The embattled Géza Jeszenszky and Viktor Orbán

Jeszenszky’s troubles are far from over. This rather unfortunate affair is being prolonged partly because of Géza Jeszenszky’s well known graphomania and partly because of the assistance Jeszenszky’s friends offered to the beleaguered historian-diplomat.

The first supportive letter was fired off by eighteen American-Hungarians of a more conservative bent, including Csaba K. Zoltani who occasionally expresses his dissatisfaction with some of my posts and with readers’ comments. That letter didn’t surprise anybody, but when the media found out that three American liberals also wrote a supporting letter on behalf of Jeszenszky the right-wing media had a heyday. Heti Válasz introduced its article on the subject with these words: “Exclusive! A turning point in the affair of the ambassador.” Magyar Nemzet happily announced that “Not just anybody stood up for Jeszenszky.” The signers of the brief letter were Charles Gati of Johns Hopkins University, István Deák, professor emeritus at Columbia University, and András Simonyi, Hungarian ambassador in Washington between 2002 and 2007.  Both letters attested to the fact that, although the signers knew Jeszenszky for a long time, they never heard him utter a word that would have indicated prejudice.

Charles Gati, who is a friend of mine, after reading yesterday’s post wrote this letter to me and gave me permission to publish it:

By now everyone who reads your blog must know that you and I tend to agree. You publish some of  my comments, and I keep recommending your blog. Let’s face it: I’m a fan. Everyone interested in Hungary should read you every day — as I do and as I will.
 
This time, with the greatest respect for you, I disagree. There’s no “Jeszenszky Affair.”  I know a lot about his work as an ambassador to Washington and I’m familiar with his scholarship. For some three years we were barely on speaking terms. I’m offended when he reaches out to  primitive emigres in the US defending the Hungarian rightwing — people with whom Mr. Jeszenszky has little or nothing  in common. But at issue now is one sentence in a long book, a sentence that’s both unfortunate and wrong.
 
While you — but not always others — focus on important things (like how Orban has turned a functioning democracy into a semi-authoritarian regime and how he turned Hungary against the IMF, the EU, and the US), suddenly there’s a small furor over ONE SENTENCE in a book published years ago and probably unread. Until someone sought to divert attention from the real issues facing Hungary.
 
I have reason to believe firmly that Mr. Jeszenszky is not an antisemite. I have no reason to believe that he is a racist. I’m convinced that he’s a supporter of Western values. 
 
One sentence doesn’t make a negative “Jeszenszky Affair.” What matters to me and what should matter to all is that Orban has led Hungary away from the paths of pluralist democracy and Western values.
 
Please continue to inform us about these painful issues as you have so brilliantly done over so many years.
As I understand it, István Deák signed the letter for somewhat different reasons. He found Jeszenszky’s exclusion from the meeting that he helped to organize unfair because of a number of sentences that he wrote on the Roma minority’s marriage practices in a textbook eight years earlier. He argued that if that rule had been applied to some Hungarian historians and other intellectuals, they would have not been allowed to enter the United States where many of them taught at prestigious universities. After all, they were supporters of the Rákosi regime before 1956.
I can’t quite agree with that comparison. A lot of young intellectuals, especially those of Jewish background, truly thought that the Soviet system would be able to obliterate antisemitism and prejudice. They also believed in an ideal society that was promised by the communists. Naturally, they were wrong and by 1953-54 they themselves were not only disillusioned but in 1956 they were the first ones to turn against the regime. The Rákosi regime was a brutal dictatorship with everything that such a dictatorship entails. Jeszenszky wrote his primitive lecture notes eight years ago in a democracy and republished it at his own expense a few years later.
The other difference I see is that universities are places for the exchange of ideas. Academic communities welcome diversity and public debate. In fact, they thrive on it. Historians, for example, not only write about the past but constantly debate among themselves about interpretations of that past. So, I think that Marxists and non-Marxists, liberals and conservatives can prosper intellectually in that kind of community. But a research institute that is committed to the equality of minorities can’t really have a participant who writes in a prejudiced manner about an ethnic group.
As for Jeszenszky, he wrote an open letter to the president of Corvinus University objecting to banning the use of his textbook. He claimed that a large majority of the teaching staff is with him on this issue.
For those who care about ferreting out the truth, two of our readers (Minusio and Some1) called our attention to some literature on Roma marriage practices.
Finally, taking my friend Charles Gati’s advice, let’s move on to another, undoubtedly more important issue. Even Magyar Nemzet admitted that Viktor Orbán was under fire today in parliament.

Viktor Orbán under fire / Magyar Nemzet

Perhaps the most telling encounter was between Tamás Harangozó, a young MSZP member of parliament, and Viktor Orbán. Harangozó reminded the prime minister that in the 1980s he fought hard against the dictatorship but since then a lot changed. “Soon enough there will be no dictatorship left that [Orbán] didn’t visit…. He seems to entertain a pathological attraction to post-communist dictatorships.”

Orbán’s answer was that he “didn’t struggle against the dictatorship but against people who maintained that dictatorship and these people were your comrades [actually párttársak].” He went even further and objected “in the name of all people that members of a party that is the successor to the former communist party is lecturing us about democracy.” What makes the encounter worth parsing is that Orbán insisted on clarity of speech before he explained his relationship to the dictatorship of the old regime.
Harangozó, who was born in 1979 and thus was ten years old at the time of the regime change, was quick to retort. He claimed that Orbán with this answer admitted that his only problem with the dictatorship of the one-party system was  that “it wasn’t he who sat in Kádár’s chair.” He continued, saying that the prime minister has no moral authority to lecture him when his government and party are full of former MSZMP members and agents. Harangozó called Orbán’s attention to the fate of Berlusconi.
I’m sure that Orbán wasn’t happy to be reminded of his former friend Silvio Berlusconi who may (though probably won’t) end up in jail if his appeal fails.
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Member

I don’t care what Mr. Gati says.

If you don’t want to look racist don’t say racists things. It’s this simple. If you do, apologize. If this rule applies to me, it applies to the smart guys too.

Look at the “Cheney affair”. People didn’t line up assuring the public that Dick Cheney is a good guy. Instead he apologized.

Jeszenszky is arrogant prick. He should take it back.

cheshire cat
Guest

I think that

“didn’t struggle against the dictatorship but against people who created that dictatorship”

would perhaps be better translated into
“I didn’t fight against dictatorship, I fought against the people who were doing (=running) the dictatorship”

I mean, really… and he did introduce it by saying “using words correctly has its advantages”.

Minusio
Guest

There is more to be said about Gati’s letter. But if he had thought about this one sentence of his own he should not have written it: “I know a lot about his work as an ambassador to Washington and I’m familiar with his scholarship.” Many people know about his eyebrow-raising qualities as an ambassador, and Éva pointed out that it was his shoddy scholarship that made him make his sweeping false statements (more than one sentence) about the Roma. That was what she was writing about. She didn’t say he was an antisemite or a racist.

So what does Gati want with this knee-jerk letter? Cui bono? In fact, Jeszenszky belongs to the “real issues facing Hungary”: unqualified personnel crawling out out the web of nepotism.

Paul
Guest
For me, the problem with such works is not so much an occasional clumsy sentence, it is the underlying racist assumptions. Assumptions we don’t even notice because we take them for granted ourselves. For most Hungarians (and, I fear, for many others reading that title) “The New (Post-Communist) Europe and Its Ethnic Problems” means “the problem with Gypsies”. The word “ethnic” has become a code word to express a subtle level of racism that we otherwise would be ashamed of. I haven’t read the work in question, but I would be very surprised if the “ethnic problem” the author has in mind is the non-Roma-Hungarians. But, in reality the “ethnic problem” in Hungary is not what the Roma do or how they behave, it is the intolerance towards them from the majority non-Roma-Hungarians. A similar unconscious racism was displayed in a post a few days ago, when a regular poster unthinkingly used the phrase “the ethnic Hungarians”. By which he meant “the non-Roma-Hungarians”. But the unintended message this phrase gives out is that the Roma are not Hungarians. They are ‘other’, they are ‘outsiders’ – it’s not a big leap from that to they are inferior, they are the problem,… Read more »
Member
Here is my take, and I truly hope Mr. Gati would consider my point of view. Yesterday I have stated that I cannot make a judgement call on the Jeszenszky affair, as I am not familiar with Roma marriage or relationship practices. I also asked, if we are mad at Jeszenszky because he lied, or because he made some assumptions that a scholar should not make without proper references? At any case, today I got on the Internet to do some research, and less then half an hour I was able to dig up some very interesting material on the subject that were properly researched, and supported by proper references. Now, I assume that the same access is available to Mr. Jeszenszky. I am also sure that by now he must understand how his opinion or more so the echo of his opinion fuels the “dark side”, still he decided not to correct himself, not to explain, not to apologize if what he meant to say is lifted out of context. Mr. Gati you choose to defend Mr, Jeszenszky as a man who you believe in, but would you defend him now, that he failed as a human being? He… Read more »
Dubious
Guest

An example of what maybe Gati was referring to, was, two weeks after Bajnai announced he would found an association (egyesület) to contest the elections, Fidesz changed the electoral law so that associations can no longer endorse candidates.

A friend told me tonight, and a quick google search couldn’t find any article or evidence, that the renovations of Erzsébet híd will mean that Milla and Bajnai can’t protest there. I was told the construction permit, or whatever, ends the day of the election.

Also Éva, you may have covered it, but I can’t recall it, was the sudden overnight shutting down of all but the favoured casinos. Conspiracy theories are rife..

Member

Dubious :
A friend told me tonight, and a quick google search couldn’t find any article or evidence, that the renovations of Erzsébet híd will mean that Milla and Bajnai can’t protest there. I was told the construction permit, or whatever, ends the day of the election.
http://index.hu/belfold/2012/10/24/indul_a_ferenciek_tere_atalakitasa/

Jano
Guest
After giving it some thought, I agree with Gati. Jeszenszky was wrong in writing those sentences and he should correct himself but on a purely scientific basis, e.g. publishing a paper that cites actual data. This is because the phenomenon might pretty well exists to some extent and doing a big apology-trip would render the possibility of actual research in this direction impossible. In these recent days I read it in a blog that apparently did some digging that even though Jeszenszky is wrong about brother-sister marriages, cousin weddings are actually a pretty common phenomenon and it is also true that disorders of supposed genetic origin are significantly more frequent in the Roma community than the general population. This has nothing to do with race, the phenomenon is well known from the history of some of the royal families of Europe. I can’t find the link now, but since this comment is not intended to be a scientific contribution, I think I’ll live with that. The attacks on GJ were mostly just as primitive as his lousily written sentences and I think he’s reaction is logical on some level. If he started correcting himself and apologizing on a general level… Read more »
Member

Jano :
If he started correcting himself and apologizing on a general level that would equal an admission of being racist which I believe that he’s not.

Which he is. Again, if you are saying things like “the Roma have many retarded because they tend screw their siblings” you are racists. We may let it go if you don’t have a history to say things like this, but you have to apologize.

That’s a very interesting and very Hungarian logic there about apology. We don’t do it because we would admit guilt. Duh! You do it exactly for this! To admit guilt. Because we are guilty.

Jano
Guest
Mutt: “if you are saying things like “the Roma have many retarded because they tend screw their siblings” If you say it like that then you are racist. If you said what Jenszenszky wrote that’s a statement that is either true or false. Hopefully and apparently, it is mostly false this time. I haven’t seen the data, but I assume neither do you (I just briefly glanced through Some1’s and Minusio’s link for which I’m thankful). Can you say it for sure that cousin marriage is not more accepted in Roma communities than in the general population? That has nothing to do with race, that’s a question of culture. Just as the statement “Many muslims have 4 wives and therefore they are more likely to have a lot of children.” is a cultural reference not a racial one and is free of any prejudice as it stands in itself The difference is that if the statement about the Roma is true to just some level that might have devastating effect on the Roma population which is highly undesirable and detrimental towards their integration to society which has to be the ultimate goal. Also notice that he never said that incest… Read more »
dvhr
Guest

Let me remind you that once Mr Jeszenszky announced that the reason he had joined the KISZ (Communist Youth League) in Kadar’s regime was that he wanted to destroy it from the inside (belülről rohasztani). No question that he is doing the same with the current government.

Guest

London Calling!

You apologise simply, because you are wrong – and you are sorry for being wrong – and sorry for causing possible damage or offence.

An apology is not a Machiavellian device for maintaining a position.

Géza Jeszenszky’s position, and defence of it, underlies what is seen in many professions in Hungary:

Arrogance.

“How dare you question my authority.”

In addition Paul is right – and chimes with my experience.

When Racism, Ante-Semitism and even Nationalism are all pervasive in society it is hard to realise that you are yourself being racist etc.

It is just to a greater or lessor degree – as demonstrated by Mutt

And I still think it’s the beard!

Regards

Charlie

Guest

….reminds me of George Burns (re the reasons for an apology)

“Sincerity – if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”

Ed
Guest

Many citizens of Slovakia of Roma nationality in cenzus in Slovakia identified themselves as Hungarian (minority) – of course Roma living in south part of Slovakia (for example Gemer where many Romas do speak hungarian and roma languages and their slovak language is “weak”; some changes were also in parts of Slovakia with higher Roma population in northern parts of Slovakia – for example Spis, but there are not Hungarians and Romas speaking hungarian language). But in last cenzus many Roma start doing self-identification. I thing than decrease of number on Hungarians in Slovakia is also (mayby mainly; of course together with low natality of Hungarians in Slovakia but it is similar with situatiion in Hungary) result of self-identification Roma as Roma.

petofi
Guest

Mutt :
I don’t care what Mr. Gati says.
If you don’t want to look racist don’t say racists things. It’s this simple. If you do, apologize. If this rule applies to me, it applies to the smart guys too.
Look at the “Cheney affair”. People didn’t line up assuring the public that Dick Cheney is a good guy. Instead he apologized.
Jeszenszky is arrogant prick. He should take it back.

I think you’re right, Mutt, but you forget one thing: Hungarians are constitutionally–in both senses of the word–unable to apologize…for anything. Again, signs of a mightily frail identity.

petofi
Guest

dvhr :
Let me remind you that once Mr Jeszenszky announced that the reason he had joined the KISZ (Communist Youth League) in Kadar’s regime was that he wanted to destroy it from the inside (belülről rohasztani). No question that he is doing the same with the current government.

If you believe that, then there’s a bridge with lions on it that I can let you have at a bargain rate…

Member

@Ed
In the “pure” Székely counties of Romania, i.e. Harg(h)ita & K(C)ovas(z)na, about 15% of the Hungarians are Gypsy, a fact Hungarian nationalists fail to mention.

The anti-Gypsy propaganda has even reached elementary schools, unfortunately.
Especially in schools of the districts inhabited by the richest of Hungary, where the children can hardly encounter any Gypsy children.

[I use the word Gypsy (Cigány), instead of Roma, because I do not feel it pejorative, and I regard Roma as politically too correct]

Member

Re: Orban

Orban is not the first one in world history who hates a dictatorship just because the dictator is not him, but likes the dictatorial way of governing. History has lots of examples.

Member
Jano : After giving it some thought, I agree with Gati. Jeszenszky was wrong in writing those sentences and he should correct himself but on a purely scientific basis, e.g. publishing a paper that cites actual data. This is because the phenomenon might pretty well exists to some extent and doing a big apology-trip would render the possibility of actual research in this direction impossible. In these recent days I read it in a blog that apparently did some digging that even though Jeszenszky…. He stated a fact that turned out to be not exactly true but at that point it might have been his best knowledge which is not the same as hating the gypsies. One should be very careful about using the labels racist and antisemite. If you overuse them for the wrong people they loose power quickly. Some1: “By the way, my Jewish grandparents were cousins from the Carpathian region.” Then I suggest you feel very glad that your mom/dad turned out to be ok. Sorry if I read it wrong but I don’t think this is something to be proud of. Marriage between first cousins is illegal for a reason in several countries. Unlike Jeszenszky’s lousy… Read more »
Guest

London Calling!

Sometimes it’s best not to dignify Jano with a response.

Sometimes mouth and brain are out of synch. But he can be witty.

He once implied that the Nazis concentration camps were inspired by the British (when in most conflicts the antagonists ‘confine’ anyone inside the territory who might be a threat).

So the British inspired the extermination of the Jews? Hardly, Jano, hardly.

Regards

Charlie

dvhr
Guest

Above Charles Gati is quoted:”But at issue now is one sentence in a long book, a sentence that’s both unfortunate and wrong.” I wonder what Gati thinks about the Helen Thomas controversy in 2010.

Member

OT: EU’s highest court rules that Hungary’s reduced retirement age for judges is discriminatory

Leo
Guest

I’m afraid I may be identified as the next Nazi here, but I really think Gati and Jano are right. This is a question of lousy scholarship, and that is it. Some comments are really below the belt. I’m disgusted by this constant digging for unconscious racism and people demanding excuses wherever they smell sin. Please, argue about facts, no-one appointed you to sit in moral judgement.

petofi
Guest

Some1 :
OT: EU’s highest court rules that Hungary’s reduced retirement age for judges is discriminatory

Now why couldn’t a Hungarian court rule
likewise?

Jano
Guest

Some1: Seems to me that you don’t read my comments either. I never said that it’s your doing that your grandparents were cousins, I never said that cousin marriage is an inherently gypsy phenomenon, in fact, I cited the example of the royal families of Europe but don’t let that bother you. I’m glad that there are many wonderful people in your family I would never wish otherwise.

So you say my posts are as offensive as Jeszenszky’s, can I assume that you are calling me a racist as well? In this case I have nothing further to discuss with you, otherwise have a good day and let’s continue when you are done with the tantrum.

Charlie: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_concentration_camps

“The term was borrowed from the British concentration camps of the Second Anglo-Boer War.”

This is all that I said back then. Then you take it and say that I implied that the British inspired persecuting jews. Clearly.

Ron
Guest

CharlieH :
London Calling!
Sometimes it’s best not to dignify Jano with a response.
Sometimes mouth and brain are out of synch. But he can be witty.
He once implied that the Nazis concentration camps were inspired by the British (when in most conflicts the antagonists ‘confine’ anyone inside the territory who might be a threat).
So the British inspired the extermination of the Jews? Hardly, Jano, hardly.
Regards
Charlie

Charlie, Jano is right. the first camps were in South Afrika during the Boer War and were run by the British. The Nazi took over the model and re-model it to an extermination camp.

wpDiscuz