It has been going on by now for a whole week, and there is no end in sight. I’m talking about the incredible onslaught against György Konrád, the internationally renowned Hungarian writer, recipient of numerous prestigious prizes, and the president of the International PEN Club between 1990 and 1993. Abroad his best known work is The Case Worker, which made a deep impression on me. He is a wise man whom I admire.
Although Konrád is tolerant, he finds Viktor Orbán dangerous and harmful. On the basis of a recent interview, I suspect that Konrád’s dislike of Orbán goes back a long way, maybe even as far as 1989 when the young firebrand demanded the immediate withdrawal of Soviet troops despite an earlier agreement with the organizers of the reburial of Imre Nagy and his comrades. Konrád doesn’t hide his true feelings about the Hungarian prime minister. Last April, at the time the Orbán government was trying its best to shutter Central European University, he wrote an open letter to Orbán in which he listed the prime minister’s sins. Konrád ended his letter with these words: “The most valiant patriotic act on your part, Sir, would be to resign. In your retirement, you could amuse yourself with your toy train and your little stadium (stadionka) where you could kick the ball into the empty gate.”
The theme of Orbán’s retirement returned in a somewhat stronger form in an interview with HVG that appeared on January 4. The occasion was the appearance of Konrád’s last book, Falevelek szélben (Leaves in the Wind). The conversation was mostly about his life because the book is part of a trilogy on Konrád’s past. However, at the very end he answered a few questions about recent political events. He told the reporter that he could see the end of the Kádár regime and the fall of the Berlin Wall ahead of time. The reporter wanted to know what “his prediction is in the present situation.” He wished for unity of the opposition and was pleased that “a great force pulls Hungarians to the European Union and not to their dictators.” And then came the final sentences, which has caused incredible upheaval in right-wing circles. Konrád said that “mysterious movements one day can take such a turn that the prime minister, if he doesn’t want to share the fate of Nicolae Ceaușescu, will voluntarily go somewhere. As a benevolent man, I want him to go to Felcsút.”
That sentence sent the government propaganda machine into high gear. The first government financed publication that took notice was Pesti Srácok, which published a short article titled “György Konrád is dreaming of the execution of Viktor Orbán by firing squad.” Clearly, Konrád has become senile, says the author. After all, not long ago “he told tales” about the anti-Soros campaign being “anti-Semitic.” He would find it “reasonable” if Hungary were punished because of the laws enacted by the Orbán government against NGOs and Central European University. And a year ago “he was gushing over Soros” who, in his opinion, “is as great a benefactor of Hungary as István Széchenyi was in the 1830s and 1840s.” Surely, comparing George Soros to Széchenyi is blatant blasphemy for the staff of Pesti Srácok.
This article obviously got under the skin of the editor-in-chief of HVG, who “hysterically threatened our site with a lawsuit,” arguing that the Pesti Srácok article was “a lie from beginning to end.” That prompted the far-right site to write another article. Here three authors sat down to outdo each other. This time Konrád was accused of Jim Crow justice. As if that weren’t enough, the authors decided that Konrád “would have no mercy even on Orbán’s wife. After all, the Romanians also executed Ceaușescu’s wife.”
It took Magyar Idők four days to come up with its first opinion piece on the Konrád quotation, written by János Dénes Orbán. His article is somewhat more sophisticated than the primitive pieces of Pesti Srácok. The bulk of the article is about the Twilight Zone the liberals have built, which bears no resemblance to reality. In their world there is dictatorship, poverty, a lack of media freedom. Then he tries to decode Konrád’s closing sentences. What really excited his imagination was the reference to “mysterious movements.” Perhaps Konrád knows about some hidden forces, which Charles Gati talked about in 2012 when he outlined the possible ways the Orbán regime could end. Of course, this namesake of the prime minister twisted Gati’s words beyond recognition, just as is now doing with Konrád’s. Konrád, he charges, is plagiarizing. About a year ago Gáspár Miklós Tamás brought up the example of Ceaușescu in connection with the possible end of a dictatorship.
Once Magyar Idők discovered the topic, it had difficulty letting it go. A few hours after the first opinion piece came the second, with the intriguing title “Bolshevism kicked down the door.” Bálint Botond, apparently a sociologist, once thought that Konrád was a good writer, but that was before 1990. When as a young man he read a new Konrád book titled The melancholy of rebirth, he discovered that the book was nothing but “a dastardly diatribe of a pathologically extreme man written in a somewhat acceptable style.”
Perhaps the most interesting part of the opinion piece is his interpretation of the 1970s and 1980s and the role of Konrád and his friends, who were victims of the Kádár regime. One way that Kádár handled pesky writers, philosophers, and sociologists, he writes, was actually quite ingenious. He forced them out of the country. This is what happened to Iván Szelényi, Ágnes Heller, and, of course, Konrád himself. According to this great anti-Bolshevik author, Kádár was smart because if he let them stay in Hungary, they might have gotten the upper hand in intraparty fights. And “these extreme liberal groups could toss the strongest dictatorship into chaos.”
Magyar Hírlap couldn’t miss the opportunity to publish an opinion piece by Dániel Galsai, a frequent contributor to this far-right paper. He asks: “Will the world be more beautiful, better, more truthful, and more humane when György Konrád is no longer alive? A Christian can give only an embarrassing answer to this embarrassing question: Yes.” By the way, the title of this masterpiece is “Letter to a peddler of souls.”
Although I’ve shared only snippets from these articles, I believe that even this much gives readers a sense of the tone of the Orbán government’s propaganda machine.