A SEASON OF REMEMBERING

In the first article in this November 2012 edition of Hungarian Review, our regular columnist Péter Ákos Bod contemplates the missed chances of the Hungarian capital. In his view, the dreams of the early 1990s that Budapest would become a regional hub have not been realised. Such recent developments as the collapse of the Hungarian national airline Malév, without a comparable successor, the continuing delays to complete Hungary’s worst serial road works, also known as the 4th Metro line, and the decrepit condition of many city buses are symbolic of a deeper malaise – the failure of successive governments, and of the political and business elite, to establish a bare minimum of consensus on the main issues of the future of the capital. For the missed chances of Budapest, Bod argues, much of the blame should be borne by the former liberal Mayor, Gábor Demszky, whose two decade rule, until 2010, was as incompetent as it was corrupt.

But there has been growth, and there are green shoots appearing, the optimist insists. The old glory of late 19th century Budapest is shining through again in the many restored sumptuous house fronts, restaurants, and museums, while the city infrastructure has made some progress during those 20 years despite everything. Bod, a former Governor of the National Bank, contends that the potential of the metropolis remains high, and points to the masses of new jobs for qualified Hungarians in the financial services sector as a hopeful sign. Bod speculates that the southern expansion of the EU into Croatia next year, and even the crisis in the more established South, in Greece, Spain, and Portugal may cause a shift of prominence back to Central Europe, with Budapest reaping the rewards. But all this will need skilful handling by the current Mayor, István Tarlós, and by the central government.

Also in this edition we have the thoughts of two highly respected journalists and commentators. John O’Sullivan, former executive editor of Radio Free Europe, writes on the drama of Cardinal Mindszenty’s life, from opponent of Nazism to prisoner of Stalinism to “victim of history”. Mindszenty shared, O’Sullivan suggests, Pope John Paul II’s conviction that communism’s roots in the population were much shallower than generally thought, and that its end was nigh – even when such ideas were treated as anathema in the age of Détente.

Christian Mititelu, former head of the BBC Romanian section and now a political analyst in Bucharest, discusses the political condition of his country on the eve of the Parliamentary election in December. He demolishes the myth of President Băsescu’s perfection, but in doing so, sharpens and justifies the domestic and international critique of the Victor Ponta–Crin Antonescu team now running the country. Whoever wins the election will face massive challenges, Mititelu argues – to push through basic reforms, not least of health care, pensions and education.

The leading German Christian Democrat, Karl Lamers speaks to Editor-in-Chief Gyula Kodolányi about his memories on the anniversary of German re-unification, and the Hungarian contribution to it. He argues that Hungary remains a trusted political partner for Germany, as the recent visit of Viktor Orbán to Berlin testifies.

Nick Thorpe studies two resourceful examples of recycling in Hungary and wonders whether the country might be on the brink of a golden age of responsible re-use of waste, after squandering its initial, Communist era advantage.

As in our November issue last year, we devote a cluster of essays and memoirs to the events of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and its aftermath. György Gömöri and Mátyás Sárközi remember how they as young refugee students were received by the hospitable British – and how their first steps in that country were guided by marvellous people like Zoltán Szabó, the senior Hungarian writer in exile, whose Notes on Orwell add that extra dimension to the appreciation of that British genius, which only survivors of Communism could have earned, the hard way.

Having survived the War by only a few years, one can only speculate on whether Orwell had a full grasp of the devastations wrought by the totalitarianism systems he so detested, Nazism and Bolshevism. The physical and mental landscape of conflagrated Europe is set in a Biblical context by the powerful poem Gomorrah, by our regular contributor, American poet Tony Brinkley. In one of the two poems connected with the 1956 Hungarian Revolution in this issue of Hungarian ReviewBartók, Gyula Illyés says: “we have suffered such things that there are still no verbs for them”. That is how the poet saw the recent past on the threshold of the Revolution, and that could be, indeed, a summary of Brinkley’s long poem. It is on that same note that Ádám Makkai, in A Cup of Black Coffee, remembers the fallen Revolution in his exile in the US. On a lighter note, let us not forget the fictive report of novelist Attila Balázs, which discloses what Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito, an admirer of exotic cuisine and lovely women, cooked in the kitchen with Sophia Loren.

Just some of the delights in the autumn larder of this edition of Hungarian Review.

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