When asked on one occasion how Poland managed to post a year of moderate growth in 2009, when the rest of Europe stumbled drunkenly into the red, the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk famously remarked “we were lucky!”
Everyone needs a certain amount of luck in politics, and Viktor Orbán’s administration has not been exactly blessed in this respect, with European recession setting in just as Hungary wanted to soar up on a growth course in mid-2010. This spring, as the government sends out cautious messages implying that the whirlwind of legislation which has enveloped the past eighteen months is over, and that it is now keen to reach consensus with other political forces in Hungary, opposition parties reply, not surprisingly, that it is too late. When they wanted a meaningful say in the new Constitution, they were not taken seriously. They then took their woes to their European sister parties in Brussels and Strasbourg, raising Hungarian domestic politics to the visibility level of major European issues. In the Brussels Commission and the Strasbourg Parliament European dignitaries have been ﬂexing muscles and scoring points over the small print of recent laws in Hungary, while bank ofﬁ ces were going up in a blaze in the streets of Athens. In this edition of the Hungarian Review, we kick off with Nick Thorpe’s report of the Prime Minister’s performance in Strasbourg, in what is presented as a football match played by the major fraction teams of the European Parliament. Viktor Orbán may have been the top scorer of that match, Thorpe concludes, but the season ahead will prove long and arduous.
This year is the 100th anniversary of the birth of the remarkable Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved tens of thousands of Jews in Hungary before he disappeared in the hands of the Soviet secret services. We publish Foreign Minister János Martonyi’s speech to launch the Wallenberg year in Hungary and János Pelle’s painstaking reconstruction of both the man and the context in which he worked. By showing that Wallenberg was not alone in saving lives, Pelle contributes much to our understanding of Wallenberg’s own bravery.
Péter Ákos Bod, in his regular column, examines the fundamentals of the Hungarian economy and ﬁnds them surprisingly sturdy – notwithstanding the government’s failure to deliver on its promise of growth. In a second economic essay, László Árva and András Schlett stand back from the battles of the moment, to stand up for the state as a necessary “sentinel” to ensure economic development. They supply the sad statistics – not surprising to most Hungarians – that after 20 years of a fully liberalized market, the income of ordinary Hungarians is even further behind that of Austrians than it was in 1980. The core of their contribution focusses on potentially useful models from the Far East – Taiwan, Malaysia and South Korea.
Also in our Current Affairs section, Zoltán Balog reﬂects on the changing position of the Roma, eighteen months into his tenure as Secretary of State for Social Inclusion, and on a government strategy which has won grudging admiration at home and abroad. To Secretary Balog’s unquestioned dedication and expertise the distinguished Hungarian Roma writer Sándor Romano Rácz brings the insider’s view in the essay section, showing the many facets of the complex problem of Roma integration. The noted Slovak environmentalist Jaromír Šíbl talks about the fate of the environment along the banks of the River Danube in Southern Slovakia and Northwest Hungary, since the unilateral diversion of the Danube by the Slovak government exactly twenty years ago. At issue was the Gabčíkovo (Bôs) barrage system with its huge reservoir, one of the most contested themes of the Transition years, between Hungary and Slovakia, and between environmentalists and water engineers.
Tony Brinkley offers another essay of sensitive insights on modern classics of Russian poetry – this time Marina Tsvetaeva, who has extended the idea of translation to the creative process itself.
Enikô Bollobás introduces the ﬁgure and work of 19th century Hungarian naturalist János Xantus, who identiﬁed new species of animals in North America, and immortalized in fabulous etchings Indian folklore, and scenes in California no one would recognize today.
The art section includes an essay on the varied work of sculptor Tamás Körösényi, who died at the height of his career in 2010. In our ﬁlm column Hungarian-Californian documentary ﬁlm-maker Réka Pigniczky makes her debut as a regular critic in this March issue, while internationally renowned wine writer Gábor Rohály starts a new column on – what could we expect – wines.