Tag Archives: nation state

László Kövér on liberals, socialists, and the nation state

I was somewhat surprised that László Kövér, president of the Hungarian Parliament, within the course of a week gave not one but two very long interviews. The first appeared on June 26 in Pesti Srácok, an internet site catering to the far right of Fidesz loyalists and well-endowed by means of government advertising. The second was published on July 2 in Magyar Hírlap, an equally right radical organ owned by billionaire Gábor Széles.

As usual, these lengthy interviews covered many topics, from Brexit and migration to party politics at home. In deciding what to analyze, I ruled out Kövér’s comments about George Soros and the European Union, which only repeated what his fellow politicians have been saying ad nauseam. Moreover, most of Kövér’s views on European politics are so bizarre that they can be safely ignored.  The only thing that caught my eye was his visible rejoicing over the rise of the extreme right in some Western European countries. His message was: what wonderful lessons they are delivering to Brussels. As he put it, “By now the people of Europe have awakened and share our views.” He was clearly delighted by the results of the Dutch referendum which rejected a Ukraine-European Union treaty to forge closer political and economic ties. And he deemed the Austrian presidential election results “a smack in the face” that EU politicians deserved.

As Kövér’s statements demonstrate, the current leaders of Hungary openly and without shame identify with far-right groups that are gaining strength in France, Germany, Austria, and elsewhere. It is time to acknowledge that there is only one country in Europe that is being governed by a far-right political party, and that is Hungary. (Although the Polish government is trying to imitate the “Orbán miracle,” so far the imitation is pale.)

Kövér’s ideas about the nation and the socialist-liberal political forces place him solidly in the far-right camp. His thoughts were most fully spelled out in his interview with Magyar Hírlap. Kövér, by all indications, fervently believes in the necessity of nation states. If they were destroyed, which he maintains the socialists and liberals want to do, it would result in a tragedy akin to the Chernobyl disaster.

Moreover, a multicultural society, another ideal of the left, would be the end of the social order in Europe. Just look at what happened in Yugoslavia. The internecine war of the 1990s was the direct result of “Yugoslavism,” the forced gathering of different nations into a federated state. Once the conflict was over, liberal analysts came to the conclusion that “religion and nation” had been the culprits. They insisted that once national and religious differences disappear, war will become obsolete. But human beings “instinctively want to belong to a community in which the predictable behavior of others offers them security, [which] can be achieved only by sharing a common culture.”

Liberals, who can be found everywhere, even in Christian Democratic and conservative parties, want to create a multicultural society in Europe. Their “model is the United States.” What does Kövér’s United States look like? “There is no national culture there. The community is held together by external bonds, like cheap fuel, the artificially maintained myth of equal opportunity, and their belief in their superiority, their star-spangled banner, and their knowledge that they are able to put the rest of world in its place if a given president is in the mood.”

Kövér2

Kövér’s hatred of the socialists and the liberals, which is palpable in every word he utters, stems from his conviction that they are, by virtue of their rootless cosmopolitanism, the gravediggers of the nation. In the Pesti Srácok interview he elaborates on this point. Liberals and socialists, like some of the politicians of DK, “have been poisoning the air here and undermining our community for at least the last 120 years.” They are not part of the nation but are a cosmopolitan group, “people without a country” (hazátlan társaság). One cannot read these descriptions without suspecting that, in addition to communists, socialists, and liberals, the Hungarian Jewry is also included in this “hazátlan társaság.” All the markers of anti-Semitism are present here.

In Kövér’s eyes, the socialists can still redeem themselves “as long as they break with their anti-national heritage, which reached its moral nadir under Gyurcsány.” MSZP should be truly independent and “not the pawn of outside forces.” Who are these outside forces? Naturally, the liberals. For Kövér, “the big question is whether MSZP will team up with those Gyurcsány-types who betrayed their nation (nemzetárulók).” But MSZP’s remaining an independent party is not enough for its survival. It must abandon its age-old ideology of internationalism because if it cannot be a “national party,” it will simply disappear from Hungarian political life. One ought to be careful of advice coming from one’s enemies, and there is no question that Kövér is a mortal enemy of those he views as traitors. His advice would lead MSZP into oblivion given the electoral law Fidesz devised for itself.

Kövér’s parting words to the reporters of Pesti Srácok were: “We must set straight not only the history of 1956 but Hungarian history in its entirety.” This will entail of course a new kind of “national nurturing” (nemzetnevelés), which in effect means brainwashing children. He sadly noted that nothing happened in this arena after 1990, and even 2010 didn’t bring a real change. “Today the intellectual heirs of those who had earlier wanted to erase the past in the name of proletarian internationalism still want to dictate to us.” Obviously, they must be removed from all positions. In their place a new set of intellectuals lights, the likes of Sándor Szakály, will interpret history and nurture the masses in the national spirit.

July 3, 2016

International conspiracy to change the face of Europe, according to Viktor Orbán

Yesterday Viktor Orbán held his regular Friday morning interview at Magyar Rádió, and later he delivered a speech at a gathering organized by the Association of Christian Intelligentsia, the Association of Hungarian Civic Cooperation, and the Batthyány Circle of Professors. All three are closely allied with Fidesz. The Association of Christian Intelligentsia in 2009 joined CÖF (Civil Összefogás Fórum), the group responsible for the peace marches. The current president of the Association of Hungarian Civic Cooperation is Zoltán Balog, minister of human resources. Earlier János Martonyi, the former foreign minister, filled the post. The pro-Fidesz professors’ association has been in existence since 1995. Its first president was József Pálinkás, minister of education in the first Orbán government. So, Viktor Orbán was very much at home.

The event was organized in response to a booklet that pro-Fidesz “intellectuals” and the supporting Catholic clergy who are involved with the Association of Christian Intelligentsia had written. The booklet, “Signs of the Times,” is, as far as I can ascertain, a set of guiding principles for the Hungarian right.

Because of the heavy emphasis on religion, specifically Catholicism, it is not surprising that Orbán’s speech was mostly about the relationship between state and church, specifically the close ties between Fidesz and the Catholic Church. He spent only a few sentences on the refugee issue, but it was that topic that was widely reported in Hungary and abroad. Although, following their example, I will start with this topic, I’m planning to return to the rest of the speech soon. The comments he made on the refugee issue at this gathering must be analyzed in conjunction with his longer rumination on the problem and its Hungarian solution on Hungarian state radio.

As far as Viktor Orbán is concerned, the refugee crisis is over. The Hungarian position is simple. No migrant, refugee or not, will ever enter Hungary not only because there is now a well-guarded fence but because, by the time the asylum seekers reach Turkey, their lives are no longer in danger. They are no longer refugees, and therefore Hungary has no obligation to accept them. Moreover, Brussels will not be able to send any refugees back to Hungary just because they were initially registered on Hungarian soil. The Hungarian position is that, since they entered the European Union in Greece, it should have been Greece that registered them. This train of thought is logical enough as long as one thinks in terms of individual nation states acting entirely independently. But EU membership means that countries have to act for the common good as well as in their own self-interest.

As for distributing bona fide refugees among member states, Hungary finds the whole procedure illegal, irrational, and unfair. Alluding to Germany, he claimed that “it is not correct to invite people into our country and then divvy them up among other nations.” But he proposed an even more dangerous idea. The bureaucrats in Brussels want to make this plan permanent and automatic, which is completely unacceptable. No one can force sovereign countries “to admit people whom they don’t want.” Such a move challenges the very foundation of a European Union built on nation states. He suggests that since there is, in his opinion, no acceptable EU solution to the problem, “each country should solve this problem itself, just as Hungary did.”

A decision that would mandate an automatic distribution of refugees among member states “might be a liberal [solution], but [it is] not a democratic solution.” EU politicians cannot ignore the will of the people. Neither the national parliaments nor the European Parliament voted for such a solution. “In this case, a crisis of democracy will break out in Europe,” which may lead to anarchy.

Orbán, completely ignoring the wars raging in the Middle East, makes the human traffickers and, for good measure, the human rights activists responsible for the refugee crisis. As I wrote earlier, without the help of locals it is almost impossible to move illegally across borders. This is especially true when it comes to crossing a body of water. So, blaming the traffickers for the flow of escapees is simply foolish. Even in 1956 there were “human traffickers,” some of whom were quite decent.

In the past Orbán often talked about human traffickers as the real source of the refugee crisis but what was new today was that he found another culprit: those activists who helped the asylum seekers on their way to Germany and beyond. “In the United States and in Western Europe there is a whole network of these activists, which includes György Soros, whose name is the hallmark of those who assist everything that makes the nation states weak and who support everything that changes the customary European lifestyle, from human conduct to immigration.” These activists, by helping the immigrants, unwittingly become part of the illegal international human trafficking network. Among the bureaucrats in Brussels there are many “activist types” who think that the present immigration will help create the kind of Europe they imagine as ideal. For him that kind of Europe is unacceptable. His ideal is a nineteenth-century nation state best characterized by his crude demand for “a Hungarian Hungary.”

One can move seamlessly from Orbán’s contrast between Soros’s cosmopolitan attitude and strong (Christian) nation states to the distinction between Jewish internationalism and local nationalism. Cosmopolitanism for Orbán means exactly what it used to mean during the Rákosi and Kádár periods. To understand what that word meant then, let me quote from the Idegen szavak és kifejezések szótára (Dictionary of foreign words and expressions) published in 1973: “cosmopolitanism is a bourgeois ideology that tries to discredit patriotism, national feeling, and national culture.” Jewishness and cosmopolitanism in Eastern Europe were seen as going hand in hand. Compare that with the definition of cosmopolitanism in Wikipedia: “Cosmopolitanism is the ideology that all human beings belong to a single community based on a shared morality.”Orbán is stuck in the Hungary of 1973.

cosmopolitanism

With this, we can move back to Orbán’s speech delivered to the representatives of Fidesz-affiliated civic organizations, some of which are allied with the Catholic Church. As something of a footnote to his speech he told the audience about the seriousness of the refugee crisis and urged the writers and editors of “Signs of the Times” to include it among the topics to be discussed later at right-wing think tanks. He has been thinking a lot about the topic, but his thoughts haven’t quite jelled. In two weeks he hopes to have them ready in their final form for the next Fidesz Congress.

He is certain that “the European Union’s indecision, bungling or mistaken sizing up of the situation” is not the cause of the endless flow of refugees. After all, European great powers have the brain power, money, and surveillance organizations to know ahead of time about the migrant traffic. He is convinced that the activists in Brussels are intentionally bringing these migrants into Europe. They are not just coming on their own but are being transported. The European left wants to create a new political international world. This is being achieved through an emphasis on human rights, and “the right of escape, migration, movement … is considered to be part of human rights.” Viktor Orbán refuses to accept that view. I hate to think where such restrictions on movement could lead.

The reception of Viktor Orbán’s speech in the West and in Romania

The world is in such a turmoil that although Viktor Orbán’s open admission of his goal to eliminate the “liberal” component of western-type democracy might be considered a watershed both domestically and in Hungary’s relation with the European Union, it is receiving scant attention. After all, the armed conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East are serious current problems, while Viktor Orbán’s threat to Hungarian democracy and to the European Union would have  negative implications only in the future.

In English I managed to find only a couple of news items about Orbán’s speech. The Associated Press published a short summary which was then picked up by ABC. Zoltán Simon’s reporting from Budapest for Bloomberg was more detailed and to the point: “Orbán Says He Seeks to End Liberal Democracy in Hungary.”  This article must have had a large readership judging from the number of comments.

Vox.com quotes an important passage from the speech: “I don’t think that our European Union membership precludes us from building an illiberal new state based on national foundations.” Actually, I trust that this will be a sticking point soon enough. The author of the article also takes issue with Orbán’s contention that illiberal states are economic success stories; they are in fact doing a great deal worse than liberal states. Russia, Turkey, and China are all poorer than Croatia, Poland, or Hungary for that matter.

The German and Austrian papers that are usually full of news about Hungarian politics are silent. Perhaps everybody is on vacation. I found only one German article and even this one only through a Hungarian source. It appeared in the liberal Süddeutsche Zeitung. The title of the piece is “Enough!,” a reference to the question of how long the European Union will tolerate Viktor Orbán’s anti-democratic policies that have already transformed Hungary into a non-democratic state. “One must urgently pose the question whether Hungary led by Viktor Orbán wants to remain part of the European Union or not.” And while he was at it, the journalist suggested that the European People’s Party should expel Hungary from its delegation.

On the other hand, interest in Orbán’s speech was great in Romania. After all, it was delivered there and its implications can already be felt. Romanian-Hungarian relations are at an all-time low.

Before I turn to the Romanian press I would like to talk about Viktor Orbán’s contradictory messages and how they affect the Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries. Let’s start with Romania. The Hungarian minority in Romania is large: 1.2 million people or 6.4% of the population. Yet, according to the Romanian constitution, Romania is a “nation-state.” The Hungarian minority would like to have Romania be officially transformed into a multi-national state.

Orbán should know full well that the highly charged nationalism he is advocating is not in the interest of the Hungarians in the neighboring countries. Nationalism on one side of the border evokes nationalism on the other side. This is exactly what happened in Romania. Bogdan Diaconu, a nationalist politician and member of parliament, published an article in Adevarul, a leading Romanian newspaper, which was subsequently translated into Hungarian. The nationalistic hate speech of Diaconu there was countered with obscene, equally hateful comments by Hungarians.

nationalism

Surely, Orbán’s nationalism does not make the life of the Hungarian minority any easier in the neighboring countries. Just the opposite. Great suspicion follows every word Orbán utters in connection with his plans for the “nation.” And that is not all. Orbán’s attack on Hungarian NGOs that receive foreign money was also a double-edged sword. He argued that this money is being used to influence the Hungarian government, which cannot be tolerated. But the Hungarian government is financing Hungarian NGOs and parties in Romania and Slovakia. Thus, the Hungarian government is trying to influence the Slovak and Romanian governments on behalf of the Hungarian minority. What will happen if Romania or Slovakia follows Orbán’s example and refuses the receipt of any money from Budapest destined for the Hungarian NGOs? In fact, one of the Romanian articles that appeared in Romania Libera talked about the incongruity of Orbán’s stance on the issue. According to the journalist, if Orbán tries to silence the NGOs financed from abroad, “the bad example” might be imitated in other Eastern European countries where democracies are not yet sufficiently stable. We know which countries he has in mind.

In any case, although for the time being it is unlikely that either the Slovak or the Romanian government will try to imitate Viktor Orbán, Romanian commentators are worried that Hungarian bellicosity will have an adverse effect on the stability of the region. Romanian papers talk about an “illiberal” state’s possible revisionist tendencies which could upset the stability of the region given the presence of Hungarian minorities in Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, and Serbia.

All in all, Orbán with this speech declared war on several fronts. Against his own people, against the European Union, against Hungarian civil society, and last but not least by his overcharged nationalist rhetoric against the amity of nations in Eastern Europe.

——

I would like to call everyone’s attention to Hungarian Free Press, a new English-language news portal from Canada. Here are some introductory words from the editor-in-chief:

The Hungarian Free Press, an online newspaper published by Presszo Media Inc., a Canadian federally-registered company based in Ottawa, was launched this morning. The HFP aims to offer informed opinion on current events in Hungary and East/Central Europe, and to expose to a broader English-speaking audience the explicit move away from liberal parliamentary democracy, which now appears to be the overt policy direction of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government.

While pro-government English-language publications, such as the newly launched Hungary Today site, as well as Mandiner’s English-language blog, The Hungarian Globe, aim to create the impression that Mr. Orbán’s government is really no different than any other right-centre or conservative administration and is simply “attacked” by the left for the same ideological reasons, this is not an accurate reflection of the situation. A good case-in-point is Hungary Today’s coverage of Mr. Orbán’s Tusnádfürdő (Băile Tușnad) speech, where the prime minister formally declared that the days of Hungarian liberal democracy were over and that his preferred authoritarian political model was similar to that found in countries like China, Russia and Singapore. Hungary Today, in its coverage, made it appear that Mr. Orbán, like most right-centre politicians, was merely challenging the welfare state and was attacked for this reason by the left-centre opposition, thus making the speech and the reactions that followed seem like “business as usual” in the world of parliamentary politics.

In 1961, American President John F. Kennedy was among the most articulate in expressing the media’s role in the long-term survival of multiparty democracy. Kennedy, addressing the American Newspaper Publishers Association on April 27th, 1961 noted:

Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed–and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment– the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution- -not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply “give the public what it wants”–but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.”

The HFP joins a very small handful of English publications in exposing the danger that Mr. Orbán and his avowedly illiberal, anti-democratic and openly authoritarian government represent in the heart of Europe.

The European Parliament’s debate on Hungary

I spent almost three hours watching the debate in the European Parliament on the Tavares report. We discussed this report at length at the time of its passage in the LIBE Commission of the European Parliament. In addition, I published Rui Tavares’s letter to the Hungarian people both in English and in Hungarian. So, the readers of Hungarian Spectrum are aware that the report is a thoroughly researched document that in many ways echoes the findings of the independent judges of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe.

I found two good summaries of the debate, both in Hungarian. One appeared in Népszabadság and the other on the new Internet website called 444! But it is one thing to read a summary and another to see the debate live. Just to watch Viktor Orbán’s face was itself educational. Sometimes he looked vaguely amused, but most of the time his smile was sardonic. Who can forget that disdainful expression on Orbán’s face when one of his critics, Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the liberals in the European parliament and former prime minister of Belgium, mentioned the name of  György Konrád, “the great Hungarian writer”? And when he heard something he didn’t like, Orbán raised his eyebrows and shook his head in disbelief. He considered all criticism utterly baseless and, through body language and facial expressions, made no secret of it. It’s too bad that most of the people in the chamber didn’t see all that since Orbán sat in the front row.

Viktor Orbán listening to the speeches / Reuters, Vincent Kessler

Viktor Orbán listening to the speeches / Reuters, Vincent Kessler

Unfortunately the camera didn’t show Orbán when several people tried to explain to him that his concept of democracy is peculiar. He believes in the “dictatorship of the majority” or “majoritarian rule.” Verhofstadt even invoked John Stuart Mill’s words on the subject in his work On Liberty. In fact, one of the major criticisms centered around the nature of democracy and whether Hungary can still be called a democracy. If one were to ask Verhofstadt he would say: “No, Hungary is not a democracy anymore but ‘demokratúra’ as György Konrád called it.” Several other critics agreed with Verhofstadt although they may not have been so explicit.

A second core topic was the question of freedom and the Orbán government’s “war of independence” against the European Union. Several people expressed their bafflement at the very idea of defending the country from a Union to which Hungary belongs. Actually, here again two worldviews clashed. The one held by Viktor Orbán and his entourage maintains that nation states are the only legitimate formations and that they shouldn’t be superseded in any way by a supranational entity such as the European Union. If one holds this view, as Orbán does, then it is perfectly understandable that he defends his nation against the encroachment of the European Union. The problem is that Hungary joined the European Union of its own volition and thereby its government is obliged to follow EU rules. Orbán attempts to resolve this apparent conflict by claiming that the Union is overstepping its authority, and therefore he has every right to resist its attempt at a “guardianship” that he will never accept.

Another important topic of discussion was Orbán’s interpretation of the criticism of his government as an attack on Hungary and the Hungarian people. Several critics rejected this view, making it clear that their criticisms are directed against the Orbán government and not the Hungarian people. In fact, some of the speakers argued that in their opinion it is the Hungarian people who must be shielded against the authoritarian behavior and laws of their own government.

As for Viktor Orbán, he had two opportunities to speak. At the beginning, right after Rui Tavares and Juán Manuel Barroso, and at the end, just before the leaders of the various parliamentary caucuses could answer him. In his first speech he was quite polite and a great deal less aggressive than is his wont. However, after listening to the debate where the Christian Democratic and Conservative voices were drowned out by speeches delivered by the liberals, socialists, and greens, Orbán returned to his true self. As Gabriella Zimmer (a German socialist) said, Orbán didn’t come to Strasbourg “to debate”; he came to express his anger at what he considers to be interference in Hungarian domestic affairs that are within the sole jurisdiction of the Hungarian government, parliament, and courts. He finished his speech with a refusal to accept tutelage from Brussels. For good measure he accused them of  having double standards and of defending the multinational corporations and banks. I had the feeling that by that time Orbán believed that he had nothing to lose. It was no longer necessary to try to mollify the EU parliamentarians. No matter what he does, I suspect he reasoned, the vote will go against him.

And a few more words about the performance of Fidesz and Jobbik MEPs. What can I say? It was embarrassing. Szájer’s comments were the most outrageous. He was not on the list of official speakers but he asked to be recognized perhaps three times. In the first instance he outright lied when he announced that foreign investment was never greater in Hungary than in the last two or three years. Then he claimed that the members of the European Union are afraid of the truth and that’s why they don’t want to give Orbán the opportunity to speak. Both Verhofstadt and Martin Schulz, the president of  the EP, corrected Szájer. After all, they were the ones who asked Viktor Orbán to come to the plenary session of the European Parliament. But that was not enough for Szájer. He retorted that even in Stalin’s show trials more time was allotted to the accused than to the accusers. Well, that’s when Martin Schulz’s patience ran out. He reprimanded Szájer for making any comparison between Stalin’s show trials and the European Union. But Szájer is not the kind of guy who knows when to stop. He got up again and tried to explain away his unfortunate remark. He repeated his reference to Stalin’s show trials and added that it was only the time limit that he had in mind. Schulz was not impressed and rebuked him again. Szájer did a disservice to the Fidesz cause.

Kinga Gál, another Fidesz MEP, was one of the official speakers. She didn’t fare any better than Szájer. In her speech she challenged the democratic nature of the European Parliament that voted in committee for the Tavares report. Schulz gave her a piece of his mind. He told her that it is impossible to claim that majority rule in Hungary is perfectly legitimate while questioning the democratic nature of majority rule in the European Parliament. After all, the majority of LIBE members voted for the Tavares report.

The third Fidesz MEP, Ágnes Hankiss, asked to raise a “question.” It turned out that she in fact planned to deliver a lecture on the injustices of the Tavares report. Schulz interrupted her, saying that she was abusing the privilege of posing questions. Hankiss tried to go on but was stopped.

And if that weren’t enough, we had the privilege of listening to Krisztina Morvai (Jobbik) twice. No EU parliamentary caucus accepted Jobbik and therefore they sit as unaffiliated members. Thus she had the privilege of speaking twice, just as the other leaders of the various parties. She sported a blouse adorned with Hungarian folk motifs and held up a sign reading “HUNGARY ≠COLONY.” Otherwise, although Orbán emphasized that he is the one who is most fiercely attacked by the far-right Jobbik, Morvai defended Fidesz and its policies all the way while accusing Viviane Reding of meddling in Hungarian affairs. Her second speech was especially remarkable. She recalled her days working with battered women who often thought that they could change their abusive husband’s behavior by pleasing him, working harder, and being the best of housewives. But eventually when the husband’s behavior remained the same, they came to the conclusion that there was only one remedy: divorce. So, Hungary should pack up and leave the Union if this abuse continues. After that ringing defense of Fidesz it will be difficult for Orbán to maintain his fierce opposition to the far right. After all, they speak the same language and Jobbik fights alongside Fidesz for the “honor of Hungary.” Frank Engel (Luxembourg EPP member) sarcastically remarked immediately afterwards that he hoped that “Ms Morvai has not just offered to go into coalition with Fidesz.”

The vote will take place tomorrow at 11:30 European time or 5:30 EDT. I will be watching.

The House of Árpád and nationalism

I made a note to myself a couple of weeks ago to write a post on András Gerő’s “The House of Árpád and Nationalism,” which appeared in the April 26 issue of Élet és Irodalom. But then there were too many current events that I wanted to cover and the post on history was postponed. Soon enough, however, the past became present–and political. As Zsófia Mihancsik noted in her article, Ádám Pozsonyi, a contributor to the right-wing pro-government paper Demokrata, found the essay I liked so much an abomination that “reviled the House of Árpád.”

Considering that Élet és Irodalom is a subscription-based publication, which limits its accessibility, I thought I should summarize the article so that readers of Hungarian Spectrum can see what is considered to be unacceptable historical scholarship in extreme-right circles.

It is a historical commonplace that nationalism and the idea of the nation state are relatively new phenomena. Before the eighteenth century the organization of society was based on a feudal hierarchy, at the top of which was the king who at least in theory “owned” the land that he considered his domain. His subjects were loyal to him personally, not to the nation.

In the late eighteenth century all that changed and with it came “nationalized” historical scholarship. It was at this time that the concept of the House of Árpád emerged. Two members of the Jesuit school of Hungarian historiography, György Pray (1723-1801) and István Katona (1732-1811), coined the term “House of Árpád” to refer to the kings who ruled the Kingdom of Hungary between 1000 and 1301.

What did the twenty-three kings who reigned between these two dates actually call themselves? Simon Kézai in his Gesta Hunnorum et Hungarorum (circ. 1282) calls them the Clan of Turul (de genere turul). As far as we know, the members of the House of Árpád called themselves “the family or clan of the saintly kings” because there were indeed many. The list is quite impressive.

Hungarian historiography of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries considered the House of Árpád to be a Hungarian dynasty as opposed to the dynasties that followed: the Anjou, the Jagellonian or the Habsburg. The distinguishing criterion they invoked was linguistic. In the first half of the nineteenth century being Hungarian primarily meant that Hungarian was one’s mother tongue. The whole Reform period–the three or four decades before the 1848 Revolution–was accompanied by linguistic reform as well. The reformers wanted to build a cultured nation by making the language capable of transmitting modern western ideas.

Language is, however, a flawed criterion of what it means to be a Hungarian. Even a foreigner could become a Hungarian if he identified with the national cause. Take, for instance, the thirteen generals who were executed in Arad on October 6, 1849. Among them were several whose mother tongue was not Hungarian, but today they are considered to be Hungarian patriots who died for the national cause.

Nineteenth-century depiction of Árpád It can be found at a website named "for real hungarians network

Nineteenth-century depiction of Árpád
It can be found on the website “for real Hungarians network”

By the twentieth century the notion arose–a notion with horrific consequences–that belonging to a nation was tied to ethnicity. A true Hungarian would be an ethnic Hungarian.

By either of these criteria the House of Árpád wouldn’t be genuinely Hungarian. First of all, Hungarian kings, just as their counterparts elsewhere, married foreigners. Marriages were arranged on the basis of foreign policy considerations. Gerő couldn’t find one “Hungarian” spouse among the Árpád kings. So, as far as ethnicity is concerned, they were a very mixed lot. And, as far as their language is concerned, it is unlikely that they were monolingual. After all, their mothers came from all over Europe and usually with a large entourage. Some of them spent considerable time abroad. Péter Orseolo, the successor to Stephen, in Italy; Géza I in Poland; Béla III in the Byzantine Empire.

The kings of the Árpád dynasty were Hungarian kings in the constitutional sense; that is, they were the rulers of the Kingdom of Hungary. But so were the Anjous, the Jagellonians, and the Habsburgs. Yet in Hungarian historiography the House of Árpád was long considered to be more “national” than the other dynasties.

After the communist takeover, Marxist  historians pretty well excluded “the nation” from consideration and concentrated on class struggle and economic conditions. In consequence, the description of the Árpád dynasty as a national dynasty disappeared from historical dialogue. And after the Marxist interlude in Hungarian historiography, as historians delved deeper into the Middle Ages, they saw no compelling reason to revive the concept of a national dynasty.

But even though mainstream historians find the notion of a national dynasty intellectually indefensible, proponents of “alternative history” embrace it wholeheartedly. For these people, who are not really historians or just marginally so, making the kings of the House of Árpád true Hungarians is very important. These “Hungarian kings” worked for the good of the country, whereas the foreigners by and large set out to ruin it. The worst culprits were the Habsburgs, whom one such author, Lajos Darai, accuses of wanting to obliterate the Hungarian past. Others claim that there were “secret forces” that stood behind the Habsburgs whose intention was to make Hungary a colony of Austria. “For four hundred years the crowned heads of Hungary fought a war against the Hungarians.” The implication is that these secret forces were manipulated by Jews.

Moreover, a pseudo-linguist in a paper about Hungarian’s affinity with Etruscan comes to the startling conclusion that Ármin Vámbéry, the famous Turkologist of the nineteenth century, was in fact the hired hand of Franz Joseph II, who instead of telling the truth about Hungarian-Etruscan relations sent the Hungarians to Asia at the emperor-king’s orders. Another self-appointed historian, István Szatmári, goes even further when he claims that the Habsburgs were Jewish. According to him, the Habsburg family came from the “rich Roman Jewish family called Pierleone whose members arrived in Switzerland via Genoa and bought the decrepit castle of the Habsburgs.”

The practitioners of alternative history unfortunately are making headway in Hungarian right-wing thinking. The spokesmen for the “us and them” theories don’t even leave the early kings alone. These kings are forced to play a role in the “nationalized” history of the new Hungarian far right.