The Ákos Kertész affair

I guess we have to talk about it, although I really think that it is a trumped up scandal. The Hungarian right can point to Ákos Kertész’s bitter words as proof that “Jews” look down on poor downtrodden Hungarians. You see, they think that they are better. This case is somewhat similar to the “Landeszmann case” of 1993 that kept the Hungarian nationalistic right excited for a very long time.

György Landeszmann was a rabbi who, after hearing István Csurka’s seemingly endless antisemitic rantings, got tired of the tirades and said something not too flattering about Hungarian culture without the participation of Hungarians of Jewish origin. The reaction was incredible. Heti Magyarország, the right-wing paper of the day, published a whole book in which Károly Alexa, the editor, collected all the articles dealing with the subject. Believe it or not, there are 266 pages filled with the stuff that followed a couple of ill-chosen sentences. Let me add that Landeszmann was right about the enormous contributions that Hungarians of Jewish origin have made to modern Hungarian culture in general, at least in the last one hundred years. By the way, in the end Landeszmann emigrated to Canada.

And now about Ákos Kertész. He was born in 1932 and finished high school in 1950 but because of his “bourgeois” origin couldn’t enter university. So, he worked on the bodies of Ikarus buses for twelve solid years. On the side he managed to finish university at night. Between 1966 and 1992 he worked at Mafilm where he was a screenplay writer. On the side he wrote several novels which were translated into multiple languages. Between 1994 and 1997 he was editor-in-chief of Élet és Irodalom. He received several prestigious prizes, including the much coveted Kossuth Prize. He was also given the freedom of Budapest. Today, after his bitter words about Hungarians who don’t seem to be yearning for freedom and dignity but who let themselves be enslaved by a party and a government Kertész finds abhorrent, Jobbik wants to strip him of his Kossuth Prize and István Tarlós, who in my opinion talks too much and about things he shouldn’t, wants to get back the key of Budapest.

 

When his article that caused so much trouble appeared in Amerikai-Magyar Népszava (August 29) I happened to be battling with “Irene” and therefore the news got to me a few days late. My own memories of Ákos Kertész were somewhat spotty. I remembered an interview with him on Zsófia Mihancsik’s Hétzáró, a two-hour political program on KlubRádió, a program that unfortunately no longer exists. I loved that program and wouldn’t have missed it for anything. After a while I began to correspond with Zsófia Mihancsik. Every time there was a memorable or intriguing interview I jotted down a few words recording my impressions. All that happened quite a few years ago. After all, Hétzáró went off the air in 2007. However, I recall that I wrote to Mihancsik after she had an interview with Kertész. I complained that I found him too much to the left for my taste. Mihancsik wrote back something to the effect that yes, but he is such a decent, nice man.

Then this morning I vaguely remembered something about Kertész’s Catholicism and, indeed, with the help of Google I found what I was looking for: an article that appeared in Népszava on June 17, 2010. The title of the article was “God cannot allow such an abomination.” Kertész was devastated by the two-thirds majority and the role the Hungarian Catholic Church played, which for the most part Kertész found far too reactionary. He mentioned as a possible exception Asztrik Várszegi, arch-abbot of Pannonhalma, a liberal churchman.

From the article we find out that indeed Kertész has a Jewish background but with an interesting twist. His father, because of the numerus clausus that restricted the number of Jews allowed to enroll in Hungarian universities, couldn’t continue his studies. Thus he attended “free university” courses where he met Vilmos Juhász, a historian and journalist and a Catholic convert from Judaism. Under his influence Kertész’s father converted and the two of them started an organization called Hungarian Holy Cross Assocation that represented Jewish converts from the early 1930s until 1945. The leader of the organization was Dr. József Ijjas, who later became bishop of Kalocsa (1969-1987). Among his father’s friends was Sándor Sík, the Catholic poet and provost of the Order of the Piarists.

Whether a believing Catholic or not, the elder Kertész was considered to be a Jew and taken to a series of labor camps. He even saw the camp in Bor in which Miklós Radnóti, the poet Zsolt Bayer likes to point to as a perfect Hungarian patriot, was shot to death. Radnóti was also a convert and a student of Sándor Sík.

To make Kertész into an anti-Hungarian Jew who feels superior to the servile Hungarians is quite a feat, but when the Hungarian right sets out to ruin someone they do it with a vengeance. The liberals also find Kertész’s few sentences faulty. First, they complain about his generalization, but I wonder whether he would have fared better if instead of speaking about Hungarians in general he had said “most Hungarians.” I doubt it. Others, like Ákos Mester of 168 Óra, find the text “ghastly.” Or they point out that his description of the role of Hungarians in the Holocaust is inaccurate. After all, Kertész finds “Hungarians alone responsible for the Holocaust.” But what they neglect to point out is the second half of the same sentence: “because the Hungarian people (as opposed to the Germans) didn’t confess their sins and never asked for forgiveness.”

Those who think that Kertész is speaking about Hungarians in the second-person plural and therefore doesn’t consider himself to be Hungarian are really stretching it. Consider this sentence, “I see it with desperation that I am closed into the jail of my mother tongue and nobody needs what I know and nothing happens if my works appear and also nothing happens if they don’t appear.” Kertész is a very bitter man, and I for one sympathize with him.

137 comments

  1. @Kirsten
    Zsolt Bayer and the general attitude of the Fidesz government triggered many assimilated Jews. Kertesz is one of them.
    (1.Holocaust denial in Constitution,
    2.Pava utca Holocaust Center exhibit affair,
    3. renaming of Sagvari streets(antifascist Jewish opposition leader in Budapest who was murdered,
    4. Albert Wass street and statue(nazi writer who published in a nazi newspaper even in the seventies and eighties, he was a war criminal in Romania, but escaped to the US)
    I remember 20 years ago, when I first visited Israel people asked me about antisemitism in Hungary and I answered that there were no such thing any more. Life is beautiful in Hungary.
    Today we bitterly realize that nothing changed , things that we already forgot coming back again.

  2. Which of the nations helped or watched silently the murder of the 5% of their own?
    Most.
    They sent their sons, fathers, sisters, mothers to the tirrany of wars to kill the other’s sister, brother, mother, father. Is there any nation who has not committed the crime of war?
    You are trying to create ab excepton by considering the nature of war. Well, war is war.

  3. @HungarianJew
    You guys sure know how to complain.
    In reality you are just an over represented segment of the Hungarian society in the media across the board.
    Here in Japan where I live, foreigners are a dwindleing 1%. We cannot vote, contribute to political parties, or creat ones.
    Jews in Hungary represent about the same proportion 1%, but they are everywhere in the media and politics. Yet complaining all the time.
    Such could not happen in Japan.
    Please start facing the fact that Hungary is not the USA, and is a homogenus country with more in common with Japan than USA.
    Please dont try to impose your values on the Hungarian people. Their culture is unique, and should be preserved for the sake of diversity.
    You say Hungarians are unable to study or work. Well, I am Hungarian and read write and sing in Japanese. Can you say that?:)
    Before you insult a nation think.
    Do you want the little multiculturism that has left there, be gone?

  4. Hungarian from Tokyo: “Please start facing the fact that Hungary is not the USA, and is a homogenus country with more in common with Japan than USA.”
    You seem to forget about approximately 800,000 Roma. The Jewish population of the USA is not more than 2% and yet they don’t face the kind of antisemitism as exists in Hungary today.
    Your ideas are abhorrant to me. Please stay in Japan.

  5. @Hungarian from Tokyo
    Hungarian Jews are Hungarians. We speak Hungarian, we were born in Hungary. This is our native language and home. Without WWII Hungarian Jews would be about 10% or more of the present population of the country. Before WWII every 5th citizen of Budapest was Jewish. (if I remember well, please correct me if it is not right)
    Hungarian Romas are Hungarian too. Most Roma in Hungary are assimilated and their native language is Hungarian.
    So please stop telling us that we are not Hungarians.

  6. @Eva S. Balogh
    I can speak English, yet am I an English man? I can read write and think in Japanese.
    Am I Japanese?
    Yes there are Romas all ovr Europe, 800,000 of them speaking Hungarian. Do they share though the Hungarian values/culture?
    Please dont stay in Hungary. Travel the world and learn to appreiate different type of thoughts/cultures.

  7. HungarianJew: “This country elected a government with 2/3 majority.” Yes, but the letter accuses them all. Not at any point it says that “the 2/3” Or “some”. Nowhere you read this. It is like saying that gypsies are criminals. Of course there are some gypsies who are criminals, but not all, so we should not say!
    @Hungarian from Tokyo: “You guys sure know how to complain.
    In reality you are just an over represented segment of the Hungarian society in the media across the board.
    Here in Japan where I live, foreigners are a dwindleing 1%. We cannot vote, contribute to political parties, or creat ones.
    Jews in Hungary represent about the same proportion 1%, but they are everywhere in the media and politics.” Are you Japanese? DId your mother and grandmother were Japanese? What’s your point? We are talking about Hungarian Jews! WE are talking about Jews who do not speak Jiddish, but Hungarian. Jews who lived in Hungary for hundreds of years? ARe you this close minded? You just made the point for Kertetsz. It is you and Johnny Boys why Kertesz got frustrated, It is unfortunate that he could not spell out the few million names who deserve what he wrote!

  8. “We speak Hungarian, we were born in Hungary. This is our native language and home”
    And this is what you call the land of pigs who do not want to learn or work, and keep defending this Kertesz figure?
    What kind of Hungarian defends a man who insults all Hungarians?
    All you bring to Hungary is shame and division. Why does Hungary need that?
    Much to learn from the Japanese. Much!

  9. Hungarian from Tokyo: “Please dont stay in Hungary. Travel the world and learn to appreiate different type of thoughts/cultures. ”
    Thanks for the advice. I have been living in North America ever since February 1957. Oh, you puffed up fool!

  10. @Some1
    Go on. Hundreds of years in Hungary.
    You guys only keep dealing with one segment of that history, and keep pulling down the image of Hungary.
    The hundreds of years Hungary was providing for you safety and comfort, you never mention.
    And you guys go on and comfort here Kertesz?
    Why do Hungarians need this kind of negative media campaing from 1% of its population?
    Not making enough money these days?

  11. HungarianJew I call you to stop bullying me and talking about ‘the population’ in general.
    Since you obviously do not know all 10+5 million Hungarians in person, you are not one bit longer than the generalizing Nazis who projected sins onto a whole nation.
    In fact, you yourself splendidly qualify for a Nazi.

  12. Of course it is a blatant lie to blame Bayer for such beastly, fascist outcries like this cesspool from Kertész.
    Bayer was still pooping into his diapers when Kertész’s kin was already vomiting their state of ‘mind’ onto Hungary.

  13. Eva Sh. Balogh:
    “Thanks for the advice. I have been living in North America ever since February 1957. Oh, you puffed up fool!2
    North America is the world for you?
    What a laughable self limitation.
    You have much to learn starting with lessons on manner!

  14. ESBalogh: “I have been living in North America ever since February 1957”
    Of course, it is a lot more safe to be far far away where you cannot be held accountable for your constant hideous hate speech.

  15. Hungarian from Tokyo: “Not making enough money these days?”
    You hit the nail right on the head.
    By always demanding that Hungary should ‘face its past’ and ‘apologize’ but never ever defining how they imagine this to be carried out, only one thing is sure.
    They want compensation, but today it’s already mainly their grandchildren who want it, and this goes on and on and on.

  16. JB: “a lot more safe to be far far away where you cannot be held accountable for your constant hideous hate speech.”
    Well, I know your kind would like to put people into jail for expressing their opinions. Or just because they are your political opponents. You don’t have the slightest idea about what democracy and freedom of speech mean. You are a terrible advertisement for Hungary

  17. Hey, Vandorlo? Are you reading these? What’s your emotive import of Johnny Boy From Tokio’s posts?

  18. I dont think they would stop there (compensation). Look at Palestine. I hear prominent Israeli politicians mentioning of buying up Hungary. Very funny.
    Enough of this negative calculated media!
    I feel “hazukashii” 恥ずかしい. Japanese for ashamed.
    I cannot be proud in Japan about being Hungarian, because of this holocaust industry.
    WTF.

  19. @Hungarian from Tokyo:
    “You guys only keep dealing with one segment of that history, and keep pulling down the image of Hungary.”
    The image of a country will not get any better if foreigners such as me are offered on the one hand the assurance of how civilised Hungary is, if on the other hand one has to “learn” that the only thing that disturbs this idyll is the Jews, Roma and other alien elements. That simply does not count as civilised, no matter how you try to defend this by pointing out that there were times when Jews were actually allowed to live in Hungary without being constantly harrassed.
    some1, I think that this person who hides behind “the Japanese” is a simple troll. It is an average summary of the already known prejudices.

  20. @Kirsten
    Why does Hungary owe you anything on the first place? Including explanations, compensations and apologies.
    If that is civilised to you, then let’s go whole world, start doing it.
    I personally would like to see that it starts with the Mongols!
    Can I start by utilizing my world wide media connetions, and defame the Mongols?
    In a civilized world defamation is punished by law.
    Kertesz walks so I guess we are not civilized!
    Troll your ass. この野郎!

  21. How about for a change that Hungarians shape Hungary’s image, and not victims of the WWII?
    Did we finally deserved a chance it after hundreds of years of others speaking for us?
    You guys are keep ruining the party, and ppl are getting fed up.

  22. Mutt:
    Congratulation!
    Finally you have managed to cough up some ancient latin expression and say something you would only dream to repeat in person 🙂

  23. Kirsten: “The image of a country will not get any better if foreigners such as me are offered on the one hand the assurance of how civilised Hungary is, if on the other hand one has to “learn” that the only thing that disturbs this idyll is the Jews, Roma and other alien elements.”
    Oh, Kirsten, how can you say something like that. Don’t you know that ever since St. Stephen Hungarians have been most welcoming of all nations. (smiley)
    Otherwise, this guy from Tokyo is the worst type of the narrow-minded Hungarian who brings shame to his country. And a true anti-Semite who would love to set up quotas for Jewish Hungarians and who is most likely a Holocaust denier. Nice guy, in brief.

  24. Eva: “As for Gyurcsány. He may not be a skillful politician but he is a democratically minded man.” Surely, in his speeches, but I highly doubt that. He just didn’t have nearly as much power as OV has now (sometimes not even a safe majority let alone 2/3ds). But we’ve been through this discussion many times, so I won’t open it.
    HunFromTokyo:
    I find HunJew’s reaction a little oversensitve too just as I find my grandfather endlessly complaining about what happened to his dad in Rákosi’s prison (would not go into the pretty nasty details), but I understand them both and you have no right to refer to him as a foreigner.

  25. The point that the contributors tried make here is that the victims of WWII were Hungarians. So what shapes Hungary’s image is that Hungarians are not considered Hungarian.

  26. Eva:
    I dont denie the holocaust!
    It happenned many time in history.
    Your narrow mindedness disgust me as much as your personal insults.
    In plain English, what a hateful old bitch you are!

  27. @ Hungarian from Tokyo: “How about for a change that Hungarians shape Hungary’s image, and not victims of the WWII?”
    Unfortunately opinions expressed by you and Johnny Boy shape Hungary’s uncivilized image more than anything else. Right, those Jews and Gypsies who have lived in Hungary for hundreds of years, speak Hungarian and contributed to Hungarian culture, are not Hungarians? You are out of your mind.

  28. “So what shapes Hungary’s image is that Hungarians are not considered Hungarian”
    Hungarians who defame Hungary should be stripped of their citizenship, and escorted to the border.
    Period!

  29. Jano: “Surely, in his speeches, but I highly doubt that.”
    I think you’re wrong. But keep in mind that Orbán not even in his speeches showed any sign of understanding democracy.

  30. An:
    Is this your contribution that we are pigs?
    You who defend that is out of his/her mind!

  31. Hungarian from Tokyo: “Surely, in his speeches, but I highly doubt that.”
    I think you’re leaving us. We don’t like people like you.

  32. HunFromTok: It’s their country too, and as long as they maintain feeling the attachment for their country they have the right to raise their voice if they feel that things go in the wrong direction.
    I assume that when Gyurcsány was elected in 2006 you told everybody what a lovely electorate we had and have never gone on a rampage about what was happening in the country. You can read where I stand about senseless hate speeches against Hun, but that doesn’t mean that well argued and backed up criticism would be so outrageous even if I violently disagree with it.

  33. Eva: “keep in mind that Orbán not even in his speeches showed any sign of understanding democracy.”
    Because he’s talking to a different audience. Both are pretty opportunist people who say exactly what their fan base wants to hear. And by the way I disagree that OV would be a lot worse than De Gaulle. Their governance style and political philosophy are very very similar. It’s true that OV doesn’t have a military background which would entitle him to be like this (which seems to be what you argued), but this doesn’t change the result.

  34. @Hungarian from Tokyo”Hungarians who defame Hungary should be stripped of their citizenship, and escorted to the border.
    Period!”
    Well I told you that it can happen today or tomorrow. Here is our friend from Tokyo wants to deport us.
    I can assure you that I am not interested in money and restitution. All I want is education and a sensitive government policy, a constitution which is not denying the Hungarian Holocaust.

  35. And here I was thinking living in another culture and learning another language broadened the mind…
    Or has the ‘JB’ troll just been upgraded?

  36. @ Hungarian from Tokyo: “An: Is this your contribution that we are pigs?
    You who defend that is out of his/her mind!”
    I wasn’t particularly referring to Kertesz, or his individual contribution to Hungarian culture, but to Jewish and Gypsy Hungarians in general, who you claimed are not Hungarians. I have found this claim ridiculous. Now you are diverting our discussion back to what Kertesz wrote… I understand if you are offended or outraged by what he wrote (I am not) but that is no reason to question the Hungarian-nes of Hungarian Jews and Gypsies. Or even Kertesz’s.

  37. @Jano: “Both are pretty opportunist people who say exactly what their fan base wants to hear.”
    Oh, come on! You think that talking about modernization, reform, the republic is terribly popular for a large segment of the population? With this kind of talk you can capture the imagination of the majority of the people? I doubt it. He is certainly not trying to gain popularity. I think he believes in what he is saying.
    As for Orbán. You think that always saying what people want to hear is acceptable from a decent politician? I don’t think so. There is a good article by a linguist about the language of fascism in American-Hungarian Népszava that talks about this issue. Orbán’s goal is only to remain in power as long as possible. Doesn’t matter at what price. That’s the problem with him among other things.

  38. “If you do not educate the Hungarian population they will do this again. In order to educate, first one needs to face the facts.”
    Just about sums it up.
    And, if anyone doubts anti-Semitism is alive and kicking in 21st century Hungary, just read this thread.
    I wonder if these ‘people’ have the slightest idea just how sick they appear to most of the rest of us?

  39. And lastly, to JB and the other trolls – why would we bother to read this blog and comment on it if we didn’t care about Hungary (whether born there or not)?
    There’s only one poster who seems motivated by hate – and he is the one accusing the rest of us of hating!

  40. One more thing to Jano. You are an intelligent guy but how can you support a demagogue like Viktor Orbán? I really don’t understand.

  41. Paul: “And lastly, to JB and the other trolls”
    You know what, Paul? I don’t think that they are trolls. I’m afraid they are for real. They are not paid agents. They really believe in what they are saying. And this is really frightening because they are certainly not alone. When it comes to Gypsies they are about 85% of the population. When it comes to anti-Semitism I would have to take a look at the last statistics but I’m afraid it is high.
    Xenophobia in general is also surprisingly widespread. The majority of Hungarians don’t want to see foreigner in their country. Unfortunately, this is the truth.

  42. I think sushi boy was a troll. He is trooper too or he has serious sleeping problems. He stayed up from 2am to 8am local time just to spread hate on your blog in almost perfect American English, managing to avoid any references to today’s events in Hungary, just parroting the standard anti-Semitic garbage, occasionally inserting the word “Hungary” in the posts. Copy-pasted a few Japanese words straight from Google translator. Classic psycho. I think the blog posts appears in the search engines very quickly.
    He made JB to write things otherwise he wouldn’t write. Poor guy. He should be a bit more selective when forming alliances, but I understand his euphoria.

  43. Tokyo Smockyo and JB: I am very glad to read your comments, and I hope from the bottom of your heart that the whole world reads your comments too. THere are no further explanation necesary about what drove Kertesz to write his piece. I still say that it is not about all Hungarians, but if Johnny Boy and Tokyo are right and if indeed they represent the majority of Hungarians, who can wonder that such piece was written. Indeed Johnny Boy and Tokyo is the pigs Kertesz referred to.

  44. Eva:”You are an intelligent guy but how can you support a demagogue like Viktor Orbán? I really don’t understand.”
    Does one of my first post to this topic sounded supportive of OV?:) Thank you btw, I also think that you are an intelligent woman and as one I don’t understand how can you fall for such a “ripacs” primadonna as Gyurcsány.
    “You think that talking about modernization, reform, the republic is terribly popular for a large segment of the population?” – Yes it is. There is no segment of the society that argues that things are good as they are now. The reason he’s not popular is that he gambled away all his credibility (and in my eyes it did not entirely happend by the 2006 election campaign and Öszöd, but mostly during the three years after) and nobody believes anymore that anything he says is not an act. Neither do I. Also through a relative I got a slight peek into how his governance was working, but I don’t like to use this as an argument because anybody could say that.
    I sympathized with him too before 2006. Probably that is why I feel so strongly about this. I never trusted Orbán too much (I just hoped that they learned a thing or too from once loosing governance by a small margin and then being beaten to the ground), so I’ve never really felt disappointment and and being betrayed in connection with him. For the record, I have to admit that he managed to surprise me, when I thought I was prepared for everything.
    The prime minister closest to me is clearly Bajnai, although he only got a chance because the socialist was trying to cling on so badly (just remember the chabaret to find the new PM, and Bajnai was the last resort). He never was a viable option and I doubt that he’ll ever be. He seems too normal to go through all the crapswamp the socialist party means today(and even if he did, my deep disgust towards MSZP would probably still prevent me from voting for him) and thanks to the abysmally low credibility of the entire political elite, founding a new party is almost incredible. The latter is made even harder by the election laws (with which in fact, both MSZP and FIDESZ are extremely happy as the last thing they need are real alternatives on each side of the political spectrum)

  45. Dr Balogh, thanks for hosting these various opinions. Quite the show.
    H L Mencken (a widely read social commentator / critic in the USA ninety-odd years ago) received haybales of letters from persons who took issue with his published opinions. His standard-reply postcard read: “Dear Sir / Madam — You may be right. Sincerely, H L Mencken”.
    Worth reviving.

  46. Eva S. Balogh: “Well, I know your kind would like to put people into jail for expressing their opinions”
    No, it’s not me supporting the communists who only tortured democracy through all their lives, it’s you.
    All you are talking is entirely about yourself.
    But you could meet people in the streets, if you dared spread your hate speech among them.
    It is not a coincidence that you are so far away.
    You never have the guts to look in the eyes of those you are libelling all the time.
    You are a coward communist and should be treated accordingly. You would be publicly ridiculed in Hungary.

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