The Jeszenszky affair

Let’s start with the bare facts. Géza Jeszenszky, who studied history and English at ELTE’s faculty for future high school teachers, became foreign minister in the Antall government (1990-1994). His appointment may have had something to do with his being the husband of Prime Minister József Antall’s niece. In any case, Antall’s government had a large number of historians, which was not really a surprise because Antall himself was one of them. When I first became active on the Internet I once made the mistake of saying something nice about historians. One of the people on the discussion forum loudly complained: “I don’t want to hear any more about historians.” He obviously wasn’t a fan of the Antall government.

Géza Jeszenszky
MTI Lajos Soós

The list of Jeszenszky’s publications is fairly slim, but admittedly the list I saw may not be complete. The only book I heard about earlier was one he published in 1986 and which was reprinted by the conservative Magyar Szemle Alapítvány in 1994 entitled Az elveszett presztízs. Magyarország megítélésének megváltozása Nagy-Britanniában, 1894- 1918 (Lost prestige: The changing reputation of Hungary in Great Britain, 1894-1918). In addition, I found two textbooks, both in English, for his English-language courses at Corvinus University: The Outlines of the History of International Relations in the 20th Century (1984) and The New (Post-Communist) Europe and Its Ethnic Problems (2005). It is the second textbook that caused the latest upheaval.

After the change of government in 1994 Jeszenszky went back to teaching full-time at Corvinus. He taught part-time even during his tenure as foreign minister. A friend of mine was a student of his in 1990-1991, but when I asked her what the subject matter was she had absolutely no recollection. That might give us an idea about his effectiveness as a lecturer.

In 1998 when Fidesz with the help of the Smallholders won the elections, Jeszenszky was back in the political arena. This time as Hungarian ambassador to Washington. Most people’s recollection of Jeszenszky as foreign minister and later as ambassador is pretty negative. As János Dési of Népszava said in an opinion piece, a career counselor wouldn’t have suggested diplomacy as a profession for the man. Dési is right. Jeszenszky had two left hands and was very often caught in uncomfortable situations of his own making. Jeszenszky even then made some unacceptable remarks about the Hungarian Roma in an interview with the conservative Washington Times (see Imre Kertész in Élet és Irodalom, 1999, and István Gereben, a well-known American-Hungarian who died recently, in The Washington Post, November 26, 1999). All in all, it seems that this most recent “unfortunate incident”  might not be an accident.

Jeszensky could hardly wait for the government change so that after eight years he would be back in the thick of things. This time he received a less illustrious position: he was named ambassador to Norway and Iceland. Quite a demotion after the prestigious post of ambassador to Washington.

So now to the incident. Two university professors and an LMBT (Leszbikusok, Melegek, Biszexuálisok és Transzneműek) activist discovered the following sentence in his textbook designed for his course on The New (Post-Communist) Europe and Its Ethnic Problems. The objectionable sentence read: “The reason why many Roma are mentally ill is because in Roma culture it is permitted for sisters and brothers or cousins to marry each other or just to have sexual intercourse with each other.” The first newspaper to report on Jeszenszky’s unfortunate  description of the alleged marriage customs of the Roma was Index, whose reports also unearthed some verbatim quotations in the textbook from Wikipedia and the Hungarian Foreign Ministry’s study on Hungary’s Gypsy population without mentioning the source. Although Jeszenszky complains that his critics picked out one sentence from his lengthy and objective description of the Roma minority in the region, a careful reading of the text, part of which is available in English tells us differently.

While Jeszenszky’s opinions of the Gypsies’  marital habits were being aired in Hungary, Jeszenszky as ambassador to Oslo was the organizer–jointly with the Norwegian Research Institute on the Holocaust and on Religious Minorities–of a conference on Raoul Wallenberg. László Karsai, a historian of the Hungarian Holocaust, was one of the invited guests. After learning of Jeszenszky’s remarks in his textbook, he decided not to attend. What happened at this point is not quite clear. According to one source, the organizers of the conference first tried to convince Karsai to change his mind but then,”becoming familiar with Jeszenszky’s text,”  they asked Géza Jeszenszky not to attend the conference. He was labelled a racist in the Hungarian left-liberal press. DK and LMP demanded his resignation. But the Hungarian Foreign Ministry saw nothing wrong. According to the communiqué they released, Jeszenszky wrote not as a diplomat but as a professor of minority questions. János Martonyi doesn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that Jeszenszky’s activities as a diplomat most likely are undermined as a result of this incident.

On ATV on Wednesday nights there is a program called “A tét”  (The stake) where the historian András Gerő is often an invited guest. The moderator poses a question and asks the three guests to comment. Gerő is usually the last to answer, and he invariably begins with “I would approach the subject from a different point of view.”  Well, this time I will do the same. I don’t know whether Jeszenszky is a racist or not, but I do know one thing: he is a lousy scholar.

I will start with a general observation. I am constantly amazed that quite a few Hungarians have several degrees in entirely different fields. An M.A. in history, another in sociology, and a third in psychology. Sometimes they seem to be studying these subjects simultaneously in different cities, which I find especially intriguing. Then there are all those members of parliament who are concurrently studying full time, usually law. Or physicians who have four or five specialties. These people must be geniuses. I sure couldn’t do that. Just as I couldn’t give a course on minorities in the post-communist world because I don’t have the background. And unfortunately Jeszenszky doesn’t seem to have it either. His field of interest was obviously diplomatic history, specifically Hungarian diplomatic history. And this is plenty for one person to digest.

According to the course description Jeszenszky lectures on “nineteen independent, sovereign states.” That is quite a job for someone whose background is in Hungarian diplomatic history in the twentieth century. In addition to the ethnic minorities traditionally treated as such, he also spends fifteen pages on the region’s Roma population.

Géza Jeszenszky doesn’t have to be an expert on the Gypsies, but if he’s going to talk about the marriage customs of the Gypsy population he should be able to cite some reliable sources. When pressed, Jeszenszky made some vague references to an English language article in a medical journal that he couldn’t read in full because it wasn’t available in its entirety on the Internet. By the second interview he came up with another article that was published twenty-five years ago; it was a very limited study of twenty Gypsy families’ marriage habits. I’m pretty sure that the subject has a large literature, and it simply isn’t enough to read a couple of articles online. Not if one wants to write a textbook for university students.

One can read an awful lot of nonsense on every subject, and even if Jeszenszky found two articles that claimed that the large number of Roma children in special education classes is proof of the fallout from intermarriage in the Gypsy community, he should have had the good sense to question the claim. The fact that a large number of Gypsy students are placed in special education classes is not because they are feeble minded. Teachers don’t want to bother with children who might be behind developmentally due to their lack of intellectual stimulus at home or children who are disruptive. A responsible scholar, especially considering the sensitiveness of the issue, doesn’t write down such twaddle as his own opinion. Perhaps if he had added “according to medical experts” it would have been a tad more acceptable, or at least he could have saved himself a lot of trouble. But even then critics would ask him to produce evidence, which obviously he can’t.

As for intermarriage, it is true that in all “closed communities” there is more than an average number of marriages among relatives that may cause genetic mutations which can be devastating for members of the community. But in order to ascertain the rate of intermarriage among Gypsies one would have to do serious genealogical research. And then study what the results of intermarriage are in the population.

The superficiality and carelessness of Jeszenszky as a scholar is unforgivable quite apart from whether he is a racist or not.

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Guest

London Calling!

You have to question the judgement of someone with a Strange and Weird* like that!

Regards

Charlie

(*I’m sure you’re getting used to London cockney rhyming slang by now!)

Gabor Vermes
Guest

Eva, I am afraid you are wrong. Jeszenszky and myself worked in the same period (Age of Dualism), and his work in that field is good. I do not always agree with him, but he does not
deserve the kind of dreadful attacks – dreadful both in content and style – which he has received. As you know, Istvan Deak is the conscience of liberal intellectuals in New York. I
would have signed the protesting letter he had written with others, but I was cut off from the
world by the hurricane – we had no water and no electicity for 5 days. Karsai and Molnar should attack the real racists in Hungary and not conjure up pseudo-issues.

Guest

London Calling!

Gabor

Eva was highlighting the poor quality of academic work – and the evidence speaks for itself. It’s an objective analysis – not a gratuitous attack.

Regards

Charlie

Gyula Bognar, Jr.
Guest

Jeszenszky Géza probably would not be accepted again in Washington for ambassador. He is not in favor, never been, since his denial in the face of proof of weapons export to Bosnia and Croatia, when he was foreign minister. There is a good article April 11, 1991 Los Angeles Times, worth reading. Here is quote from Peter Zwack, (R.I.P.) who was the Hungarian Ambassador, Jeszenszky fired for being an honest, honorable man.
“I hope Jeszenszky will understand before another big blunder like the shipment of arms to Croatia takes place that he does the greatest service to his country by openly and respectfully resigning, and not by telling lies,” Zwack told the daily Magyar Hírlap.
http://articles.latimes.com/1991-04-11/news/mn-327_1_soap-opera
My opinion about the subject of this article is unfortunately much worse, because I hate turncoats an brown nosers, as well as people with prejudice. Unfortunately, small percentage of hungarians are free from being prejudiced against gypsies, much worse efforts to organize the integration od gypsies into the society is non-existent.

Minusio
Guest

Having also read the earlier article in Pester Lloyd on the Roma issue (that basically leveled the same criticism at Jeszensky, I agree with Éva. It is either stupid or irresponsible or both to further prejudices against an ethnic minority that is living in some kind of apartheid without backing one’s views up with solid evidence. So far, nobody has called him a racist. Gabor Vermes should have read the whole post on Jeszensky: He is apparently also a plagiariser. With many people that is a habit. It may be worth looking into the work that got him his academic titles…

And all Orbán did with his “integration strategy” was to shift the problem to the EU.

Bernard De Raadt
Guest

i am sure roma people know how to survive without your help

Gyula Bognar, Jr.
Guest

Could you please explain who did you address and what did you mean?
Quote:
“i am sure roma people know how to survive without YOUR help”

Gabor Vermes
Guest

Eva, you do have the right to disagree, but, evaluating a scholar, you cannot just cherrypick.
zero in on one or another items. Did you read his book? And, for that matter, did you read his
entire text book, rather than just part of it? As I did write, I have my disagreements with Geza, but the attacks on him – not by you but by Karsai and Molnar – are unwarranted.

Gyula Bognar, Jr.
Guest
Gábor Vermes: It is irrelevant who is questioning the person, who expressed his OPINION, which is a statement without supporting proof and/or research and which is prejudiced against a group of people. One may not be racist, yet he can be prejudiced and have false beliefs, based on stories which are widely circulated. The predominant portion of europeans ARE prejudiced against the gypsies, yet they are not all racist. It is enough to go to the open markets and listen to people how they treat a gypsy and a native when they are interacting and/or they are transacting a purchase. One can see a very big difference. …. IF Jeszenszky would be a mensch, he would retract his statement and apologize to the gypsy community. Instead, he choose to try to explain, what is NOT explainable! He proved, that he accepts no responsibility for being wrong and does not have respect for the gypsies or Romas, as we call them today. …. This is a typical attitude in Hungary, where accepting responsibility and resignations are rare as a white elephant. In Hungary, those, who make mistakes, when found out, they invent explanations and stories or blame somebody or something else,… Read more »
Member

I think this is a very interesting subject. Can we call someone racist under these circumstances? Is he really a racist? I cannot argue with his “theory” as to be honest, I am not familiar with any data regarding the occurrence of genetical problems amongst gypsies. So, what do we have here, we are mad at him as he did not support his theory or because he’s theory is wrong. Marriage between family members raises the risk of carrying over genetical problems. THis is a fact and this is why it is outlawed. I understand that in certain eras and certain places the marriage between first and second cousins were not an outlandish occurrence. In smaller Jewish communities it also happened in the early 20th Century, but it also happened in smaller communities. For that matter it was Austria and Hungary one of the first countries in Europe that outlawed marriage between cousins with some exceptions.
I honestly just do not know what to think about this particular issue as I am not familiar Jeszenszky’s work, or with any statistical data, so I just better keep my mouth shut at this time.

Record12
Guest

Let just say out what we all know: Jeszenszky is not clever, he is unfortunately dumb (buta). He has never completed a Phd and yet he was allowed to teach history and whatever he wanted to teach at a university. With his publication record he would not get accepted at a better high-school anywhere in Western Europe. But he is 100% loyal to his superior and that is what’s important in his position. One might like him regardless, an that’s cool, but these are the stubborn facts. As to Martonyi, he is also 100% loyal to his boss (a term of art in political science by the way). He has been an agent of the communist secret police with at least two separate departments and wrote hundreds of pages of yet unpublished reports. Let’s also remember that he joined an American law firm in Hungary, before the fall of communism in 1988. What implies that about his reporting abilities? He will serve his bosses until the last bullet, lest his reports get published.

kave
Guest

A friend of mine who is now a widely published American journalist told me an anecdote about Jeszenszky dating back to around 1989. He took a university class in Hungarian history with Jeszenszky at University during his first year in Hungary. Jeszenszky had a theory that Robert William Seton-Watson ( AKA Scotus Viator: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_William_Seton-Watson – who was the author of “Racial Problems in Hungary” (published in 1908 – a critical analysis of Hungarian assimilation policy among minorities during the Hapsburg era…available here http://web.archive.org/web/20091027014122/http://uk.geocities.com/gogastransylvania/Seton-Watson/RacialProblems.htm ) was “genetically prone to be anti-Hungarian” because one of his Grandfathers had made an investment in Hungary and lost his money. Seems that Jeszenszky was an amateur Social Darwinist from way back when….

Respect Beauty
Guest

I remember the period when he was ambassador in Washington. I was not impressed, though I’m afraid I don’t have any specifics (it’s been a while).

Ugarföldi
Guest

Let us end trashing Jeszenszky.
I would call him and discuss his statement with him.
The address is Oslo.
http://www.hungarianambiance.com/2012/10/hungarian-ambassador-to-oslo-geza.html

Bernard De Raadt
Guest

please give me an non racist in this woprld I have not found one

Gyula Bognar, Jr.
Guest

Bernard De Raadt: Please accept my deep condolences, your sound mind and belief in humanity must have died a very long time ago. It is highly questionable what else keeps you alive if not the belief in racism. I must be fortunate, where I live, we have very few racist and nobody as negative as you are. I wonder where do you live?

Bernard De Raadt
Guest

thankyou . I asked for one name only yours is i know are a racist all you talk about is the diferent etnias and how many there are in Hungary for me they all are hungaryans and thats it .

Gyula Bognar, Jr.
Guest

Bernard De Raadt: My in-laws are all Cuban, some of them live in L.A., New Jersey, Michigan, Colorado, Tennessee and guess what, they never had any problems cashing checks. I also have in-laws who were born in Mexico and they had no problems cashing checks. Guess what, even I can cash my checks, and I was not born in the USA…….. But what does it have to do with Mr. Jeszenszky and his work and the gypsies?……… It is either your English that is very poor, or your mind is not working properly, but I suggest, that you either use a spell checker or write your comments in the comics.

Bernard De Raadt
Guest

sure and their names are facundo and soto ja ja ja

Gyula Bognar, Jr.
Guest

Bernard De Raadt, please get lost, you are missing a few screws.

Bernard De Raadt
Guest

names please gyula getting mad get high blood pressure no good for you all the in laws migth miss you jaja

Bernard De Raadt
Guest

I ment if it is your coat put it on whoever is YOU

Koeszmeod
Guest

I think the question is more general. Can we use the same values when we read or listen to Hungarians? I left Hungary more than 20 years ago in my early twenties. Unfortunately when I visit Hungary, I find both sides (liberals and rightwing voters) racists. People don’t even understand what is wrong with their views and comments on the Roma. Jeszenszky’s description is only a symptom of the general Hungarian prejudice. others are maybe luckier as they did not write a book and know how to hide their views when communicating with Western liberals

Gyula Bognar, Jr.
Guest

Koeszmeod: You are nearly 100% correct. However it is not the racism which is predominant, but the prejudice against the gypsy, which is part of the hungarian culture. There are many hungarians, who are NOT prejudiced against jews and other religions, nationalities, yet they cannot bring themselves to the realization, that the gypsy are living the way they do, largely because they are excluded from society and treated as second class, hated citizens, without a chance to better themselves without extraordinary effort. They firmly believe that gypsies are inherently lazy thieves and criminals. Integration did not start and never will in a society, where one side expects the other side to make all the changes and wants to form the other to his own image. Jeszenszky is no exception, but I don’t believe that he is racist, he is just parroting, what is a common, the often heard story. You are also correct, that many people in Hungary say things, without realizing, that they are stating prejudice.

Bernard De Raadt
Guest

one name please

Bernard De Raadt
Guest

gypsis will never want to integrate they are people who sarted wandering and thats their way of living if they stop they are not gypsis anymore

Bernard De Raadt
Guest

you seem to be near what I meen when talking about racism,some think that where you live make a diference

Bernard De Raadt
Guest

try to cash a check if you are cuban in USA ja ja

Bernard De Raadt
Guest

gyula it all has to do with racism if you say you are not a racist it means that you dont live in this world

GW
Guest
Jeszenszky’s scholarship is poor here on two points. The first is that he simply did not do adequate research on the topic. Had he done so, it would have been abundantly clear from the ethnographic literature that Roma communities have very strict taboos on the marriage of close relations with penalties including complete banishment, with some evidence that a capital punishment was carried out in the past. The second is that, when called on the passage, he claimed to have been quoting it from a journal article which (a) he did not cite in the text, and (b) by self-admission did not read in full. Perhaps the more important matter here is that this is a textbook and in Hungary, the contents of textbooks are considered to be a standard, a collection of established facts, with students expect to be able to reproduce the contents in exams for entering and exiting degree programs as well as in courses. Moreover, teachers are expected to teach in conformity with standard textbooks. The result is not unlike a creeping form of Lysenkoism throughout Hungarian schools and universities, in which false premises, omissions, and outright falsehoods condemn the entire system to mediocrity or worse.
Member

Thank you Eva for making a very good point in this debate, and thank you Gyula for your sensible comments! I can understand what Jeszenszky means when claiming that he is not a racist — to the Norwegian Aftenposten ( http://www.aftenposten.no/nyheter/iriks/Hevder-mange-av-romfolket-er-mentalt-syke-pa-grunn-av-incest-7032696.html ), he said: “I’m not a racist. I’m the opposite of a racist. My whole life and work proves it. (…) I don’t want to take back my words. But if somebody finds this sentence offending, I apologise. I had no intention to insult anybody.”
In other words, he simply doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand what good scholarship means, and he doesn’t understand what “racism” means for a normal Western reader — that not just murdering and mutilating and openly discriminating but even attitudes such as this, based on sloppy or non-existent research and prejudices, are racism.

Member

Sorry, sloppy translation: “I need not take my words back.”

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[…] olennaisemman pointin Jeszenszky-keskusteluun tuo kuitenkin lempiblogistini Eva S. Balog. Oikeasti ongelma on siinä, että Jeszenszkyn luentomoniste on yliopistolliseksi oppikirjaksi, […]

Minusio
Guest

@ Respect Beauty: During our morning swim my Hngarian girlfriend told me an anecdote about Jeszenszky during his time as ambassador to Washington. For some reason he compiled a list of living people figuring prominently in Hungarian cultural life and send it to someone who had requested it. However, he put all Jewish names in italics. When this became known there was an uproar to which Jeszenszky replied that it was a private letter only. But as it soon turned out, he wrote this on stationery with the embassy letterhead. He is dumb, no doubt.

One question: Is his book really used as a textbook or did he just offer it to use it as a textbook?

Minusio
Guest

P.S. It looks like we a have a new troll on this blog. Don’t feed the trolls!

Member

Bernard De Raadt :
please give me an non racist in this woprld I have not found one

I am here, just couple of key strokes away.

Member

Bernard De Raadt :
try to cash a check if you are cuban in USA ja ja

What is Cuban? Who is Cuban? You mean a cheque issued by a bank in Cuba or do you mean by a cheque shown by a person of Spanish descent? I never heard of banks turning away anyone with valid cheques, but they require proof of id.
Where do you live Raadt?

Guest
London Calling! Many moons (blogs!) ago we debated how Ante-Semitism and Racism – and even Nazism were tolerated – and appeared to be growing – in Hungarian society. In addition Rózsa Hoffmann’s promotion of Albert Wass, Dezső Szabó, and József Nyirő in the elementary and high schools of Hungary – with the insidious and background ‘sanction’ of such views – was adding to the problem. Some of us concluded that it was the ‘climate’ created by the tolerance and expression of such views that were openly expressed in everyday discourse in Hungary – particularly from the older generation, (in England anyway), after WW2. And it will take years to ‘grow through’ until modern attitudes and influences prevail. It has also been observed on here that the Academic community appears to be much more right-wing in Hungary – and lo and behold – so many students are too, as witnessed by the growth of Jobbik and its student constituency. So it is no surprise in Sentrooppa-Santra’s words: “In other words, he simply doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand what good scholarship means, and he doesn’t understand what “racism” means for a normal Western reader.” Jeszenszky Géza certainly doesn’t get it. He… Read more »
Guest

London Calling!

In my clumsy cut and paste to contribute here – my very first line of #40 was chopped:

It said:

Koeszmeod You are dead right!