The right and the left on Hungarian achievements in London

I managed to avoid commenting on the Olympics for two solid weeks, but perhaps on the last day I ought to say something about the games in general, the Hungarians’ performance in particular, and the political sparring between left and right over the Olympics and its significance.

A couple of decades ago I was an avid follower of Olympic events but eventually I became disillusioned. I wasn’t sure any longer about the rationale of it all. I’m sure that Baron Pierre de Coubertin would be greatly surprised if he could see what happened to his original idea. It is becoming clear that individual achievement often fades in favor of national glory. It is considered to be practically a tragedy if a long favored “national” sport is lost to others.

I also worry about those people who spend ten or twelve hours a day doing whatever they must be doing. Personally, I would prefer spending money on encouraging healthful exercise in moderation for as many people as possible as opposed to giving it to clubs training athletes who devote their young lives to competing at international meets.

Anyway, here are the statistics. Hungary is in fourteenth place with eight gold, four silver, and five bronze medals. That is a much better result than even the most optimistic fans predicted. It is especially good when we consider that the populations of the first thirteen countries are much larger than Hungary’s.

So, let’s move over to the political aspects of this year’s Olympic games. The “war” between the Hungarian right and left broke out on the fifth day of the games. Right after Dániel Gyurta won the gold medal and set a new world record in the 200 meter breaststroke.

It all began with an article by Endre Aczél published in his sixteen-part series entitled “My Olympics.” Aczél is a veteran  journalist who for many years worked as a foreign correspondent for MTI, the Hungarian news agency, first in Beijing and later in the 1980s in London. He also worked for MTV and regularly writes for Népszabadság. He is quite knowledgeable about sports and has a radio program on Klubrádió on sports events of bygone years.

Endre Aczél on August 2, on his fifth day of reporting his impressions, made a remark about Dániel Gyurta’s 200m breaststroke victory. He had predicted that Gyurta would do very well in the 200m after seeing him perform in the 100m breaststroke, which is not the swimmer’s forte. However, Aczél was “rightly” worried about Michael Jamieson. He reminded his readers that Gyurta normally swims in the middle of the pack in the first 100, moves up at 150, and in the last 50 meters becomes unbeatable. This time the “choreography” was not followed. Jamieson in the last 20 meters performed the way Gyurta normally does. Aczél added, “if there had been another ten meters to swim Jamieson most likely would have won.” But, he added, “thank God it was only 200 meters and not 210.”

That remark sent the Hungarian nationalists into a frenzy even though the Associated Press, a presumably neutral source, appeared to concur with Aczél’s analysis in its report on the final seconds of that 200m competition: “Making the final turn, Gyurta seemed to be in control. Then, as he popped up and down in the water, heading for home, Gyurta suddenly felt Jamieson surging up on his right shoulder. The Olympics Aquatics Centre was in a frenzy as the two approached the wall, but Gyurta stretched out first and touched in 2 minutes, 7.28 seconds. That shaved 0.03 off the previous mark set by Christian Sprenger of Australia at the 2009 world championships in a now-banned bodysuit. Jamieson nearly broke the old mark, too, settling for silver in 2:07.43, while Ryo Tateishi of Japan took bronze in 2:08.29.”

In any case, it seems that one cannot make an objective observation about a swimming meet without being accused of not being a good enough Hungarian patriot. The right-wing media was suddenly full of critical articles about Endre Aczél.

Soon enough he had a co-traitor, Zsolt Gréczy, a close ally of Ferenc Gyurcsány, who on his blog criticized Attila Czene, a  former Olympic champion who is now a member of the Orbán government. He is undersecretary in the Ministry of Human Resources responsible for sports. In 1996 in Atlanta Czene unexpectedly received the gold medal in the 400m individual medley. In London, Czene was apparently sitting next to the commentator and kept making political comments on the side. For example, “the Orbán government made sure that athletes were prepared to be the very best.” Gréczy in my opinion rightly pointed out that when a Hungarian swimmer didn’t do well in Munich or in Montreal was it because the Kádár government didn’t give enough money to the swim clubs? Or did Czene have the Horn government to thank for his win in Atlanta? Surely, Czene’s win depended on his own talent. And Gyurta was not thinking about Viktor Orbán in the last few meters (as Czene intimated) but, as he himself admitted, about his mother. A fair criticism.

The Internet and right-wing circles were full of complaints. The first time I heard about the controversy was from an older woman, at least judging from her voice, who decided to share her outrage with the listeners of Klubrádió. By that time I had read Aczél’s article but I didn’t know anything about Gréczy’s blog. The woman made it clear that Hungary is divided into two camps:  “us” and those who are against “us.” Aczél and Gréczy certainly fall into the latter category. While she was at it, she added Klubrádió to the enemy list as well. Finally, she suggested that “if Klubrádió would make peace with us perhaps it could get a frequency.” How telling and how true.

The third controversy around Gyurta was an interview he gave to Magyar Rádió in which he declared: “I dedicate this gold medal to all my 15 million compatriots!” A right-wing English blog edited in Budapest considered Gyurta’s comment “a very nice dedication.” So did Gábor Vona, who was sending a message to those who cannot be truly happy (actually fanyalgók) .  He cried when Gyurta won the gold. What he did in London was fantastic “but what he said afterward on Magyar Rádió surpassed the gold medal. … Today a superstar was born.” Thus his nationalistic remark about the 15 million Hungarians was more important than his gold medal. There were a few who corrected the number because the truth is that the figure is closer to 13 million. But what can one expect from poor Gyurta who hears this magic 15 million day in and day out?

Finally, an opinion piece appeared in the so-called moderate right-wing magazine Heti Válasz by Bálint Ablonczy. The message of “Dániel Gyurta is a hero: Old-fashioned and ours” is that in our modern world there are no heroes. The media world turns us into nihilists. However, there is a desire to have heroes again and therefore there is “Gyurta fever” in Hungary today. Here is a young man who talks about “the simplest concepts in the whole world: hard work, effort, success, responsibility, coaches, family, and nation.” Ablonczy continues: “we wouldn’t be living in a world without heroes if  the skeptics, the attackers, the political rubberneckers, the ones who talk disparagingly about the 15 million wouldn’t be sending spume up to the surface from the morass of the Internet and the op/ed pages of the great papers.”

Yes, one could live without the Olympics very well. At least in my opinion.

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gdfxx
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gdfxx
August 12, 2012 5:25 pm

“Attila Czene, a former Olympic champion who is now a member of the Orbán government… is [the] undersecretary in the Ministry of Human Resources responsible for sports. ”

This is really a very interestingly sounding ministry with an even more interestingly sounding department for which this guy is an undersecretary. What are they doing and who would miss them if they disappeared?

Paul
Guest
August 12, 2012 5:44 pm
For the last two weeks, I have been eternally grateful to, a) be 1,000 miles away from the Dianafest-style Olympic mania which has gripped my poor, deluded fellow-Brits, and b) not to have access to a TV. Two things alone which should tell you that the ‘Olympic ideal’ is well and truly dead: the appalling PR-speak phrase ‘Team GB’, and the ridiculous parade of the torch (or, in fact, many torches) which preceded the games – a propaganda tool invented by the Nazis! Not to mention the way the whole thing has become owned by the multi-nationals. My daughter’s class is spending a day at the Paralympics on her return to school, and the other day we were sent a long list of dos and don’t for the day. Amongst these was the advice that we weren’t to provide our children with food to take into the stadium as they wouldn’t be allowed to take any food OR DRINK in with them (they would be in the stadium for 4 hours). The reason? Health and safety, perhaps? No – the answer is that the only food and drink allowed in the stadium is that purchased from the sponsors’ stalls and… Read more »
johnt
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johnt
August 12, 2012 6:06 pm

Actually Paul, the reality here over the last 2 weeks has been rather different to what you’ve put forward here (though the food & drink situation is certainly outrageous). There has been a nice positive buzz around London, people have got behind the GB team in a supportive but not jingoistic way and the athletes have done us proud.
What it shows is that if you find what someone is good at, nurture and support them properly, they will excel and the benefit goes beyond the individual. Its a very simple message that the Camerons, Millibands and Cleggs should take heed of. And everything has worked, because people have been positive in making the games a success. And there is a sense of pride at the moment that the games have been a success.
For all our problems, the UK ain’t so bad – there is still a sense of decency and fair play here and enough people still willing to take the country forward in a positive way (though not many of these people can be found in Parliament.
Contrasts rather dramatically with the state of Hungary.

Petofi1
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Petofi1
August 12, 2012 6:22 pm

I confess to being an Olympic buff and watching quite a bit of it. Seeing Gyurta’s refusal to lose; Cseh’s great last 10 meters for the Bronze; and Risztov’s heroic last 200 meters….was
special.

Luckily, I was alone when I found myself yelling at the top of my lungs:

“MATOLCSY ES AZ EGY KULCSOS ADO!!!”

Kirsten
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Kirsten
August 12, 2012 6:32 pm

Eva, from your post I understand that one of the eight gold medallists has shown enthusiasm for the nationalist cause – but if it is just one, I find it worth noting that the others did not find it necessary to do the same. Well done.

Member
Some1
August 12, 2012 7:01 pm

Olympics not supposed to be about politics (except in North Korea where an Olympic Gold means the difference between labour camp or free and rich living), so congratulations to the nationalists and to the far right to turning this event in to an other item that can polarize Hungarians. You go Kover! You go Orban! You go Vona!
p.s.: I do not think two years is enough to train for Olympics.

koeszmeod
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koeszmeod
August 12, 2012 7:16 pm

Paul, ” food and drink” is a security issue. For example it is easier to band drinks and taking out all bottles from bags at security check points than making all attendees drink a little from their bottles. It is natural and happening all over the world in stadiums. In the United States you can’t take food and drink in for an NBA game either. Also there are museums where they allow you to take your water bottle, but you need to drink a little from the bottle in front of the security guard.

I would be happy to see this in your dauthter’s case . This is for her safety.

latefor
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latefor
August 12, 2012 7:16 pm

Congratulations to all the Hungarian medal winners, well done Hungary!

Dubious
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Dubious
August 12, 2012 8:21 pm

I don’t think anyone should read too much into Gyurta’s comment (unless he has a history in making them). It doesn’t mean he subscribes to Vona’s Turanism, anti-semitism, anti-Roma, Iran-loving paranoia. It just means he cares about those who live beyond the borders, and counts those who have Hungarian ancestry, and identify as Hungarian can share in his gold. Hungarian nationalism is generally ridiculous: and I know it is normally couched in terms of being concerned with those Hungarians beyond the border, but a lot of well-meaning Hungarians also identify with them as well. It doesn’t mean they buy into all the clap-trap that goes along with it, from those who want to exploit the Hungarians outside Hungary (Kövér springs to mind, even more than Vona). I wish RMDSZ would start a party, like some of them were musing, for the Hungarian election: I think a lot of non-Romanian based Hungarians would vote for a non-Socialist, non-Fidesz party which doesn’t have a history of saying stupid things (Jobbik, LMP).

Louis Kovach
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August 12, 2012 9:50 pm

Thank you Gyurta and all the others also!

petofi
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petofi
August 13, 2012 1:39 am

Louis Kovach :
Thank you Gyurta and all the others also!

You can’t stay sane for long, can you Louis?

Gyurta demeaned his accomplishment by becoming a willing pawn of nationalists and Fidesz. They’ll no doubt trot him out relentlessly now. May even send him to Romania with Kover! (Gyurta is off my hero’s list.)

Kirsten
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Kirsten
August 13, 2012 2:55 am

Dubious :
I don’t think anyone should read too much into Gyurta’s comment (unless he has a history in making them). It doesn’t mean he subscribes to Vona’s Turanism, anti-semitism, anti-Roma, Iran-loving paranoia. … a lot of well-meaning Hungarians also identify with them as well. It doesn’t mean they buy into all the clap-trap that goes along with it.

That sounds reasonable but in the specific Hungarian circumstances where people can be “expelled” from the nation very quickly (by Fidesz and the like and their followers) for perceived anti-Hungarian thinking, the consequences of sharing this feeling are grave. For me this is one of the stumbling blocs. Criticise Turanism, anti-semitism etc., and you can be connected with those people who also wanted Hungary to be reduced to this small area and to 10 million inhabitants – which goes against broadly shared national feelings. So, you can be asked, abstain from any comment if you do not want to harm the nation (with apathy or retreat as its logical consequence). Fidesz owns the ultimate knockout argument.

Kingfisher
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Kingfisher
August 13, 2012 5:43 am
Give me strength!!! I can’t say I’m surprised that this blog is only interested in the Olympics from the perspective of its own pathological obsession of dividing everything in Hungary into left and right, but it is sad none the less. It is also rather extraordinary that you have chosen not to mention what else Gyurta did, which has brought him international respect. After winning, he offered his gold medal to the family of the Norwegian breast-stroker, a friend and competitor who might well have beaten him, but who died unexpectedly before the games from a rare undiagnosed heart ailment. Gyurta is the toast of Norway for this gesture. And if he feels his victory means something to ethnic Hungarians outside Hungary, then that is his business. I think it was the poster M Reidl who made a disparaging remark the other saying what a “Hungarian” post an entry was, in the very negative sense of promoting this division of everything in Hungary into left and right, good and bad. And he is spot on. It is a profoundly Hungarian disease that is bringing ruin to all areas of Hungarian life. When I first found this blog, I was delighted… Read more »
oneill
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oneill
August 13, 2012 7:30 am

Paul :
For the last two weeks, I have been eternally grateful to, a) be 1,000 miles away from the Dianafest-style Olympic mania which has gripped my poor, deluded fellow-Brits, and b) not to have access to a TV.

I think you have a been harsh there Paul- the opening ceremony on its own was a masterpiece. A nation which is self-confident enough in its own place in the world to provide and, more importantly, enjoy such an ironic and occasionally even self-depreciating (sp?) opinion of itself is a rarity.

Can you imagine an equivalent taking place in Orbanistan?
The Magyar equivalent of Danny Boyle would probably have been executed for treason.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
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August 13, 2012 7:46 am

Eva S. Balogh :

I’m sure that Baron Pierre de Coubertin would be greatly surprised if he could see what happened to his original idea.

I’m not so sure, in regard to what follows in your note. Even though in the early years the bellicist fraction of French nationalists used to mock his ideas, Coubertin was actually a nationalist. And though not a fascist per se, he was admired by fascist regimes… and occasionally returned the favor, particularly in his closing speech at the 1936 Games.

The Olympics have always been about peacefully competing nations. Of course the experience and the motives of the athletes and trainers may be different, but the Games are anchored in the organisation of sports federations, which operate everywhere on a strictly national basis.

Hence, as a social event, the Olympics always have a political side. Some people may dedicate their victory to a unified concept of ethno-linguistic traits, while others may glorify the diversity of origins… but it’s always bordered by the concept of Nation as demos.

An
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An
August 13, 2012 8:11 am

@oneill: “A nation which is self-confident enough in its own place in the world to provide and, more importantly, enjoy such an ironic and occasionally even self-depreciating (sp?) opinion of itself is a rarity.”

Occasional self-depreciating opinion? In the opening ceremony? I have totally missed that. I have found it a bit self-celebratory… which is OK, I guess, as these ceremonies supposed to be like that.

And yes,I am happy I did not have to see the Orbanistan version… would have been lot more painfully nationalistic, without a touch of humor, no doubt.

Member
Some1
August 13, 2012 8:11 am
Kingfisher : Give me strength!!! I can’t say I’m surprised that this blog is only interested in the Olympics from the perspective of its own pathological obsession of dividing everything in Hungary into left and right, but it is sad none the less. Although I am more with the idea of Dubious and Kirsten of not reading to much into anyone’s “thank you” notes, I find it frivolous that you attack Eva for talking about the Hungarian divide, then in the next paragraph lou start to analyze Eva’s politicalview on her political blog. Yes, this blog is a political blog. By the way it was not Eva, contrary how you try to portray it, who made political statement about Gyurta, they were the right wing journalists, who did not left out a beat to grab onto a bone with no meat on it. Eva choose to go after the right wing’s opportunism of creating an other divide. After reading your post it seems that the right wing succeeded. The Hungarian way that Eva tries to point to (rightly so) can be summed up by two posts: latefor: “Congratulations to all the Hungarian medal winners, well done Hungary!” Kovach: “Thank you… Read more »
Member
Some1
August 13, 2012 8:26 am
Semi OT: My personal take on the Olympics is a very disillusioned one. I love the healthy competition aspect of the games, but i always hated the “winning for any price” part. Western countries were always very willing to expedite the citizenship applications of any promising athletes from any countries who were willing to come on board and run in their colors (and that is not only for the Olympics). The “prizes” given to those who win, and the prize to be paid by those in some countries is very sad. The abuse of the Olympics by the judges and referees are well publicized, while the non-sportsman like attitude of some players are also in the headlines. At the end most of it comes down to dollars and cents or to middle finger to one nation to another (I am talking about the larger not the individual perspective). There are some wonderful exceptions to this rule but when I am looking at the big picture this is mostly what I see. There are so much money is being pumped into this, while many other “exhibitionism” lacks the money (I am talking about art). How many people in Hungary for example… Read more »
petofi
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petofi
August 13, 2012 8:43 am

In my opinion, the Olympics is a great spectacle where one has the opportunity to see several, rare, great efforts such as that of Eva Krisztov.

There are negatives, too. The Jamaican runners are ready to hold forth at the end of a strenuous 100meters. How so? Others
are gasping for breath. Personally, I very much doubt that a small country like Jamaica could produce, not one but several, better runners than a country 100 times its size and hundreds of millions of dollars more in support. Sorry, Hussain, but you’ll be found out and your mocking efforts will seem all the worse.

But wasn’t it great to see the American 4 x 100 runners try
desperately to win? Or the Spanish basketball team come so close to beating the best players in the world?

Where else but in the Olympics would one see such great effort, and tremendous accomplishments, jam-packed into a two week
period?

johnt
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johnt
August 13, 2012 9:51 am

Petofi – Jamaica doesn’t spend much on sport – if you look at the situation, Jamaica only excels with sprinters really and in the 4 x 100 it was Bolt and Blake who really made the difference. Carter and Frater are good runners, but at best, only could equal their US counterparts. So we aren’t talking about 4 supermen here. And as for the suggestion of drug taking, Bolt and Blake, because of their status, are frequently tested. So I think you’ll find they are clean.

johnt
Guest
johnt
August 13, 2012 9:55 am

An – I think the opening ceremony was a good celebation of Britishness, warts and all. And it did highlight that for a relatively small nation, we have frequently punched above our weight over the centuries and been pretty influential too. Not all of what we have done has been good of course, but I think GB normally knocks itself. The tone of the ceremony was spot on really.

petofi
Guest
petofi
August 13, 2012 10:38 am

Eva S. Balogh :
This morning on the front page of Népszava there is the headline: Hungary is #9 in the Olympic standing. wow! How can that be? I went back to the NBC site where I found that Hungary was #14 and no, the standing didn’t change since yesterday afternoon. Hungary is still #14.
Then I counted only the gold medals and counting this way Hungary is not #9 but #8 after the US, China, Great Britain, Russia, South Korea, Germany and Italy. I am by now confused. How do they count standing in Hungary?

They count by whatever system suits their purposes, of course.
Had it been 1 gold and 15 bronzes, the yell would’ve gone up
about the number of medals Hungary won–and who cares of what type.

petofi
Guest
petofi
August 13, 2012 10:43 am

johnt :
Petofi – Jamaica doesn’t spend much on sport – if you look at the situation, Jamaica only excels with sprinters really and in the 4 x 100 it was Bolt and Blake who really made the difference. Carter and Frater are good runners, but at best, only could equal their US counterparts. So we aren’t talking about 4 supermen here. And as for the suggestion of drug taking, Bolt and Blake, because of their status, are frequently tested. So I think you’ll find they are clean.

Sorry, but frequent testing doesn’t necessarily mean they are clean; only that their type of intake has not been detected, yet.
Same with the little Chinese girl who swims faster than men.

The drugs are a few years ahead of the development of methods to detect them. Of course, money rules–that’s made on the drug side and not in detection.

Case in point is Lance Armstrong. A lot of American riders have pointed the finger at him yet he’s never failed a test.

Guest
August 13, 2012 10:45 am

London Calling!

Firstly Hungary are Eighth in the medal tables due to their ‘gold’ count. Only America puts them in the order of total number of medals, especially when China have more golds! (Ok I jest – America have always counted them this way – but the Official Olympic Committees – and other countries, put them in order of golds.)

Eighth is an amazing position for a country of 9.7m people and a tiny GDP. And yes it is due to individual effort.

For Orban (after two years?), or anybody, to take credit for individual endeavour is cynicism in the extreme and should be ignored.

You have done amazingly well, Hungary so celebrate.

To the English, the fact that you have come above Australia (pop 22.4m) is particularly delicious!

Regards

Charlie

Guest
August 13, 2012 11:04 am

London Calling!

Yes Eva – but for a long while the US were trailing China in the gold count and sought refuge in the fact that they had more medals overall.

The BBC thought they were doing this just because they were behind China – so they checked back several years. And came back with the revelation that they were being consistent!

The ‘Official’ grading as recommended by the IOC – is ‘Gold’ numbers only.

This should really suit the USA mentality – because winning is the only thing. Only losers come second is their mantra!

Regards

Charlie

gdfxx
Guest
gdfxx
August 13, 2012 11:39 am

CharlieH: “This should really suit the USA mentality – because winning is the only thing. Only losers come second is their mantra!”

I wouldn’t generalize. I, for example, only watched a couple of women soccer games and some of the closing ceremony. I enjoyed Eric Idle, always like Monty Python’s.

I couldn’t care less about what country is where in the medal count.

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