I would advise György Schöpflin, Fidesz member of the European Parliament ever since 2004, to stay away from Twitter. It is a dangerous instrument in the hands of politicians, especially politicians who can’t keep their mouths shut. And it seems that he can’t. Two weeks ago his name came up in connection with one of his unfortunate tweets about a Hungarian journalist “and his ilk” who in a dictatorship would already be “in the jug.”
But that was nothing in comparison to what happened yesterday when several English-language papers reported that Schöpflin on Twitter suggested placing pig heads on the fence built by the Orbán government. They would be a deterrent and might keep out hundreds of refugees trying to cross into Hungary.
A week earlier HVG published an article about an anti-immigrant group that calls itself “Magyar Rendőrök és Katonák, vele-TEK vagyunk”(Hungarian policemen and soldiers, we are with you). It included photos of frightening-looking masks, apparently carved from sugar beets, that appeared on Facebook. These masks were most likely put up by self-appointed border guards who occasionally make side trips “to hunt” for illegal migrants. The “vele-TEK” group claims that the masks are effective. Perhaps that’s why Hungarian authorities haven’t made any effort to remove them.
The Twitter exchange in which Schöpflin played such an inglorious role began with a remark by Human Rights Watch director Andrew Stroehlein, who wrote: “Refugees are fleeing war & torture, Hungary. Your root vegetable heads will not deter them.” Schöpflin reacted: “Human images are haram. But agree pig’s head would deter more effectively.” Stroehlein retweeted: “Pig heads an ugly idea. Worse is reality of Hungary border abuses with violence against kids.”
I hate to disappoint György Schöpflin, but his idea was not very original. On the Facebook page with the photos of the carved heads, several people suggested the same thing. Here are a couple of the recommendations: “Pigs’ heads cut off would also work” and “Pig’s intestines and heads or huge pictures of pigs with the caption: THIS IS WHAT’S WAITING FOR YOU. YOU EAT IT.” Yes, György Schöpflin, you sank to that level. But at least these people are not university professors as you are.
It seems to me that György Schöpflin must lack emotional intelligence because, as it turned out, he sees nothing wrong, demeaning, or humiliating in his suggestion. In an interview with András Stumpf of Mandiner.hu, which Magyar Narancs described as “the repugnant mixture of stupidity and cynicism,” Schöpflin insisted that he didn’t humiliate anyone. When he “noted in reaction to a raised question that pigs’ heads would be more effective than masks carved from sugar beets, it was a small thought experiment, nothing else.” It was a simple statement of fact as far as he is concerned. And, as is his wont, Schöpflin immediately launched into one of his annoying mini-lectures. This time on the phenomenon of pork consumption. “This is a very interesting question from the anthropological perspective. That for so many people the eating of pork is a sensitive issue while in Europe it is considered to be normal.” He seemed to be surprised that he received at least 150 antagonistic responses, but as far as he is concerned, all that it is just a storm in a teacup. Or, even better, he would use the title of one of the books of his grandfather, Aladár Schöpflin, “Storm in the Aquarium.”
I’m so glad that he mentioned his grandfather because that gives me the opportunity to say something about this important figure in Hungarian literature. Yes, Aladár Schöpflin wrote several novels, but he was best known as a literary critic and literary historian. He supported and promoted modern literature. He worked for the progressive Huszadik Század, edited by Oszkár Jászi. He was involved with the famed literary review Nyugat. He was one of the organizers of the Hungarian PEN Club and co-editor alongside Gyula Illyés of Magyar Csillag. Right after the birth of the Second Hungarian Republic in 1946, he was made a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. He died in 1950. He certainly didn’t belong to the official cultural establishment of the Horthy regime. On the contrary. He was highly regarded even during the Kádár regime. It is enough to check the account of his accomplishments in the Magyar Irodalmi Lexikon, published in 1965. The accolades go on for pages. I really wonder what he would think of his grandson’s working for a regime that emulates the Horthy regime, which was not at all to his liking.
Aladár’s son, Gyula Schöpflin, György’s father, was also a writer and translator who as a student joined the illegal communist party and spent some time in jail. Therefore, not surprisingly, he became part of the communist establishment after 1945. First, he worked at the Hungarian Radio and, after the communist takeover in 1948, he was appointed Hungarian ambassador to Stockholm, Oslo, and Copenhagen. But then came 1949 and the show trial of László Rajk when he turned his back on the communist regime and moved to Great Britain with his family in 1950. György was 11 years old at the time.
And with this background György Schöpflin became a Fidesz lackey, lacquering over the regime’s boorishness in Brussels with his impeccable British pronunciation and demeanor. He is the British-educated gentleman who lends an elegant touch to the less than distinguished group of people Orbán sent to Brussels. Every time he is interviewed on some issue that reflects badly on the regime he serves, he is honey-tongued and appears on the surface so very reasonable, but in the end he always manages to defend all the rotten stuff that oozes out of the Orbán regime. I’m afraid that the person who said that he brings shame to the Schöpflin name is right. He squandered the name of his family and whatever reputation he himself had as a scholar.