Publicities - domestic and foreign

Podium Statement at the 14th European Meeting of Cultural Journals in Vienna and Bratislava; Saturday November 11, 2000

The Hungarian writer György Dalos reports that the dictum of old remains: It is one thing to fight a verbal war on home ground, and quite another to play such complaints and information to the outside, abroad. However, he argues, there is no longer such a thing as a divided national and international publicity as information can flow freely from country to country, so should the discussion about it.

There is a cold war being fought in Hungary. It has been going on since the summer of 1998, and its protagonists are the political and cultural elite. Viewpoints are increasingly polarised and journalism is brimming with the emotive terms of “left” and “right”. Although neither of the two trends are unified, transitions and nuances cannot be tolerated by either side. At the same time, an aggressive tone has crept into the language, exchanges are becoming highly personal and the violation of the respective opponent’s honour and dignity has become the norm. And more and more often, debates are taken up and continued in the courts.

As any societal neurosis, this one too has taken hold of all parties concerned. I will nevertheless dare to venture that the responsibility for the hysterical proportions this conflict has reached lies largely with the strongest party in parliament. It is trying to already secure its victory in the Spring 2002 election and ensure that it will stay in power for at least another four years. With this aim in mind it is appropriating all media it can access and doesn’t hesitate to profit from even the “critical solidarity” offered by radical right wing and openly racist parties and newspapers. Even as an otherwise well functioning government which may keep or even increase the support of its voters, it has caused irreparable damage to the young democracy with this kind of politics.

Ladies and Gentlemen, a word of warning: do not, under any circumstances, fall for the above opinion and believe it, regardless of its truth content. These words have been spoken outside Hungary, to a non-Hungarian public. That alone defines their proponent as fouling the nest. What we have before us is an attempt by someone to defame his democratic, legitimate government, nay even his own nation, in the eyes of the outside world. He may be doing so to create international pressure on his government, if not to induce an EU boycott. And he is moreover doing this at a point when the republic is right at the gates of the European Union, and is investing billions in taxpayers’ money for a centre dedicated to upholding the nation’s image.

This has us right at the crux of matter. It is one of the most serious allegations of past and present against the representatives of the left-liberal intelligentsia, that they have been giving a voice to domestic political disagreements abroad. They are accused of having done so in essays and interviews aimed directly at an international public, or otherwise by so-called “insinuation” – abusing their linguistic abilities and contacts in the west to discredit their unfavoured government, though what they really are doing in the end is to discredit their own country. The argument went and still goes that it is one thing to fight a verbal war on home ground, but it is quite another matter to channel compromising material into the hands of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, or, God forbid, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.

Nothing could be simpler than to trace the roots of such accusations back to the communist regime of times gone by. Every time the democratic opposition of the 1970’s and 1980’s raised the issue of human rights violations in their own country on Radio Free Europe, such an action was officially condemned not only as an anti-socialist act, but also as an extremely unpatriotic one. Even earlier, in the golden fifties, the greatest crime a Hungarian communist party member could commit was to take internal party discussions (as far as those existed) “onto the streets”, i.e., to the broad masses of the politically unaffiliated. The statute had it black on white that a comrade was free to openly voice his criticisms at party meetings, but once a majority vote had been cast to reach a common decision, he had to be able to defend that decision if need be against his own convictions. We could therefore claim that the origins of the current campaign against those fouling are to be found in the glorious times of “democratic centralism”.

Nowadays in Hungary, such historical references are swept aside on the grounds that we live in entirely different circumstances. Back then, there was no freely elected national assembly, nor a public sphere at home. Today, on the other hand, no critic needs to go abroad to find an own forum that befits his views and gives him all the freedom he could want to vent his anger. So why then the admiration of foreign papers, microphones and cameras? What use could such a strenuous detour have, if not to assuage one’s fears of failing as a prophet at home?

I have to admit that I myself have no immunity in the face such questions. I do obviously realise that the opportunities of free speech are dwindlingly low under an openly anti-liberal government, even within a pluralist structure. On the one hand we have hundreds of essays – of sorts -, on the other hand an action: say, the government sponsored sale of a once respectable newspaper and its distribution at dumping prices.
At the same time I detect with increasing worry a kind of moral chivalry in myself. I somehow hesitate to avoid the real front lines in this battle. The Hungarian hypocrites should be revealed as such in Hungary, not in Europe, I tell myself, whilst gradually coming to consider myself my own psychologist.
Who was it, asks the psychologist, who blew the whistle on Helmut Kohl back when? Did you see the Germans try to get a little Hungarian help to clarify the Donations Scandal? Like they did with the border opening? (They incidentally wouldn’t have had much success this time round: The ex-chancellor is the proud owner of a Hungarian state award, given to him at the zenith of his downfall). So I am left to scramble for excuses for my own impotence: For God’s sake, I am only a writer, after all!

But despite, or just because of the fact that I have no political ambitions, I ask to be taken seriously. There is a mental error marring the arguments of the democratically legitimate rulers and their fascist allies – sometimes used, and sometimes abusing – from the “Hungarian Justice and Life” party. Since 1989, the division between a Hungarian and an international public is gone. Even I, whose literary career – from a purely technical standpoint – was built on a GDR made Erika typewriter, know that anyone can find out anything and everything that matters about Hungary today in roughly ten minutes. All that it takes is typing the name “Csurka” into the search box in the internet and a little help from an interpreter.

The rest is up to that once promising project of the Messrs Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot & co.

Published 15 November 2000
Original in German
Translated by Nadezda Kinsky

© György Dalos / Eurozine


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