LIKEABLE, LONG-SUFFERING HUNGARIANS

What did both Hitler and Stalin admire about Hungary? It sounds like the question in a university quiz show which no contestant can guess the right answer to. “The water-polo team?” hazards one contestant. “The women?” offers another. “Goulash?” asks another, desperately. The right answer, however unlikely this may sound, is “leadership”. In contrast to Yugoslavs, Romanians and Bulgarians, Hitler flattered the newly appointed anti-Nazi Hungarian Prime Minister, Miklós Kállay in 1942, that the Hungarians created “a strong, well-organized state”, thanks to “the natural leadership qualities of the old nobility”. The quotation is from Charles Fenyvesi’s thoughtful portrait of Kállay in this edition of Hungarian Review. And the quotation itself is a curious echo of Stalin’s comment to the Yugoslav Communist (and later dissident) Milovan Dilas, about why he admired Hungarians and Poles. “He (Stalin) said to me on one occasion that nations which had been ruled by powerful aristocracies, like the Hungarians and the Poles, were strong nations. Stalin was a great admirer of powerful states and powerful institutions, even when he was opposed to them; and his fear of the Hungarians and the Poles was a revealing backhanded recognition of Polish and Hungarian stamina.”

Stalin’s comment may have been more honest – unlike Hitler, he had no ulterior motive in flattering the Hungarians – and his comment was an aside to a Serb. But if the two great ogres were right in the twentieth century, what lessons can we draw, if any, for Hungarian leadership in the twenty-first? György Granasztói argues in this edition that Fidesz are by and large providing the strong leadership which the country needs today. He suggests that what he calls the civil war in the intellectual and public life of the country, which had lasted for much of the past twenty years, ended with the massive Fidesz victory in last year’s election. Far from stamping its own, awful image on the country as its critics allege, Granasztói suggests that the margin of the Fidesz victory established the conditions for “the recreation of the political, which is one of the preconditions of the proper functioning of a democracy”.

On the economic front, our regular contributor Péter Ákos Bod explores the history of business–government relations during the past twenty years of transition. Foreign firms, he points out, now account for a quarter of Hungarian employment, a third of all pre-tax profit and two thirds of the exports. About half their profits have been re-invested in the country, rather than repatriated. Yet they have also had a deeply distorting effect on the economy, as Hungarian-owned firms have been unable to benefit from the same tax-breaks, and were also unable to tap the cheap credits which the big multinationals could bring from abroad. Hungary got a relatively good international press whenever pro-big business Socialist-Liberal governments were in power, and a bad one whenever Conservatives tried to support small businesses, as is the case once again with the present government, Bod argues. Yet what pleased “the chattering classes abroad”, hurt them at home, and served to accentuate the sense of alienation many Hungarian feel towards the market economy. The current government is often pro big business in its actions – viz. the new investment of Mercedes-Benz in Kecskemét – and hostile to it in its rhetoric, Bod points out. “A certain ‘reindustrialization’ of the economic system is lurking in the policy statements; and whatever one thinks of its feasibility, this new policy line is in harmony with other measures aiming at creating a high number of tax paying jobs in the Hungarian economy”, he concludes.

Also in this edition, we publish Nick Thorpe’s report on an unusual success story – the rapid, remarkable rebuilding of the village of Kolontár and the town of Devecser ahead of the first anniversary of the Red Sludge disaster in October. The same author writes on the once beautiful island of Ada Kaleh, a Turkish enclave lost beneath the waves of the Danube as a consequence of the Iron Gates hydroelectric project exactly 40 years ago.

Ágnes Gereben explores the intricacies of the new Putin–Medvedev rivalry in Russia, and concludes that whatever one thinks of him (and her own view is far from uncritical) Putin is riding for another historic victory in the next Russian Presidential elections.

Péter Csermely, who might be described as Hungary’s “talent tsar” describes what he believes is the great pool of untapped talent in Hungary and Europe as a whole, and some of the ways being developped to discover and channel it to the greater good.

Enjoying the blessings of belated summer weather in Budapest and in Central Europe, we hope that our readers elsewhere, too, will have sufficient leisure to browse through all else that our September issue offers.

Following the fall – in Libya – of another in a long line of odious autocrats, we wish all our readers a prosperous and peaceful autumn.

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