The Hungarian trade-off

12 January 2011
Only in en
The Hungarian Quarterly hears recollections about Bartók; Ord&Bild finds self-deception at the root of Hungary’s crisis; Dilema veche asks what kind of capitalism for Eastern Europe; Merkur defends Israel from the anti-nationalists; New Humanist says monster myths distort debate about science; Multitudes immerses itself in future TV; Blätter doesn’t trust the would-be guardians of cyberspace; Magyar Lettre considers the roots of Ostalgia; L’Homme examines the symbolism of milk, blood and DNA; and Syn og Segn sees extreme sports as the new rites of passage.

The Hungarian Quarterly publishes an interview with the late pianist Elisabeth Klein (1911-2004), who studied under Béla Bartók in the 1930s. “We went to [Bartók’s] home at the appointed time. In his study were two pianos: he sat at one and we at the other, taking it in turn to play for him. At the first mistake we had to stop and the next person continued. […] I never questioned his methods even though he made very few comments and never about technical problems. He expected a fine technique already. I once asked about a particular fingering and he replied ‘Use your nose if you like.'”

Born in Slovakia in 1911, Klein grew up in Budapest and went on to graduate from the Franz Liszt Academy. After the onset of WWII, Klein lived in Denmark, narrowly escaping arrest for her husband’s resistance activities. Later she worked at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen and the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo.

Short and slight, a gracious hostess, fluent in several languages, determined, even wilful, she, nevertheless, retained the charm and manner of her upbringing,” writes Klein’s interviewer, the British conductor John Moseley. “She was a vivid and candid talker who knew exactly what she wanted to say. There were no hesitations or fanciful imaginings. Her conversation, like her playing, was objective. Such objectivity offered, perhaps, security in a changing world, for I sensed, below the calm and dignified surface, a woman of strong emotions. In this, she reflected her teacher, Bartók.

Also, in a very interesting music section, an interview with composer György Kurtág on his new work Songs to Poems by Anna Akhmatova (2009); and an interview with World Music promoter Simon Broughton.

Dezsö Kosztolányi: A dossier of work on and by Dezsö Kosztolányi (1885-1936), one of Hungary’s most widely read poets and authors, including his (once again timely) essay “On myself”.

I am aware that aimless contemplation of the world and human affairs is considered mere play with words by the slick frauds of action and the customs officers of fame, as if play with words were anything less than play with life itself and words were not lions that have torn giants to pieces. I have no reason to repudiate my beliefs in these cruel times. The ivory tower remains a cleaner, more human place than a party headquarters.

The full table of contents of The Hungarian Quarterly 200 (2010)

Strong media and political criticism has clouded the first days of the Hungarian EU presidency. The critique has mainly focused on the new media law that would allow a council appointed by the government to levy large fines on media outlets that fail to uphold vaguely defined standards of fairness, taste and decency. But concerns have also been raised about Hungary’s political culture in general; Bill Emmott, the former editor of the Economist, has even suggested that Hungary should be expelled from the EU.

In Swedish Ord&Bild, writer and literary critic Lászlo F. Földényi finds the roots of Hungary’s political, economic and social crisis in the communist era. In the Eastern Bloc, Hungary was considered a “quirky camp”, and in the West the home of “goulash communism”. “Prior to 1989 a large part of Hungarian society had concluded a pact with the communist regime. This consisted of a trade-off: at the price of self-deception, denying reality and moral cowardice, people were able to secure for themselves negligible freedoms and personal advantages.”

Between 1956 and 1989 we attained a degree of self-deception unparalleled in Europe. Today we are paying the price for these decades of self-delusion. […] Hungary’s economic and public sphere today suffers from exactly what made it look so attractive in the eyes of the world before 1989: repression, self-deception, and the inability not only to deal with the past, but above all to face up to present-day reality.

Hungary is the only former communist country where the activities of the state security police are still left in the dark, writes Földényi. The Poles, Czechs, Slovaks and Romanians have all understood that any state characterized by the rule of law needs to deal with this aspect of its history. “But in Hungary the situation has not changed,” he concludes. “That is the real crisis.”

The full table of contents of Ord&Bild 4/2010

Eastern European capitalism is stuck in a “low added-value phase”, argues Zoltan Pogatsa in a discussion with Cristian Ghinea in Dilema veche (350). After 1989, most countries in the region made the transition to the market economy through wooing multinationals with advantageous tax rates – at the same time reducing the public sector and emaciating social services. A notable exception was Slovenia, whose tradition of self-management led to an “enlightened”, domestic privatization.

The Soviet Bloc went from large state firms to large multinationals; Slovenia went from self-managed firms to local private companies. But there was also social consensus: the communists were enlightened; there was no antagonistic political division but a desire for consensus.

Yet the dynamics of capitalist production together with neglect of education, research and even infrastructure, have made it impossible for eastern European countries to develop their industries and escape dependency on imports. As for tackling the economic crisis, Pogatsa says the solution is neither to run a deficit nor make cuts, but rather introduce deep reforms:

Western countries rely on active labour market policies, education, environment and anti-corruption policies, functional legal systems, etc. CEE governments need to kick-start these subsystems. If you only cut expenditure this will lead to a general decline, without analysis beforehand or monitoring after the event. It is unsustainable.

Marginalization: The official disability rate in Romania is half the European average, indicating not so much good health among Romanians but the state’s unwillingness to provide welfare, writes Mircea Toma (352). Only 11 per cent of Romanians with disabilities have jobs, he adds – five times less than the European average. Lucian Negoita describes how, as a person using a wheelchair, the only places he can access independently are banks: hence he is only free to pay his credit instalments. Forced to give up on education, jobs, and outings with friends, people with disabilities are trapped in a vicious cycle, Negoita writes. “Willingly or not, you withdraw from the world and focus on your soul,” he concludes ruefully.

The full table of contents of Dilema veche 350-354 (2010)

Merkur translates Yoram Hazony‘s article “Israel through European Eyes” (first published in Jerusalem Letters), in which the Israeli political philosopher seeks to explain European “rejection” of the Israeli nation, or more precisely its actions, through recourse to Thomas Kuhn’s benchmark work The Structure of Scientific Revolution and his theory of the paradigm.

On [Hitler’s] view, the political fate of all nations should be determined by the new German empire that was to arise: indeed, Hitler saw his Third Reich as an improved incarnation of what he referred to as the First Reich – which was none other than the Holy Roman Empire of the Habsburgs! The Nazis’ aim was thus diametrically opposed to that of the western nation-states. Hitler’s dream was precisely to build his empire on their ruin. Obvious as this seems to me, many Europeans declined to see things this way, accepting the view that Nazism was, more or less, the nation-state taken to its ugly conclusion. In this way, the Soviets’ condemnation of the western nation-state was joined by a new western anti-nationalism, which eagerly sought an end to the old order in the name of Kant’s march of reason.

In Hazony’s opinion, anti-nationalism is equivalent to the inverted, racist logic that sees the Israelis as the new fascists: “It is not just by some fluke that we constantly hear Israel and its soldiers (by which we mean the sons and daughters of most of the Jewish families in Israel) constantly being compared to the Nazis. We aren’t talking about just any old smear, chosen arbitrarily or for its rhetorical value alone. In Europe and wherever else the new paradigm has spread, the comparison with Nazism, sickening and absurd though it may be, is as natural and inevitable as mud after rain.”

Samuel Beckett: Does Samuel Beckett belong to modernism or post-modernism? For some critics, Beckett’s concern with the limitations of language and his formal preoccupation with circularity, repetition and mise en abîme places him alongside the post-modernists. Yet all these motifs were present in literary modernism, writes Rolf Breuer; Beckett was indeed “the last modernist” (Anthony Cronin), but also “the father of post-modernism”.

The full table of contents of Merkur 1/2011

Discussions of scientific innovation are haunted by images of Frankenstein’s monster or Faust’s diabolic pact, says science writer Philip Ball in New Humanist. We will never have an honest and open debate about new reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization and cloning until we can recognize the influence of these mythic narratives.

Brave New World was a fable appropriate to a time when totalitarian ideologies were haunting Europe. To think that it applies today, when the danger is not that IVF and cloning (say) will be abused by dictators but that they will be abused by the free market, is not just to miss the point but to abrogate responsibility (as the United States has) for their responsible regulation.

The problem is not, writes Ball, that we have myths about scientific invention and the creation of human beings, but that we misunderstand the role that myths play. They are “a cathartic expression of human experience” but not “deterministic predictions about the future, nor even warnings about what lies in store if we do not watch our step”.

It is all too easy for self-appointed moralists who warn that reproductive technologies will lead to Frankenstein monsters and Brave New Worlds – whether they are the Daily Mail, the religiously motivated bioethicists who determined George W. Bush’s biomedical policies, or anti-biotechnology crusaders – to tap into familiar, legendary nightmares that foreclose a grown-up debate about how, why and when to regulate the technical possibilities (as we must). There is plenty to debate, and the wisest course is neither obvious nor easily negotiated. But until we can recognize the origins of our preconceptions, and distinguish mythical fears from real and present dangers, we shall have little prospect of getting it right.

Also: Olivier Roy talks to Caspar Melville about his new book Holy Ignorance; Sharon Shalev visits US “supermax prisons” where all human contact has been designed out; and Sally Feldman tries to establish whether love is just a dangerous delusion.

The full table of contents of New Humanist 1/2011

“Another television is possible, incorporated or scattered in a myriad of screens, from the game console and play station to the mobile phone,” write the editors of a transnational, multilingual issue of Multitudes on the “Art TV clash”. Yet television’s domination is no longer unrivalled and undisputed. “In the generalized context of the ubiware (‘anything, anytime, anywhere’), what is the meaning of television ‘programming’? How is it still possible to ‘watch things together’? How is television reinventing itself?”

Immersion, phantasm, community: According to Yves Citton, we immerse ourselves in television in three ways. “All-round immersion” creates as a fantasy world that surrounds us completely – as long as we remain in front of the screen. “Ubiquitous immersion” – Avatar on the iPhone – lets us go wherever we want with our immersion bubble, although we are permanently threatened with distraction. “Microcosmic immersion”, meanwhile, allows us to “augment” our real environment however we want – with the help of a virtual reality headset.

Each type of immersion is imperfect, writes Citton: all-round immersion essentially remains “boxed-in”, while “ubiquitious” television turns the panopticon into the synopticon: control is ensured by the fact that the many see the few. Even if the “languages” of immersion are multiple, power goes unchallenged. In microcosmic immersion – an environment, so to speak, where no one speaks the same language –“individualism becomes complete idiotism”.

Is this the future? Perhaps, says Citton. But we shouldn’t forget that in order to individualize, we need community: without common work, we cannot maintain isolating microcosms. Television as synoptic apparatus is being killed off in instalments; the future, concludes Citton, depends on a new commonality arising from its ruins.

Plug in, drop out: For Eric Macé, television is not the institution of socialization the way it was for classical sociology. Rather, it is “the sum of stories, propositions, and experiences of communality or estrangement – as well as stereotypes and hegemonic ideologies”. It is our task to decode this content: individuals can plug television into their self-definition and their relationship with the world.

The full table of contents of Multitudes Special issue (2010)

In Blätter, Seymour M. Hersh analyses US politics on cyber security and the fragile balance between national (military) security and privacy. With the threat of “cyber war” becoming a somewhat fashionable topic, Hersh cites Obama’s coordinator for cyber security, Howard Schmidt: “When people tell me that these guys or this government is going to take down the US military with information warfare I say that, if you look at the history of conflicts, there’s always been the goal of intercepting the communications of combatants – whether it’s cutting down telephone poles or intercepting Morse-code signalling. We have people now who have found that warning about ‘cyber war’ has become an unlikely career path.”

One organization that likes to try is the National Security Agency (NSA), one of the numerous US intelligence services, and its director, Army General Keith Alexander. Last summer, NSA. launched “a secret surveillance program called Perfect Citizen to monitor attempted intrusions into the computer networks of private power companies. The program calls for the installation of government sensors in those networks to watch for unusual activity.”

This brought privacy advocates into the arena, such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center, whose president Marc Rotenberg told Hersh: “The NSA wants security, sure, but it also wants to get to capture as much as it can. Its view is you can get great security as long as you listen in. […] General Alexander is not interested in communication privacy. He’s not pushing for encryption. He wants to learn more about people who are on the Internet […] Alexander wants user ID. He wants to know who you are talking to.”

Copyright: In a focus on the future of copyright, Ilja Braun tells us who really has an interest in enforcing copyright legislation: the publishers, not the authors. And Daniel Leisegang outlines an alternative remuneration model for authors on the Internet: the culture flatrate.

The full table of contents of Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 1/2011

An opinion survey conducted in March 2010 found that 72 per cent of west Germans and 80 per cent of easterners could imagine living under a socialist regime if it meant a secure job and mutual solidarity. Equally astonishingly, 25 per cent of all respondents wanted the Berlin Wall to be rebuilt. In an issue of Magyar Lettre devoted to the East-West German divide, Andreas Korpás attempts to explain why almost a quarter of Germans feel they have lost out in the reunification process, and why the perception of socialism has changed so dramatically since 1989.

After 1990 and the reunification of both German states, former citizens of the GDR were faced with an enormous pressure to conform, which the younger among them were naturally better able to deal with. Great helplessness could be sensed at all levels of planning, administration and justice, which could be overcome only when a representative from western Germany showed the inexperienced easterner how the system worked. […] The whole process of adjustment to new and often more effective processes of production and administration took place at high speed, which initially led to acquired habits, principles and articles of faith having to be thrown over board. The self-confidence that had developed from knowing the surroundings and the procedures one needed to follow was replaced by a general insecurity. Only piecemeal could this lead to a new, altered self-confidence. There is no precise way of measuring the point at which citizens of the former GDR became citizens of the new Federal Republic. However, insofar as one speaks of a transformation process in the countries of the former eastern bloc, then with respect the GDR it is possible to talk of an ‘ad hoc transformation’.

Women, literature and feminist theory: In the 1970s and 1980s, many women found the female in literature inspiring. But then Nathalie Sarraute snarled in an interview: “When I write I am neither man nor woman nor dog nor cat.” Toril Moi finds that, since then, the discussion has gone nowhere.

The full table of contents of Magyar Lettre Internationale 78 (2010)

In an issue entitled “Milk, blood and DNA”, the European journal for feminist history L’Homme analyses ways in which bodily fluids become symbolically loaded when it comes to personal identity and social belonging, as defined in terms of kinship, descent and genealogy.

The concept of honour in rural eastern Turkey is strongly linked to the functions attributed to blood, milk and sperm in the reproductive process, as Ankara-based historian Sabine Strasser shows: “Because bodily substances have to do with purity as a requirement for religious actions, with procreation and fertility as well as with social norms of marriage, in the context of rural Turkey all these notions repeatedly contribute to the hierarchization of gender relations.” A man who is unable to preserve the chastity of his female family members loses “not only his honour but also his credibility and recognition”, and ultimately his and his family’s economic basis.

But does “culture” adequately explain violence against women, including the fact that significantly more men than women are victims of honour killings in Turkey, a fact usually omitted in the European debate?

An incident in the Kurdish village of Bilge shows it is more complex than that: in 2009, 44 people were killed by their relatives at a wedding, using weapons supplied by the government in order to control the Kurdish Workers Party, the PKK. Citing Dicle Kogacioglu, who sees violence in the name of honour “at the intersection of multiple political and social dynamics”, Strasser writes: “The events at Bilge clearly show that it is not only interpretations of bodies and gender that are responsible for the bloodbath, but also that state institutions were involved for whom combating violence against women and local ideas of justice are obviously subordinate to military interests. At the same time, all these practices, labelled as pre-modern, serve the state’s entitlement to intervention and control.”

The full table of contents of L’Homme 2/2010

Marathons, uphill runs, bike and ski races are not simply sports, write the editors of Syn og Segn, before handing the baton to Øystein Orten, who takes us through a harrowing, kilometre-by-kilometre account of a marathon in north west Norway. Accompanied by his iPod, his mind races along with him:

29 km (Shakira: Whenever, Wherever)
I puke at the top of the bridge. Toss my body across the railing and retch. It was yesterday’s mackerel. The one that my father-in-law fished in Øsrtafjorden has now reached Røyrasundet, I think to myself.
3 km (Johnny Cash: Folsom Prison Blues)
From Bigsetkrysset and onwards I start to feel hatred towards the Persians. If they hadn’t been so full of thoughts of revenge 2500 years ago, I wouldn’t have to go through this torture. Young mothers walk towards me with their prams. They smile. But I feel hatred towards them too. And towards the cars from the ferries passing by. And the grazing sheep.

Lifetime rite of passage: In a similar vein, Erika Fatland describes “Nuten Opp” in Hardanger, Norway, one of many uphill races where the participants pay to run up mountains of varying elevations and distances. “Our times are sadly lacking in coming-of-age rituals and rites of passage. This must be the void filled by these brutal mountain races and other life threatening ordeals,” she muses. “It’s a nice thought, but something isn’t right. The races have something undefined and limitless about them. There is always another race next weekend, next year. You never reach your goal. And this is the problem: you run and run but never get to grow up.”

Also: Svein Sæter retraces the steps of Abebe Bikila, who won Olympic gold in Rome in 1960 as a complete outsider. From one moment to the next he became a sporting legend.

The full table of contents of Syn og Segn 4/2010

Published 12 January 2011

Original in English
First published in

© Eurozine


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