Viktor Orbán feels more at home in Astana than in Brussels

After finding out today that the whole story about the new M4 superhighway was bogus, that the European Union hadn’t charged the bid-winning construction companies with price-fixing, I decided to move away from the muck of current Hungarian politics, at least for a day. I find the Hungarian government’s constant lying hard to take.

Instead, today I’m going to re-explore some Hungarian pseudo-science, prompted by Viktor Orbán’s visit to Kazakhstan. The trip was obviously a big deal for the prime minister. For instance, he took his wife along, which rarely happens. And the Hungarian government chartered a Boeing 767-300ER plane from Austria that seats 200.

The chartered plane that took Viktor Orbán to the country of his dreams

The chartered plane that took Viktor Orbán to the country of his dreams

What captured the imagination of the Hungarian media was a short Russian-language quotation from one of Orbán’s speeches while in Kazakhstan in which he said: “We believe that we are equal partners within the European Union but originally we were strangers there. When we go to Brussels, we have no relatives there. But when we come to you in Kazakhstan we are at home. This is a strange feeling, that people have to go to the East in order to feel at home. Therefore, it is always with great pleasure that the Hungarian delegation comes here.” I used the original Russian when translating the above passage; it can be found on the website of the Kazakh Information Service.

Interestingly enough, MTI decided that Viktor Orbán’s gushing might not go over too well with the Hungarian public who, thank you very much, feel quite at home in Europe. It left these sentences out of its report.

Let’s look into this so-called genetic relationship between the Kazakhs and the Hungarians. Since I already wrote a post on the genetic markers in the Hungarian population both at the time of the conquest and now, I will just briefly summarize the latest findings on the subject. A group of geneticists at the University of Szeged did research on the DNA composition of human remains from graves dating from the early tenth century. On the basis of their findings they came to the conclusion that the number of invaders was most likely very small because even in these early graves only 36% of the people had markers indicating Asiatic origin. Fifty percent of them were of purely European origin. Their DNA indicated that their ancestors had lived in Europe for at least 40,000-50,000 years. By now 84% of the Hungarian-speaking inhabitants of the Carpathian basin are of purely European origin, and only 16% carry any Asiatic markers at all.

In 2009, A. Z. Bíró, A. Zalán, A. Völgyi, and H. Pamjav published a study in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology titled “A Y-chromosomal comparison of the Madjars (Kazakhstan) and the Magyars (Hungary).” They compared the Madjars with 37 other populations and showed that they were closer to the Hungarian population than to their geographical neighbors. They added that “although this finding could result from chance, it is striking and suggests that there could have been genetic contact between the ancestors of the Madjars and Magyars.” Critics of the study, including Csanád Bálint, director of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Archaeology, complained about the authors’ qualifications when it comes to history, linguistics or ethnography. But qualified or not, A[ndrás] Z[s] Bíró is a favorite of those people of extreme right political views who are searching for the original homeland of the Hungarians somewhere in Kazakhstan. I wrote about them in an August 2010 post titled “Turanian tribal meeting in Hungary.”

Nándor Dreisziger, a Canadian-Hungarian historian, wrote an article on “Genetic Research and Hungarian ‘Deep Ancestry'” in which he described the Bíró-Zalán-Völgyi-Pamjav study’s conclusion as most likely untenable. As he said: “Crudely put, the argument used by Bíró and company sounds like this: the Madijars [whom the authors misleadingly called Madjars] are genetically extremely distant from all other populations, and they are very distant from Hungarians: therefore they must be the closest relatives of Hungarians.”

Those who believe in the Kazakh-Hungarian relationship are ideologically extreme, but one mustn’t think that this group includes only people attracted to Jobbik. Far from it. One year László Kövér, president of the Hungarian parliament, was the chief sponsor of the tribal meeting. Sándor Lezsák, who between 2006 and 2014 was the Fidesz deputy president of parliament, was one of the original organizers of the yearly gathering of men and women who play tribal games imitating life as they imagine it to have been in the tenth century or earlier somewhere on the steppes of Eurasia. Naturally, during these gatherings they are also treated to lectures about all aspects of their pseudo-history. Among the lecturers one often finds András Zs. Bíró. Most of the people involved in studying ancient Hungarian history are amateurs, and their research is bogus. But Viktor Orbán must have fallen for their stories about Hungary’s central Asian history.

Of course, propagating a false account of the origin of Hungarians is bad enough, but going so far as to to show a preference for a country where there is a brutal dictatorship takes one’s breath away. I know, I promised that I wouldn’t write about politics today, so I’ll stop on that “breath-less” note.

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Wondercat
Guest

Prof Balogh, please drop the other shoe. I’ve been to your post on the M4 some days ago, looking for clarification — none there. Are the two east-west highways still to be built? Of interest also might be the source of the mis-information: Cui bono?

Webber
Guest
Here’s the other shoe – and everyone should feel free to correct me if I’ve gotten some details wrong: Construction of M4 was suspended after the Hungarian government announced that the EU decided not to provide funding to build it because of suspicions that the companies that won the tender had formed a cartel to fix prices because the construction of the highway costs far, far more per kilometer than any other highway in the EU (this has been true of other Hungarian roads). The Hungarian government expressed shock, and said that if after an investigation the cartel charge proves to be true, it will make the companies building the highway pay for every kilometer of it. The companies involved include Simicska’s co. Közgép. Yesterday someone from the Hungarian press thought to ask the relevant EU bodies about their position. They were surprised, said they had never made any statement whatsoever about a cartel and indeed hadn’t even looked at the tender because EU funds were never involved. The tender was put up and judged solely by the Hungarian government, which had approved it and had approved the prices charged per kilometer. The EU was not involved in any way.… Read more »
Webber
Guest

Story here, for those who read Hungarian – again, it was Lázár who lied:
http://444.hu/2015/04/03/ordas-kamu-amit-lazarek-az-alfoldi-sztradarol-mondanak/

Wondercat
Guest

Webber, many thanks. The answer to “Cui bono?” proved more interesting than I had imagined.

Sandor3456543
Guest
Orban needed some breathing room in the budget and he could gain some HUF 100bn by abandoning the project. He could also hurt Simicska, which is a plus. Orban also needed a good story for the people in the region (ie. blame the EU and the bad construction companies joint in a cartel) who are now disappointed and it worked (the real story cam out a week later, nobody cares, it’s Easter). The companies involved can’t go to court for breach of contract since Orban could counter with a bid rigging charge (which in a public procurement deal carries a maximum of 5 years of imprisonment and hefty fines for the companies). Or course Orban will not use the charge because that would could potentially implicate the government too but as a weapon it’s very useful to have. My guess is that the involved companies deleted all incriminating emails in the last few days so even in the case of a so-called dawn raid nobody will find much evidence. Of course normally it is never announced when the Competition Office comes to raid a company for alleged price fixing, or rather it never announces the suspicion of a cartel, because… Read more »
Webber
Guest
Only in this case Orban isn’t “punching Brusselites” (to borrow your phrase). In this case Orban (or rather his minister, Lazar) is saying (lying) that the EU discovered there may be corruption in the construction of M4, and so the Hungarian government is investigating and will punish those companies if it turns out that the EU is right. In this case, the story (lie) is that the EU may have gotten everything right, and the Hungarian government is actually grateful to the EU for pointing this out. There is absolutely no attack on the EU in this case. To the contrary, the Hungarian government is implicitly praising the EU, while the EU has pointed out that the Hungarian government lied (again). In short, your idea that Orban is playing this as a victory over the EU is wrong in every way. Also – I don’t know where you are just now, but where I am Hungarians all over – including strangers making comments I hear in public – are saying that this government lies, lies, lies. Orban is, in my view, losing the communication war with the public at large (and public opinion poll data supports my view). He may… Read more »
Webber
Guest

Here’s some more lying from Lázár on the same topic:
http://index.hu/belfold/2015/04/04/felbonthatjak_az_m4-es_kivitelezesi_szerzodeseit/

kajakra
Guest

For the locals this story sounds differently. They, as rural people in general, hate the EU (just as the big bad Budapest), as one can always blame the far away party for everything bad — and politicians do especially as the EU apparently doesn’t mind it. I never heard any Brussels politicians saying look, we pay you, without us you would’ve gone bust years ago, so shut the f***k up blaming us. I think in a perverse way the EU loves to be hated.

The story in the provinces is that the EU prevented the project. Sure, the companies were bad too, but hey, that’s normal (the corporations are bad and they are corrupt, so what’s new?) and the project is underway, so we should finish it.

But the EU intervened (singled out) and the project is gone, the only hope of the moribund region for any growth (“The Highway”) is gone.

That the project has nothing to do with the EU is completely lost. I agree that Orban is indeed losing the communication war in general, but this time it worked for the locals.

Webber
Guest

We’ll have to disagree. I don’t think it “worked for the locals” at all. And I am talking about “the provinces,” – that is, if far Eastern Hungary counts as the provinces to you. People I’ve heard there suddenly seem fed up with this government (and I mean suddenly – a year ago this wasn’t the case). I don’t claim that my “sample” is representative, but I haven’t heard anybody swearing about or even really expressing an opinion about the EU, other than thinking aloud about moving to a Western European state – while just mentioning this government seems to evoke one of two responses these days: silence, or very livid language.

Guest

Another day in Orbanistan, another surprise – or maybe not?
Anyway we’re off for a short holiday in a nice spa – in Hungary of course …

Happy Easter everybody!

spectator
Guest

Happy weekend to you!
And don’t overcook those eggs, for heaven’s sake!

Guest

Not OT. People who prefer myth to what they can see with their own eyes – that the Hungarians are Europeans, – are not likely to ponder over scientific evidence. They will never change their minds. New generations will stick to the myth if that is what they learn in school.

exTor
Guest
In my Toronto youth, I lifeguarded at an outdoor pool of an apartment building, where the tenant-ethnic mix was (I imagined) perhaps 50%. Many of the Hungarians I came to know resembled the Magyars of 2 millennia ago: short and squat. That is how I now conceive of them. Among the tenants of that building [100 Raglan Avenue] was a young Sheila Nyari, whose Asia eyes –my descriptive– captivated me. To me, she could easily (physically) fit into the Central Asia landscape. While genetically most Hungarians are unconnected to the cultural home of Hungary, the ancestors of those who rode the steppes are part of the Magyar psyche. I am taller (at nearly 6-foot-2, which is almost 187 centimeters) than most Magyars, an undoubted result of Euromixing: Slovak and Hungarian on my father’s side; German and Hungarian on my mother’s side. Family names were Hungarianized. For most people, being Hungarian is an accident of geography. With that comes the Magyar mindset, which includes a (perhaps mythological) link to the ‘homeland’ somewhere beyond the Urals. Also accompanying birth in Hungary is the baggage of Hungary, namely the antiRomaism and the antiSemitism that also exists (to a larger or a lesser extent)… Read more »
Webber
Guest

Sheila Nyari just might have had a touch of Hungarian Roma on her father’s side. Nyari is a common name among them.

exTor
Guest

Interesting thought, Webber. Most of the Roma I’ve seen, at least here in Csepel [Budapest district XXI] where I live, are short and slim. Thus, heightwise Sheila could have some Roma blood, however corporeally likely not. She had a physiotype that I would describe as unslim, to be kind. She didn’t have the coloration that is associated with the Roma and her eyes were clearly central Asian, not pronounced like Chinese.

The way I remember Sheila Nyari is the way I picture ‘true Magyars’. No disrespect is intended. I’m just talking about those people who are the ancestors [a magyar ősök] of Hungary. Maybe I’m offbase with my conjecturing. Whenever I’ve been in the countryside, the population there seems to conform to my stereotype. Budapest is another world.

MAGYARKOZÓ

Webber
Guest

Well, I wouldn’t put much down to body type. There are “unslim” Roma too.

Rikard
Guest

Looks like once again as in continual and conflicting discussion on Magyar history and events , Mr. Orban is refashioning in our time the origins and image of the Magyar people. His is a history for the modern age.

Mr. Orban at this point is positioning the Kazakhs in the crosshairs of current historical and political requirements. An interesting part of this is the fact that very early historical chroniclers of the Magyar nation noted opinions of them which governed views of the entire nation for centuries. Not entirely positive. So we saw this:

‘De sagittis Hungarorum libera nos, Domine’
(Save us O Lord from the arrows of Hungarians)

Today, well the nation ,centuries on from the violent Carpathian and Danubian days , apparently continues to add to its current image. Sad to say but snuggling up to dictatorships shows how Hungary is going off the rails. This is a country that has moral blinkers on.

István
Guest
The genetic story that Eva documents is well established and many educated Hungarians have some understanding of it. A. Z. Bíró, A. Zalán, A. Völgyi, and H. Pamjav study “A Y-chromosomal comparison of the Madjars (Kazakhstan) and the Magyars (Hungary).” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 139:3 (July 2009): pages 305-310 has this passage which I think is important to the Hungarian psychology: “The Madjars are a previously unstudied population from Kazakhstan who practice a form of local exogamy in which wives are brought in from neighboring tribes, but husbands are not, so the paternal lineages remain genetically isolated within the population. Their name bears a striking resemblance to the Magyars who have inhabited Hungary for over a millennium, but whose previous history is poorly understood.” The genetic analysis is exactly as Eva summarizes it, we collectively speaking are genetically closely related, and similar to populations from Central Europe and the Balkans. But yet we ideologically glorify the brief tribal dominance by a small group of warriors who murdered and subjugated the indigenous population of what is now Hungary. Effectively this is what all the none sense I was given as a child about being a warrior ancestor of Attila was… Read more »
Guest

Re: that ‘powerful myth’

Something to be said for Mr. Lendvai’s thesis on the propagation of myth.

You know he also makes the point of Hungarians being a ‘lonely people’. In that construction, it would appear powerful myth helps on providing some sets of identity to a people that do not have a history exactly and definitively written in bedrock.

So it looks like Mr. Orban wants to hang out with the ‘tough’ guys. I wonder what Mr. Putin thinks of Magyar origins. I’d bet if he thought they came from the Huns Orban would be ecstatic. I mean they were tough and mean, eh??

spectator
Guest
Rikard, Hungarians are lonely people! It happens to be true even within the borders, but particularly on the outside – say – in the world, generally. Our language is definitely unique, and so is the way of thinking. (Ask Stevan Harnad and he can verify – if he will, of course.) Being “the lonely nation” is definitely true, add to this our characteristic sense to disagreement and we’re fit right into the “lonely people” definition. For better or(and!) worse it is kind of deciding factor, wherever we’re happens to live in reality. For my part, I live outside of Hungary over 25 years now, practically without contacts with the homeland, and I still have the embedded identity of a Hungarian. All in all its far from anything positive, just to you to know. But this is how it is. Regarding the subject: Orbán acting once again in accordance to his usual ignorance of the culture and traditions of the country he visits. He keeps throwing around bullshit what he has no deeper knowledge about, while it has entirely different weight of meaning locally. Being an illiterate megalomaniac has its drawbacks, even if one fails to recognise them. Being a “relative”… Read more »
Guest

“Our language is definitely unique…” If you ignore Finnish, Estonian and several smaller European languages.

“… and so is the way of thinking.” The way of thinking is shaped by centuries of harsh feudalism.

spectator
Guest

What gives you the impression that I ignore any those languages, but really?
Just for your information we have but a handful of words which barely similar, the chance even to remotely understand each other is absolutely zero – unlike many other, mostly Indo-European languages all over Europe.

Hungarian speaks only by Hungarians, and that’s it.
It also means that – besides of “centuries of harsh feudalism” what is true, together with its ill effects – centuries of cultural isolation have had a lot to do with the Hungarian mind being shaped as it is.

And in advance: yes, I am also aware of the cultural achievements, just as well as the usage of other languages instead of Hungarian, like latin and german, so please, don’t bother.
However, I’d like to hear of your experiences regarding the relation of language, culture and the way of thinking, if there is such thing what you know of, or you are lucky enough to skipped all of these, due to homogeneous cultural environment around you.

exTor
Guest

In defense of Jean P, the use of “If you ignore …” was not directed at you, spectator. It is the English equivalent of “If one ignores …”. The tone and the context of that post (for me) lead to that conclusion.

I dont get the point that Jean P and you are making about feudalism and the Magyar psyche. In any case, academic discussions about the historical reasons for the way Hungarians think and act are beyond the scope of this forum.

This discussion is seriously offtopic. The tenor of your post is slightly high-strung. No offense.

MAGYARKOZÓ

googly
Guest
To be fair, Hungarian is more unique than most languages spoken by such a large group of people. Like spectator pointed out, Finnish and Estonian are only distantly related to Hungarian, while almost all other national languages in Europe have cousins which are intelligible to one extent or another (Basque is not a national language anywhere, but is in a similar situation as Hungarian, while Irish Gaelic is an official language but has cousins in Scotland, Wales, and France) – I think the only other exceptions are Albanian, Greek, Armenian, and Georgian. I’m no linguist, so maybe one of you can correct this. Of course there are plenty of isolated languages in the world, but it seems to me that very few countries are so overwhelmingly full of speakers of such an isolated language. This, in my opinion, makes Hungary special to some extent, but language is not necessarily destiny, and Hungarians are not so different from other Europeans (and European-descended cultures). The differences that exist are probably not enough to excuse or even explain the behaviour of our government and voters, especially since that government is really just following in the footsteps of many other authoritarian governments, and the… Read more »
spectator
Guest

Would anybody care to enlighten me, just why in Earth has any significance today – as is in 2015 – that what genetical origins the “Magyars” can prove?

Would it mean, that if we are of Asian origin, ewe would refuse to take the alimony from the EU?
Would it mean that we would gain confidence and economical benefits from the East?

What difference would it mean now, – besides the scientific (value?) curiosity – but really?

I really have no idea!
Anybody does?

exTor
Guest

Studying genetics broadens our knowledge about the movements of peoples, etcetera. With respect to the EU, the genetic makeup of the Hungarian population is irrelevent. For Viktor Orbán, in the middle of deepening troubles, it might solace him to be able to look eastward and maybe find some answers in the linkage with an uncritical government.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesse_Owens [English]
http://hu.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesse_Owens [magyar]

In the 1930s, Adolf Hitler’s scientists were devising experiments to prove the superiority of the Germanic peoples. The 1936 Olympics wos to showcase Aryan sports supremacy, however the American Jesse Owens, an amazing black athlete, quickly buried Hitler’s notions.

I dont see Viktor Orbán gaining much traction looking eastward. Europe is where the action is. Orbán can not move Hungary east of the Urals.

MAGYARKOZÓ

Member
Yet Another Instance of Bogus Hungarian Exceptionalism No, Hungarian is not unique. Yes, it’s non-Indo-European, but so are plenty of other languages. The most important thing, though, is that you can say anything and everything that you can say in any one language in any other language: Everything is completely inter-translatable (not necessarily word-for-word, but the full content, in detail, as close as you like). So much for what languages can say, and hence what their speakers can understand. There is of course the “Whorf-Sapir” Hypothesis that languages can bias your perception and thinking (color terms, Inuit snow-terms, Hopi future terms, Chinese counterfactuals), but the examples for this have all either proved to be based on misunderstandings, or the effects have turned out to be trivially small. So, no, it’s not the Hungarian language that is to blame for certain longstanding quirks in the thinking of (too) many Hungarians. It is (like everywhere else) the rot that parents teach their children, and propagate amongst themselves by idle word of mouth — plus the occasional dictator they vote in, who then canonizes the rot in textbooks and managed media. Promoting monolingualism also helps to keep the faithful blinkered and believing. But… Read more »
Guest

The interpretation of my experession “if you ignore..” doesn’t matter. My impression from the discussion is that the word unique is much more in need of clarification. I have looked it up in the Oxford Dictionary and the answer is “the only one of its kind”. This was exactly what I ment to say. The Hungarian language is far from being the only one of its kind.

Finnish is just as incomprehensible to everybody else and the cultural isolation of the Finns has been deeper and lasted longer than that of the Hungarians.

Why is Finland doing much better that Hungary?

spectator
Guest
You are right, of course, the Finnish people doing better, and anyway, Hungarian belongs to the Finno-Ugric language group. In this respect they are not ‘unique’ – its quite clear. However, being able to communicate within the same group is already impossible, not to mention outside of, and I referred to that. Furthermore, if you just take a look at the map, you’ll see what I’ve ment by ‘isolated’: Even more, I agree with Stevan that indeed everything has the way to translate to Hungarian, hence there is no reason to feel “special”. In this context its all true. At the same time I’d like to call the attention that I never stated that Hungarians exceptional at any way, I simply tried to find some explanation to the typical behaviour, the topic comes up frequently. Yes, I have experience point to the differences in the construction of our language and our way of thinking. For example I’ve find that people with much more structured language – German the most obvious example – much more tend to follow pattern in their behaviour in a certain situation than the Hungarians with our more flexibly structured grammar. (Most significant our possibility to freely… Read more »
Guest

My argument against uniqueness is based on linguistic and cultural isolation. The fact that Finnish and Hungarian belong to the same language group is irrelevant.
The idea that people who speak different languages think differently has been dismissed by science, as Stevan Harnad has already mentioned.

wolfi
Guest

Well, just one example re the Finnish people:
50 years ago a friend and I got a stipend for a four weeks language course in Canterbury a nd we met a young Fin whose English was already very good – he also told us that he wanted to start German too.
Almost all the young Scandinavians and the Dutch and Belgians I met spoke at least one foreign language, most of them two or even more …
And what about Hungarians?

Guest
Re: ‘Summarising it, if you just look at the map provided, you’ll see that even if the Hungarian isn’t “unique”, they certainly quite alone – which has its toll, as we know it’ Yes. I’d suggest we see that state of affairs all the way through the Magyar centuries down to the present day. Geography certainly played a great part in Hungary’s history. In the early Empire, Rome gave the ancient world the so-called ‘Pax Romana’. Was there say a ‘Pax Hungarica?’ I’m not too sure. For in between dodging constant chaos occurring around them by people constantly travelling around and through them and not exactly bearing gifts it’s a wonder they got any sleep at night through the centuries. It had to have taken its toll. Add to that the language. Who knows how it developed? They probably figured what the hell let’s make it complicated then they wouldn’t have to interact and get into trouble. Sort of protection maybe? So they’d go it alone…(csak baj baj baj…only problems problems problems!!!) .;-).. I’d think the sad part of Magyar history is that optimism may have lost to pessism in the battle of the Magyar soul. Just my observation. With… Read more »
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