Central And Eastern European Identity In Hungary


Probably, it was only me feeling like closed, indeed locked into some kind of Hungarian reality where the other countries surrounding seemed to be giant, dark and mean monsters. I hope that it was only me. I still feel ashamed by that when I first went to Romania all by myself, my mother and some of my friends started to tell scare stories about the train trip to Bucharest and said that I’d never come back from there alive. Despite all this I had the time of my life there and I went back to attend a festival with my Romanian friends.

But it’s not only about Romania that Hungarian people tell scare stories or any kind of bad things. Of course not every Hungarian describes neighbor countries as some phantasmal evil, but many of them don’t even have an idea what are the others like, so if they have to say something about them, they always say the worse, not the better. It’s a very complex problem which is pieced together from the strong nationalism in the country, from the fact that Hungarian don’t speak foreign languages, that they are actually well-known xenophobes, and so on… I feel really sorry for speaking about my own citizens as ‘they’, but I don’t feel myself totally integrated to the society which hates its own traditional minorities and shows hatred towards immigrants.

Yesterday, I attended a discussion with two Hungarian authors who grew up during the socialist era. The discussion was the part of the Moveast-89 Conference about Eastern-Europian Cinema at the Period of the Change of the Socialist System, and they should have had to talk about Hungarian literature and the (velvet) revolution of ’89. One of them, Iván Bächer after their long talk about literature in the beginning of the 20th century, finally arriving somehow to the communist era and ’89, started to talk about the complex problem I mentioned above. He said the society has recently become deeply fascist, the mood of the people is like in the times of pogrom and everybody can write anything they want in the newspapers or on the internet by using any tone they just want. He said it was the result of changing the political system (he preferred communism, yes) which made (?) the society become like this.

Iván Bächer on the left, Vera Gyürey from Hungarian National Film Archive
(she led the conversation) and Endre Kukorelly on the right

I prefer the stance of Endre Kukorelly who said that those right wing or extreme right wing groups in the society had always been there, just during the communism they had been put to silence. Now that they can talk, they tell what they think, no surprise. It has nothing to do with the change of the system because it had been there since the 1920s. Concerning the change, he added that now people complain about things they shouldn’t get evidently as they think, for example supports from the state and such, that were evident in the USSR. He admitted, he also thinks that people in need should be helped but the recent social crisis in Hungary derives from the masking of real life in the past. We had been living in a cage for decades. In a cage where we were fed, in a warm place, so nothing bad happened to us. Now we have to realize that this is the jungle, that people die in the jungle and nobody helps anymore.

I suppose that these quotes describe fairly well the polemics of Hungarian intellectuals about our situation. In a country like this which has to cope with its own inside conflicts, there’s not so many space or time left to discuss our stance to Central and Eastern Europe (abbreviation: CEE) that we belong to. For me the first time to really feel like CEE citizen was the Civil Society Forum in Bratislava (in Slovakia) where we discussed topics that concern all of the countries in the region. It was the first time for me to experience the feeling of a common past which begins with the USSR, continues with the revolutions for splitting (1956 Hungary, 1968 Czechoslovakia) and the velvet or ‘less velvet’ revolutions in 1989 till arriving to the fact that most of these countries became members of the European Union.

I have to announce that after those 3 days spent together with other CEE citizens I feel myself much more a part of something global. I got there memories. Yes, memories of ’56, ’68 and ’89. Memories that stick us together. I’m remembering now how we were singing with smiley faces this song at the opening ceremony. Full of hope and feeling that we have so much in common.

I’m just wondering now when will ‘we’ decide what to think about Russia…


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