Sunday, 15 February 2015

Hungary in Glasgow 

Contemporary Hungarian Studies:
Multidisciplinary European Perspectives 2

Session 2: Language and Literature

Three papers here too, the first about the study of Hungarian language at the University of Belgrade. This was introduced by reference to the Hungarian minority in the Vojvodina region of Serbia, the old Yugoslavia. As to why there are Hungarians there at all that is the easy-to-answer prize question to which the answer will always be Trianon. (Trianon is a complicated, tragic, fierce, burning issue. It was so back in 1920 and remains on low but permanently combustible heat now. Trianon is the answer, and will continue to be the answer, to several questions, perhaps to any Hungarian question. See provided link for more.)

The paper took us through the foundation of the Hungarian department, the people who started it, the people delivering it and who was studying on it. There was the issue of Hungarian citizenship as mentioned in the first session and the matter of Serbian emigration to Hungary because of better prospects. There was demand, and demand was being satisfied in this respect.

In the discussion afterwards it was remarked that a good many historical antagonisms and atrocities lay buried under the apparent concord, but this was not much discussed (you could, of course, say the same of almost everywhere else in the region). There were practical considerations to bear in mind.


The second paper took us back to the roots of two vital Hungarian schools of literature - not just literature but colture and politics too, in my opinion - the urbánus and the népies. The definition of those terms remains open to discussion and I myself offered a definition in my keynote. For now it may be enough to say that urbánus is, as the name suggests, urban in that it is metropolitan / cosmopolitan / European in temperament, while népies is to do with the nép, the nation, the volk, the rural, the regional. But there is more to both these terms than that.

Here we were invited to consider the 1930 debate between the parodist Frigyes Karinthy and the poet-novelist Dezsö Kostolányi on the urban side, and journalist Imre Miklós and writer Áron Tamási on the other. The paper was a resumé of an article by the speaker, published in the literary magazine 2000. The link here is to the article in Hungarian. (Here, kindly provided by a friend, is an English version).

The 1930 debate was essentially about Transylvanian literature (Transylvania being the major territory lost under Trianon, and a still raw wound just ten years after the loss) of which Karinthy's had talked slightingly. In the course of the debate Tamási referred to Karinthy as a 'Lithuanian' (ie foreign) writer who was only interested in money. Being foreign and money-grubbing are two classic anti-Semitic tropes and Tamási tried to withdraw. But the incident did suggest that the népies movement had a potentially anti-Semitic side.

As I personally read it, the rift between urbánus and népies continues to be the key cultural divide in Hungary and I looked to make that case in my keynote afterwards. I hadn't read directly the 1930 debate and had missed the 2014 article, but I found this fascinating.

The third presentation was even more interesting. It was passionately but clearly delivered and was an account of the relative reception of two Holocaust memoirs, the world-famous Diary of Anne Frank (hardly worth linking to) and its Hungarian equivalent The Diary of Éva Heyman, published in English in 1988, but first published by the mother in 1948 in a small private edition that sold no more than a couple of hundred copies then was forgotten. The mother committed suicide some three years later.

There were two essential issues here. First the uses of Anne Frank in the communist East, not as a Jewish victim of the Holocaust, but as a victim of fascism, secondly the non-reception of Éva Heyman and the possible reasons for that.

The Diary of Anne Frank was performed as a stage play in Budapest in 1957, before the publication of the diary itself in 1958, but the Jewish element was played down. Anne Frank was an example of universalisation.

Éva Heyman's diary, it was stated, was not published at all under communism because Hungary was not keen to discuss its own role in the Holocaust. (The 1988 English translation was taken from an earlier Hebrew translation of the original and appeared before any Hungarian edition).

The gist of the argument was that the desire to bury Hungary's part in the Holocaust and its years of anti-Semitism (including the first anti-Semitic laws in Europe) continues to cause problems as the recent Holocaust memorial case shows.

The history of Central Europe is a matter of continual burying and disinterring. Sometimes it is the hatchet that is being buried but everyone knows where the hatchet is and is not above using it. The Éva Heyman diary is a story of disinterring but much else is buried there.

And that, precisely, is the problem.


Karen Margolis said...

Thank you for this. It reminds me to read Eva Heyman's diary, and gives a clear overview of the topics discussed. Your summary about 'continual burying and disinterring' is very apt. - Karen Margolis

George S said...

My account is a little sketchy and dry at this stage but I will write an overview of some sort that may offer some personal exploration.