Monday 11 June 2012

The rehabilitation of the far right in Hungary 3: Hijacking the culture

So here's a story that springs out of Trianon, Transylvania, the nostalgia for the thirties and the move towards the far right.

The story tells how the Hungarian government requested that the ashes of János Nyírő, a Hungarian writer born in Translyvania, should be reburied in the place of his birth, a village that has been part of Romania since 1920. The Romanians refused so, according to one Hungarian paper, a strong right wing supporter of the government,  a government minister, the Transylvanian poet Géza Szőcs (a poet I once translated) arranged for the ashes to be smuggled into Romania and for a surreptitious commemoration service to be held, addressed in strong Hungarian patriotic terms, by László Kövér, Speaker of the House. This didn't make huge headlines here but it was certainly seen as an act of provocation by Romania. Why would that be? Because such assertions of Hungarian sovereignty on Romanian territory are perceived as acts of aggression.

Who was Nyírő?  He was a Hungarian Transylvanian writer who was a member of the fascist Arrow Cross, and represented them in parliament through their reign of terror in the last phase of the war, after which he was accused of war crimes and went into exile, where he died. There is no English language Wiki entry on him (though there is a Hungarian one) and I can't find his work on the web, certainly not in translation. Here however is a decent length article about him and the issue of the reburial. His writings have been available in Hungarian since 1990.

In some respects he resembles another Hungarian writer Albert Wass, who does have an English language Wiki page which has, it seems, been subject to some wrangling. He too has been accused of war crimes including murder.

Both Wass and Nyírő were recently introduced into the school curriculum by the government. The reasons given were that they were popular and representative authors of the time, and that their work was to be detached from their politics.

But their introduction into the syllabus is itself a political act, one of many successive acts of the government intended to replace people in cultural positions with its own supporters and to squeeze artists of a different political leaning into silence by directing public money away from them, towards its own preferred figures.

As Compendium, a review of Cultural Policies and Trends puts it:
The government has also set about making major changes in the cultural arena without a detailed strategy paper. The main underlining aspect of these developments is rationalisation by strengthening the position of the state.
You can, as they say, say that again. I have in the past referred to the January article in The Independent that talked of a Kulturkampf. More recently the Financial Times, that bastion of left-liberalism has been writing critical articles, and reviews like this. And here is a Wiki sandbox article relating the story of museums and amalgamations (readers of Krasznahorkai may note a reference to Krásna Hôrka castle at the end.)


Introducing writers like Nyírő and Wass onto the syllabus, along with another, more major right wing writer Dezső Szabó, will be presented as an act of political and literary redress, but, in the Hungarian context, it is more worrying than that. Such powerful symbolic acts signal a dramatic change of cultural and political climate. 

Hungarian history is problematic, and I haven't even mentioned 1956 or 1989. It is the 1930's that matter most here. It is the thirties that are being conjured and spread before the country as a model of identity, not so much Back to the Future as Forward into the Past, a past of conformity, xenophobia, authoritarianism, discrimination, hatred and fancy-dress patriotism with a distinct whiff of disaster.


Gwil W said...

Zeitgeist "the spirit of the age" is almost everything. In Austria they are rehabilitating the underground and the resistance. For instance its now revealed that 150 never-mentioned-before Austrian railway workers were amongst those who tried to sabotage the Nazi trains., OK, you may say, it's 67 years too late (as somebody MP Doris Bures I think) said on the radio, but at least they are now doing it.
I think it says in the Bible something like the sins of the fathers fall on the third and fourth generations. So it takes some up to 80 years. By that reckoning Hungary should be back on course by 2025.

George S said...

'So it takes some up to 80 years'

Keynes suggested that in the long run we are all dead.


Gwil W said...

I think I caught something on the radio about the Hungarian leader coming to Vienna today to meet the Austrian leader. It's been all go since the latter got back from Bilderberg. I wonder what they'll talk about?

Gwil W said...

"Keynes suggested we are all dead"

Not Milton Keynes I hope - although some people have allegedly suggested it as a possibility ;). I only know they have lots of roundabouts and some plastic cows.

Gwil W said...

Oh I forgot, the OU is there isn't it?

ps- I'll keep you posted about today's Austro-Hungarian summit or whatever it turns out to be.

George S said...

I thought the cows were concrete and that they milked them for gravel.

Yes, do keep me informed Gwilym. Many thanks.

Gwil W said...

6pm radio news item pretty near the end (main item the disagreement between Italy and Austria over EU finance policy) when VO was saying he had saved Hungary from a financial crisis by taking measures made possible due to his party's 2/3rd majority cited was the example of a telephone tax (whatever that is)*. Get more info in tomorrow's papers I expect.

*sounds like a Brave New World style of 'control'

Gwil W said...

Good morning George, here is the news:
"Hungary's national hero Cardinal Mindszenty was honoured by Premier Orban who was accompanied by Vienna's Cardinal Schönborn on the occasion of the 120th anniversary of Mindszenty's birthday (photo shows Hungarian wreath and a plaque on a wall at the place in Vienna where he died). Afterwards Orban then met with Chancellor Faymann and Foreign Minister Spindelegger to discuss the growing problem of "misunderstandings" (sic) between Vienna and Budapest. The Hungarian premier spoke at the "Wirtschaftkammer" to the theme of "The renewal of Hungary and the economic situation in Europe."