Thursday, 8 March 2012

The LSE Hungary debate 3: Brief reflections

1. The questions were grouped and, as ever, only partially addressed. They referred to issues of procedure, the speedy enactment of laws, of possible EU recourses (what, for example, did I mean by the EU keeping an eye on Hungary, and frankly I didn't know, except to point to Article 7 of the EU and possible financial pressure), what about the migration of Hungarian intellectuals and scientists (not entirely new under Fidesz, but I pointed to the new law which would require state-supported Hungarian graduates to spend the first eight years of their working lives in Hungary). There was also a nicely acute question addressed to the minister and the Professor Schöpflin, wondering who Fidesz saw as the opposition? They were good questions and the mood remained calm.

2. It seems to me that nationalism of a not-very-bright sort has been an element in Hungarian political life ever since 1989. Of course there was nationalism before, and, as in other countries with similar histories, of a very fervent kind, tending to the liberal left in the 19th century and to the rather less liberal right in the 1920-1945 period. I seem to remember how the very successful record label Hungaroton was ruined. Wiki has a rather laughable version of events as I recall them. The new nationalist mood of 1990 demanded that Hungaroton should not be a vehicle for foreign recording artists recording foreign music but for Hungarian artists recording Hungarian music. This is considerably like the position of the newly appointed Jobbik head of the Újszinház in Budapest, who insists that only Hungarian plays should be performed there. Nationalism is a complex force, but Dr Johnson said something apposite about patriotism and scoundrels which might be born in mind at moments of high national emotion.

3. I did look at the offending video of Dopeman. Here it is. The title Bazdmeg, which is the beginning of almost every line in the rap, means 'Fuck it / them'. Interestingly the text blasts both Orbán and Gyurcsány, and just about everything else. I don't think it could be accused of partisanship. The lines from the Hungarian national anthem are delivered fairly straight, so their significance is not entirely clear. But what if it does mock? The Sex Pistols did much the same thirty years ago. You could ban the record but you wouldn't arrest them and charge them with the equivalent of treason.

4.I was more than surprised, I was almost astonished, at how one-dimensional the opposition argument was. I assume it is the line repeated in Hungary. It is the line of utter denial. There might have been a more sophisticated defence referring to emergency and the need to hold the nation together by identifying it emotionally, but no such thing. Sheer denial of everything.

5.I don't imagine I will be in this position too often but it was interesting to have to articulate something fragmentary but deeply felt into a relatively brief speech. It's good to have to do that sometimes, even in the quarrel with ourselves out of which literature emerges.

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