Monday, 16 February 2015

Hungary in Glasgow 

Contemporary Hungarian Studies:
Multidisciplinary European Perspectives 3

The stadium at Felcsut village

Session 3: Culture and Society

There were only two papers in the last session since two of the speakers couldn't make it. It was a pity because I would have liked to hear the paper about Roma graduates and the one about the Szekler (or Transylvanian) flag and its significance. It is, after all, the Szekler flag, not the normal EU flag, that is flying on the Hungarian Parliament, which seems a pretty clear declaration of sympathy and intent, so some exploration would have been welcome. In the event we had the two other papers on quite different matters.


The first was about the effects of 'preferential naturalisation' among ethnic Hungarians abroad. This naturally bore on the earlier paper about the teaching of Hungarian in Serbia. It introduced me to another new term, 'ethnizenship' which, apparently, goes hand in hand with its twin 'diasporisation'. I am sure these terms must be useful or why else would they exist? They seem to exist because the idea of dual citizenship is now accepted whereas it wasn't before 1989 (I think the date is right but I might have missed it.) Citizenship is to do with nationhood and is a matter of self-identification. Now we have dual extra-territorial citizenship, a kind of quasi-citizenship, hence the need for the new terms.

There was talk of the idea of 'homeland' as a spiritual concept [the German heimat naturally springs to mind but also the Hungarian haza, about which I have written before]. Many minorities feel homeless and, according to research, hold relatively negative views of native Hungarians to whom the idea of citizenship means little. It is particularly non-native Hungarians who feel the spiritual value of citizenship. Being a foreign citizen of Hungary (an ethnizen?) doesn't actually help Hungarians abroad though it works differently in different places. In Slovakia, for instance, there is no great clamour for Hungarisation (another nice word) whereas in Transylvania there is.

I myself have often wondered about the attitude of non-Hungarians in Romania or Slovakia or other countries where Hungarians live in minority ethnic communities. There is at least a hundred years of tension underlying changes of borders and administration. The hatchets may be buried: you can either scrape the ground away or pile more earth on top.


The second paper was about the use of sport for political ends. It made a delightful contrast to the rest yet it led us back to the same place (that I tend nowadays to think of as Orbánia).

Success in sport is a symbol of success in other spheres too so, under the Soviet system, it was important to have winners and dominance if possible. While the amateur ideal of the Olympics was a cornerstone of the tradition, sport in the Eastern bloc had to resort to all kind of devices to produce champions, often by offering favoured athletes token jobs where they had little to do but train and be treated with the latest available performance-enhancing drugs.

Nevertheless the leading role of the Soviet Union had to be maintained as primus inter pares so the SU was treated with extra favour, especially by SU judges.  The example given was of the 1980 Olympic Games, which were staged in Moscow and officially boycotted by the USA and sixty-four other countries because of the SU's Afghanistan campaign  (a boycott partially reversed by fourteen Soviet bloc countries for the 1984 Games in Los Angeles). The Soviet judges gave Soviet competitiors consistently higher marks than to the Hungarians in some events with the result that the Hungarian team threatened to withdraw, after which they received higher marks.

The case made by the paper was that Viktor Orbán's devotion to sport, particularly football, works in much the same way, especially in view of his programme of building or modernisation of football stadiums all over Hungary (a map was produced to show where they were and here's an article about parts of the project). International success for Hungarian football would be his success, an important monument to his wise rule. The most debated of these stadia, a very expensive state-of-the-art construction seating 4,500, is therefore situated Orbán's home village of Felcsut where the population is less than half the stadium capacity. The idea is to create 'centres of excellence' where the abysmally low stock of Hungarian football might be restored to the glorious peaks of 1953. (The average attendance at top level Hungarian league matches is under 2,000. Hungary has not qualified for the World Cup since 1986.)

It should be said that all nations tend to engage in 'grands projets' for political reasons but not necessarily as a systematic part of the state programme.

own pet theory is that, for that precise reason, it is countries with dictators that seem to do best at sport: Hungary under Rákosi, Romania under Ceausescu, East Germany under Honegger, Argentina and Brazil under military rule and the Soviet Union under Stalin and Khruschev.

This is not good news for the rest, or indeed for anybody.

I will write another blog on the two keynotes, including mine, and maybe a reflection on the whole conference, possibly in the same blog or a new one.

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