The good, the evil, and the stork

You may recall my mention of a children’s song, taught in Hungarian kindergartens, about a stork’s leg that was cut by a Turkish boy and healed by a Hungarian child. The topic came up in connection with anti-Islamic propaganda spread by the Orbán government and its hangers-on. While working on the post I discovered an article in which we were assured that such ditties are harmless. Most children at this age cannot generalize and most likely don’t even know the meaning of the word “Turkish.” Later in school they will learn the historical context in which this little song was born.

I never thought I would encounter this topic again so soon, this time in one of the editorials written by Zsolt Bayer, whose notoriety has spread far beyond the borders of Hungary of late. Great was my surprise when I encountered his name in The Washington Post of all places. Michael Gerson, a conservative columnist and former chief speechwriter for George W. Bush, quoted long passages from Zsolt Bayer’s hateful writings against the Roma, which he compared to “Trump’s ugly speech [that] threatens our ideals and our safety.”

But back to the children’s song. Why did it resurface in one of Zsolt Bayer’s editorials? A few days ago in the courtyard of a Catholic school in Jászapáti the dead body of a white stork was found. Its legs had been broken and its head smashed. The public outcry that followed was extraordinary. One reads often enough about brutal murders in Hungarian papers, but “ the crime of the stork murderers”—as one newspaper called the perpetrators—elicited unheard of emotions. A nearby humane society and the district’s member of parliament each offered 100,000 forints to anyone who could lead the police to the “criminals” who should, in their opinion, be locked up for years. As it turned out, there was no need for the reward. The police in no time found the two fifteen-year-olds who were responsible. It was also discovered that the stork had already been injured, and perhaps was even dead, before the boys began their sadistic game. Apparently thousands of storks die or break their wings by flying into power lines. This, it seems, is what happened to this particular stork.

The death of this stork inspired Zsolt Bayer to recall his fond memories of the children’s song about the bad Turkish boy and the good Hungarian child. “Every Hungarian who hears the words ‘Gólya, gólya, gilice!’ can immediately continue ‘Török gyerek megvágta, magyar gyerek gyógyítja.’ That is the Hungarian.” So, being a Hungarian is the embodiment of goodness, decency, and empathy. This what he and his classmates learned from their Hungarian teacher, who happened to be the daughter of a literary historian specializing in the Hungarian narodnik (népies) movement.

To Bayer, the stork is a Hungarian bird, just like the swallow, “because both always return to us. It is their return that makes them mystical in the minds of the Hungarian people. Mystical and similar to ourselves.” These birds are “the wandering Szeklers” who always find their way home and who, regardless of where they happen to be, “see only the steeple of their village’s church.”

After talking about the sadism of children, who can occasionally do terrible things to animals (Dezső Kosztolányi beautifully described killing a toad in his childhood), Bayer continues: “This stork with its broken legs and smashed head is about our society. Because perhaps one could kill a June beetle or a frog. But not a stork. The stork is being healed by the Hungarian child. Or, at least this is my wonderful faith that I have carried with me all along.”

stork

Of course, neither the stork nor the swallow is a “Hungarian bird.” Storks do return to their carefully built nests year after year, but those nests can be practically anywhere in Europe. And Hungarians are not alone in thinking that the returning storks are their very own special birds. The white stork is the unofficial national symbol of both Belarus and Lithuania.

When it comes to invoking the stork as a symbol, it is not this ditty about the Turkish and Hungarian boys that comes to my mind but a famous poem by János Arany titled “The Captive Stork,” written in 1847. It describes a lonely stork standing in the middle of a small plot who would love to fly away, all the way to the seas, but can’t because its wings have been severed. The stork at one point tucks its head under its wing because it is painful to look at other “free storks flying to a better homeland.” But the stork waits and waits. Perhaps one day “it will fly into the sky where the blue of freedom reigns.” At the end, however, the “orphaned stork” realizes that even if its wings grow out, wicked people will cut them back. The original Hungarian can be found online.

Clearly, the stork has a special meaning for Hungarians. Otherwise, it is difficult to explain the incredible reaction to the stork’s death in that schoolyard. Thus, there is most likely a deeper meaning to the old children’s song than meets the eye. In it evil is represented by the Turkish boy who brought trouble to Hungary, while the stork symbolizes the country or the Hungarian people. And, by the way, the song is taught not only in kindergarten but also in first grade. I found on sulinet.hu, a treasure trove of all sorts of information related to teaching and learning, a thorough analysis of both stanzas of the children’s song, including the exact meaning of archaic words and expressions. One thing is sure, this children’s song made an impression on Bayer and most likely on thousands if not millions of others, regardless of what psychiatrists say.

May 14, 2016
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Member

I shot a cat with my stepfather’s BB gun when I was ten. It’s still hunting me …

This stork reminds me on Gabor Papai’s cartoon:

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The picket sign says: “Get the f@ck back to Africa!!!!”

The caption: “Darn, Gigi! This country has changed so much since last year!”

tappanch
Guest

This is pure speculation, based on the very strong attachment Hungarians feel to the storks:

The ruling clan or tribe of the Hungarians regarded the “turul” [now identified with falco cherrug= saker falcon] as their totem bird. Isn’t it possible that one of the other tribes, or the conquered Slavic people worshipped the storks?

Distribution of the saker falcon (orange = breeding ground, green = all year around, blue = only in winter]:

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Distribution of the white stork = ciconia ciconia :

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webber
Guest

Nobody has the slightest clue what the Turul was, and every claim to the contrary is based on mere speculation. All the statues to the bird made in the 19th century are clearly statues of vultures, as anyone who has seen a turkey buzzard in N. America can tell you when they look at those statues:
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tappanch
Guest

In a modern Turkish dictionary I found toğrul = goshawk.

In Turkish mythology, Kongrul and Toğrul were twin phoenix-like birds.
The Turkic root of the word Toğrul means something like ‘to slash’.

webber
Guest

Proof of exactly nothing.

There is a nut (I’m not calling you a nut – pls don’t misunderstand) who claimed on Hungarian TV that the Iroquois tribe were clearly Hungarians. Why? Because (in Hungarian) the name of the tribe is Irokéz, and that is clearly Hungarian, isn’t it? With a slight change of letters, it becomes író kéz (writing hand), so they are Hungarian…

Words that sound alike often have nothing to do with one another – even in the same language, btw.

The difference between modern Turkish and ancient Turkish is not small.

webber
Guest

For all anyone knows, the Turul could have been a sparrow of unusual color. Or an African bird that went astray.
Yes, it seems most likely that it was a large bird. But it is impossible to know. It could have been a smaller bird that kept just ahead of its followers, flying from bush to bush ahead of them.
We will never know.

webber
Guest

Just going from Turkish (and why would one do that?), large-bodied game birds (grouse, capercaillie, certain pheasants, ptarmigan) are called tavuğu. That, too, could be related to turul, through changes in sounds over time. So, the turul could have been a grouse of some sort (if one insists on using modern Turkish as a guide). And why would a turul not have been a large-bodied game bird? It makes a lot more sense that ancient Hungarians would spend a lot of time following a bird as prey than a bird of prey. They had to eat, after all.

tappanch
Guest

tağuk > (modern Turkish) tavuk ,
tağuk> (modern Hungarian) tyúk = chicken

toğrul > túrul > turul

webber
Guest

You might be right, but I am not convinced. Sumerian-Hungarian “dictionaries” are full of stuff like that, and it is all complete nonsense of the Irokéz sort.

tappanch
Guest

Dear Webber, You are barking up the wrong tree. I am not a Sumerian or any other Indian. 🙂 [in case the Sumerians had been dark-skinned Dravidian people]

By the way, gólya is a word of unknown origin in Hungarian. It is definitely not related to Turkic laylak or leylek.

tappanch
Guest

“Tief ist der Brunnen der Vergangenheit.”

webber
Guest

Deep and dark.

tappanch
Guest

Re: Erdogan of Turkey.

You may recall his Landsberg moment arrived in 1999.

He was convicted and jailed, from 24 March to 27 July, for reciting [or citing] the following in December 1997:

“The mosques are our barracks,
the domes our helmets,
the minarets our bayonets and
the believers our soldiers.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/11/magazine/the-erdogan-experiment.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

As prime minister, he builds mosques as religiously 🙂 as Orban builds soccer stadiums. He competes with the Saudis in this regard.

Apart from erecting thousands of them in Turkey in the last ten years, he also financed huge mosques in Amsterdam, Tirana, Lanham MD, Bucharest [in the planning], Havana.

“These mosques are not about religion. They’re about authority and power.”

http://www.buzzfeed.com/borzoudaragahi/the-real-reason-turkey-is-building-so-many-mosques
http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/Turkish-President-to-Visit-Maryland-Islamic-Center-373769191.html

tappanch
Guest

“A judiciary once renowned for defending the secular republic against Islamist influence […] now finds itself in hock to religious conservatives,”

In April 2013, pianist Fazil Shay was convicted for citing 11th-century Persian poet Omar Khayyam:

“You say rivers of wine flow in heaven,
is heaven a tavern to you?
You say two houris await each believer there,
is heaven a brothel to you?”

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-turkey-pianist-idUSBRE93E0FG20130415

Guest

Thanks, tappanch – that NYT article is really interesting!
I must confess that I’m rather disappointed by the developments in Turkey. I was there several times as a tourist from the 70s to the 90s and felt that Turkey was developing rapidly – but that development seems to have stalled …

webber
Guest
Strong attachment – I really don’t think so. That was not the first stork sadistically killed in Hungary, nor will it be the last. It happens to all sorts of birds and animals all the time Make a media story about the suffering of any animal in Hungary, and people will send in a lot of money. Tell them that the animal is particularly Hungarian, and watch the reaction go ballistic. Sparrow. Dog. Horse. Cat. It doesn’t matter. Time and again it happens. The key here is the media, whether it runs the story, and how. If it gets poetic on the suffering of the poor animal, people send money. If the media were to decide, tomorrow, that the frog common to Hungaray, the kecske béka, is a national animal and were to run a story on how that frog is endangered, people will be up in arms. If the media were to pick the stag beetle, and say that Slovaks are killing off stag beetles which are a typical Hungarian insect, some people will be out for Slovak blood. And why do I say this? Because I remember the national campaign to “save the locust trees,” (akácfa) and to… Read more »
webber
Guest

Here you go – it took exactly one second for me to find this story from 2001: “A stork was shot at Pellérd near Pécs” in a journal published online by a Hungarian bird-protecting organization.
http://www.mme.hu/lelottek_egy_feher_golyat_a_pecs_melletti_pellerden
Was there a national outcry then? No. It didn’t even make the local news. Bayer could have raised a lynch mob then, too, just by claiming it was a symbol of Hungarians. But did he? No. He was busy with something else. It hadn’t even occured to him to care about that stork. It was just something bird-lovers cared about.
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webber
Guest

Final thought: There are a bunch of a nice Hungarian children’s songs and poems about snails: Csiga biga gyere ki. Csiga biga told ki a szarvadat. There are a lot of good Hungarian jokes about snails. And?

Does that stop garden centers in Hungary from doing a booming trade in snail poison?D id that stop my neighbor from scattering snail poison all over his garden? (I think the stuff is not a little dangerous).

There are one or two good children’s ditties about rabbits, too: “Nyuszi ül a fűben…”
Does that stop Hungarians from eating stewed rabbit with paprika? Nope.

There are songs about cows, as well. Some very nice. Does that stop Hungarians from eating beef? Not as far as I can tell.

Guest

A bit OT:
Animals aren’t treated too well in Hungary in general – luckily this has been changing over time (at least in the 20 years that I’ve been here as a regular visitor), but slowly, very slowly …

My wife also likes to tell stories about how people used to treat their household animals, is it cruelty or just neglect/ignorance?

So when there’s a story like this we always hope that some people might take this to heart and think for a moment about the way they treat other creatures.

PALIKA
Guest

The more uncivilised/primitive a person is the more he/she will exhibit signs of the following: loud talking, noise generation usually of the most offensive type, nationalism/ patriotism on or off the football field, cruelty and or indifference to cruelty to animals. There are far too many Hungarians for comfort who indulge the patriotism and animal cruelty stuff. But they are not alone in the world. The English are more comfortable with the latter two but they indulge in generating noise when drunk or sober to an extent that defies belief.

The rather civilised luvvie fest in Cannes in May is followed by the hell on earth Lions gig which features marauding British drunks in June.

Member

Gullone, E. (2016). To minimize animal suffering, broaden the definition of animal cruelty. Animal Sentience: An Interdisciplinary Journal on Animal Feeling, 1(6), 7.

Guest
London Calling! In ‘my’ part of rural Hungary it is a joy to see – and await – the arrival of the storks. Every village has at least one iron platform high on top of selected lamposts. They are put there, presumably, by the electricity companies responsible for the street lighting. They normally arrive late spring and there is a website to track them as they return ‘home’. “The storks are coming” seems to be a familiar news item on Hungarian TV just as hearing “the first cuckoo of Spring” is on English radio (and the Times letters page!). Every year since I have been coming to Hungary the nests in the backwoods of our village – and the next village have been occupied with each producing (only) two offspring. You can just see two bobbing heads as their proud mother tends to them with the male on a nearby chimney imperiously watching on. In some nests – which to my eyes – are just a pile of hay and grass – not carefully built at all – there is multi-occupancy with what seems to be many species of other birds sharing the underside. You can spend hours watching a… Read more »
Guest

A very tenuous link! But seeing a stork gliding high over the Danube is just such as beautiful sight. Time seems to stand still.

And then a distant low bass throb apparently coming from nowhere filling the ambiance – until you spot a massive massive barge – or three linked together – as the tug fights the powerful flow of the Danube in the Titan fight upstream to get to Germany.

Boyhood memories flood back as I try and remove my head from the stone mullions of Vauxhall Bridge, having been too keen to watch the barges fighting the Thames!

Contrast this with coming home from work in later life in South London and seeing the beautiful (noisy!) Concord plane flying over us on its daily scheduled flight. And the guilt if having left work early!

Alas no more. Concord that is – still Plenty of tugs and barges on the Danube though.

Guest

And yes, I do believe that Hungarians hold the stork in special regard – and I have been critical of dog treatment and farms in the past.

But storks? They are definitely revered in ‘my’ part of Hungary – and always a topic of conversation – like the weather to the English.

Sans doubt.

Guest

Re: Zsolt’s love of the stork story

No surprise to me as he takes in the ‘protector’ symbolism inherent in those avians
who will do all to guard the sacred nest.

But I ‘d say he also might have a love of technicolor as the imagery in the poem really brings out the dripping blood oozing through the bird. Those are highly charged images when it comes to ‘ver’. As an expatriate Lugosi-Dracula said , the blood is the life’. Zsolt’s admirers like to usually use the word to drive home their narrow, xenophobic messages. And Zsolt loves playing his ‘Jack’ Lord of the Flies persona off his enemies personified by those ‘Ralphs’ who have to deal with his constant attempts at unmooring a society from civilized to boorish, irrational and
unreflective behavior.

Guest

And just to add if I may while we are on aviary topics. Not only storks can be discussed in current Magyar events but also perhaps the cuckoo.

Yep.. arguably things have gone ‘cuckoo’ in the country. Things must have looked propitious for some cuckoos to reside now in Magyarorszag where their young are apparently getting raised by others in other ‘nests’ and learning new ways ‘to fly’ as well as relating to all other birds. Great ‘wings’ in the making, eh? The Magyar avian world has never looked better.

Guest

Rather OT, but …

Police in Körmend have fined a young Afghan man HUF 50,000 (USD 180) for jaywalking.

According to the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, the man was crossing the street around 8:30 pm on his way to Tesco when a police officer fined him for “a lesser infraction committed while commuting on a public road” for failing to use the designated crosswalk.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee says the police officer could have simply stopped the young man and pointed out that he must use the crosswalk when crossing the street.

http://budapestbeacon.com/civil-society/hungarian-police-fine-afghan-huf-50-thousand-jaywalking/34330

Now if the police would just check on all those cars (often black Audis …) that travel through our village at 80 or 100 km/h ignoring all traffic rules …
But f course they have no time for that – more important things to do!

webber
Guest

That must be the first prosecution for jaywalking in Hungary in the past twenty-five years. People do it regularly in Budapest, even with policemen standing nearby. Nobody thinks about it.

It’s been a lapsed law – on the books, but never enforced – for well over two decades now.

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