This is a lightly edited version of the English translation of an interview with Zsolt Bayer. The translation is the work of the staff of the Budapest Sentinel.
♦ ♦ ♦
“In 1967 the Jewish journalists of Budapest insulted Israel. Today the same Budapest Jewish journalists are insulting Arabs. And Fidesz. And us. Because they hate us more than we them. They are our reason-Jews (Ők a mi indok-zsidóink) – by which I mean that their mere existence justifies antisemitism . . . And we just sit on the edge of the pool, and we don’t even understand that the footrace is on the beach.” – Zsolt Bayer, from his op-ed piece titled “A medence és környéke” (“The pool and its environs”) appearing in Magyar Hírlap in 2008, in which the Fidesz publicist recounts how a “great Hungarian writer” who was criticized by a fellow bather for blowing his nose openly in a public bath had accused his detractor of being an anti-Semite.
Translation of András Stumpf’s interview with controversial Fidesz publicist Zsolt Bayer, appearing in pro-government website mandiner.hu on August, 26th, 2016 under the title “They are right. I’m finished.” Bayer was recently awarded Hungary’s third highest state award: the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary. To date some 95 Hungarian notables have returned the award in protest.
Zsolt Bayer claims he is abandoning the vulgar and rude publicist writings. The journalist decorated with the Knight’s Cross tells Mandiner: now is the time for him to rise to the responsibility that goes with the award. In response to our request, he initiates us into the cultural etymological background of the crassest Bayer scolding and talks about his relationship to Jews. This is the first time Bayer talks about his ancestors’ past, his grandfather who was a member of the Arrow Cross and then a member of the secret police under Communism. What he sees around him in 2016 is not what he envisaged in 1988. According to Bayer, he and his generation failed in the construction of a politically aware middle-class Hungary. He is curious to see what the new generations will achieve, but he has no illusions. Our in-depth interview.
Is the small object here that moved eighty of its twins back to János Áder?
Can we see it?
Sure. Here it is.
It’s a beautiful piece of work. Do you know when and how you are supposed to wear it?
I think I’m only supposed to wear this small one. If I were to wear the large one I would look like some Soviet general under Brezhnev.
Apart from the fact that it’s pretty, what is this Knight’s Cross good for? It tells us that Fidesz likes Zsolt Bayer and also that a lot of people hate Zsolt Bayer. Neither is new. And it didn’t come with money, right?
No. But in spite of that I would not belittle it, although that is fashionable, especially in journalist circles. I was awed to receive it and I’m going to hold it in esteem. As for what it’s worth? That’s all. It’s good feeling.
Just as the left liberals decorated by Gyurcsány felt good getting their own Knight’s Cross.
Isn’t that what party foundation prizes are for? For everyone to decorate their own favorites? In other words, what is the state doing here? Why does it decorate Gyurcsányist and Orbánist publicists?
I won’t be able to answer that question.
All right. Have you read the letter of congratulations sent to you by Mazsihisz (Hungarian Alliance of Jewish Organizations)?
It was witty, wasn’t it?
Yes, at least there was a twist in it. So much so that I got a bunch of text messages and telephone calls when it appeared: “Did Mazsihisz really congratulate you?” Well, children, read it! Many only got as far as the title.
We read it. They wrote that they support your award because this way you would be happier and you won’t vomit so much bile. Every year there is a bet that you will cease being a political publicist. Wouldn’t this be the year for it?
Yes. Very much so. So much that a friend of mine who cannot be named here, whose opinion I hold in high regard . . .
Shall we just call him Zsolt Semjén?
I don’t deny our friendship of nearly 40 years—Zsolt and I started at the Szilágyi Erzsébet Gimnázium, 500 meters from here as the crow flies. But in any case I’m not talking about him, but the person in question is also a well-known individual. He wrote: “You know that you didn’t get it for your obscenities. The Knight’s Cross obliges.”
You didn’t send him a “f_ck your wh_re mother” short message?
No, because he’s right. What he wrote is worth consideration.
Especially right here. Dezső Kosztolányi moved into the house where you live 100 years and some months ago . Márai lived one address over.
That’s right. The second greatest work of Hungarian poetry, “Morning Drunkenness,” was written here. Logodi Street is right behind us. So I won’t argue. He is right. It’s just that I had a misconception. Not on the level of an elaborate theory, of course. For me it is much more natural than that: it is basically very easy to upset me. In writing, on the road, while driving. This is a bad quality. In any case, I often thought that if they are allowed to do it, then I can too. That I would speak about them the same way they speak about others. The spirit of Márai and Kosztolányi linger here, and here is the Knight’s Cross also—so that I have to put an end to that. Ought to.
Nobody would have thought that Mazsihisz’s sarcastic congratulations would come true, but there you go!
Not exactly. They wrote that I am unhappy, and that now I will be happy, and for that reason I will mend my ways. By contrast, the situation is that I have never been unhappy in my entire life. Apart from adolescent love pains, with the exception of the divorce, I have never felt bad, and I have always managed to avoid great unhappiness. Those who know me know that I am a jovial guy who likes to party, to talk, who’s good to drink with—true, I say the latter with trepidation because now comes their classic obsession that I am an alcoholic. I once sued them for that, but the judge said that this falls under freedom of expression. Even that did not make me unhappy.
As a happy person where does the apocalyptic vision of Europe, the West and the world in your writings come from? Or, is that simply the Bayer role?
No. It may seem that the two matters should depend on one another, but they don’t. I am mainly pessimistic about the world, especially with regard to the future of the European Union, that’s true. As to what is the basis for this? I am a child of the Kádár period, but thanks to familial good fortune I grew up with a 3,000-volume library—when that was not fashionable. This had a deep effect on me. As it did on Ortega.
He talks about them a lot.
Of course. The joys of reading happened precisely during the most receptive period of my youth. At best the ideological effects abate with time as a man gets wiser. But I have noticed with some horror that . . .
. . . that you are not getting wiser?
That reality confirms what they wrote about.
In other words, let’s say the foundation was built on ideological readings about the twilight of the West. When you traveled in the West, did you really see such bad conditions?
Austria, Germany, France . . . I traveled in all three countries recently. I recommend to anyone to go only to Vienna, Schönbrunn (the summer palace of the Habsburgs-transl.). What one sees in the park is really apocalyptic . . . At one point, when I was still the favorite of the other side, such a talent who had not been born for forty—not 40, four hundred!—years, I was approached by a Swiss weekly paper.
That was in the early 1990s when you worked for (left wing print daily) Népszabadság, right?
Right. So a Swiss newspaper asked me to write for it. Many of us freshly liberated young titans were approached to write regularly about our experiences of the system change. I wrote about black-toothed, cracked black-finger-nailed people getting off at the Zürich train station with plastic bags, then the rotund citizens who grew up in Western prosperity obviously looked askance at them. At us. Excuse me. The reason their nails are black is not because we are stupid, primitive animals, but because this was our fate. In any case, we will try very hard to become like them, since this is our desire as well. I wrote that 30 years ago. However East-Central Europe hasn’t caught up. We improved a bit, of course: in the 1970s and 80s we could tell what side of the border we were on by the fact that if you went into a pub here you were walking in piss up to your knees. A few hundred meters over there were peasants in rubber shoes—who just happened to live in Burgenland—and they could still eat off a toilet seat cover. Today if you go from the Keleti (Eastern Train Station-transl.) to Graz and get off at the main train station, you don’t see any difference. Thirty years ago the difference was night and day. My eldest son studied there, so I traveled there a lot, and I know. There is dirt, stink, feces in the street. In Austria!
The reason in large part is ourselves. Probably it was not that it occurred to the citizens of Graz who had been living there for many hundreds of years that it is better to shit in the street, but rather that we went there, we Easterners, and we shat there. We were the West’s first encounter with the dark empire on the other side of the wall. The people of East-Central Europe. Vienna took the brunt of it because it was the nearest. There was a period when the swans simply disappeared from the lakes of the Schönbrunn park. After a while upstanding Romanians ate them on the grounds that necessity knows no laws. That was when the Austrians slapped their foreheads and thought that maybe it would not be a bad idea to reintroduce obligatory visas.
What you represent today in the migration matter—don’t come here poor strangers with strange habits—, is that what the Austrians should have done then? They shouldn’t have admitted us? Would it have been good if we had remained behind the iron curtain?
Looking at the story for a moment from the Austrian point of view, it would have been thoroughly understandable. From a Hungarian point of view it would have been deeply outrageous, as the crowds were not homogeneous. Hungary was different from Ceauşescu’s Romania.
I know. I traveled around Syria in 2008. I had a chance to see that country’s citizens from up close. It was a wonderful place. On the surface, by the way, the parallel is really good.
At that time we also arrived in the West as a horde, and then we besmirched the Mariahilfer Straße. How were the respected Austrians to know that it was not me who came to steal, because there was a pitifully small amount of schillings in my pocket? They didn’t know. They treated us as a homogeneous mass.
Just as you are treating the migrants today?
For the most part. Of course, I don’t not think either that the millions who left the Middle East for Europe are all potential murderers and terrorists. There are many who are, in fact, running for their lives. Others would simply like a better life for themselves—you can’t really fault them for that, it’s a rather natural human effort.
People also left Hungary in the 1980s even though they no longer feared for their lives. My aunt, for example, in 1982. For us, let’s say, it was easy: in ’46 three-quarters of the Bayer family was deported, and in this way if any of us arrived in Germany there was a place to go, and after half a year we received citizenship. So, I understand people’s desire to move away from an unlivable place. But for the love of God, let us distinguish and examine who is arriving! Simple common sense and Christian spirit makes this self-evident.
And yet it doesn’t for some reason.
There is a huge difference. At the moment the circumstances simply do not make it possible for people to make the distinction. This is hugely painful, but when a horde of millions arrives, a significant number of whom are not willing to minimally cooperate, and when we know that in the million-strong horde there are those who are being sent to destroy our lives, that rather resembles war. In war there is no time or opportunity to talk to everyone to find out what they would like, where they were born, where their skilled worker certificate is. There is no time and there is no method. In such situations the question is always what a person sacrifices. This is not a question of choosing between good and evil. There are those who say, I will sacrifice my security, the security of my children, and my accustomed way of life because that is the humanitarian demand that I accept everyone.
There is not only a political side, but there is a man whom you called a demented old man or villain who says the same thing.
The Pope. Yes. We will return to him. In any case, there are those, including me, who say: there is no situation in which I will sacrifice the security of my family or those conditions in which I live as someone who has grown up in a European cultural environment. And let us not forget either that the migration wave, which we can call the migration of an entire people, reaches Europe, which is in a tragic demographic shape. The European people have lost two basic instincts: race preservation and the instinct for self-preservation. This is especially true in Western Europe. If a migrational challenge of this size affects a civilization in such a state, it is easy to see that the civilization is not able to survive. This is what the choice is about.
Honestly, do you fear terrorists? More than before?
I just had an opportunity to measure this, and I can state with certainty: yes.
Three weeks ago my middle son told me he would pop over to France with his three best friends. We sat here with “his mother” and mulled over what to do. Here is a normal kid to whom I’ve never said “no” because I didn’t have to, and still I have to say no to him because I cannot allow him to go. He is too blond for that. Perhaps my fears are baseless and it won’t happen. But if it were to happen, if an Arab were to stab him “just for fun,” that would be more weight than I could bear.
And your kid didn’t go?
No. Instead they got the keys to the Balaton holiday home for a week with permission to destroy the house, puke on the walls, do whatever they want. Which is fortunate, but at the same time astonishing: all the other parents drew the same conclusion in relation to the Paris trip.
Maybe they read too much Zsolt Bayer!
Maybe! But joking aside, I say that writing is a responsibility, it has an effect; but for sure, the parents of those murdered in Bataclan are not terrified because a Hungarian publicist wrote this or that in Budapest. They are terrified because their children were murdered. It would be valuable to ask them how great the danger actually is. In Budapest, which today is still safe, I am pondering over the same dilemma. How is it possible to live like this? In 2016 I didn’t allow my child to go to Paris? We’re talking about Paris, not Somalia, damn it!
When you call the migrant-supporter Pope a villain, does your friend (Christian Democratic People’s Party chairman-transl.) Zsolt Semjén call you up and tell you not to do that, or is he loyal to Orbán?
I think he doesn’t make an issue of it. His Catholic belief is unquestionable. He remains loyal to Rome and the Pope and, what is more, he tries to live according to the commandments. He is not in the habit of avoiding such major conflicts as this. In the migrant question there is really a contradiction, but in political questions the Pope is not infallible. Only in matters of faith. The expressly brutal thing indeed I wrote about the Pope, by the way, pertained to a concrete situation when he said it in connection with the murdered French priest. That he does not want to deal with it much, as there is no religious dimension to this because there were times Catholics murdered their neighbors. I was outraged by this. I had no words for it. Rather there were, but only those.
Would being a publicist be too boring if you weren’t to attack other persons? If you were not to write that he’s a villain, but that he is speaking nonsense? If someone else were not to write that Zsolt Bayer is a fascist piece of sh_t, but let’s say it is stupidity what he writes, for this and that reason . . . ?
You are completely right. I am making a large, solemn vow right here and now under the influence of the awards and such. I will try to rise to the task. I am finished with the kind of publicizing to which you refer.
Wow! Still, just in case this is not still the case five years from now, will you permit me to ask more questions on the issue of obscenity?
Go right ahead!
You have a standing image. A repeating element to your online comments. Your debate partner’s smelly and whore mother who blows a stray dog in front of a pub for a (sometimes small, other times large) wine spritzer. Is this some kind of secret message?
Still, how does something like this come to mind?
Okay, I’ll tell you. But then I need to start at the beginning.
That doesn’t bother us one bit.
Characteristic of every nation is how it swears. The unfortunate Germans, for example, say “Scheiße.” And they faint. For them that’s it. The Anglo-Saxons go a bit farther, the “son of a bitch” and “motherfucking,” but then they stop. I say with some trepidation, by the way, that if the German people had been able to call one another’s mothers whores over the period of a thousand years, then perhaps there would not have been Auschwitz. I know, this is not a scientific fact and it cannot be verified, but it usually comes to mind that the repression and the fact that the worst the Germans say is Scheiße is connected to the horrors of the death camps. Which, by the way, were operated virtually emotionlessly nearly in the same way. Stamp, registration number, annihilate a people . . . In other words, the world might have been better off if they had embellished on “Scheiße.”
Yes, but there is a nation that surpasses us. That possesses such atavistic swear words that even to Hungarian ears it attains unreachable heights.
Some exotic people in South America?
My poor knowledge is limited to “Sugi pula!”
Ahhh! that is a simple “blow me!” That’s nothing. There is, for example, “Futus morti mati!”
“F_ck your dead mother!”
Uhh. Even my photographer colleague has stopped clicking photos.
So, yes. Even we feel the need to tone it down a bit.
In other words, your trips to Transylvania inspired the later recurring brutal comments?
Yes. Of course I never plan beforehand what I am going to write, only if in the comments, which I rarely look at, I read comments about my mother or who am I, then I become agitated and I write what comes out. This came out. What is strange that half way through I always knew: I really shouldn’t write this. I held my finger over the “enter” button, “Zsolt, don’t press it.” But then the little devil won. Now I urgently need to break that habit.
On the subject of obscenity you have already mentioned Auschwitz. The Washington Holocaust Museum, Mazsihisz, and Slomó Köves as well are outraged over your decoration because you write words that smack of antisemitism . . .
They are not in the habit of being so subtle. Zsolt Bayer is an antisemite. That’s it.
Are you not?
Then this is the time for you to explain your relationship to Jewish people!
I stand before it.
Let’s first consider the basics. During your childhood was the Jewish-non Jewish issue a theme at home in your family?
Not one bit. In fact, I am the descendent of a German family—true that someone immediately writes anonymously in Kurucinfo that this might be true on my father’s side of the family, but that my mother’s side is Jewish . . .
They did the same with Péter Esterházy, even though if anyone could perfectly document his aristocratic ancestry, it was he.
Our ancestry is so well documented that I can share with them the sad news that I am also a German through my mother’s side of the family, just that on that side they Hungarianized the name Glöckner to Gyimes. By the way , I am also a descendent and a relative of the Vesztergombi wine making family. There was a love child that a Vesztergombi, a carpenter, produced. He raised him, but he never took his name. That is where the name Glöckner branches off. My mother’s grandfather, on the other hand, lived far away in Nagykanizsa. We rarely met him. On the other hand, everybody in the Bayer branch constantly overcompensated in the “Jewish matter,” so much so that I did not even hear the word until I attended high school at the age of 14.
What were they compensating for?
One of my grandfather’s brothers was a member of the Volksbund. He was punished for it and suffered serious wounds, but the compensation comes from that.
The topic, be it pro or contra, never came up in your intellectual family in Buda?
I was not born to an intellectual family in the classical sense.
Your father was a cameraman, wasn’t he?
Yes. He started as an assistant cameraman on “The Stars of Eger.” Then he filmed all the big children’s films—“Mirr-Murr,” “The Adventures of Misi the Squirrel.” His pedigree was not good, moreover they called him Ottmár: so, he didn’t go to college. When, as a working man, he asked at the film factory whether he could go to college, they told him: of course, no problem, you just have to join the party tomorrow. He considered this a big enough obstacle. And he didn’t become a college graduate.
On your mother’s side, what was there to compensate for?
I have never spoken about this before.
So, there was something.
Yes. But I only learned of it recently. Obviously it was among the family’s best kept secrets. My mother’s grandfather. The story of Dr. Károly Gyimes.
Did you know him personally?
Of course! As I said, he lived in Nagykanizsa. He was the medical head of the dispensary. He never took radiology seriously. He never used the protective apron, and for this reason died of leukemia at the age of 61. But I knew him well until the age of ten. I have only good memories of him. Nagykanizsa was far then–six hours by train–but I loved him. He had a pre-war apartment with 4 meter high ceilings and always had breaded pork chops. Moreover, each summer he rented a summer house in Balatonfenyves. We were there with him, grandchildren . . . It was wonderful. Then, well after he died, certain things came to light . . .
First that he joined the Arrow Cross in 1944. That in Kiskőrös he was the ghetto doctor. After the war he was deported. He was severely beaten in 60 Andrássy Street, then he hid, which is how he ended up in Nagykanizsa.
How did he come to be admitted to the Terror House, and how did he leave?
The same way. Someone returning from Auschwitz reported my grandfather as the ghetto Arrow Cross doctor. Just differently, as other Jews returning from Auschwitz wrote to Gábor Péter: Dr. Károly Gyimes should be released, because as much as possible he issued medical notes that the person in question was in too bad shape to be transported. So, he protected them. An Arrow Cross ghetto doctor protected the Jews . . . I have the documents for this. Gábor Péter received a lot of letters like this. Surviving Jews got my grandfather out of Andrassy 60.
How long have you know about this?
Your Arrow Cross grandfather still managed to be a head doctor during Kádárism?
So, that’s it. Now comes the twist, which I’ve only known for eight or nine months. Although my uncle and his son always insinuated it, but I said it was ridiculous. Then I requested the documents. Sure enough, there was a price for his position. My grandfather was recruited as an agent. He was a III/III. To his death. Here are the reports. I requested them from the Historical Authority.
What does the infamous, determinedly judgmental publicist say about this man? A criminal? A victim?
The reports are neutral, but I don’t want to make excuses for him. Perhaps both. I sense the good and bad things he did, his foibles and good qualities, which cancelled each other out. In such cases, it is not always possible for a person to be categorical, and I am not the God Almighty who is able to pass judgment. This is a strange and difficult story.
You practically founded Fidesz in 1988 in opposition to your grandfather.
By that time you had met with the term “Jew”?
Of course. Obviously we were bombarded with the Second World War from the eighth grade on, so we knew what happened. But during the Kádár period it did not carry the same weight. They taught, and we knew, what terrible things happened, but it did not penetrate to the bone. Of course what could penetrate to the bone from history at 14 years of age when you are just looking at, my God, what breasts Zsuzsa has even though last year she didn’t have any? My meeting with the Jewish people took place at the Szilágyi Erzsébet Gymnasium.
You stated that the offspring of the remains of the Horthy middle class mixed with the middle-class children of the Kádár era there.
This is true. The father of my first love, for example, was such a high-ranking military officer that when I went to visit, a soldier asked for my documents at the gate. I sensed that the relationship would not last long, even though she was quite a girl. György Hölvényi, who is the co-chair of the European Parliament’s work group on religious dialogue and a member of the European Parliament, was also a classmate of mine. He defected while still a gymnasium student. He forgot to come home from a student exchange program. People from the Ministry of the Interior came and started shouting at us for supposedly knowing that our friend wanted to defect. We didn’t know, but I was terrified that they would expel us. Finally, the principal stood up and ordered the people from the Ministry of the Interior out of the school, even though she was a real member of the Hungarian Socialist Workers Party. On the other hand, we adored Uncle Laci Decker, the PE teacher. Then in 1990 I saw a documentary film about 1956. Uncle Laci was one of the speakers. It was at that time that we learned that he was an army officer who got involved in the revolutionary events. So, he was only tolerated as a PE teacher. This is how mixed both the faculty and the student body were.
We still haven’t gotten to the topic.
Oh yes. In high school four of us became great friends. (Zsolt) Semjén, Barnabás Szabó Sipos, who was known as Doctor Ross, and someone else we will call Ervin, if our youth was lived in the milieu of Antal Szerb’s “Passenger and Moonlight.”
Who were you among the characters?
We continuously changed rules, only Éva Ulpius was fixed, she was my first real love. We dated for five years, through the end of high school. But everyone was in love with her. Our friend, whom we now only call Ervin, at the time wore a star of David around his neck. That was in 1977 when it was not fashionable. I knew from my joy of reading what that meant, and once I even asked. He said, yes, he’s a Jew. We left it at that. When after that we went around to each other’s houses, after a while it became apparent that I never went to their place. I asked him once. He shifted from one foot to another, and finally said, “Listen, you are a German. My mother says that a German cannot set foot in our house.”
Were you insulted?
I didn’t understand. Of course, I understood that his mother did not like the Nazis who murdered part of her family. Perhaps she doesn’t like Germans. But still what the hell does somebody born in 1963 have to do with this?! Then the thing soon got resolved, and to this day I have an excellent relationship with Ervin’s mother, and I go to her place whenever I want. Aunt Éva is almost my stepmother.
Didn’t Éva or Ervin say anything after your “They are our reason- Jews” article,” that you shouldn’t do this, Zsolt?
No. In fact, in 2002 when we had just lost the elections, many of us were sitting in our old hangout, the Café Pierrot. Of the foursome, three of us were there. At one point someone said that “I would say something about Ervin, but because of you I won’t say it.” Ervin produced his gold chain: the Star of David wasn’t on it. He said we shouldn’t think that the reason for this was that he was afraid. But that in this situation he had nothing to do with this. Everything that is beyond this is a no man’s land. The assumptions and accusations against me do not exist in reality. I never met “a Jew,” I always met people. Do you remember the paper entitled Kurír?
I was studying history and Hungarian at college when I already worked at the Kurir for a monthly wage. I was overwhelmed by the honor. A man named Gábor Szűcs was the editor-in-chief. One morning we ran into each other in the corridor and he called me: “Hey, young Bayer, are you a Jew?” I told him that I wasn’t. “Young Bayer, that is not possible, you are so talented!” I just looked at him incomprehensibly. Must the two necessarily go together? It is certain that he meant well, and there was nothing at stake, he just intended it as friendly banter—and still the conversation remained with me for my entire life. I never cared about the origin of the person who spoke nicely or philosophically, or shouted insults. I have never attacked anyone because the person in question was a Jew. On the other hand, I have experienced that if the person in question is a Jew, he immediately takes refuge in that. That the reason I am attacking him is due to antisemitism. This nightmare came with the system change. That’s when this turned deadly serious: and when this also became a subject on which you had to take a stand. Mihály Kornis told me this personally over the telephone. If I don’t stand with them, that is the same as if I opposed them. In other words, that I’m a Nazi. I just stood there with the telephone in my hand. From here there is really nowhere to go.
But there was a place to go. You overreacted and claimed that the Jewish journalists of Budapest verified antisemitism. If the left-liberals were unjust, then I will be unjust as well, and I hit them where it hurts. Do we understand it correctly?
If there is a spiritual background to this, then without a doubt this is it.
And everyone points to the other: you hated first. I just hated back.
Exactly. Everyone has his favorite expression.
Many happen to have a Bayer saying.
Yes. For me it is Mihály Kornis, that they hate us more than we hate them, and also from Miklós Tamás Gáspár a “Free Democratic Alliance majority, or foot odor and the boonies.” But as I said: as a bearer of the Knight’s Cross I will try to rise above these things.
In that case, tell me whether this is the country and the right wing after six years of Fidesz governance that you would have liked to see?
I cannot say anything that danced before my eyes in 1988 when we founded Fidesz currently exists. Nothing.
Okay, let’s remove from the equation the basic material things, that the border guards don’t look in the rear of my car when I want to go to Austria—although that isn’t even true anymore. Because now they look again. Let’s take out the fact that now it is possible to get cold beer and warm sausages, whereas previously it was the other way around. And let’s add that to the balance the matter of the Hungarians living the neighboring countries, for whom there is finally a tangible result. But apart from this, nothing.
What were you expecting when you founded Fidesz?
First, that they would arrest us for sure. They won’t keep us inside for long, because after all this was a lukewarm Kádárism, so I calculated that after one or two months we would be released and that I would defect. This was my model. When this small group first entered parliament and Tamás Deutsch called me away from Kurír to be the chief press officer of the parliamentary delegation, I started to believe that there is a point to dreaming. That we are building a new country! That Tina Turner and Sándor Csoóri will both fit on our shelves, that we are closing and moving beyond the old, bountiful cretinism, confrontation, narrow-mindedness, that we were moving past the village versus city confrontation that has poisoned us for a hundred years. What came of it is what we have today. Look around! We are just as narrow-minded as László Németh and Lajos Hatvany. We are bathing in their narrow-mindedness which wreaks of saliva, in which we are swimming as best we can.
It is as though the socialist party state is returning. Not the III/III of course, but the principle of “loyalty in place of accomplishment over everything, and if you are with us, then it doesn’t matter what you’ve done,” with which they distribute economic, ambassadorial or even media positions . . .
Maybe. If that is the case, then it is sad and needs to change. I have no personal experience in the matter, because it was quickly apparent that I was not to become a politician. Given how spontaneous I am, it is certain that I would have started fighting. I would have made a wonderful little Ukrainian parliament. Allow me to boast that I was perhaps never hired because I had good political connections. What you mention is deeply East-Central European. This evolved over many hundreds of years and cannot be understood independently of our history and our popular spirit. Look at Michael Kohlhass. He experiences insult and injustice, and what does he do? He goes to every official forum and only sets everything on fire when the final dealings with authority result in failure. By contrast, what does our folk hero, Lúdas Matyi, do? He grabs a stick and takes revenge because he knows that there is no legal way for him to hold accountable those who are more powerful. These are two contradictory mentalities. The civil world and the non-civil world. It has been in our genes for centuries.
Allegedly, originally you fought for a bourgeois society that is not ruled by friends, lords, or Döbrögis (Lúdas Matyi’s tormentor). Have you struggled in vain?
I don’t know. I would not deny my generation the credit for getting rid of Kádárism and for at least creating this illusory freedom. But my generation has failed in other things. Failed. Perhaps we made a bit of progress, but we cannot get the country to the desired civil milieu. True, that civil milieu doesn’t exist in the West any more, only in memory. Let’s see how far those that follow us get. Let’s say that I have no illusions.