime minister seemed to know what he was talking about. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán received practically no invitation from other political leaders in the European Union.  By the end of September, Orbán’s only invitation came from the Bavarian premier.

A few days ago HVG returned to the subject after doing a thorough search of Orbán’s foreign trips since he took office. On the basis of information received from the Prime Minister’s Office, they concluded that the number of bilateral meetings with western European leaders became rarer and rarer as time went by. In the first six months after taking office Viktor Orbán met either the presidents or the prime ministers of western European countries ten times. One ought to add, however, that most of these meetings were arranged at the request of the Hungarian government. Orbán used the forthcoming Hungarian presidency of the European Union as an excuse to request an invitation. In comparison, now that no such rationale can be used to force an invitation, in the last year there were all told five meetings, four of which occurred during summits, which cannot be compared to a high-level state visit. In fact, according to the information received by HVG Orbán tried to arrange meetings with Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel but both were busy.

As for the United States, although the Prime Minister’s Office acted as if Viktor Orbán had no interest in sitting down with Barack Obama, the fact is that an invitation was not forthcoming. A few days ago at the NATO summit in Chicago there was a brief meeting and the exchange of a few words between Orbán and Obama, but it was no more than a photo op. As far as I know, Obama shook hands with all the prime ministers of the NATO countries.

In the last few months Orbán managed to meet the prime ministers of Croatia, Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. And as a result of the thrust toward the East he met the Chinese prime minister, the president of Kazakhstan, and Vladimir Putin of Russia. He is planning trips to China and India.

It is not only the critics of the Orbán government who notice that Hungary is becoming increasingly isolated. Bálint Ablonczy, a reporter for Heti Válasz and one of the few moderate right-wingers, warned the government in an article that appeared in Mandiner of the growing political isolation that the Orbán government is experiencing of late. The government’s “aggressive economic policies and its attitude toward constitutional issues caused deep disappointment” abroad. Although the government parties are still riding high, mostly due to the weakness of the opposition, it is time to take stock. A substantial portion of the Hungarian right-wing camp wishes to be back in 1937 or even 837. This means total isolation from today’s world and even from the traditions of Hungarian history.

In right-wing circles the thinking is that if during the communist period a historical or literary figure was maligned or neglected that person must be reevaluated in a positive way. Such thinking “can lead to grave mistakes, meaning that it elevates such politicians and writers who are not deserving. Yes, I think of Miklós Horthy and Albert Wass.”

Ablonczy wants a balanced picture of these men. Horthy is not necessarily a mass murderer or Wass a war criminal but one mustn’t forget Horthy’s role in the deportation of 600,000 Hungarian citizens or Wass’s anti-Semitism and support of a fascist organization.

The Wass cult defies rational explanation. As of now Wass has 53 statues and plaques in Hungary which would be  excessive even if his works were all masterpieces. In any case, for the Hungarian right Wass is celebrated not as a writer but rather as the embodiment of an age. But one could learn more about Hungary in the twentieth century from the works of Miklós Bánffy, Jenő Dsida, Gyula Illyés, Áron Tamási, Mihály Babits, Zsigmond Móricz, Endre Ady, András Sűtő, and István Szilágyi. Enclosing oneself in a single segment of Hungarian intellectual history, especially since it is extremist, Ablonczy argues, can only lead to “the deformation of Hungarian self-knowledge.”

The Hungarian right looks upon the history of the interwar period as “a perfect world that the communists wanted to conceal from us.” The cult of József Nyirő can be understood only in this light. And Fidesz plays into the hand of this crowd “in the interest of vote getting.” Thus, there is an official sanction of a worldview that “further builds the fort of the right.” But such construction has a price: “its own myths, its own hymns, its own heroes become incomprehensible to the rest of the world.” People of diverse beliefs who loathe shallowness even within the country will move far away from a small sect with a narrow view of the past.

Cultural isolation will sooner or later turn into political isolation. It can happen any time.

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“As a result of the thrust to the east…”

Sometimes words bring surprising allusions: as I read this comment what came to mind was my 8 month old pug’s relentless thrusting at everything and anything within reach.

Could Orban’s action be any better characterized?


No. Something is wrong with picture. The analogy, if we stay with biology, is rather like a housefly trying out every pile in the neighborhood.

Stevan Harnad (@AmSciForum)
This is a comment on “Democracy in Hungary: the defence of Fidesz” by Gellért Rajcsányi in openDemocracyért-rajcsányi/democracy-in-hungary-defence-of-fidesz ON HOLDS, BARS, AND HUNGARIAN DEMOCRACY A lot of apologetics and special pleading from Mr. Rajcsányi (though he is right that it is always preferable to be temperate). I’ll just make two points: (1) For openDemocracy readers intrigued about the Batthyány group of professors that Mr. Rajcsányi cites as evidence of Hungarian intellectuals who are un-disgusted with the current government, what follows is a quote from one Professor Laszlo Hornok, at one of the Batthyány group’s intellectual gatherings. It concerns a petition by external members of the Hungarian Academy of Science in defence of Agnes Heller — the Agnes Heller that Mr. Rajcsányi describes as part of a group “whose political faction was decisively defeated in the recent elections and who have decided to embark on a no-holds-barred attack on the party that displaced them”. Agnes Heller is indeed a critique of the current government. As a consequence, she and what the Government-side press called the “Heller Gang” were subjected to what can be (temperately) described as a government-instigated FUD campaign in which they were accused of and investigated for criminal activities… Read more »
Odin's Lost eye
Professor you write ** “Cultural isolation will sooner or later turn into political isolation. It can happen any time.” **. It I fear already has! You cannot insult folk like Barrosso and get away with it. Also you cannot issue communiqués even for internal consumption which are either full of ‘porkpies’ or define those you have met as ‘enemies’. This is not allowed as it upsets your hosts/visitors. Any way his activities in the east in particular witth China must be viewed from the Chinese point of view. In China at present there is some sort of power and philosophical struggle going on in the top levels of the Government. In addition the Government is struggling with the re-emergence of new ‘proto’ War Lords’ in the form of over powerful local party bosses. For the Chinese ‘top leadership’ to announce a visit to a foreign country and a meeting with its top boss boosts its local credibility. The fact that the vast majority do not even know where Hungary is is of no matter. Professor as you remark the construction of the ‘Fidesz Fortress’ leads to ** ““its own myths, its own hymns, its own heroes become incomprehensible to the… Read more »

There was a funny incident reported in the Schwab newspapers a few months ago:

It seems that Orbán had invited himself to visit our local government in Stuttgart – probably also to visit and talk with managers from the local automobile companies like Mercedes, Porsche, Bosch etc …

But we now have a green-left coalition with a green prime minister in Baden-Württemberg and his office said they had some questions about freedom of the media etc – which Orbán’s office should answer before a visit.

So the Hungarian government was irritated and said Orbán would not come to Stuttgart – so he cannot test-drive the nice cars that are built here …


The isolation was reported in a review of Eurovision. In fact you can track all of the votes given to the Hungarian entry back to ethnic Hungarians living outside of Hungary. Sad….

Thomas Deri

Eurovision votes became rather political in the last few years. I aree. But could it be that the song was also not up to snuff?!


Thanks for pointing out that there are some sane conservative articles available in Hungary.
Ablonczy’s piece might be a good example. Without these types of even headed analyses about Horthy and Wass etc, Hungary has no chance.


“….you cannot issue communiqués even for internal consumption which are either full of ‘porkpies’ or define those you have met as ‘enemies’.”

You do wonder if Orban actually realises that and simply doesn’t care or if his mindset (in a technological pr sense definitely stuck in the pre-internet 24/7 news era) simply can’t grasp the concept that anything his regime utters can be read and understood within seconds of its publication in Hungary. Bit of both probably.

He knows if he can control the flow of information to the masses within Hungary then what the foreigners say about him is inconsequential. If he still wins the next election ( and by hook or by crook he will) I’m sure he’ll get over his “cultural isolation”.


Thomas Deri :
Eurovision votes became rather political in the last few years. I aree. But could it be that the song was also not up to snuff?!

errr, well… I saw the British, Russian and the Hungarian entry, a couple of others, got bored and then watched the Swedish winner on the web… seems to be that the Russians and the Swedes deserved what their placement. Can’t say much about the others.


Truth be told I did not watch.


Eurovision has always been political.

And it has always been rubbish.

It’s my annual reminder of why I don’t have a TV.