András Nyerges: Color Separation

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 PostLe Monde, the Neue Zürcher ZeitungDie Welt, the EconomistThe 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.





  1. It is shocking to see how today Fidesz near Media is using the same arguments as 60 and 80 years ago.
    Viktor Orbán recognized a few weeks ago, that there is no Jewish conspiracy against Hungary. So they replace now the word Jewish with left-liberal.
    I remember having written an article about Hungary a decade ago in het financielle dagblad, a financial daily published in Amsterdam. The paper wrote that I am Vienna correspondent of Budapest Christian weekly Hetek.
    Next day a lady with Hungarian accent complained by phone and said that the article is full of not correct statements.
    The journalist asked for an example, the lady said, “You wrote that Hetek is Christian that is not true”. The journalist asked and why not? “Hetek is not Christian it is liberal”. The Journalist was delighted and said: “liberal, well that is even better”
    So this example shows that words in Hungary have a different meaning outside Hungary. Today the word “liberal” is considered in Hungary by many a dirty word.

  2. As with the extreme right in the US, the abuse by the nationalists/populists of Fidesz and Jobbik (neither party has been conservative in a long time!) in Hungary inevitably puts them into conflict with the rest of the EU and the larger community of democratic countries, all of which have adopted a broad consensus of liberal democratic and market-oriented fundamentals. A major part of this consensus is the acceptance of the principle that modern states thrive under the free competition of ideas brought about by diversity.
    The “coding” on the part of the nationalists/populists in Hungary in which “liberal” means insufficently Hungarian — whether through an modern, internationalist outlook or non-Magyar ethnicity or non-Christian religious background — is disinformation which does violence to the Hungarian language, abuses the education of young people, and alienates a large part of the nation. This last effect is cruely ironic: for all their talk of the “unity of the nation”, their main devise is to divide it and to deny their opponents — who have the good of the nation at heart, but different means to that end — their part in the nation.

  3. Who cares about the Hungarian far right?
    They have no influence on anything.
    The far right is your only excuse of your very existence. Pathetic monomania of an irrelevant pseudo-topic.

  4. For an irrelevant pseudo topic you spend a lot of time and effort attempting to debunk it, Johnny Boy.

  5. The translated (I presume) and reported words of András Nyerges, which read
    ** “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” **
    This demonstrates more clearly than anything else the arrogant stupidity of the political leaders and many of the people of this poor benighted land. ‘Naive and Ignorant foreigners’ yes some are ignorant, some are naïve and some are both but I certain and sure that there are far fewer naive and ignorant folk ‘out there’ than there are inside Hungary. I know just how politically aware bulk of the rest of Europe is.
    I suppose that this attitude towards foreigners is fostered by not only the government but by society as a whole and it feeds upon its self. This bodes ill for the future of Hungary within the European Union and the rest of the world.
    As to Hungarian liberal intellectuals bamboozling Europeans, I have news for the various trolls and other ‘bandalog’. We Europeans know propaganda when we see it. After all we used to laugh at Lord Haw-haw, the ‘Lady in the Red Square in Moscow etc.
    It seems to me that the ‘naive and ignorant foreigners’ did a pretty good job of ripping the Hungarian Media law to shreds.

  6. Not only the bad excuses and conspiracy theories are the same. “If the democratic and liberal spirit of western European states would dominate in Hungary the sympathy of western countries would return.” Baltazár said this in the 1920s? This, too, could be reprinted tomorrow without problems.

  7. MM: typing 4 short lines may account for a lot of time and effort by your standards, but I’m a little faster than that.

  8. ‘Johnny’, either you don’t really believe that MM meant that, in which case your post makes you look like an idiot, or you really do believe that he meant that, in which case you actually ARE an idiot.

  9. Thatcher did much the same with the word ‘socialst’ in the 80s in Britain (although obviously not with the anti-Semite connotations. It became almost a term of abuse.
    This was so effective that even the faint-hearted on the left stopped using the word and Blair was so frightened of the word that I’m not sure he ever used it in public.
    This was all a bit strange as the British Labour party is not, and never was, a socialist party. So why Thatcher should pick on the word, and why idiots like Blair were so afraid to use it, remains a mystery.
    Anyway, the point of all this rambling is that many of us on the ‘liberal/left’ carried on using it, and in due time it lost its derogatory associations, and it is now once again possible in Britain to stand up and proudly say you are a socialist.
    So, Liberals and Lefties in Hungary, stick to your guns and don’t let OV’s black propaganda get you as well. Mad ideas like his will come and go, but a political philosophy like socialism, deeply rooted in justice and freedom, will never die.

  10. Paul you write** “Mad ideas like his will come and go” **.
    The problem is in the economic and psychological the damage they do which can last for years. In addition there is the legacy of hate they can leave behind them. There is more than enough of that in the world.

Comments are closed.