Creating ideal Hungarians: The Fidesz-KDNP’s intellectual return to the 1930s

Yesterday I outlined the Orbán government’s attempt to return a few hundred square feet to its 1944 persona. The spot has symbolic significance for the politicians currently in power in Hungary because it is located in front of the House of the Homeland, as the parliament is known in Hungarian. The desire to stop the clock in one little segment of the world has an air of unreality to it. But that’s not all that seems to me to be doomed. An intellectual return to the 1930s through education seems just as much of a failing proposition.

Viktor Orbán asserted, even during the period between 1998 and 2002, that one of his favorite politicians is Count István Bethlen, prime minister of Hungary between 1921 and 1931. Although Bethlen was considered to be a moderate by Hungarian standards of the 1920s and 1930s, he was a thoroughly conservative man who didn’t really believe in democracy. In addition to Bethlen, Fidesz politicians praise Bethlen’s minister of education, Count Kunó Klebersberg (1921-1931).

Klebersberg’s greatest achievement was that he managed to convince his fellow politicians and the prime minister that Hungary, reduced in size and population, could be great only through intellectual achievements. “It is not the sword that will make Hungary great again,” he said. Indeed, given the very limited resources of the time Hungary on average spent 9-10% of its budget on education and culture compared to the pre-1914 period’s modest sums (2-5.5% of the budget).


This money was well spent. Within ten years many new schools were built, several new high schools were established, illiteracy decreased substantially, educational reforms were introduced, and plenty of money was spent on research. On the basis of these facts, one should have only praise for Klebersberg’s activities. But his ideology and the practices he insisted on are disturbing. The worldview that was spread in Hungarian schools in the 1920s and 1930s greatly influenced the ideology of the “Christian upper middle class” (in Hungarian the “keresztény úri középosztály), traces of which are detectable even today.

What was the essence of this ideology?  Before the war Hungarian schools were not considered to be instruments of ideological orientation. After the war, under Klebersberg’s tutelage, ideological and political considerations took center stage. “National feelings” had to be nurtured and children were to be shielded from the harmful effects of internationalism. One of Klebersberg’s most important aims was the “re-Hungarization of the intelligentsia.” He made no secret of his view that re-Hungarization was necessary because the Hungarian intelligentsia had become “Judaized” in Hungary’s liberal period. Teaching became completely hungarocentric. The emphasis was on Hungarian literature, Hungarian history, and geography that included the study of the whole Carpathian Basin. The teaching of world history was greatly reduced in favor of “subjects of national knowledge” (nemzetismereti tárgyak).

As for worldview, schools were supposed to teach children to condemn the teaching of liberal democracy. They were taught a hatred of social democracy and the left in general. The denunciation of Mihály Károlyi was part and parcel of the curriculum. Teachers were supposed to educate children so they would grow up as model citizens and especially good Hungarians. Upright, hard working, resolute, morally upright with a “healthy Hungarian worldview.”

Although Klebersberg attended law school, he was interested in the humanities and the social sciences. When he became minister of education, he educated himself in the art of teaching and amassed a library of more than 3,000 volumes.

Kunó Klebersberg’s library


He spent considerable time developing the kind of educational system that would serve the needs of post-Trianon Hungary. He even came up with a new concept that he called “neo-nationalism.” In 1928 he published a volume of his speeches on the subject. What was neo-nationalism for Klebersberg? “The solidarity of positive, active, productive men. The holy collaboration of workers and creative men in the magnificent rebuilding of the ruined homeland. The conscious union against those who are overly critical and in general against those whose outlook is negative.” He quite openly admitted that his aim was to produce “a new Hungarian type.” Well, nothing is new under the sun. The communists in Russia wanted to produce a Soviet man who would be radically different from his predecessor and the Hungarian nationalists attempted the same, but in nationalist not internationalist garb.

Klebersberg’s ideal Hungarian is “a man who speaks and preaches little but who works hard and creates.” As Ervin Csizmadia, a Hungarian political scientist, points out, there are many similarities between Klebersberg’s and the current Hungarian government’s ideas. Orbán talks a lot about physical labor as the only real work. We hear from morning till night about the country that is in ruins and that must be rebuilt. Orbán and his fellow politicians are also very sensitive to criticism and have a few harsh words to say about “negative people” who are skeptical of their grandiose ideas about the glorious future that is just around the corner.

And naturally we mustn’t forget about Rózsa Hoffmann’s plans for educational reform. The stated aim is to develop “a national middle class.” What the authors of the new law on public education actually mean is that they want to produce a nationalistic middle class. They don’t dare add that they also want a “Christian” middle class because that would be considered anti-Semitic. But elsewhere they make it crystal clear that Christianity is an important ingredient of this Fidesz-KDNP ideology. All in all, if it depended on Viktor Orbán and Rózsa Hoffmann Hungarian educational principles would be very close to those Klebersberg had in mind. But what they forget is that 80-90 years have gone by since. Then only 1.1% of the population finished university and 3.6% high school. And of course there are the dramatic changes that have taken place in Hungarian society and the western world as a whole. Good luck, Rózsa Hoffmann!


  1. I thought this was a nice, balanced summary. Would you mind posting a small bibliography of sources in the comments?

  2. I mostly relied on Ignác Romsics’s history of Hungary in the 20th century and a couple of internet sources on Klebersberg’s life. The inspiration for writing the article came from Ervin Csizmadia’s recent article in Hírszerző.

  3. I read this article not once but three times. If it is true the educationalists in the Government have fallen out of both their collective and individual trees. If this comes to pass and Hungarian education back tracks to that which it was in the thirties. This was a time when Hungary was called the land of a ‘million beggars’. This was also a time when Hungarian phrase books (for the English speaking people) contained choice phases as “Behold our postillian has been struck by lightning!” and “That table’s got four legs”. A time when a land with no coastline was ruled by was ruled by an Admiral.
    The Victator believes that Hungary will only become great again (If it ever was) by manual labour, subsistence farming and illiteracy and to do it all on homemade ‘moonshine’.
    One thing I do know is that all of the Hungarian pigs have been fed and watered and are ready to fly

  4. For those who don’t check the Contrarian Hungarian regularly, there’s a couple of articles worth reading on this week’s update.
    Some shocking news about the government’s ‘work’ programme and the appalling treatment of Gypsies in Gyöngyöspata, and, for once, some good news that the ombudsman has ruled that Kövér was out of order when he banned those photographers who took pictures of OV’s speech (so that’s a new ombudsman then).
    And I still fail to understand why the two blogs don’t link to each other. Blogging ‘etiquette’ be damned, the situation in Hungary is far too important for us to worry about such niceties. Those of us on the anti-Fidesz side, especially those who do not speak Hungarian, need as much information as we can get. We should be working together, not worrying about such nonsense as ‘etiquette’.

  5. While Fidesz tries to return to its true roots from the 1930s (least they are finally honest about it), I am wondering what will happen wit Orban now regarding “unfaithful handling” of Hungary’s finances. If we all recall this is the exact reason why they put Gyurcsany on trial. For years Orban is lobbying with other to prove that pushing Hungary in to such a debt calls for putting all who are responsible on trial. Well the news is out that yesterday the Hungarian Government was not able to sell one single newly released Government Bonds. As Hungary is on the brink of being downgraded to junk status thanks for all the great programs implemented by Orban and Matolcsy, and in no way can they blame the previous government for the last two years any longer (they will try), who will be charged?

  6. “After the war, under Klebersberg’s tutelage, ideological and political considerations took center stage. “National feelings” had to be nurtured and children were to be shielded from the harmful effects of internationalism.”
    All good!

  7. And despite “the harmful effects of internationalism”, economic stability was achieved after 1924 with the help of big loans from the League of Nations. Sounds familiar?

  8. JB – If you think that turning out generations of insular young adults who have little idea of how the rest of the world ticks is going to benefit Hungary, then I’m baffled how you think the country is going to be successful in the future.

  9. JB should perhaps better stop engaging in such dangerous activities as writing in English in a blog. One could suspect that he is educated in the wrong subjects and perhaps an intellectual and not a manual worker or self-sufficient farmer. It may have also cost Hungary a fortune to educate him while it is not clear whether the country is gaining enough from that investment: is he working regularly on a pigs farm and crafting hand-woven traditional costumes? Or at least is he training regularly with his bow and arrow to prepare for the repossession of Greater Hungary?

  10. Johnny Boy. You wrote “children were to be shielded from the harmful effects of internationalism”.
    What is ‘internationalism’? Why is it such a ‘dirty word’ for you.
    What is harmful about knowing about the world and its peoples? What harm will come to a child who knows about the strange game called ‘cricket’ which is enjoyed my so many Millions?
    What is harmful about being friends with other races, they are after all human beings and maybe we can learn something from each other!
    No I have just read the works of GÁBOR PALLÓ as posted by Ron. Thank you Ron for the link. It is a pretty damming critique of Hungarian society and its stultifying effects on those who live within it. Once released from its pressures to conform to it. There is a huge blossoming in intellectual powers of those (like our Good Hostess who escaped from its greyness and the need to conform).
    This absolute need for conformity is a prerequisite for survival and is insisted on by the leaders in both politics and society. It is exemplified by a joke by an earlier contributor (Mutt Damon) in “Political “accounting”: The case of Club Aliga” about St Peter’s visit to Hell.
    This need for conformity to the beliefs, wishes and dictat of the leadership of this land is that leadership’s need to survive and rule.
    Unless and until this constraint is shattered Hungary, for all the potential brilliance of its children, will always remain a pain ‘under the tail’ for its neighbours and Europe in general.

  11. Odin: “It is a pretty damming critique of Hungarian society and its stultifying effects on those who live within it.”
    Apparently this is the case still. There were some pretty talented people who studied and worked abroad and they decided to go back thinking that they will be needed there. Pretty big names in certain scientific fields. Well, you imagine what happened at the end. They left because the old guard in Hungary wouldn’t let them to succeed there.

  12. Here is something to help your cold turkey until we get our HS fix. Interesting article from the
    Ladies & Gents … Planet Hungary Circus is in session.
    The Hungarian police is investigating the buddhist community in the village of Sajokaza. The charge is falsifying data on the on-line census forms recently, when they helped the local Gipsies to fill them out on-line. “Concerned citizens” reported to the authorities that there are more then 300 romas in the local buddhist community, so serious crimes must have happened. The ominous question on the form was worded like this: “What religious community do you belong to?”. Many of them said, even though they were baptized, they belonged to the buddhists, because they helped them, like fixed their roofs after the recent flooding of the Sajo river.
    It’s against the law in Hungary to disclose private census data, like religious affiliation. Get a load of this: the Kazincbarcika (closest town) police requested and received the online data from the regional census bureau after the charges were filed. One can only guess where did the mayor of Sajokaza receive the data from. There is no word if they are questioned about the data breach (surprise, surprise).
    Sounds familiar? Richard Field anyone? Help the romas and get investigated?
    This is one link about the buddhist community (English):
    Then index article (Hungarian):

  13. The State of Connecticut is under state of emergency. There is no electricity, there is no computeter and therefore there is no blog, perhaps for days.

  14. Once again I must thank you. I would not have known anything at all about this latest display of Hungarian lunacy. It seems in Hungary that you stuck with the religion your parents gave you. Of course the Victator likes that as it will make his task easier when he makes a decision that Hungary shall follow only one sect of one religion

  15. Re. the Hungarian Quarterly.
    Before I discovered HS and the various other English language Hungarian sites/blogs I now use, the HQ was my main source of information on Hungary. I subscribed to it for about 5 years.
    It is a very interesting publication, large paperback size/format, very high quality production and generally well written and edited.
    It’s only drawback, from my narrow point of view, is that most of its articles are about art, poetry, architecture, plays, films, etc, whereas my main interest is history and current affairs. There are some good articles on history, but some issues can be very poor on this topic, and current affairs is barely covered at all.
    Although impressed by the range and quality of the publication, eventually I gave up subscribing, as I simply wasn’t reading most of each issue (I did try!).
    But, if you are into Hungarian art, poetry, literature, etc, then this is a wonderful publication.
    One last point – it’s very expensive to subscribe to outside Hungary, but very cheap within the country. So, if you’re outside Hungary, arrange your subscription from a Hungarian address, and get them to post it on to you. (The only drawback to this wheeze is that my in-laws tended to forget to pass the issues on – or even where they had put them – so I tended to get mine two, sometimes three or even four, issues at a time!)

  16. Someone in CT visited Eva: “Eva is doing very well and said not to worry the blog will be up as soon as the power is back”

  17. Thanks NewsFromEva, good to know she’s OK. Tell her it’s not the blog we are worried about, as long as she’s OK, the blog can wait.

  18. Eva needs an iPhone. lol She would be able to go online (as longs as the battery holds). I am glad to hear she is doing OK.

  19. I read on Budapost a summary of an article of Laszlo Lengyel, which is said to state that “Gyurcsány’s departure opens a window of opportunity for the Socialists: it may allow them to break with the leader-principle”. I have so far believed that MSzP is a rather unreformed party with numerous people who have not changed their opinions since 1989 much. Apparently I am wrong or why else are there hopes that MSzP could make any useful contribution now that Ferenc Gyurcsany left?

  20. Bad news for Hungarian Swiss Franc mortgage holders today, as the forint passed the 250 ‘barrier’ again. Apart from the peak in CHF value earlier in the year, this is the worst the Ft has ever been against the CHF.
    That earlier peak was as a result of the strengthening of the CHF, rather than particular problems with the Ft. The Swiss government took steps to weaken the value of the CHF and the Ft recovered, but now it’s back to its worst position. And this time it isn’t just against the CHF that the Ft is weak, it’s having an equally bad time against the Pound, the Dollar and the Euro.
    And if all that wasn’t bad enough, it’s not just today’s value that is bad, but the trend over the last few years. Until 2008 the Ft maintained its value against the CHF very well, averaging about 165 Ft to the CHF, and rarely fluctuating more than 10 Ft either side. But since 2008 the value of the Ft against the CHF has steadily fallen by about 25 Ft a year.
    This isn’t necessarily bad news for Hungary, as her exports get cheaper and Hungary becomes a cheaper place to set up factories, etc. True, imports get dearer, but not too many Hungarians are buying that many foreign imports at the moment anyway. And Mark was of the opinion that the value of the forint was artificially maintained by the government and that Hungary would be better off if the forint was allowed to fall to its natural level.
    But, of course, the one group of people this does affect badly are the holders of CHF mortgages. My understanding of the situation here is that the government has introduced two schemes to help these people: those who are able to pay their mortgage off can now do so at an artificially low exchange rate (with the banks picking up the tab), whilst the rest can take a two year ‘holiday’ at an similar artificially low exchange rate.
    So, in theory, today’s high exchange rate should not affect too many people. But I’m not sure how this two year ‘holiday’ works. My somewhat hazy understanding is that the money you should have paid during the two years is set aside and eventually has to be paid (presumably the idea was that the exchange rate would have dropped significantly by the end of the two years?).
    So, if my understanding is correct, today’s high rate WILL still affect these people – in two years time they will have an even bigger deferred debt that they expected. And, of course, there’s no guarantee that the exchange rate will have improved in two years time. In fact, if the trend of the last 4 years continues, it is likely that it will be much worse, possibly around 300 Ft to the CHF – almost exactly twice what it was when most of these mortgages were taken out.

  21. Kirsten, you’re right. We have been without electricity since Sunday night. Last night the power came back but no internet connection. The latter was restored about half an hour ago.

  22. Kirsten: “I read on Budapost a summary of an article of Laszlo Lengyel, which is said to state that “Gyurcsány’s departure opens a window of opportunity for the Socialists: it may allow them to break with the leader-principle”.
    You must understand that Lengyel absolutely loaths Gyurcsány. According to wagging tongues it is because he was not asked by him to be one of his advisers. I like Lengyel very much, but I think that his reaction is not quite normal when it comes to Gyurcsány. For example, he promised Galamus at least one article a month, but when Gyurcsány wrote something on Galamus he refused to write anything. Now, this is not a normal reaction.

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