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.