Once upon a time, not so many months ago, there was something frighteningly boring about Hungary. She smiled at the right moments, imposed fierce austerity measures when she was supposed to, year after year, no matter how much her long-suffering people suffered under their weight, longed to be loved in the group photos, but still managed to stand out as the odd kid in the class of 2004.
What is strange, from a European perspective, about Hungary under Fidesz is that she is not pretending to be the same any more, she is daring to be different. By taxing the banks and big, mostly foreign-owned corporations, and trying to support small local producers, she risks the wrath of the financial world. By speaking out for ‘Hungarian’ interests, she needles all those for whom the nation-state – with the convenient exception of their own – is a Nineteenth century anachronism. The media law, passed recklessly just days before Hungary assumed the presidency, finally set the Hungarian cat among the European pidgeons. Or did it set the European cats among the peaceful Hungarian pidgeons? Whatever the merits or faults of the new legislation, no-one can accuse Hungary of rolling over on her back any more, and waiting to be tickled!
We welcome you to this, second edition of the Hungarian Review with a feast of reading for your cabins in the Good Ship Europa, while Hungary takes the helm through the long reaches of the night. Or while you stand beside her on the bridge, pointing out submerged islands, treacherous shallows, or sights of astonishing beauty at dawn or dusk, which the helmsman, so used to the drudgery of the engine room, has never before had the opportunity to observe.
Time is a common theme in this edition. The Prime Minister Viktor Orban reminds readers that the Twentieth century is over, and sketches his ideas of the challenges facing Europe, and his own country in the next decades – not just in the short time-span of his government. He calls for a strong Europe, rooted in its cultural, religious and moral traditions, and a turn away from the ideology of credit, speculation and skepticism. In practical terms, he calls for a bigger, bolder Europe, he supports Romania and Bulgaria’s endeavours to join the Schengen area, and the efforts of former Yugoslav countries, led by Croatia, to join the EU as soon as possible. He understands the sense of urgency they feel, even as some in Brussels, or Paris, or Berlin fall prey to enlargement fatigue.
This theme is continued in Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi’s interview. The construction of Europe is not yet over, he says, ‘you cannot leave black holes on the map.’ He also underlines the inestimable value for Hungary and other Central European countries of further enlargement – that they will regain their rightful place at the centre of the continent, rather than forever on the periphery.
Peter Akos Bod puts the economics of the Hungarian presidency into the context of the turbulent times surrounding the European currency. He also points out the risks which the Fidesz economic policies entail, as she sails before the wind on the high seas. George Schopflin identifies a certain disdain for central Europe, and Hungary in particular, in the western media. ‘We in Central Europe,’ he writes, ‘…are regarded as “alien.” We’re not exotic enough….we are sort of like the rest, and yet we’re not like the rest…We’re sort of sufficiently different to be an irritant.’ At a time when the West considers itself to be the “moral legislator of the world”.
In her article, the noted Romanian MEP and champion of good-governance Monica Macovei invites Hungary to use her presidency to make progress towards an EU anti-corruption mechanism. And she spells out the vast losses caused by corruption across Europe, West as well as East, especially in healthcare – a subject close to the heart of another of our contributors, Istvan Mikola, in his interview on the future of the Hungarian healthcare system.
The British historian Norman Stone rose heroically from his sick-bed in Istanbul to deliver his powerful meditation on the role of Mikhail Gorbachev in the changes in Russia and Europe. And the Hungarian Roma historian Sandor Romano Racz traces the elusive history of his own people. Writing of the days in the summer of 1989 when time actually stopped, Gaspar Groh asks, from the front seat of his Trabant, whether freedom is actually possible, in our world of time and space.
We also offer you a parade of unlikely, and more likely heroes. Klára and József Béres, the founders of Beres natural treatments for a range of illnesses including cancer and HIV-Aids; the remarkable Hungarian independent midwife Ágnes Geréb, recently released from prison but still under house arrest in Budapest; and the composer Ferenc Liszt in a year of celebration of his work.
Also in the Arts section, Tony Brinkley is true to the theme of ‘time’ with his essay on the ‘eternities’ of the Russian, or as he puts it, un-Russian poet Osip Mandelshtam, and Thomas Cooper writes on the distinctiveness of the prose of Zsuzsa Rakovszky in the postmodern literary landscape. Brinkley and Cooper both address questions that arise when translating literature into English, including the problems of the interaction of literary traditions, and their essays are followed by excerpts from their translations of works of the two authors. Maria Prokopp’s astonishing work to uncover the secrets of Botticelli’s work in Esztergom, seat of the Hungarian Catholic church, provides both the framework, and a tale of adventure and discovery for this volume.