THE COMMON GOOD (THE BAD AND THE UGLY)

„For three men… reads the poster for the classic western, ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ (1966), ‘the civil war wasn’t hell, it was practice.” “A bounty hunting scam joins two men in an uneasy alliance against a third in a race to find a fortune in gold buried in a remote cemetery.” It’s not a bad metaphor for the past twenty years in Hungary and the wider, East-Central European region. The political parties were locked in a kind of civil war. Such alliances as did exist have been pretty uneasy. There was a common perception in the public that you could only get rich if you cheated. And the pot of gold in the remote cemetery? Well, that might as well be in the “wild east” of the continent, with the property scams run by countless, former Communist rulers, and their sons and daughters, or in western European countries to which the skilled and unskilled alike traditionally flee, in search of a decent income.

What has been missing from the equation, writes Miklós Király, in this edition of the Hungarian Review, is a clear sense of “The Common Good”. Google the phrase and you get “about 295 million hits in 0.07 seconds.” Miklós Király’s words come at a particularly ‘good’ moment, however, as he was one of the shaping voices of the debate on the new Hungarian constitution, due to be finally unveiled this spring. Given the skirmishes which the recent Media Law provoked, his essay is valuable, not just because it helps explain some of the philosophical values which underpin the present governing party in Hungary, but in a much wider sense, this is a vision of how to get beyond just that “civil war” atmosphere of the post-Communist era.

There is also plenty of fierce, fresh, positive thinking in Adam Seligman’s interview, From Foca (in Bosnia) to Famagusta (in northern Cyprus). What do we actually mean by “tolerance”? Seligman asks. Is it not simply often what he calls “liberal indifference?” Seligman taps at some of the roots of our multicultural societies, and finds those roots woefully shallow. And he explores ways – in our pages as in his annual International Summer School on Religion and Public Life – of developing our “resources for tolerance” which encourage people to express and be content with their differences, in globalised societies in which we are increasingly expected to look and think the same.

Leading the current affairs pages of this issue, Zsolt Hernádi, the imaginative CEO of MOL, the Hungarian Oil and Gas Group, outlines in an interview his vision of a common European energy market, and just how far the continent is from achieving that. The good will, he notes, is there, but while the East focuses (of necessity) on building infrastructure, the West is more concerned with regulation. While on the ground, the north-south construction of pipelines continues apace, as the most urgent and practical method in central Europe, of lessening dependence on a single supplier.

Die Welt correspondent Boris Kálnoky studies the German reception the Hungarian presidency of the EU has received so far, and discovers a strange discrepancy between the judgement of many journalists, and the carefully weighed thoughts of the politicians.

At a time when Hungarian economic policy is under particular international scrutiny, Péter Ákos Bod reminds readers of a long history of Indian-wrestling between the central bank and the powers of the day – lest anyone imagine that the current tensions over interest rates and promoting growth were somehow a Fidesz invention.

In an issue rich with contributions from abroad, Ioana Voicu-Arnăuţoiu’s work has a special place. “The stronger-willed fall over and become lethargic with their eyes wide open – the mind ceases to work – in the end they fall asleep,” wrote a doctor, employed by the Romanian secret police, the Securitate in May 1958, to describe the effects of drugged pálinka (brandy). Ioana relates the astonishing story of her parents, who were among the last anti-Communist partisans, and the elaborate tricks devised by the Securitate to capture and finally destroy them. Her own story is no less remarkable – her struggle and research to discover her unknown origins – in the Securitate archives. We present two documents, published here in English for the first time.

“For many years, always in March,

I’ve felt sorry for these quiet

days and cloudy skies…”

wrote the Estonian poet Jaan Kaplinski, in his latest volume to be published in English (Evening Brings Everything Back, Bloodaxe books, 2004). In this edition we are pleased to present Kaplinski’s essay on the peculiar genius of the Finno-Ugric languages, which share a nominalist view of the world with many – often unrelated – Oriental languages, Kaplinski argues.

János Szávai’s essay relates us how the major 20th century poet Gyula Illyés gave a lesson in nominalist humour to his friend Paul Éluard, who came in search of a workers’ paradise to Communist Hungary in the late 1940’s. As part of that personal dialogue on liberty, writes his best known poem, A Sentence on Tyranny.

Tony Brinkley Illyés wrote on the extraordinary group of spiritual challenges of the ultimate presence, in the work of Gyula Illyés, Paul Celan, W. B. Yeats and Wallace Stevens. His essay is followed by a short selection of poems reprinted from Illyés’ Charon’s Ferry.

Finally there is Klára Hambuger’s elegant centenary view of the Liszt phenomenon – not to mention a feast of other articles in this March 2011 issue.

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