I wrote about András Nyerges earlier. He is a Hungarian writer of prose and poetry but on the side he has a column, "Color Separation," in which he writes little essays about the quirks of history, primarily about the sad fact that there is nothing new under the sun, especially when it comes to the vocabulary and the methods of the Hungarian far right. He must have a database of monumental proportions, most likely collected before the digital age, of excerpts from newspapers. His standard format is to share a dozen or so quotations from the past (mainly between the two world wars) and then point out that these words could have been written today. Why are we surprised?
His latest piece, entitled "Short Hungarian Slander History," is about Hungarian official reaction to foreign criticism. The reason for its writing is obvious. After all, the Orbán government is convinced that all the criticism from abroad is inspired by liberal Hungarian intellectuals who are misleading the naive and ignorant foreigners. That is not new, says Nyerges.
In 1907 Endre Ady, the great Hungarian poet who earned his daily bread by being a journalist, already talked about phenomenon. Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, the Norwegian poet who received the Nobel Prize in 1903, had criticized Hungary's treatment of its Slovak population. The immediate answer was "the gentleman doesn't know our situation." Ady charged that the Hungarian government was satisfied with foreign opinions only when they were supplied by the Hungarian government itself.
A somewhat similar situation occurred in December 1919 when it was reported that fourteen executions took place one day and Anatole France protested against them in the Viennese Arbeiter Zeitung. Ferenc Herczeg, Jenő Rákosi, and other leading conservatives immediately told France that "he was being used by others to level unfounded accusations against our unfortunate land." The semi-official literary magazine of the regime, Magyar Múzsa, complained about an article that appeared in the Frankfurter Zeitung about the atrocities committed by the officer detachments. The supporters of the early Horthy regime were convinced that ignorant foreigners were being manipulated like puppets by "György Lukács and his bolshevist comrades who escaped from Hungary." In May 1920 another "misled foreigner," Bertrand Russell, tried to intervene on behalf of Sándor Varjas, a philosopher who was arrested after the fall of the Hungarian Soviet Republic. Varjas was eventually released to the custody of Soviet Russia but not because of Russell's intervention.
Even later, under more benign circumstances, during István Bethlen's premiership, there was a tendency to blame foreigners for portraying Hungary in an unfavorable light. The editor of the French paper Matin published a few articles in which he painted a fairly accurate portrait of the so-called "franc forgery case" of 1926. For "patriotic reasons" leading Hungarian politicians had printed French francs. The workmanship was so bad that the forgery was immediately discovered and the connection of the forgers to the Hungarian government also became known. In parliament Bethlen talked about the upheaval abroad following the forgery case as "a concentrated effort, especially on the part of the newspapers, to induce the great powers to intervene."
Often "good Hungarians" were also criticized. For example, Dezső Baltazár, a Calvinist bishop, made some "unfortunate remarks about his homeland and his government" in Paris and London. And what did the bishop say? "If the democratic and liberal spirit of western European states would dominate in Hungary the sympathy of western countries would return." Baltazár's remarks caused consternation at home and were even discussed in parliament, especially since the good bishop dared to remind the French and English public that there were no secret elections in Hungary and that the majority of the Hungarian people were dissatisfied with their lot.
By the late 1930s the far-right press claimed that Hungary's bad reputation in the world was due solely to "the activities of those journalists who escaped abroad and who hand in hand with the news services are slandering the new nationalist Hungarian state." Kálmán Hubay, vice chairman of the Arrow Cross Party, said that if the government is being attacked by foreigners, they will have to raise their voices even though they are in opposition at the moment. Hubay specifically mentioned Genevieve Tabouis (1892-1985), a French journalist, writer, historian, and diplomat, who wrote an "insolent article about the new Imrédy government" in her paper, the Œuvre. Hubay also noted that not only in French but in English papers as well there were articles against the Hungarian government. "All these slanderous writings have a common origin" which to Hubay's mind could only have been the Hungarian left living at home and abroad.
The situation didn't change after 1945 either. Already in August 1945 Szabad Nép, the official paper of the Hungarian Communist Party, wrote that articles questioning the existence of Hungarian democracy were definitely the work of the Hungarian right. After all, the British foreign secretary on his own couldn't possibly have come to the conclusion that one kind of dictatorship might be exchanged for another in Hungary. In 1947, when it was becoming obvious that the Hungarian communists were getting close to establishing a one-party system, the government even enlisted writers, including Gyula Illyés, to raise their voices against "the anti-Hungarian attacks of imperialism and of international reactionaries." They, "as independent and sovereign intellectuals of the nation, protest against the slanderous accusations aimed at our rising nation." I never was very fond of Gyula Illyés.
Nyerges finishes his article by pointing out that "it is sad that the Hungarian governments today and at all times in the past are always innocent and the world has let itself be misled." All those newspapers like the Courier Européen, the Arbeiter Zeitung, the Frankfurter Zeitung, the Abend, the Matin, the Œuvre, the News Chronicle or nowadays The Washington Post, Le Monde, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Die Welt, the Economist, The New York Times, and the rest of the slanderers are publishing falsehoods about the innocent Hungarian government at the behest of unpatriotic intellectuals, normally liberals and socialists.