“National literature” in the making in Hungary

Last night when I read that Heti Válasz will be coming out with sensational revelations about how Ferenc Gyurcsány’s  infamous speech at Balatonőszöd in the spring of 2006 ended up in Fidesz hands, I thought that today’s topic was a given. I should have known better. It turned out to be a cheap journalistic performance. The so-called “crown witness,” that is the informer, was totally discredited within a few hours. Anyone who’s interested in the story should listen to György Bolgár’s interview with the informer on “Megbeszéljük” on Klubrádió. Actually, the whole two-hour program makes for worthwhile listening, including two other important interviews that Bolgár conducted.

But it’s just as well that I had to change topics because for days I have been contemplating turning to one of my favorite essayists, András Nyerges, for inspiration. I’ve written about Nyerges several times. He is a full-time novelist and poet, but on the side once a month or so he writes short pieces comparing the present Hungarian right to its counterpart between the two world wars. Nyerges must have combed through hundreds and hundreds of right-wing newspapers. Some of his findings are quite embarrassing to later greats of Hungarian literature. That’s why the subtitle of one volume of his collected essays is “Blasphemous Investigations.”

A couple of days ago it came to light that one of the most distasteful characters in Viktor Orbán’s entourage, Imre Kerényi, made another outrageous comment on a local television station serving the inhabitants of District V in Budapest. I’ve written about Kerényi three times, but perhaps the most revealing post was entitled “Imre Kerényi, the brains behind the ‘Table of the Basic Laws.'” Kerényi seems to have a free hand when it comes to spending billions of forints on kitsch art or a “National Library” that even includes a third-rate cookbook from the Kádár period.

www.torilecke.com

www.torilecke.com

There is only one good thing that one can say about Kerényi. He doesn’t hide the fact that  as “commissioner in charge of art” he divides all art forms into “right and left” or “national and international.” Good and bad. For instance, he views the history of twentieth-century Hungarian literature as a victory of the left over the right. In fact, he makes no secret of his belief that the literary greats of the right were actually suppressed. But, he says, from here on everything will be different. The current regime will develop its own “national canon.” Now that they are in power, they will make sure that those who have been successful both inside and outside the country, for example Péter Esterházy and Péter Nádas, will be pushed into the background.

Actually, it is unlikely that the Hungarian government can ruin the careers of these two particular writers because their international fame protects them, but others are not so lucky. Let’s take, for example, the University of Performing Arts whose president is not a favorite of the regime. In order to ruin the institution, the government simply cut back its support. With the National Theater at least they had the decency to let Róbert Alföldi, the current director, finish his term. But when he reapplied for the position, the powers that be made sure that their man, naturally someone with right-wing political views, got the job. Kerényi was one of the jurors. He admitted that the nomination of the new director wasn’t exactly cricket but, he said, sorry, “our time has arrived.”

Kerényi’s latest pronouncement on the local TV station was that from here on everything will be different in the National Theater. It will not be a theater of “fags” but of “loyalty” and “love.” Keep in mind that this man is a member of the Hungarian government.

And now to Nyerges. Let’s see how the Hungarian right saw the state of Hungarian literature in the 1920s and 1930s. A Hungarian member of parliament in 1920 expressed his view that “national literature went to the dogs and anyone who tried to follow the national or religious path was branded. A new kind of literature was born: the literature of Pest, an anti-literature.” And he went on to list the names of those “from whom the national feeling died out”: Ferenc Molnár-Neumann, Mór Szomori-Weiss, Sándor Bródy, Ernő Szép-Schőn, Lajos Bíró-Blau. “The time of reckoning has come. The time will come when everybody will be measured by our natural feelings.” Cécile Tormay, just lately elevated to the national curriculum, called Endre Ady, one of Hungary’s greatest poet, “the singing gravedigger of the nation.” These right-wingers bemoaned the fact that Hungarian literature seemed to be following Western models. Just as Kerényi in the same television appearance complained that the Hungarian National Theater’s performances are not Hungarian enough. The performances are indistinguishable from others elsewhere in Europe or North America.

At least in the 1920s some of the critics of the Western model admitted that Hungarian conservative literature didn’t really have outstanding writers “with the exception of Ferenc Herczeg and Ottokár Prohászka.” The latter, as you may recall, was the founding father of the idea of Hungarism later adopted by Ferenc Szálasi. Cécile Tormay’s “rehabilitation” as a great writer is especially amusing considering that her own conservative or right-wing contemporaries found her untalented. Dezső Szabó compared her to Renée Erdős, the author of light novels much favored by middle-class ladies of no great literary refinement.

Gyula Pekár, a mediocre writer and politician, was certain that there were “two Hungarian literary canons that are engaged in a life and death battle.” He, as undersecretary in charge of cultural affairs in the early 1920s, made sure that the “national side” would emerge victorious. The Hungarian writer Sándor Márai, recently discovered in international circles as a great writer, complained  in 1932 about “the ideological terror of a reactionary minority.” He added that “not liking Pekár but reading [Gyula] Krúdy is considered to be treason, but even then we cannot agree to make the mistake of mixing up Hungarian literature with national literature.”

The Orbán government’s cultural policy is practically a carbon copy of the Horthy regime’s attempt to force “national” literature on the country’s literati. The interesting thing, in my opinion, is that Kerényi most likely knows very little about what András Nyerges is talking about in this essay. His own instincts are simply guiding him down the same path. There is nothing new under the sun.

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gdfxx
Guest

“A Hungarian member of parliament in 1920 expressed his view that “national literature went to the dogs and anyone who tried to follow the national or religious path was branded. A new kind of literature was born: the literature of Pest, an anti-literature.” And he went on to list the names of those “from whom the national feeling died out”: Ferenc Molnár-Neumann, Mór Szomori-Weiss, Sándor Bródy, Ernő Szép-Schőn, Lajos Bíró-Blau.”

One needs to understand that the listed writers did not use the names listed after the hyphen. Those were probably their names before they magyarized them, and the emphasis on these non-Magyar names was to show that they were all Jews.

kamilla1960
Guest

There may soon be an exhibition of “degenerate art” a la the Nazis.

Sandor
Guest
Yes! Yes! There is something new under the sun and it is as glaring and as phoney as a five-dollar diamond ring. Kerenyi, the former theatrical director, who started his “distinguished carrier” in the communist party, is true to his renegade self. He is a holier than thou right-winger and since he is spending almost unrestricted amounts of money, that make him loose any measure of moderation and taste. He feels no compulsion to be discreet, or tasteful, in fact he finds pleasure in throwing his weight around and the grater consternation he can cause, the happier and more bellicose he is. This was not typical of the post-war right in the twenties and thirties. Ferenc Herceg, Dezso Szabo, Jeno, and Viktor Rakosi were all gentlemen. They may have spoken out agains the others, rejected liberalism all together, but had good taste to be smooth, and detached. This entire regime of Orban is particularly notable for its crude, unbridled hatred and their brazen avarice. This is new. Hungary has never been under the heals of such an uncouth bunch of yahoos since the Turks left in the XVIIIth century, with the possible, but not certain exception of the Rakosi boys.… Read more »
kamilla1960
Guest

Note on the cookbook: I wonder if it is Az Inyesmester Nagy Szakacskonyve. I actually love that book including the charming illustrations. I have the copy I grew up with. The author is somewhat eccentric in his hatred of garlic.

LOLCats
Guest
Nyerges is great, his findings in old newspapers are very often uncanny. As to Kerényi, repulsive though he is to the extreme (as well as crazy), remember that the whole thing is not just about the canon and jobs, but also, in fact foremost, to make the urban, liberal, educated, western-oriented intellectuals/elite livid. To thoroughly humiliate them and to make them really understand that they have been triumphed over, their era is over for good. For a real victor does not just want to win, he has to humiliate the losers. It started to dawn upon these urbanites that they will forever remain in the minority and in the present election system the “people of lesser literary tastes” will always decide and send people to the National Theatre and suchlike. So Orbán and his friends simply don’t have to care about these urbanites. And if he can afford not to care about them, he will do what he loves best: he will tease them with crazy people like Kerényi (who is considered insane even by many right wingers) so that the urbanites will feel that they are outraged but are also powerless and will forever remain so. It is bullying… Read more »
Member

It’s not just about literature. The music for which this government uses taxpayers’ money is just as dreadful, shallow and tasteless. Watch and listen: the new “Song of Sticking Together” (Az összetartozás dala), http://youtu.be/37JUDApcVVg , which the Hungarian nation is supposed to sing together on Trianon Day, June 4th.

petofi
Guest

@LOLcats

“…he has to humiliate the losers.”

This is the Hungarian mindset: it typifies every aspect of Hungarian social and economic and political activity. It precludes cooperation; win/win situations; and democratic political activity. In Hungary, someone must win…and the real pleasure is driving the other’s nose into the mud. Thus, there’s no possibility of political trade-offs. (But there is political buy-offs, of course.) In business, rarely is a deal long-term, or repeated–one-side can’t restrain itself from getting the better of the other…and bragging about it.

Eleven year olds; the country is made up of belligerent kids. At some point, all muddy and dirty and bleeding, they’ll wish to go home and ask the grown-ups to clean up after them. But they’ll find that the adults had left the country.

Tresspasser
Guest

Petofi: Orbán was humiliated, deeply, Gyurcsány won over him once in an election and especially when he came to Budapest he was treated as a worthless country bumpkin (or a redneck, a hick) by urban people (SZDSZ, MSZP).

He, along with his close friends of similar background like Szájer, Simicska, Áder etc. are now taking revenge.

The urbanites at least now know how did it feel to be humiliated back then for so long. Only Orbán and friends are savvy lawyers who made sure the competition is eliminated for good (and in a legal way, which is the best).

This is war (they certainly see it that way) and in war you need a complete victory. You don’t deal with the enemy, you finish them. That is what they are doing on every front (and even if there will ever be a new enemy, it will be a different, a new one, the old one, they killed it). Sorry, but this is how they think, I know it for a fact.

tappanch
Guest

@trespasser
“This is war”

Fidesz & Orban wage war against Hungary. They were elected to be servants, but they soon became oppressors.

“legal way”

Orban swore to uphold the Constitution in 2010, then abolished it in 2011.
Since then he is an illegal usurper.

petofi
Guest

@trespasser

I have to agree with tappanch: beat down the enemy–and I have no sympathy for MSZP, although I like Gyurcsany–but don’t kill off the country while doing it.

There are many problems with Orban, but the biggest in my book is that he bears ill-will to the country and its citizens–that’s unforgivable in a country’s leader. That his fellow Fidesz politicians abide this is disgusting: that the Fidesz faithful disregard this is abysmally saddening.

kamilla1960
Guest

My impression (I was last there for a few weeks in 2010) is that the Fidesz government seems to think the people need to be punished, like bad children who have been indulged for too long. A narrow minded nationalism is being promoted, and groups are set against each other in a divide and conquer scenario. This is happening in other countries as well. In the case of Hungary, restrictive cultural and social legislation is added to the economic austerity, giving the punishment a unique flavour.

Jano
Guest

Off: If anybody’s looking for some cheap entertainment, apparently Kanye West took the liberty to take some free creative inspiration from Omega. Check out the racist Hungarians vs. American supremacist showdown in the comment thread. I can’t make up my mind whose English is worse..

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

I guess “National Literature” will get along fine with “National Contemporary Art”.

http://derstandard.at/1363711885934/Politisch-vertraegliche-Museumsdirektorin

Time to rewrite Alfred Jarry’s King Ubu (as Orbü király). It could begin like this: Act 1. Scene 1. Hungary — That is to say nowhere.

Guest

One of the first things the Nazis did after getting in power in 1933 in Germany was to burn books – now should we wait for Fidesz to do something similar ?

Of course nowadays we other media and other ways too …

What a horrible situation – I can’t write down the curses that my wife just taught me, those Orbán henchmen are unbelievable!

tappanch
Guest

According to rumors [and the forex], the EU will ease budgetary restrictions on several countries, including Hungary next week, claiming that their deficit is below 3%.

This means that EU will not have any tools left to rein in Orban’s tyrannical regime.

http://bruxinfo.hu/cikk/20130523-jo-hirre-szamithat-jovo-heten-magyarorszag.html

An
Guest

@tappanch: It’s hard to justify keeping Hungary under the excessive deficit procedure if Orban, no matter what, keeps the deficit under 3% to get the EU money. It’s not so difficult to levy new taxes if you have unlimited power (as Orban now does).

Maybe the EU could start an excessive democracy-deficit procedure against Hungary? 🙂 (just dreaming)

ev2014
Guest

Bullying? Orban?
The Hungarian 99% which doesn’t see it, must be so scared that only foreign help will liberate them from their prison.
Local forces are not sufficient to achieve it.
I think the activities of the legal teams, which work for this regime, account to crimes against humanity.
They must be litigated in the Hague, before Srebrenica will happen in Budapest.

Srebrenica: A Cry from the Grave – PBS
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/cryfromthegrave/‎
The companion Website for the documentary film Srebrenica: A Cry from the Grave, presented by Thirteen/WNET New York, features eyewitness accounts, …

spectator
Guest

Tresspasser :
Petofi: Orbán was humiliated, deeply, Gyurcsány won over him once in an election and especially when he came to Budapest he was treated as a worthless country bumpkin (or a redneck, a hick) by urban people (SZDSZ, MSZP).
He, along with his close friends of similar background like Szájer, Simicska, Áder etc. are now taking revenge.
This is war (they certainly see it that way) and in war you need a complete victory. You don’t deal with the enemy, you finish them.

That’s the way, indeed.
Unfortunately Orbán remained that very redneck who he ever was, his grasp on liberal arts in general practically nonexistent. Obviously he just can not comprehend the value – and consequently – the importance of culture, education, literature and such, as it clearly manifested even in his government’s actions – just look at the budget cuts all over cultural, educational costs versus soccer for instance.

I guess, this is one of the reasons why lunatics like Kerényi been let out to run amuck, the other reason clearly is the brainwashing propaganda technique what Wolfi mentioned above, never mind the rotten stench…

Brave new world!

cheshire cat
Guest

@Sentrooppa Santra and Wolfi

I got very upset when I heard about, and then listened to this new “National Cooperation Song”. It’s about a peach tree that Hungarians should dance around, and about ripening peaches, which are the fruits of the blessed earth.
I was born during the cold war, and as children we were indoctrinated, already in nursery school, to celebrate the regime with colouring red flags and singing such pathetic songs in choirs. We were so happy when it was over, and in the 90s we could show the American friends around the open-air museum (graveyard!) of cold-war public sculptures. And now this. We’ve got the books, the paintings, now we have the music.

cheshire cat
Guest
On the original topic: it seems to me that in a way, it was always the case. Throughout Hungary’s history, the leading social, political and indeed cultural elite was divided on which way Hungary should develop. Hungary was always more or less behind Western-Europe and always wanted to be more developed. The question was how. One idea was to follow and copy the achievements of Western civilization as much as possible. Eg King Stephen’s heritage of agreeing to take up Christianity and the Western state organization, get a German princess for a wife, get a crown from Rome etc. Or Austria-Hungary. Or the “Nyugat” generation of literary movements, poets, writers, journalists a bit later. On the other side there were the ones who saw these directions as giving up the sovereignity and own characteristics of Hungarians. They felt the price for developing was to high if it meant a slave-like copying of Western countries, and accused the Nyugatists with treason. They felt Hungary had to find her own solutions, her own way, building on her own ancient roots, rather than copy the west. The national writers’ movement (against the Nyugat movement) in the early 20th century wanted to harness the… Read more »
Frog
Guest
Tappanch: the EU never had and never will have any tools against Hungary. It’s been a myth for liberal dreamers. In the history of the EU they never used any real power and Orbán knows well that they never will (and can’t, it’s legally and politically too complicated). The whole EU is a toy of spoiled Western intellectuals who don’t have the slightest idea about life in the East. They just watch Orbán as in a spectacle but really haven’t got a clue and never will, such is the distance between West and East. By the way, if Hungary gets out Orbán will soon increase pensions and the like, and he will get 60% of the votes (remember he has not been below an overall 40% in the last 12 years and below 30% perhaps since 1994 which will be 20 years in 2014) which would translate into 85% (if not more) of the mandates. We have seen only the first act. Orbán has been just getting warmed up. Once having free rein over the economy and able to spend 2-3 GDP% more (and increase debt in the meantime) he will “restructure everything” (continue with his Bolivarian revolution) and stay… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

@Frog
Your numbers are wrong.
The most Orban got was 33% of the electorate in 2010. It is down significantly since then.

The majority of the people want a change of government.(see poll a few days ago)

The lack of unity and lack of leadership skills in the democratic opposition that makes Orban feel comfortable.

tappanch
Guest

Here is the next step in the Fidesz takeover of the rest of the media.
Tax on commercials to be paid by the owners of television/radio channels or newspapers.

The tax will be highly progressive.
Upto 5 billion HUF= 1%
5-10 billion HUF= 10%
over 10 billion= 20%

This has nothing to do with the EU. Orban’s real goal is

1. to force out foreign owners of media from Hungary, then
2. oligarchs indebted to Fidesz will take them over for very little money, then
3. Orban will cancel the tax.

The result will be Fidesz media empires with no opposition

http://www.kormany.hu/download/4/75/e0000/Javaslat.pdf

Targets:
owners of the 2 commercial television channels (TV2 and RTLKlub), owners of the daily Nepszabadsag, owners of newspapers in the countryside not owned by this mafia yet.

http://privatbankar.hu/ado/reklamzabalo-brutalisan-megadoztatjak-a-hirdeteseket-258088

tappanch
Guest

At the same time Fidesz want to change the renters of the advertisement space at Budapest transportation (underground and bus stops).

The new renters can charge much more to the opposition than to Fidesz during the election campaign. (Fidesz made this possible in their latest version of the election law). They can also reject any opposition ads.

http://hvg.hu/itthon/20130524_Palyazatot_irna_ki_a_fovaros_a_BKV_reklam

Kirsten
Guest
Frog: “The whole EU is a toy of spoiled Western intellectuals who don’t have the slightest idea about life in the East.” Why do you think so? I do share your feeling that often not much is known about “the East” in the Western EU countries but your comment for me suggests that you do also not have much of an idea about the West and the history and workings of the EU project. Otherwise you could (at least) acknowledge that there are countries in “the West” with also still quite recent authoritarian experience, that there are countries that also wish to preserve their “sovereignty” and struggle with the unfortunate fact that they are not strong enough to match the US or Asia on their own, that there are countries that also know political interference in areas which should not be too politicised. The EU project is perhaps wished for by some “intellectuals” (but I think this quite negative connotation of the word is already some misunderstanding, because in a free society, what is the problem with an “intellectual” with “crazy” ideas?) but it is also about rather down-to-earth business, the common market. Actually, the economic side of the whole… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

Here is the proof that one of the the main targets of the new tax on income from commercials is Bertelsmann, owner of RTLKlub. The proof is from Fidesz’s Heti Valasz, April 26.

http://hetivalasz.hu/uzlet/az-epp-n-belul-sokszor-gazdasagi-erdekek-is-felsejlenek-a-magyar-kormanyparttal-szembeni-ellenerzesek-mogott-63162/

Fidesz considers Bertelsmann as its opponent in the European People’s Party.

cheshire cat
Guest

Oh, but Kirsten is completely right, Frog!

The EU has not been dreamed up by liberal intellectuals from the flower power 60s. The Eu nowadays is based on the hard rational fact that a small continent, consisting of fragmented little states occasionally at each others’ heels, cannot compete in an increasingly globalised world economically. The euro was not created because daydreamers like the sound of it, but because a common economic market works much smoother with a common currency, it stabilises prices, no pressure from exchange rates etc. All the “stupid” ideas about the sizes of hencages are not about animal welfare but about having necessary common standards.
The Eastern European countries were welcome partly because of hardcore security reasons.

Your other point about what the EU can do about Orban. You must remember that the EU is Hungary+26 other countries and member states have veto rights. But the usual superpower responsibilities and rights for some of them, like Germany, still exist, within or without the EU. These countries will have to deal with Hungary – eventually.

tappanch
Guest

List of major payers of the new tax on media:

http://index.hu/gazdasag/2013/05/24/itt_a_reklamado_tervezete/

Frod
Guest
Sorry, I was provoking on purpose. First, to tappanch: it does not matter what percentage of electorate supports a party (especially in the current system, as there is no minimal level which was 50% earlier), anyone can vote and if they don’t, well, that is their problem. Of the votes cast, which matters, my figures are correct. Kristen, Cheshire Cat, true, you are right, but what I was alluding to was how Orbán thinks and in a way I think he is right in his assessment. It is not the exact ideology according to political scientist that matters anyway, but more like that fact that from Hungary anyone is a liberal, hell, the Finnish or Flemish nationalists as well, certainly a Merkel’s CDU would be socially and in every way more liberal than anybody in Hungary. They debate and think things over and are constrained by a lot of laws and moral rules — as opposed to Orbán who has 100% complete power like any nice authoritarian ruler and does things right away. He decides something in two days its law and assets and rights are taken away. That’s that. The people who dreamt up the EU were old school… Read more »
petofi
Guest

tappanch :
@Frog
Your numbers are wrong.
The most Orban got was 33% of the electorate in 2010. It is down significantly since then.
The majority of the people want a change of government.(see poll a few days ago)
The lack of unity and lack of leadership skills in the democratic opposition that makes Orban feel comfortable.

What makes Orban ‘comfortable’…is the 500,000 votes from Erdely; and the fact that he’s going to steal the election anyway…

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