Gusztáv Megyesi, whom Péter Esterházy described as the best Hungarian journalist of our time, wrote his usual weekly opinion piece in Népszabadság, which happened to appear on Christmas Eve. Normally, Megyesi’s pieces are very funny, but this time the topic was somber. He described a couple in their early thirties who had just purchased a 5 kg box of laundry detergent and a 2-liter container of fabric softener as presents for the woman’s mother. She asked the store to wrap them, adorned with golden ribbon. The store employee said to her: “Are you serious?” Yes, she was serious: everybody gets practical gifts because whatever they get, they need badly. They have three children, which they didn’t plan on, but fate surprised them with twins. The husband is a bricklayer and she is on family assistance with the little ones. There is very little money. Although on some family programs there was a lot of talk about the evils of the consumer society and that what really counts is love and thoughtfulness, unfortunately grandma wouldn’t be terribly pleased with a walnut painted silver for the Christmas tree. This laundry detergent she herself couldn’t afford is enough for a whole year. For her, it is either food or detergent. The other members of the family also got much needed articles, like socks and shirts from the MDF market where they sell cheap Chinese imports.
This article infuriated right-wingers. One early commenter called it “vomit on Christmas Day.” According to another, “it is outrageous that someone is unable to put aside what he does all year.” A third person considered the article nothing more than a “mockery of Jesus” because Megyesi talked about the “propagation of Hungarians” in connection with László Kövér’s infamous reference to women’s duty to produce grandchildren for his generation. In general, all right-wingers agreed that Megyesi was mocking not only Jesus and reproduction but also the struggling middle class. Another shining light of the right found the word mockery insufficient to describe Megyesi’s attitude. Instead, he talked about the “hatred of Jesus.” The most interesting comment came from “szalkai,” who would give Megyesi only a silver medal in the hate-speech category because the gold surely must go to Origo, which published an interview with Krisztián Ungváry, the historian, under the headline: “There was a Hungarian soldier who killed voluntarily.” He was referring to Ungváry’s latest book, Hungarian Occupying Forces in the Soviet Union, 1941-1944.
Today Megyesi, back to his usual funny self, decided to comment on the commenters. His latest piece is titled “Holiday drudgery” (Ünnepi robot). In historical times “robot” was work that had to be performed by the serfs for the landlords, but in a modern setting it means very hard, repetitive, boring work. Megyesi can’t understand what these commenters were doing on Christmas Eve when for hours on end they were commenting on his and on each other’s comments instead of devoting themselves to their families. One comment after the other appeared from early evening until midnight. “The government must know about this. When other Hungarians, among them even the unbelieving liberals, suddenly come to their senses and devote every minute to the family, these unfortunate souls spend the Holy Night reading Népszabadság articles…. While the real Christians are already at midnight mass, they still brood over the Hungarian-hating liberals who insult the family and dishonor Jesus and the devout Hungarian people. It’s almost as if many little Antal Rogáns were pounding on the keys.” Such diligence should be rewarded, and Megyesi hopes that the government will give them an extra Holy-Night bonus.
At the end of the piece Megyesi recalls an article of his that appeared at the beginning of the Advent season when he noted that in the nativity scene the government set up in front of the parliament building the Child was missing because after all he wasn’t born until the 25th. But then, he asked, what are the Magi, the angels, and the lambs doing there? After all, they couldn’t have known that a month later Jesus would be born. At that time “the commenters didn’t get involved with such complicated thoughts about the hatred of Christians, they simply called me a Jew.”
And finally another interesting story. This is about an interview conducted by Sándor Révész, which also appeared in Népszabadság on December 26. It was an interview with Mihály Dés, who until recently was better known in the Spanish-speaking world than in Hungary. Before he left Hungary in 1986 he worked as a freelance translator of authors like Jorge Luis Borge, Alejo Carpentier, Julio Cortázar, Garcia Márquez, and Vargas Llosa. In 1986 he settled in Barcelona where he became well known as a writer of short stories and editor of the most influential Spanish-language periodical, Lateral. He returned to Hungary, and his first novel ever–Baroque á la Pest (Pesti barokk), which appeared in 2013–became a bestseller. In any case, at the end of the interview there is a short passage which, as we will see, greatly bothered a far-right contributor to Magyar Hírlap. It goes like this: “Viktor Orbán is only a final product. This is what came out of the body of the nation after a painful digestive process. This dictator was not foisted upon us from the outside; he is the result of self-development. Hungarian society, especially the elite, is responsible for his appearance.”
The reaction was swift. Four days later Pál Dippolt, a writer who slowly moved further and further to the right until he now regularly contributes to the far-right newspaper Magyar Hírlap, wrote an essay titled “They hate.” I have no idea whether Dippolt is a good writer or not, but he certainly has a chip on his shoulder when he accuses his liberal colleagues of not considering him a writer because he doesn’t “belong to their filthy canon, can’t brag about [his] past full of knavery and [doesn’t] spew hatred all around.” Of course, Dippolt’s real problem is Dés’s less than complimentary description of Viktor Orbán as the final product of a painful digestive process. “These are vile, filthy, lying sentences. They insult and vilify everybody who doesn’t follow the unbelievably conceited muck-raking elite of Budapest. If it were a real dictatorship here, the bodies of Révész and Dés would be dangling on the lampposts of Andrássy, pardon, the Road of the People’s Republic. Their only decoration, as poison-dropping traitors, would be the Colombian necktie.” In case some of you, like me originally, have no idea what a Colombian necktie is, you should get acquainted with the term. After a man’s throat is cut, his tongue is pulled through the opening.
In the first story what struck me was the right-wing commenters’ refusal to face the facts of life. At Christmas to talk about poverty, hardship, and hunger shouldn’t be done. One should simply talk about love of one’s fellow man without being reminded of the darker sides of love. Just devote yourself to your closest family and forget about everything else. And if one does write something honest, as Megyesi did, he does something that is almost against the wishes of the Almighty. On the other hand, someone like Dippolt who “doesn’t spew hatred all around” in his Christian purity envisages bodies dangling on lampposts with their throats cut. He accuses his adversaries of hatred and, by the end of his article, points his finger at himself. Quite a feat.