Home > Uncategorized > Kulturkampf is called “Kulturkampf” in Hungarian too

Kulturkampf is called “Kulturkampf” in Hungarian too

December 17, 2012

When a government administration changes there is also a change in personnel. In most countries the personnel changes follow long-accepted customs. There are positions that turn over more or less automatically because they are held by political appointees who accepted the job knowing that in four years they will probably have to depart. In the United States all ambassadors turn in their resignations after a change of administration in order to give the new president and his secretary of state a free hand to appoint their own people.   High-level government officials also depart while the traditional civil service corps remains.

In Hungary the situation is a great deal more fluid. Naturally each new government brings along its own people. After all, the new prime minister and the cabinet ministers prefer to work with people who share their political views and goals for political change. The size of the “political cleansing,” however, is far less constant than in western Europe or North America. On the whole, the liberal-socialist governments were less “ruthless” and left in place a lot of people even though the political leadership knew that they were not really supporters of the government. Fidesz, on the other hand, was already pretty heavy-handed between 1998 and 2002. Moreover, the “political cleansing” wasn’t restricted to the political sphere but was extended to the public media and the cultural world as well.

The situation during Viktor Orbán’s first tenure as prime minister, however, pales in comparison to what has been going on in the last two and a half years. In fact, in cultural matters one can actually go back to 2006 when Fidesz managed to capture the leadership of practically all cities. In the video about the Kubatov campaign in Pécs (2009) we hear that Pécs was “the last stronghold of MSZP that is now captured.” In fact, Szeged also remained in MSZP hands in 2006 and even in 2010, but the situation of the MSZP mayor of Szeged, László Botka, is not exactly enviable since Fidesz with the help of the sole Jobbik council member is in the majority.

So, the Kulturkampf has been going on at the local level ever since 2006. For one reason or another which I can’t quite figure out, Fidesz politicos are especially concerned with the leadership of theaters, which are mostly in the hands of the cities. Since the 2010 elections the cultural campaign was ramped up: the entire cultural elite is under siege. The Fidesz administration doesn’t hide its intention: there was a revolution in the voting booths and that allows the current government with the help of the two-thirds majority to stage a cultural revolution as well.

I’m pretty sure that Viktor Orbán and his old college friends would loudly protest, but I still have to make a comparison to the revolutionary changes that took place after World War II and especially after 1948. Admittedly, the methods were a great deal harsher then. The former CEOs of larger concerns not only lost their jobs, they ended up in jail. In their stead came workers newly recruited to the Magyar Kommunista Párt (MKP). The communists also wanted to make sure that the children of workers and peasants would fill the high schools and universities while the children of the intelligentsia and the middle- and upper-middle classes struggled to get a good education. This practice was continued until the mid-1960s.

The situation of course is different now. The Hungarian right claims that writers, artists, journalists, and theater and film directors who didn’t share the liberal-socialist side’s views were discriminated against. As far as the right-wingers are concerned, the whole Hungarian intellectual elite should have been prevented from practicing their art after 1990. They should have been thrown out from the positions they achieved during the long years of Kádárism.  Who should take their place? As far as I can see, those people who discovered their true right-wing convictions very suddenly, after the change of regime. Prior to that date they happily served Kádár’s regime. In fact, I’m sure that there are more former MSZMP members in the Orbán government than there were in the liberal-socialist governments.

This right-wing elite is frustrated. They want to occupy practically all the important positions in the cultural field, and Orbán is ready to oblige. Take the case of the Hungarian National Theater.

It was pretty well decided two years ago that the current director would not be reappointed at the end of his term in 2013. I wrote about the case already once or twice. Zoltán Balog, our Calvinist minister who is in charge of cultural policy, made it clear that “the National Theater is not simply any theater but an institution that must present national values.” And in the eyes of the committee, consisting mostly of government officials and Fidesz supporters from the theater world, Róbert Alföldi’s proposal was not nationalistic enough. Balog further elaborated on the theme that “in the last five years Alföldi created a theater after his own image but now we must allow other talented candidates to create a theater based on their ideas.” The man who is deemed the ideal man for the job is Attila Vidnyánszky, director of the Csokonai Theater  in Debrecen.

Attila Vidnyánszky. Note the picture of János vitéz on the wall

Attila Vidnyánszky. Note the picture of János vitéz on the wall

Vidnyánszky is obviously a favorite of the regime. Besides his political views I assume that it is a plus that he is one of those patriotic Hungarians whose families found themselves outside the borders of Trianon Hungary. He was born in Beregove (Beregszász) in Ukraine. He majored in Hungarian at the Uzhgorod (Ungvár) State University. Later he received another degree in directing from the Kiev Academy of  Dramatic Art. In 1992 he established a Hungarian-language theater in Beregove which had to be a modest affair considering that Beregove’s population is 25,000 and only 45% of the town’s population is Hungarian speaking. In 2004 he moved to Hungary where he worked for the Hungarian State Opera and later moved on to be the director of the Debrecen Theater. You can read about his accomplishments in Magyar Narancs.

Vidnyánszky explained that the new National Theater will be different in every possible way from what it has been in the last five years under the directorship of Alföldi. Under Vidnyánszky’s guidance “besides innovation, the cultivation of tradition, the Hungarian soul and the Hungarian idea will also be present…. This theater will send out different messages from here on.”

The new director has been eyeing the position as head of the National Theater for a long time. As early as the winter of 2010 he told Origo‘s reporter that he would gladly accept the position currently occupied by Alföldi who, according to Vidnyánszky, falsified Sándor Petőfi’s János vitéz. What Vidnyánszky forgot was that the play Alföldi staged was the Pongrác Kacsóh version. The difference lies in the ending, as the article in Wikipedia explains. But don’t fret, the very first production under Vidnyánszky’s direction will be the “true” János vitéz.

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  1. Piroska Markus
    December 17, 2012 at 5:53 pm | #1

    Another good and informative article. I know this does not directly connect to the subject, but I have just read this article, and I think it tells more about Hungarian realities than anything else I have read for the last few months, so I would like to share it in case the readers are interested. http://www.vasarnapihirek.hu/fokusz/zebrarol_a_bortonbe

  2. December 17, 2012 at 6:07 pm | #2

    Thank you for the link, Piroska. A horrendous story and unfortunately typical.

  3. Some1
    December 17, 2012 at 6:23 pm | #3

    It is a sad day indeed for anyone who cares about the future of Hungarian theatre. I think what illustrates the best, what this decision was based on is the photo on the HVG. PLease note the coat. What is more interesting that there was a nine member committee that made the decision. Each member could support both candidates. Vidnyanszky received nine votes, Alfoldi received one vote, four abstained, three against. What does the four abstention tell? People do not have the guts. THese are nine people, and form the nine, four did not have the guts to vote for or against Alfoldi. How is it possible that for such a position in a nine member committee is it even allowed someone not to vote? …and for the person who voted for both, reported it is Mari Torocsik.. Shame on her. I loved her as an actress. I loved her as an individual, she openly supported Alfoldy, but did not have the guts to go against this farce. A true disappointment.

  4. gdfxx
    December 17, 2012 at 6:39 pm | #4

    “For one reason or another which I can’t quite figure out, Fidesz politicos are especially concerned with the leadership of theaters, which are mostly in the hands of the cities.”

    I would guess that they know from experience how influential theater was during the communist totalitarian system and how it could get through censors’ attention with – more or less hidden – anti-regime ideas, reaching relatively large segments of the population. Now it’s their turn to be afraid of the same so they are trying to get insurance against it.

  5. tappanch
    December 17, 2012 at 7:52 pm | #5

    Kuturkampf in the streets:

    The most urgent concern of the mayor of Budapest, Herr Tarlos is to rename the last street named after a Jewish left-winger, Leo Frankel (1844-1896).

    http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leo_Frankel

  6. December 17, 2012 at 7:56 pm | #6

    tappanch :

    Kuturkampf in the streets:

    The most urgent concern of the mayor of Budapest, Herr Tarlos is to rename the last street named after a Jewish left-winger, Leo Frankel (1844-1896).

    http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leo_Frankel

    My immediate reaction is: Oh, Christ!

  7. tappanch
    December 17, 2012 at 8:09 pm | #7

    Kulturkampf in the Parliament:

    After January 1, 2013, the new “házőrség” can physically remove or silence opposition deputies. The “házőrség” was set up for the first time a hundred years ago, in 1913 by then Speaker (and formerly Premier) Tisza as a preparation for the Great War.

    Tisza was also infamous for opposing the people’s right to vote, so less than 7% had this right before the war.

    Next year, Fidesz will put up a new, 10-14 meter tall statue of Tisza in the place of the removed statue of democratic Karolyi as well

    Orban & Fidesz are obviously determined to extend their war against the Hungarians.

  8. Ron
    December 18, 2012 at 4:36 am | #8

    OT The forint is about to crash again (stand currently at HUF/EUR 290). This time the crash is not due to IMF and other foreign influences, but due to concern regarding Matolcsy taking over as Hungarian National Bank Governor, and the fact regarding the statement Matolcsy made about the future co-operation between the Government and the MNB.

    http://www.portfolio.hu/en/fx/hungary_forint_freefall_halted_but_why.25305.html
    http://www.portfolio.hu/en/fx/scary_hungary_forint_crash_eur/huf_at_290.25308.html
    http://www.portfolio.hu/en/economy/hungarys_matolcsy_on_govt_plans_what_will_happen_to_nbh.25303.html

  9. December 18, 2012 at 5:04 am | #9

    When culture is subsidized by public authorities, it is only natural that the alternation of political power should have consequences on the management of cultural institutions. I would even say it’s healthy…

    It would be naïve to think that many artists leaning to the left, when it is their time to be in favour at court, do not consider culture to be a Kulturkampf as well. Moreover, should one political family hold the field for a long time, it has lasting consequences on Art History – since it heavily depends on the works that have been actually presented throughout a given period.

    However, there are two key factors of success for such an enterprise. Firstly, the skills of the new management teams. It’s not only about those of the man or woman who gets the job, but those of whom he chooses to surround him/herself with. When it comes to big institutions, be it in the performing or visual arts, the ‘political messages’ have little to do with efficiency, and bad management simply gives bad productions.

    Second, the audience. I don’t have a global vision of the cultural practices in Hungary, however I’d be surprised if the theater, for instance, did not show a strong sociological bias. Will a significant part of the current audiences enjoy the new programming? You can of course try to compensate by reaching out for new audiences (in fact, you always should), but nowadays you can’t rely for long on old tricks such as filling the seats with busloads of pupils or elderlies… the competition in the entertainment field is too strong.

    So, my guess is the emphatic declamations will have eventually little to do with the actual results: either the institutions under new management will fail, or they will be more balanced than expected.

  10. Econ
    December 18, 2012 at 6:10 am | #10

    The issue will be to what extent will any new government agressive enough to fire all these crazy wackos like György Fekete, whose private organisation was enshrined in the new constitution and was recently given the old Műcsarnok (Exhibition Hall) and the freshly renovated Vigadó (both pieces of real estate are worth billions of HUF, ie. tens of millions of USD), Vidnyányszky, the Új Színház (New Theatre) leadership, other countryside directors etc.

    Fidesz has been very good at setting a new baseline, a new normal to which any change is measured and should be justified (as MSZP and its politicans run away from conflicts or rather from what they percieve as conflicts; perhaps after Fidesz’ propaganda which has been very successful in sowing fear in ordinary MSZP politicians).

    Vidnyányszky, Fekete, Új Színház are most assuredly not just conservatives in any Western, European sense.

    They are radicals, extreme conservatives with a nationalistic, religious, anti-critical, anti-modernist agenda.

    If these people become the new normal (on which Fidesz is hell-bent of course), then obviously even a moderate (or a moderate conservative) will look like an extremist liberal (so MSZP will feel very successful at placing a moderately conservative person to any position).

    This setting of a new normal is eaxctly Fidesz’s (and any smart politician’s) goal. They do it relentlessly in every segment of the society.

  11. Kingfisher
    December 18, 2012 at 6:35 am | #11

    The Vidnyányszky thing is tricky. He isn’t a bad director. Alföldi certainly isn’t a great one. So on merit, there isn’t much between them although I have little time for either. But it isn’t fair to equate Vidnányszky with Fekete or the Újszinház, nor would Alföldi make that mistake himself.

    The problem that Vidnyánszky and Alföldi both share is that there is virtually nothing in Hungarian that is worth performing (the Ember Tragediája is popular but hardly Shakespeare and just how any times can one sit through that in a life time?) So why is a National Theatre even needed?

  12. Some1
    December 18, 2012 at 9:34 am | #12

    Kingfisher :
    The Vidnyányszky thing is tricky. He isn’t a bad director. Alföldi certainly isn’t a great one. .

    ..and that is your opinion based on what? Did you see any of the plays Vidnyanszky directed? How about Alfoldi’s directions? Did you see any? Did you ever take a look on how many awards any of those artists received and form where? NOw that would be an objective opinion.

    BY the way I hope Vidnyanszky or the Fidesz will repay his education expenses to the Uzhhorod National University and to the Karpenko-Karij University in Ukraine. You know so they do not become hypocritical.

  13. Zoo
    December 18, 2012 at 9:51 am | #13

    Plus Vidnyánszky will have Szami, the great (completely crazy) Szami, aka Szamóca, Eperjes Károly, who was the kingmaker at Új Színház.

  14. Some1
    December 18, 2012 at 11:29 am | #14

    Let me predict something here again. Hungary’s National Theatre will become the symbol of theatre kitsch. WIll it have full houses? Possible. At this point Fidesz will unbeknown amount of money into advertising and subsidies. Tickets will be sold to students as mandatory theatre visits, and free buses provided to the further most part of Hungary to bring everyone to see the productions, as to prove it successes. Of course nobody will compare the story to what would it be without all the money that no other theatre company prior or at the same time gets. THe same propaganda, just like on the buses against Bajnai, like the Peace March where Fidesz provided the money to travel and feed the “volunteer” attendees. WHat we will know is the “successes”, not the cost of the propaganda piece. It is like the May 1st waving of flags at Hero’s Square, the posters and the happy marching workers under the Kadar Regime.
    Let me quote wikipedia here: “A cult of personality arises when an individual uses mass media, propaganda, or other methods, to create an idealized, heroic, and, at times god-like public image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise.”
    I would like to translate that in the HUngarian National Theatre that now became part of a “cult of culture”. Hungarian culture unfortunately is slowly becoming a cult, and the Hungarian National Theatre is just a piece of the puzzle in the long line-up (Media with Szalai, Film with Vajna, Applied Arts with Fekete… art is gone, commerce is in.

  15. spectator
    December 18, 2012 at 1:02 pm | #15

    @Some1
    “Hungary’s National Theatre will become the symbol of theatre kitsch.”

    It already is!
    Just look at it – hard to find such a dreadful building anywhere near human civilization, built recently..! At least the substance going to get synchronized, the look will fit the kitschy repertoire quite well.

    “…art is gone, commerce is in.”
    Even worse, because not even the commerce side working – you can sell only limited amount nationalized bullshit disguised as art – not all of the consumers that retarded yet..!

  16. gdfxx
    December 18, 2012 at 2:07 pm | #16

    Marcel Dé:”When culture is subsidized by public authorities, it is only natural that the alternation of political power should have consequences on the management of cultural institutions. I would even say it’s healthy… ”

    I disagree. Culture, real culture, not the Wass and Co.-type, is universal, does not depend on the current powers to be. Just look around: the PBS management in the US or the BBC management in the UK (both getting government subsidies, although the BBC much more than PBS) have an apolitical management. My assumption is that this is true for other similar institutions in the West. What should count are talent and management skills. Nothing else, except maybe political independence, after all one would not want in charge.an extremist on either side…

  17. spectator
    December 18, 2012 at 2:39 pm | #17

    Slightly OT. – I just stumbled upon right this moment – but there is some hope, ladies and gentlemen:

    http://index.hu/belfold/2012/12/18/orban-ellenes_oriasplakat_budapesten/

    Not for the ‘excellence’ of the product, but because of the message:

    „Együtt tették tönkre az oktatást. Ebből most már elég!”
    approximately:
    -Together they destroyed the education. Now it’s enough![of them...]

  18. December 18, 2012 at 2:43 pm | #18

    Vidnyánszky’s application is now available (in Hungarian) on the Csokonai theatre web site:

    http://szinhaz.hu/szinhazi-hirek/49733-elerheto-vidnyanszky-attila-palyazata

    I guess he learned the lesson from Gyorgy Dorner and his fascist buddies – even if he got the position by obvious cheating, he at least provides an intelligent looking application.

    I just glanced at it. Scrolled down to section 3, “Repertoar” (hey, that’s a French word). Well it starts with the Bank Ban (gag!), Az Ember Tragediaja and Csongor es Tunde so no surprise here. I was expecting the Magnas Miska or similar operettas as the ultimate Hungarian cultural values, but nothing like that. No Csurka either.

    But the rest is actually not bad, even though it’s a huge list, probably only a fraction of it will make it to the stage. It seems we have to wait a few years for a another blow job in a play, but who knows, a sexually charged Csongor es Tunde actually sounds like a good material …

    It’s utter shame how Vidnyánszky got this position but let’s see what shakes out. He is at least not stupid like the typical Fidesz crop.

    Regarding Bank Ban. I hate it. It’s one of the most boring stories. Once I saw it when I was in elementary school. The actors got so tired of the unruly kids that they left out about 30 minutes in the middle. At one point Biberach stopped acting and came to the edge of the stage and started yelling with the kids.

  19. December 18, 2012 at 2:57 pm | #19

    spectator :
    Slightly OT. – I just stumbled upon right this moment – but there is some hope, ladies and gentlemen:

    My favorite is this. The Ramil Safarov Elementary School sign:

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151498781050116&set=a.312789050115.148110.184334725115

  20. spectator
    December 18, 2012 at 3:26 pm | #20

    Mutt :

    spectator :
    Slightly OT. – I just stumbled upon right this moment – but there is some hope, ladies and gentlemen:

    My favorite is this. The Ramil Safarov Elementary School sign:
    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151498781050116&set=a.312789050115.148110.184334725115

    Oh man, It really is something!

  21. Kirsten
    December 18, 2012 at 5:54 pm | #21

    Kingfisher :
    there is virtually nothing in Hungarian that is worth performing

    Quite a statement. But perhaps OV will manage to persuade some authors to come up with something brilliant. A true blockbuster should be the play How Gyurcsany robbed the country blind. Interesting for many people could also be a modern variation on the theme how to create a pre-modern society in an industrialised country (“Great Transformation, undone”.) The audience will certainly appreciate Turul – a true story. So, do not despair, as OV managed to lift the quality of national paintings, I believe he will also contribute substantive works to the national drama.

  22. December 18, 2012 at 6:11 pm | #22

    First of all not only Hungarian plays are performed in the National Theater. I just checked and right now Richard III is on for about two weeks. Mind you, in modern outfits that I find a little odd but I’m conservative in this respect.

  23. Kirsten
    December 18, 2012 at 6:30 pm | #23

    Eva S. Balogh :
    First of all not only Hungarian plays are performed in the National Theater.

    I also think that the “National” in National Theatre does not refer to the origin of the plays shown. It is meant to be the most important theatre of the country, best actors, best facilities etc. Kingfisher might find this odd but it does not mean (except one is completely blinded by national feelings) that the theatre will stage only “national heritage”. And even if the national heritage may not belong to the globally most relevant pieces, it will have a national audience. I can imagine some Czech plays where it could be difficult to attract foreigners and yet it is no “imposition” for some Czechs to watch it in the “National Theatre”. So what is wrong with Bank Ban if the theatre has a broad repertoire?

  24. December 18, 2012 at 7:01 pm | #24

    Kirsten :

    Eva S. Balogh :
    First of all not only Hungarian plays are performed in the National Theater.

    So what is wrong with Bank Ban if the theatre has a broad repertoire?

    Oh, nothing. I just developed a severe case of bankbanophobia in high school.

  25. December 19, 2012 at 5:22 am | #25

    gdfxx :
    I disagree. Culture, real culture, not the Wass and Co.-type, is universal, does not depend on the current powers to be. Just look around: the PBS management in the US or the BBC management in the UK (both getting government subsidies, although the BBC much more than PBS) have an apolitical management.

    I don’t know about PBS, but it took a conservative takeover in the Thatcher era for the BBC to become ‘balanced’.

    Another example in the visual arts: in France after WWII, Cubism became the only avant-garde worth mentioning and presenting, obscuring many other movements of the early XXth century. The hypertrophy was largely due to the proximity of several cubist masters with communism – and to the strong marxist influence among a generation of art historians, exhibition curators and museum managers. Only in recent years has this view been officially revisited, and other movements like Futurism have been reevaluated… in national institutions under new management appointed by the right.

    Cultural policy isn’t neutral, meaning it is not devoid of general political arguments. What we can hope for is 1) That official cultural productions are not the only ones available to the public and 2) That shifts in cultural policy orientations are dealt with in the spirit of opening new horizons, not just stealing the other guys’ lunch money.

    So for sure, efficiency and talent should prevail (they probably will in the long run), but there’s no reason why they could only be found on one side of the aisle, or in an apolitical la-la-land…

  26. Bulkers
    December 19, 2012 at 5:53 am | #26

    Mutt :
    Vidnyánszky’s application is now available (in Hungarian) on the Csokonai theatre web site:
    http://szinhaz.hu/szinhazi-hirek/49733-elerheto-vidnyanszky-attila-palyazata
    I guess he learned the lesson from Gyorgy Dorner and his fascist buddies – even if he got the position by obvious cheating, he at least provides an intelligent looking application.
    I just glanced at it. Scrolled down to section 3, “Repertoar” (hey, that’s a French word). Well it starts with the Bank Ban (gag!), Az Ember Tragediaja and Csongor es Tunde so no surprise here. I was expecting the Magnas Miska or similar operettas as the ultimate Hungarian cultural values, but nothing like that. No Csurka either.
    But the rest is actually not bad, even though it’s a huge list, probably only a fraction of it will make it to the stage. It seems we have to wait a few years for a another blow job in a play, but who knows, a sexually charged Csongor es Tunde actually sounds like a good material …
    It’s utter shame how Vidnyánszky got this position but let’s see what shakes out. He is at least not stupid like the typical Fidesz crop.
    Regarding Bank Ban. I hate it. It’s one of the most boring stories. Once I saw it when I was in elementary school. The actors got so tired of the unruly kids that they left out about 30 minutes in the middle. At one point Biberach stopped acting and came to the edge of the stage and started yelling with the kids.

    Bánk Bán is hurt you, because you don’t like (or hate) Hungarian history and Hungarian people. It resembles when Hungary was a strong country, part of the contemporary western christian world (more western than present-day or 20th century Hungary) . That is very painful for you, whose ancestors are immigrants from Russia (Ukraine) in the 19th century.

  27. Ron
    December 19, 2012 at 8:37 am | #27

    Some1 :
    It is a sad day indeed for anyone who cares about the future of Hungarian theatre. I think what illustrates the best, what this decision was based on is the photo on the HVG. PLease note the coat. What is more interesting that there was a nine member committee that made the decision. Each member could support both candidates. Vidnyanszky received nine votes, Alfoldi received one vote, four abstained, three against. What does the four abstention tell? People do not have the guts. THese are nine people, and form the nine, four did not have the guts to vote for or against Alfoldi. How is it possible that for such a position in a nine member committee is it even allowed someone not to vote? …and for the person who voted for both, reported it is Mari Torocsik.. Shame on her. I loved her as an actress. I loved her as an individual, she openly supported Alfoldy, but did not have the guts to go against this farce. A true disappointment.

    According to her she voted for Alfoldi.
    http://szinhaz.hu/szinhazi-hirek/49760-igazabol-uvolteni-szeretnek-torocsik-mari-a-nemzeti-palyazatrol

    Somebody told me, but I do not have the background information with it, Vidnyanszky first appointed the Board members to the Hungarian Theater, and than applied for the position. If that is true, than we are talking about conflict of interests.

  28. December 19, 2012 at 2:47 pm | #28

    Ron :
    According to her she voted for Alfoldi

    She was the representative of the actors of the theatre who’s majority supported Alfoldi. Again the mind blowing arrogance of the Orban government and their cronies.

  29. Kirsten
    December 19, 2012 at 4:06 pm | #29

    Bulkers :

    Mutt
    It resembles when Hungary was a strong country, part of the contemporary western christian world (more western than present-day or 20th century Hungary) . That is very painful for you, whose ancestors are immigrants from Russia (Ukraine) in the 19th century.

    OV should read that! More western than present-day Hungary! Is this the official party position…? Confusion!

    To Mutt, I see that all your efforts to conceal your identity were in vain. :-) He knows even where your ancestors came from and when!

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