Early morning on the Buda shore, just beside Liberty Bridge, a smudged, autumnal sun rising lazily over Pest. The Danube is low, and a floating landing stage, moored to the bank, is surrounded by the flotsam and jetsam, tree trunks and branches of the old river. A passenger boat comes fast down the Danube, under the green arches of the bridge, then swings round to approach the landing stage, upstream. So far so good. The captain steers the boat confidently alongside, but then something strange happens. After a brief discussion on the deck, a young crewman walks up to the bow, armed with a boathook, and selects the largest of a selection of logs amidst the driftwood. He then lassoes a protruding root of it with his rope, secures that to the stanchion on deck, and walks back down to his mates, looking pleased with himself. The stern of the boat swings out into the current, but the rope attached to the bow holds – for now. The image could serve to illustrate that longing for stability of Europeans since 2008, and some of the attempts to provide it.
In this September issue of HR, three economists, Zoltán Pogátsa, László Csaba, and Péter Ákos Bod argue, from different starting points, for what Péter Bod calls the “anchor” of a strong currency, and against those players in the economy who may be toying with the devaluation of the Hungarian forint. Each economist follows a different line, but their conclusion is the same. Bod goes further and suggests that, however far away Hungary’s entry to the eurozone might seem, and however racked with problems that zone might now be, the best way of giving the Hungarian ship the stability it needs is to publically announce a schedule to fulfil the eurozone entry conditions”. This, and the fact that, as he emphasises, “the fundamentals of the Hungarian economy are better in several respects than many of the troubled eurozone economies” could do much to steer Hungary safely through the difficult waters upstream.
The English conservative philosopher Roger Scruton, in conversation with Ferenc Hörcher, offers a rather different vision of an anchor in these turbulent times: the nation-state. He anchors himself firmly among the supporters of the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, as a champion of that much-maligned institution. And in disagreement with our economic contributors, he writes scathingly about the euro. “The response of the European elite to all these difficulties”, he says, “is to say more Europe, more centralisation, when the mistake is exactly centralisation”. Perhaps both views are right. Scruton reminds us that nations are more than mere economic enterprises and that the economy should not be the foremost criterion in their policies. It has become obvious, he writes, that the founders of the euro did not prepare for the sort of crisis that is taking place now in the Union.
Also in the bumper Current Affairs section of this issue we have two important contributions on the state of affairs in Slovakia and Romania. Former Slovak Foreign Minister Pavol Demeš argues that Prime Minister Robert Fico has learnt from past mistakes, and is now following a far more mature and consensual political trajectory than in his first term in the mid-2000s. Writing on the recent and continuing turmoil in Romania, Mihail Poliţeanu, former Justice Minister Monica Macovei’s chief of staff, spells out the extraordinary judicial and constitutional tricks with which Victor Ponta’s government has eroded the fundaments of democracy in that country in less than half a year. “This is not a game between the right and the left”, he suggests, “but a struggle between the rule of law and an emerging mafia state”.
In the last two months in Hungary, much of the foreground of public debate has been devoted to the highly emotive case of László Csatáry, the 97-year-old former Hungarian policeman, now under investigation foralleged war crimes in 1944. Nick Thorpe’s introductory essay outlines both the Hungarian wartime and post-war context, whilethe judicial machinery in three countries ground forwards. This is followed by his interview with jurist Ádám Gellért, which also touches on the wider issueof how to handle state-sponsored crimes in general –a sensitive issue, since hardly any of the perpetrators of communist terror after the failedRevolution of 1956have beenbrought to trial in Hungary yet.
The dimensions of that Revolution, and its international significance as the only armed civil uprising against Soviet totalitarianism are shown in John O’Sullivan’s interpretation of Hungary’s history in the Cold War – which ended with Hungary’s central role, with Poland and Czechoslovakia, in the velvet revolutions of 1989.
In a richly illustrated arts section, we introduce contemporary textile artist Erzsébet Katona Szabó, whose love of colour and material matches her intellectual resourcefulness in her suede leather compositions. In her calligraphic paper collages she manipulates, by way of an homage, passages from the sonnets of William Shakespeare, just as Gyula Kodolányi does in the poems that follow, Messages of W. Sh.
We conclude this issue with articles by the two curators of the recent Budapest exhibition of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Julius Bryant and Marie-Louise von Plessen. They place this show in the wider European context of the emerging applied and industrial arts scene, connecting London with Berlin, Vienna, Prague and Budapest more than hundred years ago. Welcome to the September issue of Hungarian Review.