The meaning of words in Hungarian politics

In a way I'm returning to earlier topics. To a passage in Viktor Orbán's speech at Tasnádfürdő/Băile Tuşnad that created a fierce debate about its meaning and to four different reactions of Hungarian government officials and a Fidesz member of the EU parliament to Thomas O. Melia's remarks before the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs. I will tackle the latter first. Because words are especially important here, I will quote the appropriate passages both in Hungarian and in English translation.

The first person who reacted to Melia's critical remarks was Péter Szijjártó, Viktor Orbán's spokesman. The most important sentences in his communiqué are the following, as reported by MTI: "Senki nincs abban a helyzetben–sem Magyarországon, sem azon kívül, hogy megkerdőjelezze a magyar emberek akaratát, márpedig 'a magyar emberek világosan és egyértelműen kifejezték az akaratukat tavaly tavasszal, amikor az ország megújítására és átszervezésére adtak világos felhatalmazást a kormánynak.'" I translated that in my article about the incident as "no one, inside of Hungary or abroad, 'can question the will of the Hungarian people who authorized the government for the renewal and reorganization of the country.'"

This first reaction was followed by the response of the interim government spokesman, Zoltán Kovács, otherwise undersecretary in charge of government communication. Kovács announced that "a magyar kormány nem ért egyet Thomas Melia, amerikai helyettes külügyi államtitkár kedden közölt következtetéseivel, amelyek a kabinet szerint felületes információk és rosszindulatú torzítások eredményeként születtek." Here is the English translation: "The Hungarian government doesn't agree with the conclusions of Deputy Undersecretary Thomas Melia made public on Tuesday which are based on superficial information and hostile distortions."

Then let's repeat, in a slightly longer version, Tamás Deutsch's obscene words about what he thinks of Thomas Melia: "Ki a fasz az a Thomas Melia? Minek kell naponta adnunk a szarnak egy pofont?" In my earlier article I left out the second sentence because, although I understood the words, I simply didn't get the meaning of the sentence. So, here is the first sentence in English: "Who the f… is that Thomas Melia?" And here is the second's translation: "Why do we have to slap that shit daily?" Whatever that means in this gentleman's vocabulary. 

And finally Zsolt Németh, Hungarian undersecretary of foreign affairs, appeared on the program Aréna (InfoRádió) where he said the following: "Szövetségi rendszerben létjogosultsága van a vitáknak és a páarbeszédnek…. Magyarország is illette már kritikával az Egyesült Államokat, például a guantánamói fogolykínzások ügyében…. Reményét fejezte ki, hogy a nézetkülönbséget meg tudják majd beszélni, és egyetértésre jutnak a kifogásolt témakörökben." In English: "Among allies there is room for debate and dialogue…. Hungary also criticized the United States for example in the matter of the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo…. He expressed his hope that they will be able to talk over their differences of opinion and will come to an agreement concerning the disputed topics."

Why did I quote these statements again and at some length? Because Zoltán Kovács was a guest on ATV's early morning show, Start. The reporter wanted to know which of these four reflections is the official position of the Hungarian government. Kovács without blinking announced that there are no differences among these four positions! None. All four say the same thing. The reporter was flabbergasted. He didn't want to believe his ears and kept asking Kovács over and over whether he really sees no differences. Kovács insisted that he doesn't see any difference whatsoever. Later in the afternoon, talking to György Bolgár, Kovács had the temerity to repeat this nonsense. Do these guys really think that the Hungarian people are so stupid that they actually believe that the meaning of these four statements is the same?

The other is a disputed passage from Orbán's speech in Romania. Here is the passage: "Egy évvel ezelőtt Magyarország még a veszélyzóna epicentrumában volt, ma már nem vagyunk ott, kifele tartunk onnan, de még mindig veszélyzónában vagyunk. Ugyanakkor azt szeretném mondani Önöknek, hogy a régi világ összedőlését nem kell sajnálnunk. Nem mi idéztük elő, felelősségünk nincs benne, bár mi omlottunk össze először 2008-ban, de azt senki nem mondhatja, hogy mi rántottuk magunkkal a többieket, tehát a mi lelkiismeretünk tiszta. Nem mi döntöttük össze, sajnálni sem kell, mert az a régi világ szerintem inkább börtön volt, mint otthon, de legyünk megengedőek, legfeljebb kényszerlakhely volt a magyar nemzet számára." English translation: "A year ago Hungary was in the epicenter of the danger zone, but by now we are no longer there. We are on our way out from there, but we are still in the danger zone. At the same time I would like tell you that we mustn't regret the collapse of the old world. It wasn't we who caused it although we were the first to collapse in 2008. No one can say that we dragged the others with us. So, our conscience is clear. We didn't shatter it and we shouldn't feel sorry for it because the old world was a jail, not a home. But let's be more charitable: it was at best a dwelling place forced upon the Hungarian nation."

This is the passage that is the topic of heated debate. Please tell me how you understand this passage. What was the jail or the forced dwelling for the Hungarian nation?


  1. A year ago Hungary was in the epicenter of the danger zone, but by now we are no longer there. We are on our way out from there, but we are still in the danger zone.
    The question is what danger zone he is talking about? Financial? Moral? Ethics? Human Rights? Take your pick. Financial: Hungary was hardly in the danger zone. Merely on the outskirt of it.
    The rest we are in the middle of it, compared to other civilized countries. Hungary is civilized compared to some banana republics.
    At the same time I would like tell you that we mustn’t regret the collapse of the old world. It wasn’t we who caused it although we were the first to collapse in 2008.
    So he is talking about the financial part of it. It was actually the EU and IMF (old world), which saved Hungary. Or he refers to the old political parties (Mszp, Szdsz) which caused the high deficit. He forget that Fidesz was at the birth of this high deficit and did not nothing to reduce it.
    No one can say that we dragged the others with us. So, our conscience is clear.
    What about the banks in Hungary, and the additional taxes they put on it. Foreign currency loans. He forget about this.
    We didn’t shatter it and we shouldn’t feel sorry for it because the old world was a jail, not a home.
    Here is a problem. There is no empathy.
    But let’s be more charitable: it was at best a dwelling place forced upon the Hungarian nation.
    I do not understand this. Does it mean he wants to move to greener pastures. Or he wants to be the new Arpad and find new land?
    Very confusing.

  2. @Eva “Please tell me how you understand this passage”
    I think you asked the question the wrong way. Nobody can actually “understand” or make sense of it. The question would rather be like “what do you think this means in his sick mind”. I hope I’m clear here. The words “debate” suggest that there can be actually a meaning to this.
    One theory is that he is totally delusional. He thinks that Hungary reached nirvana under his leadership so everything before was prison.
    The more cynical view, and I’m leaning toward this even though this assumes actual intelligence from the fellow, is that he just bullshitted the crowd and is laughing his ass off on the people trying to interpret his words.

  3. The key to understand to what OV is saying is not to expect any logic. He just says things based on how well they sound, not how much sense they make. Grandiosity is they key word.
    As for the four statements that according to Kovacs is the same… they are meant to express the same sentiment: the Hungarian government doesn’t care what anybody says… said in four different ways, perhaps Nemeth’s version being the most diplomatic. If you can call anything diplomatic with these people.

  4. Mutt Damon: “The more cynical view, and I’m leaning toward this even though this assumes actual intelligence from the fellow, is that he just bullshitted the crowd and is laughing his ass off on the people trying to interpret his words.”
    I think differently. I’m afraid, he means every word of it.

  5. I honestly think Orban is mentally not stable. I do not mean this on a way as Deutsch referred to Melia “Who the f…” or how Johnny Boy refers to his fellow Hungarians. I do not mean it as a put down. I think Orban is confused and mentally not stable. I think he seriously needs to be checked by a professional. He is confused, he has a slight dementia, sees enemies everywhere, and tries to protect Hungary from the non-Hungarians, who will pull the country down to the an abyss. He sees himself like Moses who will guide his people through the dangers. He already had a serious mental collapse a decade ago, least that was the “gossip”, but it seemed very likely.

  6. @Some1:Narcissistic personality disorder
    A person with narcissistic personality disorder may:
    React to criticism with rage, shame, or humiliation
    Take advantage of other people to achieve his or her own goals
    Have excessive feelings of self-importance
    Exaggerate achievements and talents
    Be preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, beauty, intelligence, or ideal love
    Have unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment
    Need constant attention and admiration
    Disregard the feelings of others, and have little ability to feel empathy
    Have obsessive self-interest
    Pursue mainly selfish goals

  7. An, you provoke me to write that one person with narcistic disorder alone is insufficient to make a large portion of the nation more or less swallow all his demands…
    The four statements above, in a different tone but nevertheless, for me too have all the same meaning. I think Mr Kovacs wanted to tell us (foreigners, although he addressed it to the domestic audience) that we should never mistake polite words for what is really meant. They try not to care if someone criticises them. But perhaps except for a (shrinking) part of the domestic audience, the rest of world will be hardly impressed; and it is not primarily in the bad manners but in the antiquated ideas.
    For me even the sentence of the Orban speech makes sense. The “danger zone” are apparently both the looming financial crisis and the fact that there was a MSZP government (“responsible” for the financial disaster). Hungary is on its way out (true, the financial disaster is currently not looming large, with a current account surplus and a government that has filled its coffers with the money from the pension funds) but not yet out of the danger zone (next year, no further pension funds can be naitonalised, so perhaps financial disaster starts to loom large again). We should not regret the old world (where MSzP has indebted the nation mindlessly). It was not us who dragged the others with us (we are in some way brave as we took the burden of the financial disaster without creating problems to others, as Greece is doing currently). The old world was a jail (financial markets have been frequently cruel to Hungary and have constrained policies), at best a “dwelling place” (at least we could live some years from the credits, which we will need also in the future, so please dear banks do not leave all).

  8. He’s conflating two ill-digested thoughts. He’s complained about speculation for years now: the old order, the prison, is the world based on what he sees as speculation, rather than the physical labour that he is obsessed with. (this bit comes from demján, whose economics are those of the market trader he started as).
    The collapse bit is his interpretation of the eurozone debt crisis, which he sees as validation of the anti-speculation spiel he’s been pushing for so long.
    Self-serving, but not complicated. Also complete bollocks, of course.
    I think you do deutsch a disservice. Translate it as “give shits a slap” and it becomes clearer. melia is one of many shits, the latest to get a slap. It’s macho pesti argot. You have to feel sorry for deutsch: too lazy to finish university, pretending to be an adult while riding on orbán’s coattails for 20 years. He knows it’s pathetic, but It’s too late to change.

  9. I must agree with An. Orban certainly has narcistic qualities and always surrounds himself with people who look at him and his actions with admiration. THat is not the only disorder he may have but this could be one.

  10. I must agree with Mutt Damon, to a certain extent. Orban, whether he believes what he says or not, is simply out to fool the crowds and solidify his power.
    The Fidesz’s main aim is not an ideological one– we know that because many of their MPs, like the rest of the country, only hear about changes to law proposals at the very last minute but vote for them anyways, without much though. The Fidesz also changes its rhetoric quite often (from ‘Strong Europe’ to talking of the collapse of that world, for example). It is no longer just a party in power. It is on its way to becoming a party of power, one whose main goals have nothing to do with bettering the country, but simply increasing their own hold on public life.

  11. clearly, mixing with insane people, may take a toll on you.
    I would describe Orba with one word: “tyrant”.
    a wounded nation like Hungary, is ill equipped to deal with his lying mafia clique.
    he will ruin the little what was left, by ending civilization in hungary.
    Eva Balogh, Laszlo Bartus etc. must start an intensive campaign to recall Orban, and to rehabilitate the very decent gyurcsany.

  12. Oh Dear! So the Mighty One (OV) is a nut case! This is but a tiny problem. The real problem is that he (with the support of Fidesz) thinks he has absolute power. (He does not, because there are still the European Court and the European Court of Human Rights looming in the background and the European Parliament is looking over his shoulder). For the moment his party is obeying his every whim, but one day somebody will step out of line and will have to just vanish (Poof!), that is when the fun (and the disappearances) starts.
    His great problem will be is ‘a vanishing or two’ enough to keep the rest of Fidesz ‘in line’ with his will? Or will there be the need to have ‘Show Trials’ to frighten them? Mighty One (OV) tells the people that Hungary has enemies outside of Hungary, but He will need enemies ‘within’ if he is going to guarantee himself an absolute hold onto power. This will give him a problem. Under the treaties with the EU the death penalty has been abolished throughout the EU. To have his enemies locked up means that they are still alive and kicking and could make a physical come back or tell.
    After a ‘vanishing’ his problem is what to do with the remains? The Antonov AN26 (CURL) has only a ferry range of some 1,500NM (750 NM round trip). To do a proper job he will need to fly at least a 5,000 NM nonstop round trip. The Atlantic Ocean is the best place to ‘loose embarrasing things’, it is very deep and large. I have read that the AVO had a special (Acid) Bathroom in the basement of No 60 Andrassy ut for just such purposes. I wonder if the order for new one has been placed yet.
    Finally is he just a ‘nutter’ or has it (or will it) developed into the ‘Full Dundee’? Check it out Johnny Boy it is ‘English slang’

  13. I read this in Peter Oborne’s “The Rise of Political Lying” and I thought of someone else other than Tony Blair:
    “It is not unreasonable to speculate that the prime minister has a strong tendency to fall victim to a common conceptual muddle: the failure to understand the distinction between truth versus falsehood and truth versus error. Tony Blair, and many colleagues, consistently seem to feel that they are lucky enough to have been granted a privileged access to the moral truth.
    This state of grace produces two marvellous consequences. It means that whatever New Labour ministers say or write, however misleading or inaccurate, is in a larger sense true. Likewise whatever their opponents say or write, whether or not strictly speaking accurate, is in the most profound sense false.”
    So, in summary, like Blair and New Labour, Viktor and his apparachniks actually, in their heart, do believe themselves what they forcefeed the plebs ill-logical and self-contradicting nonsense via their various media lapdogs. The biggest problem is that too much of the Hungarian population still have the pre-1989 mindset, too (understandably) scared or too complacently stupid to question the lies and propanganda.

  14. it is meaningless to analyze the criminally insane orban’s opening salvos.
    in a few weeks, he will indict some powers who were the wardens of those prisons.
    there after he will declare a war on those subhumans.
    this will be the empowerment to the desperate impoverished mob to massacre all those untermenschen.
    (how could the vonas, szalasis. rakosis ever recruit their executioners? how many hungarians are born stupid suicidal murderers?)
    these people love the usual purge, which some hungarians find irresistable.
    will hungary ever have a decent leadership?
    will the decent but silent majority ever defeat the minority of criminal gangsters?
    is this a land of sicilian mafiosos or civilized decendants of ferenc deak?

  15. That WSJ-article is an interesting read, but to me Orbán feels more like a manic-depresive …
    I have a friend you might call manic-depressive and he is a completely different person at different times – you would not recognize him again if you didn’t know him.
    Illusions of omnipotence and talking about projects to save the world change into complete apathy for weeks or even months – suicide is also almost around the corner.
    If Orbán or the whole Fidesz gets into this phase – I pity poor Hungary …

  16. the real tragedy here is how words actually lose their function of carrying a message. they cease to mean what they originally used to. Government communication is not meant to inform, is not meant to communicate anything anymore.
    This Szíjjártó character is for me one of the most frightening of all of them. He is willing to stand out there day by day, look a whole country in the eye and lie, lie, lie, but with such conviction that it makes me break out in sweat. No wonder he is the one with the highest salary. Noone else would have the guts (or the stomach) to do it.
    I have stopped analysing their words for a while now, because I realised that this meaningless, fake communication is a ruse and nothing else. It’s meant to keep ‘the other side’ busy with attempts at decoding it, when in fact there’s nothing to decode. Like the farce with those committees in charge of writing the constitution or the new electorial law. They keep them busy, when in the background they already have a Szájer or an Áder with their Ipads who then easily sidestep the whole committee and do whatever they want.
    And this is what matters. Not OV’s speeches, or his harebrained theories. It does not matter a thing what either of them says. What matters is what they do. And that’s why the opposition, if there really is one in this damned country, are fools if they think any of the old rules still apply. This is a new world, where honour, honesty, integrity (even plain old words) have lost their meaning and, if you don’t have the cheek to take this game further than OV and his gang so that you could beat them on their own turf, your chances are near zero. You can only fight them with their own immoral weapons, but if you do this, you will become like them. that’s the dilemma here and that’s what they exploit to the fullest.
    So while we/you/the opposition/the world try and try again to engage them in meaningful conversation, anything goes in this country. They run this place and they say whatever they want. You can have your concerns about the truth value of those words, you are allowed to be enraged and disgusted with the churlishness of certain second rate politicians, you are welcome to not belive your ears when you hear Orbán talking nonsense, but that’s all you are left. ‘Cause what it all boils down to is power and to people who have it vs people who don’t. And those who don’t, are all frozen into a mixture of disbelief and impotence. This country is tangled inextricably in a web of lies and distortions fortified by a series of legislations that will bind the hands of those who come after them. But when?

  17. @chayenne I love everything you wrote to the last word. What can I say? We are what we are. Our politicians are us – we can’t escape this. Until we change the “ruling elite” will be always the same. Maybe this is some kind of Eastern European gene. Let’s give us 20 more years. The next generation will be different, or the next, or the next …

  18. “You can only fight them with their own immoral weapons, but if you do this, you will become like them. that’s the dilemma here and that’s what they exploit to the fullest.”
    I also like the post very much. But the problem is that Fidesz could establish their system of power politics because people liked what they SAID and advertised. Starting with criticism of Gyurcsany and the whole MSzP “gangsters” (I will deliberately use their words to remind us of how they achieved support for what they then have been doing), Trianon emlek nap and everything that is related to how “all Hungarians” were maltreated by the rest of the world, not to speak of Jewish conspiracies or the Roma problems. You may consider all that just distractions from the main point (which is: power politics) but I would suggest to see this as INSTRUMENTS in their power politics. Which is why what they say and how this is “accepted” or at least “swallowed” (either as correct or as “nothing can be done about it”) matters. As long as there are people out there who find it compelling what Fidesz is saying (no matter how messy the whole story), these power politics will be considered veniality by the same people. And there is still the problem that an alternative programme has been suggested only by a few people or groups, without a broad consensus about what to replace this new Fidesz paradise with. That is why you worry that only the same approach of “power politics” can stop Fidesz rule. If some alternative programme could be defined (eventually), the alternative offer might include more than just “being like them”. So to be provocative, for me it is also about a lack of ideas of how the democratic Hungary should look like, given all the problems (polarisation of society, lack of consensus, economic challenges etc.) that are still with us.

  19. Sorry for being so late with this comment, but something disabled the posting function of the site for me…:( I definitely have things to add to my previous post. here it is:
    Politicians are not individuals forced upon a nation, they don’t just manifest out of thin air. They come from among the people, they are one of us. THey are our products, our creations. Politicians are opportunists, no matter what they say, because they have to be, by default. They say what their voters want them to say, so that they be elected. One can learn a lot by looking closely at the things a country’s voters want to hear from their politicians. The things that are being fed to us before an election are our own choice of a menu.
    In western Europe we can find countries with more than ten times more experience with democracy, thus being a citizen, a person with civic rights and duties is an integral part of their culture and of who they are as persons. It’s been only 20 years since the change of regime in Hungary and it clearly shows. The political audience is immature and in a sense the politicians too, since they are one of the people as well.
    In my opinion most of what OV is doing right now, the changes he is introducing are mostly necessary. We all know that the welfare state is over, it can’t be financed any longer and we all know that the current financial crisis in the EU is mostly the symptom of this ailing system. New solutions have to be found, and people have to come to terms with these changes. In this sense the ‘old world’ is disappearing, yes. Where OV is delusional is when he thinks he is a step ahead of everyone else, sees tendencies that others don’t, but he is wrong.
    All the leaders of Europe and the world know what should have to be done, the only difference is how far their hands are bound by their own people and by their own sense of responsibility. In my opinion, the measure of how democratic a nation really is is the extent to with the people can keep their own politicians in check. In a country where the political elite can run amok is far from democratic. Let’s try to imagine OV and his gang in France or in Germany for example. Ridiculous. But here in this country they can do whatever they want, the people can’t resist them, can’t control them, can’t even understand what is happening to them, because they are lacking in a democratic tradition in which French or English or German people are steeped in.
    The politicians of these countries are working towards the same goal as OV, they have no other options, but they never lose sight of the fact that they are dealing with PEOPLE, human beings whose lives are influenced by their decisions. Here OV can disregard the people entirely, can throw thousands of people into abject poverty or even condemn families to death blaming his actions on ‘necessity’. It’s like the middle ages and the feudal system again. Landlords could force as much tax out of their serfs as they wanted, the peasants paid them even if whole regions starved to death. But at least the landlords had an ideology backing them up where they could consider themselves superior to the common people.
    The situations is eerily the same now. People are going to starve to death in this country and no one seems to care. People are going to be forced to labour on public works project just so that a few goddamns statistics look better. But nobody seems to be talking about how it is impossible to feed a whole family from 30.000 Ft. How it is impossible to find a job in three months. How it is impossible for old people to pay for their medication if they are not subsidiesed by the state…etc.
    It seems there is no limit to the things that can be done to the Hungarian people. We are sitting ducks, and it’s open season. Nothing proves better to me that we are in fact a Balkan state than this. But then why do I resist the idea with every fibre of my being? Why do I feel the need to declare myself not just Hungarian, but European too? I’m sure there are a lot of people in this country who feel like this. Where are they now?

  20. Chayenne Your observations are very interesting. Your remark about the short length of time that Hungary has had to become a mature democracy is interesting. Democracy in both Germany and France only restarted after about 1945/46. In both cases there were large numbers of foreign troops supported by a military government. In France these military governments moved slowly forward as the fighting moved, they supported the local government infrastructure and were supported by it. Behind them there was the ‘Provisional Government’ whose members were ‘approved’ by the liberators
    In western part of Germany the local occupying armies set up governments often incorporating elements of the local Nazi administration. Later on as the western powers caused ‘local elections’ to be held in Germany and the candidates were ‘hand picked’ mainly from those elements of the German resistance and those who were normal people. In France again the army was the ultimate referee and guarantor. This was true during the street riots in Paris when Charles de Gaullle was recalled to power he visited the French army in Germany to canvas army support. In Germany there was the Mayor of Cologne Konrad Adenauer.
    Hungary started its democratic career with no ‘Guardian Angles’. It did not purge its self of the old regime. Many of whom metamorphosed into MSzP. This party contains the rump of the Hard left to the moderate Left of Centre. Many were honest but there was always the old ideas of ‘power, privilege and gain’ surrounded them.
    As a result all sorts of con-merchants and other self seeking persons came to power. In fact the whole boiling mess has now come to a head with an Autocrat in power.

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