Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Bartók and Nationalism:
A History in Six Dances 5

It is hard to separate Dance 5 and 6 so the same piece of YouTube will have to do. I could separate them in sound on the day. It's still Zoltán Kocsis playing. He'll play again tomorrow.


Poarga Româneasca / Román Polka / Romanian Polka 

The poarga begins as a wild dance, an old Romanian dance in fact similar to the polka. Bartók found it in a place called Belényes at the time, though it is now called Beius, It is in Bihor Country, Romania, very close to the Hungarian border, even closer to it than Alba, just a few miles from Oradea, the city Hungarians used to call Nagyvárad. It is very close indeed. The names change, as the great Hungarian writer Krúdy wrote, but the people remain the same.

The reaction to the loss of territory, people and resources was authoritarian rule and an idealised image of the real soul of lost Hungary as something embedded in the old ways of the gentry and the peasantry. Tradition became a fancy dress parade of tarted-up regional costume  and deep conservatism in all cultural matters. One of the leading writers of the thirties, László Németh wrote an essay  with the title Kissebségbent, meaning ‘in a minority’ where he introduced the idea of mélymagyarság, or ‘deep-Hungarianness’. The term was not intended to suggest racial purity but an essentially Hungarian character in literature and culture generally, but it escaped its context as such terms often do. 

The recovery of greater Hungary, or at least some of it, had been an item on the agenda ever since Trianon. Children were shown maps of pre-Trianon Hungary and were taught to recite verses that declared that rump-Hungary was not the true Hungary, nor would it ever be. Political and cultural campaigns were launched overseas to enlist international support for a redrawing of the border.

The country was moving ever closer to outright fascism. All the circumstances, both inside the country and outside it, facilitated that move. Then the Second World War broke out.  Hungary was very much in the German sphere of influence and could count on help from Germany and Italy when, in 1940  under the terms of the Second Vienna Award, Hungary recovered the northern part of Transylvania.

Bartók who, despite official pressure, had become distinctly anti-fascist at home and refused to give concerts in Germany in the 1930s, sent his manuscripts out of the country and, like many European artists moved to the USA permanently  in 1940, precisely when part of Transylvania was once again open.


During the war there were  ever more severe anti-Jewish laws. This war too was a disaster for Hungary. A whole army was lost in Russia. By 1944 Horthy was trying to pull the country out of the war so Germany sent in Eichmann and the SS.  Hundreds of thousands of remaining Jews were deported and died in concentration camps. Many thousands of others were hastily shot on the banks of the Danube.

Then the Red Army arrived and ‘liberated’ the country on the Soviet Union’s own terms.

Famine followed, disease followed, hyperinflation followed, show trials, executions and torture followed,  another wave of emigration followed. After 1949 the country was a Moscow-based Stalinist dictatorship under Mátyás Rakosi, a survivor of the 1919 Bolshevik government. When Stalin died in 1953 Rákosi lost power and was briefly replaced by Imre Nagy. In 1956, following a wave of Polish strikes, fighting broke out in Budapest. For ten days between 23 October and 4 November  Hungary seemed to have escaped the grip of the Soviet Union. The composition of the revolutionary government, led rather reluctantly at first by Nagy, was changing from day to day. In the end the Soviets double crossed Hungary, and under the cover of the Suez debacle, sent in a second army and put down the Uprising. János Kádár, an ex-victim of Rákosi and an apparent supporter of the revolutionary government, was installed as the next leader,

After the first few years of reprisals, executions and repression Hungary grew to be the most liberal state in the Soviet sphere. Kádár’s system was called goulash communism. and Hungary was referred to by Russians as Little America. The rise in affluence was funded by borrowing and by a black market that soon outstripped the official one. By the mid-eighties it was clear that there was going to be trouble over the debt. By 1988 Kádár was gone and by the end of the next year so had communism. I spent most of 1989 in Hungary watching it collapse around us.


We are now in the post-1989 world. It should be a spot of sunlight in a rather dark Hungarian history - not just a winning battle but a won war. But something else has happened instead: the economy has slipped down every steeper slops and the social fabric, if not exactly broken, has developed large and dangerous holes. There was the scandal of the leaked speech of the last socialist prime minister in 2006 and a landslide election in favour of Fidesz, a party that calls itself centre-right but extends a long way to the right, overlapping with an outright fascist party, Jobbik, that came third in the general elections of 2010, with a one-in-six vote. Fidesz in government have rewritten the constitution, as they were entitled to by their 2/3rds representation in parliament, and filled all available posts in both government and culture with its own supporters. The intensity of right wing rhetoric has risen to screaming pitch. One main government supporting paper has called for the extermination of the Roma, a member of Jobbik has asked for a register of all Jews as major security risks. The flag of Jobbik, the red and white stripes, is flown in a good many places. People in the media have been sacked, and major figures in the arts have not had their contracts renewed. Fascist writers are back on the school syllabus and statues of Admiral Horthy are rising in parks and squares all over the country. There is a long list of worrying moves by the government that is leading Hungary back to the thirties. The same kind of bull-headed patriotism we see here in the British National Party and the English Defence League is finding itself in uniform, all criticism of it dismissed as foreign propaganda. 


Gwil W said...

Do you know if Budapest renamed its main squares and streets during the NS period? In Vienna we had Adolf Hitler Platz (now Rathaus Platz) and Hermann Goering Platz (now Roosevelt Platz). I once asked a topographer friend to find me a map of Vienna from this time as I was interested in writing a novelette (working title 'The Renaming of Streets' ) but he was unable to unearth one. It's as if they never existed.

George S said...

Yes, there was a Hitler Square (now Kodály Körönd - Kodály Roundabout) - I don't know of more but Budapest has always been ready to change its street names to suit the times. It has been doing so ever since Fidesz got into power again in 2010.

Hard to find the maps, it's true. I have a 1990 street map that registers the changes of name from the communist era.