Home > Uncategorized > Another St. Stephen’s Day in Hungary

Another St. Stephen’s Day in Hungary

August 21, 2012

It was twelve years ago, about this time of year, that the St. Stephen mania was at its height during the first Orbán government. Because of the celebrations of the millennium of Stephen’s coronation and thus the historically accepted date of the establishment of the Hungarian state Viktor Orbán had a fantastic opportunity for self-aggrandizement. On August 19, 2000, the prime minister visited the neighboring villages, Alcsútdoboz and Felcsút, where he grew up. It was here that he awaited the arrival of Hungarian pilgrims returning from Rome on foot. The pilgrims had taken a replica of the Holy Crown to the Vatican where the pope blessed it. When the pilgrims arrived with the fake crown with its papal blessing, the prime minister delivered a speech in which he recalled that St. Stephen offered his country to the Virgin Mary in the very place where he was standing: in Alcsútdoboz.

There are a couple of problems with Orbán’s claim. The first is that the earliest reference to Alcsútdoboz is from the fourteenth century. The second problem, and the more serious one, is that St. Stephen most likely never offered his country to the Virgin Mary. The first mention of this alleged offering was at the end of the eleventh century when Pope Gregory VII made all sorts of fiscal demands on the Hungarian kings who cleverly replied that unfortunately the country was already ruled by none other than the Virgin Mary herself.

At the beginning of his political career Orbán was known to profess no faith. Later the public learned that he was a devout Calvinist. People suspected that his sudden interest in Calvinism had something to do with his need to have the political assistance of István Csurka’s MIÉP.  The Hungarian Reformed Church happened to have good relations with that party. But if he was a good Calvinist, how could he take the Regnum Marianum cult seriously? After all, Calvinists don’t consider the Virgin Mary an important part of their religious beliefs. On the contrary, they reject anything that has to do with saints and post-biblical miracles.

St. Stephen’s portrait in the Képes Krónika / Chronicon Pictum, prior to 1360

This story from twelve years ago shows how far politicians are willing to go to use history and religion to their own political advantage. By now Viktor Orbán is being compared to St. Stephen himself . Lajos Kósa, deputy chairman of Fidesz and mayor of Debrecen, in his speech emphasized that Stephen used “unusual methods to convert his country from a pagan tribal society to a Christian state,” just as Viktor Orbán decided to use “unorthodox methods” to change Hungary. János Áder, the president, talked about a new foundation of Hungary, just as in Stephen’s time. János Lázár emphasized that the whole country must change radically, just as in Stephen’s time.

The saintly king’s methods were “unusual” in one sense: he was ruthless. He forcibly converted the people to Christianity and used every possible method to make sure that they followed the strictures of the new religion. He was equally ruthless with his relatives who threatened his position. One was drawn and quartered; his remains were displayed on the gates of four different cities. Another was blinded and his ears filled with hot lead.  Let’s hope that the Matolcsy-Orbán duo’s “unorthodox methods” will be less draconian.

Then came Péter Harrach (KDNP). From him we learned that Stephen was a man who wanted to introduce order but not dictatorship. Dictatorship in the early eleventh century?  The word didn’t even exist until the mid-sixteenth century. I guess this reference to Stephen’s desire for order but not dictatorship has something to do with the charge leveled against Orbán, that he’s a man of dictatorial tendencies. Another modern concept Harrach attributed to Stephen’s days is ” unity.” Stephen certainly managed to break down the power of other chieftains and expanded his own rule over their lands, but I’m afraid Harrach wasn’t talking about geographical unity but rather national unity which is of course a historical anomaly when we are talking about the eleventh century. According to Gyula Kristó, the foremost historian of the period, most likely the majority of the population of the Carpathian Basin was Slavic speaking and the Hungarians at that time were still in the minority. Stephen most likely didn’t give a hoot who spoke what language. The only thing that was important for him was that they were his faithful subjects.

Harrach, a Christian Democrat, could not leave out the usual idealized description of Stephen as a deeply religious and pious man. According to him, the key to his personality is his “Exhortations” to his son. The problem is that most medieval kings were illiterate; according to Kristó, that probably was the case with Stephen as well. The “Exhortations” were most likely written by Bishop Asrik-Anastas, the man who brought a crown (not the Holy Crown of today) to Stephen from Rome. It is therefore doubtful that this document is the key to Stephen’s personality.

Perhaps the most confusing speech was delivered by János Áder. According to the president, the old world is in crisis and “those nations will be successful in the twenty-first century that can lift their souls. We carry the knowledge in our blood that if the soul is rising, everything rises with it.” I’m not even going to try to figure out what he wanted to say. Perhaps the most intriguing part of these sentences was that “knowledge is in our blood.” I thought that knowledge had to be acquired, usually through hard work, but I guess the Hungarians are different. In their case, at least this particular piece of knowledge is in their blood.

By way of a footnote: the only reference I found to “Knowledge in the Blood” was a book by the first black dean of education at the University of Pretoria. The subtitle of the book was: “Confronting Race and the Apartheid Past.”

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  1. spectator
    August 22, 2012 at 3:10 pm | #1

    @Rettegő
    “4. Have something in the blood, there is something in the blood – typical Hungarian idiom/metaphor. It means that someone has an inborn talent/gift for doing something. Used everyday in Hungary.”

    -You may wish look up the proper expression next time prior to your statement, – I sincerely hope at least – in order to avoid looking stupid, as is now.
    Then again, you may not, who knows, who cares?

    Anyway, the Hungarian metaphor – what you intended to refer to – has absolutely nothing to do with knowledge – tudás – but rather with skill or/and ability, as in készség, ügyesség, etc.
    Knowledge is what you get by studying and such, ability you may born with, hence it may “be in your blood”.
    That’s why they say “it’s in his/her blood” rather than “something in the blood”, quite a difference, wouldn’t you say?

    You see, there are a few around here, who actually speaks Hungarian, so keep in mind next time you’ll come around lecturing.

  2. August 22, 2012 at 4:36 pm | #2

    enufff :
    Most interesting event that happened in our area (near Cegled!) on Aug 20th was seeing a group of Hare krishna followers chanting in the main street. I love it!
    Other than that, we simply couldn’t be bothered to go to the main square for the fire works at night as well as not watching the tv broadcast.

    The lyrics could do with some work, though…

  3. Some1
    August 22, 2012 at 4:48 pm | #3

    Louis Kovach :
    Some1: “Thank goodness that conscience and/or public pressure still works on some people in Hungary. I bow my head to those judges and politicians who go against Orban’s murky visions and choose to do what is right.
    (It is unfortunate that many who still stand sup for what is right in Orban’s Hungary and they are not [terrified] even from the aces of [Orban's] gang. Right Louis?”
    Normal judicial step. You have a problem that your hopes of letting him go did not materialioze??? What amount of propaganda you miss this way.

    You lost me. I hoped that he will be released? I can’t follow you sorry.
    Let me clarify, I hoped that he will end up in a stinking jail, that he will be dragged infront of a judge, that he will have to pay in some ways for all the pain he caused, all the death he was part of. Why would I want him to be released?
    It was sad to hear that many neo-nazis and you stood up for the rights of this “old, innocent man” who was sentenced to death for his crimes at some point. He was also sentenced in Hungary as it turned out. I know (as you also proudly announced) that on technicality some of the charges don’t stand up. Zippty do for technicality. Aren’t you happy Kovach?

  4. August 22, 2012 at 4:48 pm | #4

    Minusio :
    In the past, when some Orbán worshippers waxed overly enthusiastic, someone regularly reminded us: “Don’t feed the trolls!”

    That was me! And still no one listens, so you end up with 50+ posts on a thread, most of which are incomprehensible garbage.

    Trolls exist soley to wind us up and waste our time, they are simply static in the system, but let the static build up too much and the message no longer gets through. This is what they want.

    The only way to deal with them is to ignore them. If you really can’t do that, then just laugh at them (they are, after all, to a man, completely bonkers). But please don’t take them seriously, don’t answer their mad claims – in short, don’t feed them.

  5. August 22, 2012 at 5:01 pm | #5

    Some1: You lost me. I hoped that he will be released? I can’t follow you sorry.
    Let me clarify, I hoped that he will end up in a stinking jail, that he will be dragged infront of a judge, that he will have to pay in some ways for all the pain he caused, all the death he was part of. Why would I want him to be released?”

    Because then you could blast the Hungarian judiciary for reason. I have never defended Csatary. You must be mixing me up with someone else or you are a good example of the salami politics I have cited. I stood up for the law and against the so hoped for immediate lynching. As a matter of fact my recommendation was to hand him over to the Slovaks right away.

  6. August 22, 2012 at 5:11 pm | #6

    Petofi: “ALERT! ALERT!! New discovery. That out-of-this-world
    of species called “a Hungarian” has been found to have
    something else in their heart….massive amounts of self-delusion
    complicated by hemerrhoidal stupidity…”

    Does this sound familiar? “As long as in the heart within……”

  7. An
    August 22, 2012 at 7:03 pm | #7

    Sorry, Rettego Ivan, but the quoted sentence “those nations will be successful in the twenty-first century that can lift their souls. We carry the knowledge in our blood that if the soul is rising, everything rises with it” does not make any sense at all. I even looked up the original,full text speech in Hungarian just to see if there is a way to make sense of it in the original context.

    Nope.

    Yes, in Hungarian we can say that something is in our blood, if that’s a skill or some special knowledge that we had practiced so much that we’ve mastered it perfectly. Like the example you bring up, accounting. But it has to be some specific skill or knowledge, not knowledge in general. To have knowledge in general in one’s blood would mean that Hungarians have God-like attributes, that they just know everything.

    I don’t think Ader used knowledge here in the general sense, though. I think he was referring to some special knowledge, the knowledge of the fact that “if the soul is rising, everything rises with it”….. I am sorry, but this is just some kind of vague grandiose gibberish. What exactly does he mean by “the soul rising”? How does this phenomenon of a “rising soul” of a nation manifest itself?

    Of course, you can argue that it is metaphorical, but it is very poorly done, confusing, vague and builds on cliches. This what teachers of literature in Hungary call “kepzavar”….I have no idea what the English term would be …. maybe just a bad, meaningless, confusing figure of speech?

  8. An
    August 22, 2012 at 7:17 pm | #8

    Just occurred to me, maybe they were trying to translate “rising spirit” into Hungarian from English :-) as you can talk about the rising spirit of a nation in English…. but talking about “a lélek emelkedik” .. just sounds stupid in Hungarian. Spirit is more like “lélekerő” or “hangulat”, not “lélek” in this sense.

  9. Rettegő Iván
    August 23, 2012 at 4:48 am | #9

    An :
    Just occurred to me, maybe they were trying to translate “rising spirit” into Hungarian from English as you can talk about the rising spirit of a nation in English…. but talking about “a lélek emelkedik” .. just sounds stupid in Hungarian. Spirit is more like “lélekerő” or “hangulat”, not “lélek” in this sense.

    The “lélek emelkedik” expression (lift up Your heart) is the translation of the “sursum corda” latin expression from catholic liturgy.

    Petőfi Sándor (poet)

    Emelje ez föl lelkeinket, Hogy mi vagyunk a lámpafény, Mely amidőn a többi alszik, Ég a sötétség éjjelén. Ha a mi fényünk nem lobogna. A véghetetlen éjen át etc.

  10. petofi
    August 23, 2012 at 6:13 am | #10

    @ Louis:

    “I stood up for the law and against the so hoped for immediate lynching. As a matter of fact my recommendation was to hand him over to the Slovaks right away.”

    ….”Immediate lynching..”? Since when in Hungarian history were ‘whites’ as opposed to jews and gypsies ever immediately murdered in Hungary? Louis, your mind is on some American western. Poor confused you. And, you talk about being ‘for Law’ in Orban’s Hungary!? Haven’t you heard from Viktor’s own lips that a judicial decision is not serious: they’ll just change the law if they don’t get their way.

    There’s is also something called ‘equality before the law’ in civilized society. Would you, Louis, say that the media commission recognized that they are bound by the decision of the courts? Have they given ClubRadio the frequency they were
    told to do by the courts?

  11. An
    August 23, 2012 at 7:54 am | #11

    @Rettego Ivan: Yes,I am aware of the phrase being used in catholic liturgy…meaning getting closer to God… So how the knowledge of “if our souls are rising, everything is rising” in the Hungarian nation’s blood?

  12. August 23, 2012 at 10:07 am | #12

    Petrovics: When you are proven wrong you suddenly go in all directiona from the subject. None of your new items has anything to do with my answer that I have not protected Csatary as you claimed. OK, I play along with you lets give the Klubradio to Slovakia also.

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