WHERE DO WE COME FROM?
WHAT ARE WE? WHERE ARE WE GOING?
2021

A few years ago, I spent time at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts with five friends, from America, England, Poland, the Netherlands, and Germany, respectively. When we reached the painting by Gauguin, entitled Where Do We Come from? What Are We? Where Are We Going?, we looked at one another: this is the question we have been trying to answer all our lives! What is our legacy, and what do we accept from it? What can we want, and what do we want from the future?

It was my turn: what is the Hungarian response? I hesitated, saying that it is difficult to talk about ‘Hungarians’ in general because, like all peoples, we are a diverse lot. My quibbles were overruled, so I told them the following (though citations then quoted from memory are here reproduced in their correct form). In some places, I also covered matters of common knowledge to those who share my Hungarian culture, and for that I ask their patience.

WHERE DO WE COME FROM? WHAT ARE WE?

Hungarians Are Lovers of Freedom
History has shown that the price of physical survival is often the loss of freedom and culture. We possess the material remains of many lost cultures, but their descendants, even if they still exist, no longer share the culture of their ancestors. A cultural unit is constituted if it has institutionalized political-philosophical, religious, artistic, and academic reflections, and a historical identity. Many of today’s nation states possess these traits, as they were also held by city-states, such as Athens in the time of Socrates, or supra-national entities such as, for instance, the Roman Empire.

We Hungarians have never been able to give up either our culture or our freedom. The focus of the Hungarian mindset and way of life is intellectual and spiritual freedom. The desire for freedom and the competitive spirit that accompanies it can best be expressed in terms of the Latin virtus, i.e. virtue, courage, valour.

The socio-psychological background of the Hungarian virtus takes this form: man suffers from injustices, but bears them, until finally he explodes. Zsigmond Móricz writes the following in his novel Sándor Rózsa (1941): ‘such was his nature that he would not complain if a tree were hewn down upon him: he could not strike another without striking himself in the heart.’ But only up to a certain point! Thanks to the Habsburgs, it came to be widely believed of the Hungarians that they were inherently unpredictable and rebellious. To Hungarian eyes, our hardships stem from the fact that we are a people alone, ringed around by more populous Germanic and Slavic (including Russian) peoples, with an added measure of Turkish pressure. These geopolitical constraints are compounded by our inclinations, mistakes, and sins. In its lamentations, the fate of the Hungarians could perhaps only be compared to those of the Old-Testament Hebrews. Consider, for instance, this jeremiad of 1242, entitled Lamentation for Hungary, after the Desolation of the Tatars: ‘Rachel weeps, her tears fall, no words to tell her pain, the wild Tartars, her sons’ swift death, she sobs her endless grief. Even Judah and the Nile, where babes were slain of old, is surely now surpassed in this by our Pannonia.’

According to Johan Huizinga, a people gains its moral personality when its self-consciousness and the image outsiders have of it overlap: ‘Independent moral value is possessed only by those national ideals embodied in a truly human hero, or in a struggle for freedom engendering universal admiration’ (Historical Ideals of Life, 1915). For Hungarians, it is the 1956 Revolution that has come to embody the essence of our uprisings and struggles for freedom. The fact that a people just ten million strong confronted an empire whose armed forces alone outnumbered them can be grasped and admired by anyone, independent of place and time. István Vas’s poem ‘The New Thomas’ (1956) is an artistic reflection of this Hungarian self-consciousness: ‘I delight to see, and say, “arisen!” You are arisen, my buried nation … Foreign soldiers are pouring across the border. Invaders and killers are coming—I am Hungarian. No longer two, but one. Certainty sets my heart beating.’

Hungarians Are Survivors
Sir Bryan Cartledge, former British ambassador to Hungary, wrote a history of this country in 2006, the title of which, The Will to Survive, in his opinion expresses our most defining characteristic. Despite our exceptionally dangerous geopolitical location, and the expectations of many scribes, Hungarian culture, freedom, and virtus live on in the Carpathian Basin. Despite all setbacks, the creative power and endurance of the Hungarians’ will to survive restores and regulates our environment again and again.

Our socio-economic performance aligns with the Central European average, despite the devastating human and material traumas and losses Hungary suffered during the twentieth century. These include, but are by no means limited to, the following: the two World Wars and the reparations thereafter demanded; the Treaty of Trianon of 1920, which deprived us of two thirds of our national territory and natural resources; the deportation and murder of our Jewish compatriots during the Second World War, and the hundreds of thousands deported to the Soviet Union for malenkaya rabota or forced labour. During the Second World War, Hungary lost close to one million people in total, which, as a proportion of the overall population, was the highest in the world after Poland and the Soviet Union. Then came the population exchanges, deportations, and emigrations of 1945–1948, and the revolution of 1956 and subsequent flight. Add to this the crippling, performance-limiting effects on human initiative of ‘socialism’, and the diminution of national wealth due to the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party’s (MSZMP) serial economic policy mistakes. By 1990, the country found itself saddled with $20 billion or 69.6 per cent of GDP in public debt. Then came the heroic struggle of the first democratically elected Antall government (May 1990 – December 1993) to keep the economy afloat, while the country suffered a huge loss of national wealth due to the collusion of former MSZMP members and their ‘expert’ associates, who changed their power to wealth in 1990, then back to political power in 1994. Not to belabour the point, but the continued existence of our country is the very essence of survival.

As a matter of fact, in the Carpathian Basin, as in many other parts of the world, many people choose the role of victim rather than that of survivor because it seemingly reduces responsibility for one’s destiny. Learned helplessness, when one tends, based on experience or upbringing, to give up the struggle in advance and surrender to circumstance, has a similar effect. These are natural self-defence mechanisms, and we have all experienced situations in which all we wanted was security and peace of mind, and to forget our torments. In spite of learned helplessness and the identification with victimhood, however, it is a fact that Hungarian culture and freedom exist, and are competitive.

Hungarians Are Realists
In terms of its size, Hungary is the most ecologically diverse country in the European Union. However, being in a geopolitical buffer zone, it is under constant pressure. A geopolitical constellation may emerge in which an aggressor is able to mobilize overwhelming force to obtain our wealth. Therefore, contrary to romantic or utopian ideas, the basic precondition for preserving Hungarian freedom is realism: we must be willing and able to weigh up our options rationally, in light of the facts. This attitude can be seen as a willingness or obligation to compromise, but it is actually a virtue: in a given situation, virtue must also be forged from necessity. Realism is not a matter of choice, but a consequence of our geopolitical situation and cultural endowments: our history has nurtured in us a view that considers space and time as a wide and unpredictable horizon requiring continual vigilance.

For many centuries, we lived under pressure from the peoples of the steppes, then the Germans, the Turks, and the Slavic nations, including Russians. At the same time, the Carpathian Basin is a region which from time to time emerges as a physically, intellectually, or religiously important conflict zone between American, British, French, German, Russian, and Turkish interests. Think of the German, Ottoman, and Soviet invasions or religious wars, or of the recent European migration crisis, or the refugee flows from the current Russia–Ukraine War. We need to know the dynamics of power centres both near and far, because sooner or later they will show up here as well. To survive, we need to strike a balance and make agreements because we have never been stronger or more numerous than those who want to advance their interests to our detriment, or who simply find us an impediment.

The goal of realpolitik is to reconcile ourselves to the world without losing our culture, and at the same time to preserve the order and balance of our own environment. The fact that Hungarians are a multi-centred nation is a key advantage in this balancing strategy. Thus, even in seemingly hopeless situations, there remained centres—called ‘nodes’ in network science—which represented Hungarian order either in war or during negotiations. For instance, after the Habsburgs beheaded Zrínyi, Frangepán, and Nádasdy,1Leaders of an anti-Habsburg conspiration, executed in 1671. and confiscated their estates, resistance did not cease, as they had expected, but simply arose again from countless new points. As Gábor Karátson 2Writer, literary translator, painter, and philosopher (1935–2015). put it, Hungarians think in fields, not in causal chains.

In terms of a balancing strategy, alliance structures are preferable to bilateral frameworks. Our national interest, for example, lies in NATO and European Union membership, as multilateral decisions reflect a common denominator beyond the fleeting interests of individual members. An example of a volatile and fragile situation today is the dilemma of certain countries in bilateral relations with Russia and China. Germany, for instance, may suffer the consequences of alienating Russia because of its energy needs, or China because of its export interests, while at the same time the US political elite sees these countries as the chief opponents in need of disciplining. But relationships can change at any time. Let us merely consider US policy on China from Nixon to the present day, and the economic interests of the Democratic and Republican elite in China. In March 1848, as British Foreign Secretary, Lord Palmerston formulated the rule with raw sincerity: ‘We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.’

The lesson of Hungarian history is that, under pressure from powers that want to assert their interests, we can best preserve the balance within a framework of alliances, so that even when, for reasons beyond our control, the relationship between those powers undergoes a change we can still influence our fate. The intellectual virtus required for this ensures the preservation and survival of Hungarian culture and freedom.

In addition to our view of open space, our realism is also strengthened by our view of time, which is again rooted in our geopolitical experiences. The Carpathian Basin is a volatile area where it is difficult to plan for the long term. The ancient Greek saying is especially apt here: politics is the art of timing. Hungarians must think in both the short and long term at the same time: whoever wins time wins life.

Those living here, despite their ecological wealth, were not able to accumulate wealth due to the existential uncertainty caused by constant resource extraction and the need to begin again and again. Over the centuries, the majority of families in the Carpathian Basin have lost their property every two or three generations, either through their own mistakes or due to war, plague, royal decree, or other external causes. Time-realism dictates that we must both make it through bad times and at the same time plan for future generations. Imagine how Hungary might have developed if, like Britain, no foreign army had invaded our territory since 1066, if there had been no civil war since 1710—some ten generations ago—and prosperity had been allowed to increase undisturbed. Existential insecurity means that Hungarians tend to employ individual, or more precisely family-centred strategies: they take care of their loved ones first, and then everything else follows.

This lack of accumulated wealth and disposable capital also means that from time to time external support may be needed to ensure self-preservation. It was only thanks to a favourable constellation of circumstances, for instance, that Francis Rákóczi II, in his war for Hungarian constitutional rights against the Habsburgs between 1703 and 1710, was able to count on the support of the French king without being transformed into a mere tool of international geopolitics. Likewise, it required virtuoso skill on the part of Ferenc Deák and his colleagues in 1867 to exploit shifts in the European balance of power and reach an advantageous compromise with the Habsburgs—establishing the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy—without concessions to external forces. Existential insecurity, however, does also entail the risk that external forces will tempt some to serve their interests through incentives of wealth or status. Examples of this harmful, community-destroying phenomenon include Nazi Germany enabling the putsch that brought the Arrow Cross to power in Budapest in 1944, or the Soviets bringing the Hungarian Bolsheviks to power in 1947. Hungarians’ distrust and suspicion towards external financiers intervening in Hungarian life stems from such experiences.

This spatial and temporal realism characterizes the fate of those tragic heroes who appear again and again in Hungarian history. Weighing up their prospects with realism, they shoulder the burden of their fate, and fight valiantly to establish a new balance which will allow Hungary to be free. The fates of Gábor Bethlen, 3Prince of Transylvania, 1613–1629. His reign is considered as the ‘Golden Age’ of the principality. Francis Rákóczi II, 4Prince of Transylvania, leader of a national uprising against the Habsburgs in 1703–1711. He fled the country after the defeat, refusing to take an oath of allegiance to the emperor, which would have let him keep his estates. Pál Teleki, 5Prime minister of Hungary in 1920–1921 and 1939–1941. He tried to preserve Hungary’s neutrality and committed suicide when Regent Horthy allowed German troops to march through Hungary and invade Yugoslavia. and Imre Nagy 6Prime minister of Hungary during the 1956 Revolution. He was executed in 1958. remind us that there is an eternal code of ethics and purpose. We know the figures in Hungarian history worthy of the praise given to Antigone as she buries her brother: ‘Yet a glorious death, and rich in fame is yours; you go to the silent tomb not smitten with a wasting sickness, nor repaying a debt to the sharp-edged sword, but alone among mortals.’

Virtue is not the privilege of great personalities. Almost every person has a choice, as Erik Erikson points out in Childhood and Society (1950): ‘ego integrity is an experience that provides a kind of world order and spiritual meaning, no matter how much one has to pay for it; such a man is ready to defend the dignity of his own way of life against any physical or economic threat. That is the possession of the wise Indian, the true gentleman, and the mature peasant, as opposed to the despair one feels when one considers that the time is too short to start a new life, or to try new ways.’ This life-affirming attitude is confirmed by Max Weber in the context of public life, in his presentation Politics as a Profession (1919): ‘man would not have attained the possible unless time and again he had reached out for the impossible. But to do that a man must be a leader, and not only a leader but a hero as well, in the very sober sense of the word. And even those who are neither leaders nor heroes must arm themselves with that steadfastness of heart which can brave even the crumbling of all hopes. That is necessary right now, or else men will not be able to attain even that which is possible today.’

Upon the persistent questioning of my friends, I summed up what I have to say in the following: Hungarians are freedom-loving survivors, and down-to-earth realists. In a geopolitical conflict zone, in the ecologically rich Carpathian Basin, a constituted lifeworld and order was created. They have fought with valiant determination to ward off external forces that threaten their culture and freedom. The desire to survive shaped their realistic view of space and time, and their striving for compromise and balance. As a result of the need to defend their country, and the extraction of their resources when they could not, they have never been able to accumulate wealth in the manner of peoples living in less geopolitically challenging regions. Yet through their capacity for endurance and creativity, they are competitive and free. To be Hungarian, in the words of the Hungarian poet and writer Mihály Babits, is an intellectual phenomenon and a spiritual heritage.

I thought that would suffice … but my friends still wanted to know: how does all this appear in the context of today’s transatlantic civilization?

WHERE ARE WE GOING?

Hungary’s fate lies in the West, and includes both the Greco-Judeo-Christian tradition of natural law and the effects of the Enlightenment. However, the West has undergone a material, spiritual, and intellectual change in recent decades, fundamentally calling into question that which we have hitherto known as the transatlantic civilization.

The history of transatlantic civilization is one of rising individualism. The main goal of today’s Western society is for ephemeral associations to coexist peacefully, while the circle of lasting associations is continually shrinking. The general rule of modern individualism was enshrined in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789: one’s individual rights are sacrosanct, so long as they do not infringe upon the rights of another. This rule was meant to replace the pre-Enlightenment principle of natural law, which states: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, meanwhile, preferred to inquire into the ‘good life’. How ought we to live?

However, if law is relative and dependent on human will, then natural order is also called into question. Moreover, humanity now claims the right to transform nature, including human nature and the human body, as the Jacobins, Nazis, and Bolsheviks all attempted. In recent decades, a more radical version of modernity has emerged, which rejects both the natural law tradition and the Kantian foundation of the Enlightenment, which holds that there are absolute ethical maxims. This new approach calls into question all that which, until recently, we thought we knew about the survival of transatlantic civilization: firstly, the human good, for the realization of which people create their own unique order, settlements, and organizations, and secondly a sense of community upon which a unity of order can be established.

Until the beginning of the 2000s, based on our knowledge of historical, philosophical, and evolutionary psychology, we believed that orderly social entities strove for the realization of four human goods.

The first human good is peace and security. This allows people to take care of themselves and others, to multiply, if they choose to, to raise their children, and to plan for the future. In the absence of security, all energy goes towards establishing it, to the detriment of other creative activities. Rare indeed are those individuals who wish for strife and insecurity in their social relationships.

The second is the need for attachment. Attachment is essential for a person’s healthy physical, mental, and spiritual development. If you do not come to understand, as a child, the meaning of love, fairness, and hierarchy, do not learn what is good and bad, fair and unjust, then you will find it difficult to connect with other people, communities, and organizations. Identifying yourself with clothing brands or sports clubs is no substitute for actually belonging somewhere. Rare are the individuals who want no intimate relationships, and to have no one to count on in their social relationships.

The third is freedom to care. The vast majority of people want to be able to choose how they provide their loved ones with physical, mental and spiritual goods, and help steer their destiny. Rare are the individuals who want personal and material subordination and dependence in their social relationships.

The fourth is a certain degree of satisfaction. Without a sense of balance, there is no contentment, and one is not able to turn to others generatively. Without contentment, one cannot appreciate security, prosperity, or belonging. There are few among us who want social relations to be made up of those we despise and those we envy.

Until the beginning of the 2000s, there seemed to be a consensus that the condition for the existence of social entities, in addition to material and other interests, was some kind of historical, cultural, and linguistic sense of community. At the same time, given material and educational fault lines, and the sharply differing lifestyles that divide each country from within, might be asked whether there exists any real ‘sense of community’ at all?

In his book Head Hand Heart (2019), David Goodheart writes that since the Enlightenment, knowledge—the ‘head’—has (with reason) been celebrated. The problem is the community fracturing and poisonous social atmosphere that develops when the taxi driver or bricklayer—the ‘hand’—or the nurse or mother—the ‘heart’—are considered inferior because they are ‘ignorant’. Yet the hands and hearts are just as good and deserve a good life as the heads. Goodhart says it may cause serious social destabilization if the dignity of the people who work with the ‘hand’ and the ‘heart’ is not restored.

At the same time, and despite these fault lines, during times of conflict against those from outside the community, or even at sporting events, this sense of group solidarity can still be experienced. But is the joy of a national team winning truly an instance of shared national consciousness? At the World Cup in Germany, for example, even the national feeling of waving the German flag split German public opinion. George Friedman argues that in the case of the United States, what ultimately holds the nation together is the fact that its citizens are willing to sacrifice their lives for their country.

In any case, it is difficult to imagine a lasting and stable social entity without some kind of community consciousness encompassing it, and giving unity to the structure. Community consciousness does not survive on its own, it needs a system of family, cultural, and religious institutions to pass the knowledge of order and the human good down through the generations. As Ronald Reagan put it in 1967, ‘Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by way of inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people. And those in world history who have known freedom and then lost it have never known it again.’

Without endorsing the sentiments, the situation outlined by Max Weber in
The Protestant Ethic (1905) may at last emerge:

But victorious capitalism, since it rests on mechanical foundations, needs its [religious asceticism’s] support no longer. The rosy blush of its laughing heir, the Enlightenment, seems also to be irretrievably fading. Where the fulfilment of the calling cannot directly be related to the highest spiritual and cultural values, or when, on the other hand, it needs to be felt simply as economic compulsion, the individual generally abandons the attempt to justify it at all. In the field of its highest development, the United States, the pursuit of wealth, stripped of its religious or ethical meaning, tends to become associated with purely mundane passions, which often actually give it the character of a sport. No one knows who will live in this cage in the future, or whether at the end of this tremendous development entirely new prophets will arise, or there will be a great rebirth of old ideas and ideals, or, if neither, mechanized petrifaction, embellished with a sort of convulsive self-importance. For of the last stage of this cultural development, it might well be truly said: ‘Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved.’

Contrary to the transatlantic tradition of civilization, the latest version of modernity denies the existence of any absolute, natural human good and order. According to these new ideas, individuals and social entities can be (de)constructed as an expression of human will. There is no need to consider the consequences, no argument or piece of wisdom to prevent the conception and realization of anything. Those who stand in the way of creating the future are despised, can be excommunicated as deplorables.

Well, my dear American, English, Polish, Dutch, and German friends, in this explosive cultural and political environment, the question we must answer is, ‘which way do these freedom-loving, surviving, realistic Hungarians wish to go?’

THE HUNGARIAN OUTLOOK

Social futuring is the creative intention and potential of a given social entity to interpret the ever-changing world, to organize itself in order to preserve its specific order and lifeworld. In other words, its ability to control and direct its own destiny. Social futuring does not answer the question of what the future will be like, but rather how prepared we are to preserve our way of life, a life worthy of humanity, in the unknown future.

Since 1989, Hungary has regained its natural place in the transatlantic civilization. The country ranks 107th out of 194 countries in the world in terms of area and 93rd in population. Among the 27 EU countries, meanwhile, its ranking in area is 14th and is 13th in population. With a GDP of $35,000 per capita on purchasing power parity, we are ranked 40th in the world. According to an OECD survey of the 36 most developed countries, Hungary is one of the most balanced countries: 70 per cent of households live at around the median income level. Life expectancy at birth was 76.2 years in 2018, two and a half years lower than in the United States, while US GDP per capita is almost twice as high, and per-person health expenditure in the US is five times the Hungarian figure of $2,000.

During the 2010s, socio-economic performance indicators showed Hungary to be in the top 5–20 per cent worldwide:

HUNGARY/surveyed population
Social Futuring Index (2020)8th–9th place among the 36 OECD member states
Economic Complexity Index (2018)9th place among the 133 countries in the survey
Global Connectivity Index (2020)31st place among the 79 countries in the study
Human Development Index (2019)40th place among the 189 UN member states

Unless there is a dramatic deterioration in the global macroeconomic and geopolitical situation, as well as in the area of domestic socio-economic incentives, Hungary’s economy is expected to see considerable growth over the next decade, in both absolute and relative terms.

The Hungarian future—turning favourable external conditions to our advantage—depends on three factors: the material, mental, and spiritual readiness of the Hungarian elite and middle class; our management of socio-economic, technological, ecological, and cultural resources; and maintaining a balance as international power relations shift.

The quality of the elite and the middle class is the human guarantee of Hungarian security and development. The foundations of the middle class are currently only latent potential: both the aristocratic and noble families, and the industrial and agricultural bourgeoisie, who set a social example were systematically dispossessed, destroyed, and expelled by the Soviet system. Most of society was simply struggling to make ends meet, and never had the wealth to set goals beyond maintaining its narrow environment.

The emergence of the middle class is not just a matter of positive law or income and wealth. Personal and socio-psychological change requires a great deal of regular and repeated social transactions of mutual affirmation. It takes at least two generations before decisive weight is gained by a middle class that, besides looking after itself, also takes care of the community’s way of life, and understands the importance of ‘everyday prose’ (Nicolás Gómez Dávila). Without such a development, material prosperity will result only in hubris, ostentation, and immoderation. The greatest atrocity of both the Soviet and feudal worlds was precisely the disregard for human dignity. The future of Hungary depends on how much we consider the other person to be a free, dignified being, and how successfully we manage to bring out the best in one another.

Among those organizational resources which will shape the Hungarian future, the most important are those socio-economic solutions that ensure our reproduction. This includes a tax system that encourages families and, more broadly, the way of sharing the burdens and benefits of economic value created between households, businesses, and the public sector. Attachment and belonging develops in early childhood, so supporting the security and development of family life is essential. A tax system that recognizes the status of both employment and child-raising will improve the demographic situation, increase tax revenue through economic activity, and today’s children will pay the pensions of their parents and grandparents. In the modern world, the functions of the family are largely being taken over by the health and education systems, so their importance and quality must rise to the level of budgetary support offered to the families. Only through the experience of cohesion in families can national cohesion be strengthened. Cohesion is not an end in itself, but a by-product of a socio-economic philosophy that spans generations. There is also cohesion among a band of thieves, yet we do not therefore consider successful theft to be a social good.

The second factor is the use and control of technology for the benefit of the human good. To see technology not as a goal in itself, but as a tool to make life easier. Hungary does not have a key role in developing new technologies, except in certain areas. But no one can unilaterally and decisively influence the competition between corporate and academic research and development between the US, Europe, and China. Our influence can only be imagined within an international cooperation, to help ensure that the results are life-improving rather than destructive.

The third factor concerns the question of how we mobilize and then pass on our cultural and spiritual resources. In this, our education system, our millennia-old churches, our sporting, artistic, and tradition-preserving associations and foundations play a key role. The social circles that give space to creative individuals help to ensure the safety and development of the Carpathian Basin, enabling our children and grandchildren to live in dignity and to control their own destiny. The essence of cultural-spiritual institutions is to preserve age-old values and goals that transcend generations, even in a rapidly changing world.

The fourth factor is the preservation of Europe’s most diverse ecological life in the face of constantly arising utopias and interest-driven campaigns. Nature knows no borders, so the balance of water, energy, and other resources can only be maintained if we are able to accept conservation as a value we share with other countries.

The Hungarian mindset and way of life are rooted above all in our geopolitical endowments. The Hungarians understand better than anyone the meaning of the old saying ‘you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you’. When it comes to the preservation of Hungarian freedom and culture, the alpha and omega is the pursuit of geopolitical balance: that Germany, Russia, the USA, China, and Turkey should not consider Hungary, or the wider Carpathian Basin, as an encroachment target, but as the key to regional stability.

I finished this discourse, inspired by Gauguin, with the following words: Hungarians are not individualists who believe that the community is nothing more than a random collection of individuals, each doing what they want. But neither are they collectivists who say that the individual must give up all his or her rights and wealth to the community. In the eyes of Hungarians, the role of the individual is important, but some things can only be achieved together, and so require some unity of order. Hungarians are not essentially cosmopolitan, and do not want to force their lifestyle or mindset upon others. Likewise, they are discerning in what they choose to adopt from other cultures. But nor are they provincial, unless the pursuit of human goods, security, attachment, care, and balance counts as provincial. As a changing world, spouting mutually contradictory slogans, periodically washes over us, we Hungarians have been preserving our physical, intellectual, and spiritual freedom for 1100 years. We will continue to do so in the future.

One day I will also write the stories of my American, English, Dutch, Polish, and German friends about their countries and cultures …

Translated by Thomas Sneddon

  • 1
    Leaders of an anti-Habsburg conspiration, executed in 1671.
  • 2
    Writer, literary translator, painter, and philosopher (1935–2015).
  • 3
    Prince of Transylvania, 1613–1629. His reign is considered as the ‘Golden Age’ of the principality.
  • 4
    Prince of Transylvania, leader of a national uprising against the Habsburgs in 1703–1711. He fled the country after the defeat, refusing to take an oath of allegiance to the emperor, which would have let him keep his estates.
  • 5
    Prime minister of Hungary in 1920–1921 and 1939–1941. He tried to preserve Hungary’s neutrality and committed suicide when Regent Horthy allowed German troops to march through Hungary and invade Yugoslavia.
  • 6
    Prime minister of Hungary during the 1956 Revolution. He was executed in 1958.

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