Hungary: Arrogance and ignorance by Karl Pfeifer
A few words by way of introduction. Karl Pfeifer is an Austrian journalist (born in Baden bei Wien) with Hungarian roots. After the Anschluss his family moved to Hungary where he spent the next five years until 1943. He speaks Hungarian and is the correspondent for the weekly Hetek, the publication of the Hít Gyülekezete (Faith Church). I might add that Karl is a regular reader of Hungarian Spectrum.
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It was Timothy Kirkhope, Conservative member of the British Parliament for Yorkshire and the Humber, who invited his compatriot, the actor Hugh Grant, to publicly state his case on press freedom on June 27th in the European Parliament. Grant, after painful experiences with phone hacking by the now defunct News of the World, did so as the spokesman of the “Hacked Off” Campaign that tries to find a proper balance between restraining tabloid journalism and maintaining the freedom of the press. Grant stated that the new media laws in Hungary were a particularly bad example of the infringement of media freedom in Europe in recent years. The press should control the government – and not the other way round.
The newly appointed Hungarian assistant undersecretary Ferenc Kumin responsible for international communication decided to send the British actor a packet of “reliable information” to prove that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the state of the Hungarian media. He made a big show about the difficulty of finding Hugh Grant’s postal address. The star has of course an office which deals with fan mail, but Kumin seemed to be intent on not being mistaken for an admirer.
István Pálffy, a former journalist and now a member of the Christian Democratic People’s Party (the junior coalition partner of the ruling Fidesz) who is also deputy chairman of the parliamentary committee for culture and the press, remarked that Hugh Grant “seems stuck in his role in the film ‘Love Actually’ (2003) and thinks he is prime minister of Great Britain.”
The movie star could counter with an observation by the American educator Amos Bronson Alcott (1799-1888), which Grant, of all people, could deliver superbly: “To be ignorant of one’s ignorance is the malady of the ignorant.”
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And finally a few footnotes to the above. First about Ferenc Kumin. I “met” him first as an “independent commentator” on ATV, a liberal television station. He did try to be neutral but after a few of his performances I wasn’t at all surprised that he was chosen in 2005 by László Sólyom, the newly elected president, as his most important adviser. I thought that it would be a good fit. And indeed he fiercely defended all, even questionable, decisions of the president.
After five years Sólyom was dropped by Fidesz and Kumin lost his job. However, he safely landed in Századvég, a Fidesz think tank, as a political analyst. After Zoltán Kovács, undersecretary for communications attached to the Ministry of Administration and Justice, turned out to be a liability rather than an asset, the prime minister’s office took over all aspects of communication by appointing first András Giró-Szász, also from Századvég, to head communications as undersecretary and about three weeks ago Ferenc Kumin as assistant undersecretary specifically in charge of international communications.
After listening to an interview with Kumin I had hopes that perhaps Kumin understands the world outside of Hungary better than his predecessor, Zoltán Kovács. However, his mad search for Hugh Grant’s address and the very idea that the Hungarian government would respond in this way to a couple of sentences by the actor on the state of the Hungarian media dashed all hopes that the Orbán government can ever have an acceptable way of handling the country’s communication with the outside world.
And for general amusement here are two videos. One depicts the famous scene where Hugh Grants as prime minister of Great Britain dances in Love Actually.
The other when Ferenc Gyurcsány at the urging of his staff imitates Hugh Grant.
And finally, I’m happy to announce that the Hungarian Prime Minister’s Office was successful. Ferenc Kumin and his six-member team managed to find the proper postal address of Hugh Grant. The letter is on its way. Another Hungarian embarrassment.