Paul Lendvai has achieved quite a feat with his Hungary Between Democracy and Authoritarianism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012). Lendvai, a well kn0wn journalist who was born in Hungary but has been living in Austria since 1957, is in a way part of the story he is writing about. Due to his stature outside and inside of Hungary he had the good fortune to have personal encounters with all the public figures mentioned in this book.
Hungary Between Democracy and Authoritarianism is more than a history of the last twenty-five years of Hungarian history. In a mere 250 pages Lendvai also investigates Hungarian nationalism, the roots of antisemitism, the state of the Hungarian media, the growth of the extreme right and its targets, the Roma and the Jews. Each of these topics is discussed for only a few pages, but Lendvai provides the reader with enough information to understand the intricacies of day to day events in Hungary.
For background Lendvai describes the failed 1956 uprising and its consequences and offers a brief but apt description of the nature of the Kádár regime that followed it. Lendvai was a fairly frequent visitor in Hungary even before the change of regime in 1989-1990 and has some wonderful descriptions of the leading politicians of the communist regime. For example, he met Károly Grósz, successor to János Kádár, twice. Once in the fall of 1988 and again in May 1989. The description of the change in Grósz is masterful. Within a few months Grósz “no longer seemed to be in the driving seat but a passenger.” He also recounts meeting Gyula Horn, then undersecretary in the Foreign Ministry, in 1985 who “with the radio turned up and standing next to an open window whispered his critical observations about Soviet foreign policy” into Lendvai’s ears.
There are two biographies of József Antall in Hungarian, one critical and the other more admiring. Both are long and informative, but one can perhaps learn more about him from Lendvai who in a few pages seems to capture the essence of the man. I found telling, for example, something that I had read nowhere else before: that Antall’s embossed visiting card listed all his titles in Latin (!), English, and Hungarian. In twenty-two pages Lendvai describes both Antall the person and the history of the Antall-Boross governments.
The account of the period between 1994 and 1998 when the Socialists and the Free Democrats (SZDSZ) together had more than two-thirds of the seats in parliament is also excellent. Lendvai’s description of Horn as a “shrewd political operator” is at the center of his analysis of the socialist-liberal coalition, but he pays ample attention as well to Horn’s first two ministers of finance, László Békesi and Lajos Bokros, who today are vocal against the economic policies of the current administration. He also outlines the uneasy relationship of the coalition partners that led to the increasing marginalization of SZDSZ and the corruption scandals that contributed to the socialist-liberal coalition’s political defeat.
Viktor Orbán is discussed in two chapters. In chapter 6, entitled “The Young Comet–Viktor Orbán,” we read about Fidesz’s move from the liberal to the conservative side and Orbán’s ever increasing nationalism and populism. Orbán is described as a man of “overwhelming lust for power” and “a man who almost automatically believes the veracity of whatever he considers to be politically useful to him.” It was discovered already during the first Orbán government that Orbán believes in “the primacy of politics over economics.”
There is a chapter on Péter Medgyessy, the anything but charismatic politician, who managed to defeat Viktor Orbán in 2002. He was described by people who knew him as “capable, but vain, and weak.” According to colleagues who worked with him he was Hungary’s worst prime minister, “the one who caused the greatest damage.” Or “a man who neither could make a decision nor inspire an example. He simply wanted to add to his CV the fact that he had been prime minister.” Not a very flattering picture. I must say that the few interviews I heard him give after he resigned confirm Lendvai’s negative image.
The Gyurcsány portrait is also interesting. Lendvai met him first in 2004 when Ferenc Gyurcsány was still minister of sports in the Medgyessy government. Lendvai describes him as “an exotic bird of paradise.” Different from the run of the mill socialist politicians. In his very first conversation with Lendvai “he pulled the Socialist Party to pieces, deriding it as a party incapable of deciding whom and what it represented.” After this first meeting Lendvai was convinced that Gyurcsány was “probably the most gifted and most dynamic politician in the socialist-liberal camp,” but he forgot Churchill’s warning, “In politics, especially at the top, there is no friendship.” Lendvai summarizes Gyurcsány’s role in Hungarian politics: “The flame of this perhaps greatest political talent in the post-communist history of the Hungarian left flared but briefly. Ferenc Gyurcsány turned out to be (in the sense of Jakob Burckhardt’s reflections on history) a ‘man of momentary greatness.'”
A whole chapter is devoted to the “Cold War at the Top–Orbán versus Gyurcsány.” This cold war is described as “a life and death struggle that destroyed Gyurcsány.” Lendvai lists the instruments that were used in this struggle by the master strategist, Viktor Orbán.
In addition to the chapters outlining the political events in Hungary more or less chronologically, there are important chapters that help the reader understand the background to these events. I especially enjoyed the chapter on the Hungarians’ sense of history entitled “The Sense of Mission of an Easily Seducible Nation.” One can ponder poll results that show that 76% of Hungarians believe that the Hungarians are related to the Huns and 79% are certain that during the reign of Louis Greater Hungary bordered on three seas. Or, 70% of all Hungarians are absolutely certain that the Hungarians treated the minorities living in Hungary fairly and only 9% think otherwise. As for Trianon, the results are equally shocking. In 2010 45% of the people said that the results of the border changes mustn’t be accepted.
There is an excellent chapter on the state of the Hungarian media with special emphasis on the media empire Fidesz built between 2000 and 2010. There are plenty of examples from right-wing papers that would give foreigners a fair idea of the state of journalism in Hungary. Chapters on the roots of antisemitism and anti-Roma attitudes are also helpful in understanding the current state of the affairs.
The last chapter is an addition to the original German edition of the book. Apparently, Viktor Orbán was greatly offended by it and made no secret of the fact that he considers Paul Lendvai an enemy. The title of this chapter is “Orbán Über Alles–Hungary at a Dead End.” In it Orbán is described as “a master tactician, a gifted populist, a radical and consummate opportunist, a ruthless power politician who believes not in ideas but in maximizing his power without any compunction, giving vent to Hungarian nationalism or tapping into fear and prejudice at a moment of crisis.”
Foreign diplomats, journalists, and businessmen who for one reason or another are planning to spend some time in Hungary should definitely read Lendvai’s book for background information. The rest of us can learn from Lendvai’s unique insights.
I own the Hungarian edition of the book. It was published early last year in Hungary. The title was “Eltekozolt Orszag” which is something like “Country Wasted”. The last chapter by then was “Orban’s Victory” not “Orban Uber Alles”, but I guess a lot of things happened since the beginning of last year. That chapter was actually written in Hungarian specifically for the Hungarian edition. According to the internet the Hungarian book was selling very well, which is actually rare for the political essay genre.
It’s a fascinating book. I would also recommend it to anyone who is interested in this planet called Hungary.
All Hungarians are responsible for this failure.
How can normal people follow Orbans or Vonas?
Where is the spirit of Széchényi, Deák, Kölcsey_
Are we talking about the same person? http://hetivalasz.hu/itthon/dokumentumok-paul-lendvai-kettos-eleterol-33395/
Kovach! Asking a question in English while quoting a Hungarian language web site is really stupid. How should the readers know the answer to your question?
This article is part of the smear campaign Orban’s goebbels squad lunched on Paul Lendvai immediately after his book came out. Basically they tried prove the he was informant.
Just read Lendvai’s book and you will understand why are they so mad.
Ah, typical Kovach. I’m getting tired of this intellectual egg hunt in Kovach’ comments …
As a Christmas gift to myself in 2010 I bought DAS VERSPIELTE LAND, the German original. Very readable; very worth-while. Thank you, Prof Balogh, for your comments on the last chapter. Perhaps that will be enough reason to buy the English-language version.
I would have loved to read a section in his book describing his dedicated service for the Rákosi regime as political officer in the Szombathely barracks:
Lendvai wrote the last chapter in English.
Interesting read. Lendvai had his own controversy regarding his “political past” just like most current Hungarian politicians that other controversial figures try to put on the pedestal today. While the “Fidesz and Jobbik minded” people find every excuse for Csurka, Orban, Kover, and other active past communist party members, the same gang is out with a vengeance trying to discredit those who hold any liberal values. Remind you those who are out to question if Lendvai can even speak up, done nothing under the communism to “protect the country”. Many of them actually were active members of the communist party or if they left Hungary already were very busy to snuggle into their new existence, providing no help for the “struggling Hungarians”. They were not even in the armchair opposition. Also, the same group of supporters together with Fidesz are the ones who want to destroy the National Archives. Just saying. It was many times discussed on this blog that there are only a handful of HUngarian politicians of today, who actually did something against the communist ways of Hungary prior to eighties. Orban and his gang was not one of them, but example Demszky.
I think the Hungarian right can be summed up with poor Csanad Szegedi’s story who was one of the leaders of Jobbik, but had to find out that he is actually partially jewish. Csanad, who is very much on the extreme-right just like one of the regular contributor of this blog stood for values like “It does not matter , who is a true Hungarian, but how much the person commits itself to being Hungarian”. I guess at the time when it came to his jewish heritage his own true Hungarian friends were not so forgiving as he very much had to go. THe moral of the story is that people should look into their own closet before starting to “revoke the rights” from others to dare to criticize the current autocrat regime of Hungary. There are many skeletons in the closets of the Fidesz, the Jobbik, and the members of their fan-clubs.
Kovach is a perfect example of the logical fallacy: http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/ad-hominem-tu-quoque.html
Even if he were Kadar himsel – his descripion of Hungary would still be valid …
Louis you prove that you’re an idiot/psychopath/Nazi every day – choose from that list whatever suits you most …
Let’s start at the end. In the article you quote from Heti Válasz there is absolutely nothing about Lendvai as a political officer in the Szombathely barracks. A comment from Gagarin (#329) comes up with this story which is the kind of fiction that is normally concocted by the Hungarian far right and spread around by rags like kuruc.info and Magyar Hírlap.Obviously Turkmenbas is a diligent reader of such garbage.
I’m not sure of the exact source of this nonsense but an article appeared in Magyar Hírlap (June 11, 2008) written by Csaba Kennessey, a man who lives in Switzerland. Who is this Kennessey? No other than the person who provides funds for maintaining the “grave” of Eszter Solymosi in Tiszaeszlár. Surely, Kennessey is one of those who believe that Eszter Solymosi was the victim of local Jews who killed her for her blood that they mixed into the matzo for Passover (1882). Only the most extreme right believes this nonsense and obviously Kennessey is one of them. And these are the people who like to blacken the names of decent people who happen not to agree with them. Or who are Jewish.
Sorry, that “Even if he were Kadar himself” obviously refers to Lendvai – just in case our resident village idiot doesn’t get it …
PS: The best thing about people like Kovach is, that they show immediately that they have nothing to counter eg Lendvai’s book, like saying: Oh, there he is wrong, his description is not valid, because …
Instead they immediately start those ad hominem arguments – which clearly show who’s right …
There’s someone very similar to Louis on pol.hu (I call him Orbán’s kutya btw …) – I even had the suspicion that they were the same person/group …
Prof Balogh, thank you for your response. I appreciated that the last chapter was newly added; it was not of concern to me in which language, German, Hungarian, or English, Mr Lendvai set it down. Let me write more clearly: “Thank you, Prof Balogh, for your comments on the last chapter of the English-language version. Perhaps that will be enough reason to buy the book again.”
How come somebody was a major in the AVH (State Protection Authority, the Hungarian secret police, before 1956) and yet not a single document or witness exists?
Ironically what your are doing here is exactly the same thing you charge Lendvai with. That is agreeing to things that never happened. These ultra-right mofos are the modern day AVH in Hungary.
By the way the misspelled the word “Mérleg” in the comment about Lendvai. They wrote “Méreg c. újság 1995”. The same typo got copy-pasted into dozens of similar places. Just google it. These guys just don’t care.
In 1946 Paul Lendvai was a high school student. In 1953 he was imprisoned by the Rákosi regime. So, the whole thing is a pack of lies.
You are right, they don’t care. They read a comment by “Gagarin” and believe every word of it without ever checking its accuracy. Unfortunately, this is the level of intelligence in certain far-right circles.
Oh, yes. That pesky math was never the strong suit of these guys … I guess matth cannot be googled. Lendvai was born in 1929. How was he able to obtain the rank of major (and head of the propaganda department “Agit. Prop.”) by the time he was 23? And all this without a trace?
Wolfi When you first mentioned our ‘Resident Village Idiot’ in ** “Viktor Orbán on higher education: An outrage” **.
I became very worried about this. In many villages this position is much sought after. I knew from in order to improve the quality of village idioting which in some villages had fallen to an abysmal level that all new ‘Village Idiots’ had to have a GNVQ (General National Vocational Qualification) to at least grade 4 or 5 before they could practice their trade. This was confirmed by a friend who works for the ‘SPARJS’ (the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Junketing’s) that I was correct. He also confirmed that in his opinion Louis was too stupid to even take the basic entry examination for Level 1. This is a test in ‘basic stupidity’. He could however become a common ‘cupid stunt’
Only Mary Hinge can award cupid stunt status?
…Way above village idioting!
We have a minimum single brain cell requirement for our village idiots – and at least one light has to be on upstairs?
We have to maintain standards you know!
Maybe I should have called him “The resident Troll” …
The funny thing is that all these right wing loonies immediately come up with stuff like that instead of trying to counter what has been said/written …
And it doesn’t matter where and about what the discussion is – a gem I read/heard: But Barroso was/is a Maoist …
and: we will not be a colony of the EUSSR!
Eva addressed Lendvai accusations in an earlier post.
Thanks for the review, Éva. I wonder if this book will appear in the English language sections of our local Debrecen bookshops…
If anyone’s interested, there’s a seller on Amazon.UK selling this book for under £17 (22€/27$), which is about £8 less than the advertised price (and the official Amazon price!).
Pete H. “Eva addressed Lendvai accusations in an earlier post.”
Unfortunately, ther is not a single refutation of the document copies of Lendvai’s reports cited in the article I have posted.
Yeah, it is realy stupid, indeed.
Here is the English version:
Perhaps because there is no need for it. These documents, if they are not fake, only mean that Lendvai tried to maintain good relationship with the authorities of the Communist Hungary in the 80’s. It seems he was willing to tone down his reporting in Austria for the sake of the good relationship. This may raise a few eyebrows but so what?
Kovach! Would you mind explaining to us what is the problem? Just one reminder before you start your usual irrelevant BS. We are discussing the man’s book. So don’t try to say that because he had several friendly correspondents with Kadar’s interior ministry that renders his book untrue.
The problem with these amateur Goebbelses, like Kovach, is that they keep forgetting they don’t have a machine gun …
Another artice in English, just to “audietur et altera pars” (Google is Your friend!)
The documents on which the author relies on are linked in the Hungarian article:
A specific case, where Mr. Lendvai gave the Hungarian Secret Service information, concerning the members of the opposition gatherings:
These CONFIDENTIAL opposition documents were given to the Hungarian authorities by Mr. Lendvai ASAP.
Thanks Ivan! This is great! At least now the whole English speaking world can see what is this about. Lendvai published a book about the post 1990 politics in Hungary and Orban and his right wing journalist thugs don’t like it. What do they do? They publish this article. This English article is by the way not the translation of the original Hungarian, quoted by Kovach, but it’s about the same thing. If you ask me this cheap despicable smear campaign makes the book even more interesting.
The article sometimes is really lame:
“In his autobiography Paul Lendvai admits that he did his compulsory military service in the early 1950s”
Admits? Yeah, right. I hereby admit that I did my compulsory military service in the 1980s. I was defending the communist Hungary. Now shoot me!
It is not an answer.
Confidential, ha? Hundreds were invited. They were just reminded not bandy it around. This is a joke.
I would bring into your attention my post from 6:42 Am. Can you tell me which category arer you belong to? Can you give me some examples about how you or your parnets (as I have no idea of your age) tried to defeat the Hungarian communist terror, especially in the eighties. DId you or your father served in the Hungarian army as Mutt did? I am sure you did, but you did more than Mutt and I ‘bet you sabotaged the army’s mission to take over the Western world. Tell us about it. In no way you served you served those pesky communist. I believe in you Ivan! You are the man!
Answer to what?
Éva, Mutt: Indeed the documents come from a fact-finding journalist of the radical right media. As we know, Fidesz has repeatedly blocked the opening of Communist archives, so one should not anticipate to read too much about this strory in Magyar Nemzet, etc.
Give it a try. For me the documents are quite convincing…
Right. kuruc.info and the investigative journalism …
How do you like Lendvai’s book by the way?
And under the heading: “Tanulmányok, Zsidóbűnözés” (transl.: Studies, Jew Crime). So, how a fact finding journalist would publish anything under such a heading (and in such a publication)? Gives away some kind of bias, don’t you think?
Mutt: “Kovach! Would you mind explaining to us what is the problem? Just one reminder before you start your usual irrelevant BS. We are discussing the man’s book. So don’t try to say that because he had several friendly correspondents with Kadar’s interior ministry that renders his book untrue.”
No problem at all….for me. Writer’s works should not examined on the basis of their secret political past…..as it was declared here…or maybe the opposite was stated…..hmmm that was maybe only for the other side…..
An within world of ‘intelligence’, which is in its self a spooky sort of place at the best of times, there is a huge amount of miss information and smoke and mirrors.
So much so that it is very often difficult to know what is the real truth. Some of it is to deceive your enemies and some to deceive your own side. All of the reports which get into the public domain always have to be treated with great caution. The reports about Paul Lendvaic may have been written to deceive folk about their real source of the information, to discredit someone referred to or to deceive higher ups in their own service. It is often all smoke and mirrors!
When you are reading the reports be very wary, ask yourself why these were written and if you can get hold of parallel reports.
As an example there was a German Agent in the U.K. during the war. She was ‘collared’ very early on and ‘turned’.
She provided the Germans sometimes with some absolute nuggets and some ‘junk’ which were provided to her by her British controllers. The reason for using her was that her reports were very very wordy, often using unusual English words. The stuff would be translated into German, but this helped the British to read both the Enigma codes and later on the Lorenz cipher machines
Ok, I have plowed through the article by Dr Csaba Ilkei.
Ilkei somehow managed to get his hands on these “secret documents”. I’m not sure how, probably when he was an MP from 1990 during the Antall government.
I remember a couple of interesting articles from him. This garbage is strikingly different from everything I read from the guy. This is cheap, sensationalist garbage. Made to order. It’s full of “opinions” on Lendvai’s character by communist secret service agents, stating that Lendvai is careerist, “he would sell his mother if would need it”, etc.
Ilkey also adds his own assessments to the pile like “Lendvai married a rich woman to solve his financial problems” or “Lendvai realized that there is no money in writing for right wing publications”.
This is absolute rubbish, something Ilkey never did before. My guess is he was trying to suck up to the Orban government.
Ilkey had a nice career during the communist regime by the way. He was part of the “Het” team (the Week – a political TV magazine). Imagine his relationship with the communist propaganda higher ops. In short his job was lying. In the 80s he was in the US on a grant for a while. Later he still managed to get close to the MDF leadership in 1990, very likely because he started his “research” on the MPs by then. My guess he was blackmailing a lot of people to get ahead.
Dr Csaba Ilkey started something good. Too bad he ended up this low. Today his articles are published in the kuruc.info in the”Jewish Crime” section.
Buy Lendvai’s book and read it.
Its time for you to look up in wikipedia the difference between non-fiction and fiction. In Journailsm, political analysis, critical essays, myths, etc. Lendvai and your favored Hungarian nazi writers are not in the same group. As your nazis mostly wrote poems and fictions their imagination could fly like a bird. Now, if you are into non-fiction (with a few exception, like Orban and kurucinfo) your work is based on facts. This will start you out.
Some1: “Its time for you to look up in wikipedia the difference between non-fiction and fiction”
For somebody who riled so much against Wass, I would have expected at least a minimal familiarity with his non-fiction work also. Of course you find bliss in your ignorance in this case.
Of course, but I could not find any of Lendvai’s fictions. Can you list them to me, please!
THe nazi writers’ were not praised for their non-fiction by the way and it is not what will make it into the new curriculum (just yet). I am waiting for the fiction list. (Ignorant, guess who?)
I think the original question was whether is any proof that Lendway had served as Rákosi-era intelligence officer in the Szombathely barracks. The article quotes from a couple memoirs, which prove that statement of mine.
Some1: “Of course, but I could not find any of Lendvai’s fictions. Can you list them to me, please”
Hmmm, I consider some of his writings “fiction” …he may not have publicized it that way.
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