A nation at war within

Only this morning I heard a short interview with one of the political scientists of Méltányosság Intézet. “Méltányosság” can be translated as fairness, fair-mindedness, or even impartiality. In any case, this particular associate of the institute was studying the seemingly entrenched inability of Hungarians to conduct civilized and rational dialogue with people who hold opposing views. Not only are politicians incapable of sitting down to discuss their differences; ordinary people can scream at each other at the slightest provocation. For some it is enough to see a person reading a newspaper not to their liking to become violent.

Violence is not a game

How deeply embedded this dangerous and ugly trait is in Hungarian culture is a matter of debate. But I certainly don’t see any desire on the part of the political elite to temper it. On the contrary, some of the verbal abuses hurled by Fidesz hatchet men only add oil to fire. Let’s face it, boorish (and worse) behavior is spreading in Hungary, especially in right-wing circles whose members feel–and not without reason–that their time has arrived. Now they can do anything they want against those whom they consider to be their enemies.

Who are these enemies? Practically everyone who doesn’t share their political views. Moreover, those who don’t share their political views are also the enemies of the entire Hungarian nation. The targets are numerous, from liberal intellectuals to social democrats and naturally the Jews. Mind you, a person doesn’t actually have to be of Jewish origin to be labelled and insulted as such. A good example is an incident from yesterday when a man and a woman pushed and spat on a young woman who was taking a video of the demonstration of taxi drivers protesting the latest restrictions on their activities. The young woman was called among other things “stupid whore” and “filthy Jewish whore.” Her attackers couldn’t have known whether she was Jewish or not; she was called Jewish simply because they suspected that she was on the “other side.”

The circumstances of the attack against her are still somewhat fuzzy. Perhaps they noticed that she worked for Népszabadság and that was enough in the eyes of these people to label her Jewish. The victim gave an interview to Stop.hu about the incident. As she explained on the video, she works alone and therefore there was no one who could help her if these two people actually beat her up, as they seemed ready to do. Her only luck was that two cameramen from MTV who were nearby came to her rescue. Anyone who’s interested in her description of the situation can see the video here.

A couple of months ago when Ákos Kertész, a Hungarian writer, asked for political asylum in Canada and said that he was insulted on the street and that at one point someone wanted to drown him in the swimming pool I remember right-wing commentators accusing Kertész of lying. Of course, he wasn’t lying. He is a respectable eighty-year-old gentleman. No, these right-wing thugs recognized him and wanted to avenge what they considered to be an unforgivable slight on the nation, as I described earlier. So, instead of going up to Kertész and telling him what their grievances were, they wanted to drown him or beat him up. That seems to be their only way of dealing with their frustrations.

And if they cannot beat up the “culprit,” like Péter Dániel who poured red paint over Regent Miklós Horthy’s statue, they go and deface the Holocaust Memorial or hang pig feet on Raoul Wallenberg’s statue. Wallenberg was, of course, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews in 1944 only to be captured by the Soviets. He most likely died in a Soviet prison a few years after the war.

Dialogue is often impossible because of historical ignorance on both sides. For instance, Péter Dániel didn’t summarize Horthy’s role accurately. And this morning I heard an interview with Lajos Kósa, one of the deputy chairmen of Fidesz and an important member of parliament. The conversation turned to the Horthy cult. Kósa seems to be totally ignorant of Horthy’s role in the deportation of 600,000 Hungarian Jews. He said twice that it was only during Ferenc Szálasi’s rule that deportations took place. With such ignorance it is easy to “rehabilitate” Horthy, which the Orbán government is doing with a vengeance.

Today the former chief rabbi of Hungary, József Schweitzer, now 90 years old, was walking home when he was verbally assaulted by a stranger who screamed that he “hated all Jews.” At least he wasn’t beaten up. But as his daughter pointed out, the atmosphere that the Orbán government has created gives rise to such incidents. Today he was only verbally attacked, but “what will happen tomorrow? Will they beat him up?”

Jews are not the only target. Foreigners can also be objects of hate, especially if their skin is a bit darker or if they are suspected of being political refugees.  The United Arab Emirates’ English-language paper, The National,  reported that an Emirati chess official was deliberately run over by a car and kicked and beaten unconscious in the street in Szeged by three Hungarian police officers who thought he was an illegal immigrant. The policemen knew no English, and the Arab visitors thought that the three men wanted to rob them. They ran, and the rest is history. The chess official sustained five broken ribs and at one point he stopped breathing during the attack. The injured man accompanied a young chess player who had come to Hungary to perfect his game with the help of the famous young Hungarian chess player, Péter Lékó.

It would be time to come down hard on hate speech in general and on the unspeakable behavior of Jobbik and Fidesz MPs in parliament in particular. It encourages certain segments of the Hungarian population to launch verbal and physical attacks against those who don’t share their worldviews.  This must be stopped before it is too late.

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Sandor
Guest

It has avoided your attention, just as it did almost everybody else’s that our old friend, Peter Kende, the lawyer, has started a court case last year, suing the fidesz government for refusing to apply the Paris Peace Treaty’s prohibition of nazi parties and refusing to charge and close down Jobbik.
The Hungarian Court, as I have gathered from hearsay, refused to deal with the suit.

P.I.Hidas
Guest

A pogrom is next. Just a matter of time.

Ferenc Gyerek
Guest

It will be soon a Milosevic style bloodbath.
Jozsef Schweitzer has been insulted on the streets around the Dohany utca regularly since the Jobbik – Fidesz reign.
The fateful October 23 has always been a near pogrom atmosphere in the city, but it is spread now to other calendar dates.
The victims of the Rakosi-Kadar era dream of revenge.
Meantime, the victimizers are dead, but the wounds are still open.
The Hungarian tradition of the suicidal witch-hunt, hatred of the non-Christians, Communists is well alive in Hungary.
The fairminded young people have to come to the barricades and sweep away the sick leaders of FIDESZ and JOBBIK before it is too late. There is no time to wait for rigged elections.
Young democrats and liberals must act now.

Thomas
Guest

Eva your wrote: “This must be stopped before it is too late.” I am afraid it is already too late. It will get much, much worse, and I cant continue the saying “before it will get better” cos I don’t see how and why and when it will get better.

petofi
Guest

It will get better when Hungary leaves the EU and turns on Romania. The sleeping bear of Romania will wake up and kick the piss out of these paper bullies; occupy the country; hand it over to the UN to run it as a protectorate for 20 years….and then, maybe, it will get
better.

“Politics” is not for the Hungarian mind–too crooked. A Magyar mentality cannot come to an accomodation which lacks the pleasure of, “I screwed him!”

Pesti
Guest

I think the first paragraph of this article sums up Hungarians quite well, unfortunately. I’m surprised that members of the same political party can even agree with each other long enough to propose/pass a law.

Have you ever attended a közgyűlés in a residential building? The residents have no desire to listen to each other or work together in the best interests of the building itself and their own living conditions. And, in theory, all residents belong to “the same party”. So, instead of working together and compromising where necessary, nothing gets done and the building slides into deeper and deeper disrepair – just like the country of Hungary itself. It’s a sad state of affairs.

LwiiH
Guest

I don’t know.. we had quite a positive experience when it came to discussions w.r.t. to road work on our street. The only objections came from people who really couldn’t afford the cost and we managed to find a way to work around that that made everyone happy

Pesti
Guest

Consider yourselves lucky, then. We own two flats in two different buildings and experience the same negativity in both. Also, our friends say the same thing about their house meetings. Though I do agree that in some cases it’s a money question for residents, often they are still against something for the benefit of the building even if someone else is willing to pay.

Ivan
Guest

God. Yes. Exactly as you describe. What a nightmare. And the ‘House Representative’ has all the votes of the non-attendees in her pocket, so every vote is a foregone conclusion in the, ahem, ‘annual’ meeting (when our gas supply was cut off, one March, due to the block not maintaining its chimneys – or because the required bribes were not paid to the chimney sweeps – we were informed that our only option was to raise the matter at the next house meeting eleven months later (we switched to electricity … but the block’s electricity supply was insufficient)). Daily despair. And all those ‘life expectancy’ stats make absolute sense – but mainly it is about the absolute refusal to consider that perhaps one can learn from the way other cultures do things … this IS the centre of the univere, after all, as MTV informed us a couple of weeks ago. Sheesh.

Odin's Lost eye
Guest
Mr Gyerek These attitudes you describe are very prevalent in everyday life and are getting worse by the day. The xenophobia and intolerance I have witnessed seen recently is far worse. In the main it seems to originate from ignorance, the Hungarian general mind set of ‘tunnel vision’ which tends to lead to intolerance and frustration. This in turn leads to anger and hatred. As an example, on Monday I went to town to buy some engineering fixings. I went a place I call ‘the Bolt Bolt’. This is a play on words (Bolt is a name for a particular engineers fixing and it is also the Hungarian word for shop). I have been there many times, but one of the assistants just will not serve me (I am a foreigner). This time the owner of the shop came out of his little office to serve me but his phone rang. Whilst he was answering the phone the ‘anti’ assistant bundled me out of the shop shouting in Hungarian something and locked the door. I made a defiant two fingered gesture and blew a ‘raspberry’ (tart – a ‘Bronx cheer’) and left. It took me the rest of the day… Read more »
oneill
Guest

I have been in Budapest a while now and on a personal level have only faced outright anti/foreigner bigotry rarely, once in a local shop where the young owner is an out and out blackshirt- his loss though, beer and bread are bought in any one of another dozen places where the staff are friendly or apathetic.

But I have the advantage of being white and inconspicuously Aryan (or, at least, Aryan enough looking for someone overdosed with Irish genes!) looking; there are numerous stories of foreign students being turned away from “respectable” and well-known bars and nightspots in town solely on the basis of their colour or nationality.

IMO it’s not that racism or even anti-semitism comes more naturally to Hungarians than, say, the British. The difference here is that it does not embarrass the right-wing political and media Establishment when it happens- they merely turn a blind eye and even occasionally attempts to harness it for their own ends. The legal redress for victims of racist abuse or even physical attack is a joke.

Ovidiu
Guest

Fitting this “war-within” subject.

Kover may not scare the Romanians (actually he has become a darling of the press here these days, he has “entertainment-value” because of his outlandish declarations)
But he may be effective in dividing the Hungarian-Romanian community :

http://www.kronika.ro/index.php?action=open&res=64199

Thomas
Guest

Oneil “IMO it’s not that racism or even anti-Semitism comes more naturally to Hungarians than, say, the British. The difference here is that it does not embarrass the right-wing political and media Establishment when it happens- they merely turn a blind eye and even occasionally attempts to harness it for their own ends”
Maybe so, however, the second part of your statement that I quoted inherently encourages young people to grow up being racists. So it contradicts the first part of the statement, because it becomes naturally when accepted. That is the problem, it perpetuates racism, makes it acceptable, it becomes the norm, and we are at the point when it comes naturally. Not because of the Hungarian genes,( such thing does not exist IMO), but because of the prevailing Hungarian culture.

ignorant
Guest
Dear Eva, you touched a sore spot…. The situtation is really becoming hopeless and unbearable. You say this must be stopped before it is too late, but how do you stop it? Everything I read is basically just a lamentation about the situtation but very little in the way of in-depth psychological analysis of how Hungary got here and what could be done now. It is often stated that this aggression, intolerance and rudeness is rooted in the frustration of Hungarians caused by their worsening outlook on life, or their little experience in democracy and tolerant exchange of ideas. But this surely has happened to other nations in the past, how did they deal with it? Are there comparative sociological – psychological studies on similar situtations in other nations that could be of use? Please excuse my terrible ignorance but if you have any links or recommended readings I would love to be enlightened. Slightly off-topic but I also keep asking myself who could have stopped Orban and when? I personally see him responsible for much of the psychological state of the nation, but was it inevitable that he eventually got the power he wanted? “What if” questions are always… Read more »
Kirsten
Guest

I do not know from where you are writing and to what type of libraries and bookshops you have access to, but there is a literature on that. The psychological element may be important but the political programme element is no less important. You need some groups in the society that act in a stabilising way, that work towards balancing of interests and so forth. The broad public will cooperate if stability is provided. I think that these “psychological factors” become important when the stabilising role of the main political groups and actors is fading. Which has been happening in Hungary now for some years, people are “disillusioned” and do not find – the broad public – a suitable answer to that.
I think that a very good summary of the problems involved in building democracy is this book, even if rather optimistic about Hungary (written some years ago…):
http://www.amazon.com/Problems-Democratic-Transition-Consolidation-Post-Communist/dp/0801851580/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1339008474&sr=1-1.

ignorant
Guest

Thank you, Kirsten, that looks like just the type of literature I was looking for.

Paul
Guest

This is getting to feel more and more like the 30s.

For some time now we have been discussing the possible need to sell our Hungarian flat to finance a house move in England, and I have always argued that this should be our absolute last resort, as we need a base in Hungary for the sake of the kids.

But recently I’ve been thinking if it happens, it happens. I’d miss the trips to the strand and the lángos, the summer weather and many other things, but Hungary is rapidly becoming a country I feel uncomfortable in.

And, whilst our block meetings aren’t as bad as those others have mentioned, they are just as ineffective. So maybe it’s best to get out before the place starts falling apart and we lose even more money on the flat…

Paul
Guest

I had to log in to post that! Is this new, or something I’ve done at my end?

Ovidiu
Guest
This is getting to feel more and more like the 30s…. Well, “history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce”, I expect that this “misadventure into the past” of Orban to eventually fizzle out into ridiculous. One can not revive the dead, the (would be golden) past-times, by magic means as incantations and recitations of the names of the past “Horthy, Nyiro, Wass..or Kalman and the Holy Crown” (though you can try so, of course). To me, the Hungarians appear as going through an “identity crisis” due to modernity and globalization (and change of the Europe). That’s why you get this renewed obsession with the Jews (i.e. the non-Magyars). There are the Roma-Gypsies in Hungary but they are merely not-Magyars and not the very opposite (the diametrically opposed “non”-M) thus they are not that useful to serve as an imaginary-group unto which to project the (real or imagined) “non-Magyar” traits. The Jews, few as they are left in Hungary, are suitable for this purpose. It is an imaginary, cultural, anti-semitism whose analysis would inform us more about what the Magyars are (or imagine that they are, or that they should be). It is understandable what is going on. It… Read more »
Petofi1
Guest

I can’t agree with you more, Ovidiu. Return to the 30s…but not even Hungary’s 30s but Germany’s! Don’t they teach History anymore?
And for all those holocause deniers, I would like to suggest some reading: try accessing the available literature on the reports of German camp guards that were taken post-war.

I’ve been trying various explanations myself on what has happened to the ‘hungarian mind’. But basically, I had to come down to one fact: no matter which party, they have
continuously screwed the hungarian populace. The people
have nowhere to turn and Jobbik…well, it hasn’t been tried before.

What I’d like to see is a new party with Bajnai leading and Kalman Olga as deputy prime minister with an assortment
of Bekesi, the other economist (mustache) whose name escapes me and some logical, well-intentioned men/women
of whatever political spectrum. There one key platform has
to be, first and foremost, to setup an oversight committee to government spending. In line with that, heavy, heavy fines
and jail time for government officers guilty of fraud.
Surprisingly, no opposition party has come even close to
suggesting anything like this.

Esther
Guest

Dear Eva, would it be possible for you to forward me details about the interview you evoke in the first paragraph, or even better, the name of this scholar and/or references to his work. Many thanks!

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