book publishing

The chroniclers of the age of Viktor Orbán

While the negotiating partners of the Hungarian opposition are closeted in over the weekend trying to hammer out a compromise acceptable to all, I will turn to an entirely different subject. It is the ill-conceived governmental attempt to establish a monthly magazine that will carry only good tidings and will also be a heralding chronicle of the great age that was created by Hungary’s leading light and trustee of its future, Viktor Orbán.

You may recall a post of mine about Imre Kerényi, who became a close associate of Viktor Orbán. I believe I was too charitable in my piece, but I did indicate that I thought there was something not quite right with the man. Some call him a “futóbolond,” a nut, a madman, a lunatic. For some strange reason Viktor Orbán attracts and welcomes these characters.

Kerényi has been entrusted with large amounts of money for propaganda purposes in the field of culture. Originally, he convinced Orbán to endorse a propaganda campaign in connection with the new constitution. He was the creator of the ill-fated Table of the Constitution that had to be set up in every public building. He came up with the idea of ordering art work hailing important moments in Hungarian history. The pictures were, with few exceptions, atrocious. The whole project became a laughing stock. Yet Viktor Orbán didn’t get rid of him. On the contrary, Kerényi was handed more and more projects and more and more money. Millions were spent publishing a series of books Kerényi deemed “the core works” of Hungary’s “national literature.” He is still in the middle of erecting statues of great Hungarian conservatives who until now didn’t receive their due. The statue of István Bethlen is the first in a series of monuments Kerényi is planning to erect.

At the end of October HVG reported that Kerényi received another 340 million forints “to publish a monthly periodical.” It was only a one-liner, and its significance wasn’t apparent until January 6 of this year when a blogger (cink.hu) reported that the government is planning a publication that will concentrate only on “good tidings.” It will be called Magyar Krónika, a title that at first blush seems not too imaginative but that, once one reads Kerényi’s half-mad letter to those one hundred writers, journalists, politicians, and historians whom he invited to contribute, gains special significance. It will be a true chronicle of an age. The age of Viktor Orbán. Just as medieval kings hired chroniclers to write about their achievements, this Magyar Krónika will serve the same purpose. According to Viktor Orbán, no public money will be used for the project.

What kind of a publication does Kerényi have in mind? It will be such an important publication that it will become a collector’s item, he claims. It will be a document that represents the age. It will be about “the people of the central political force,” in plain language those who built Viktor Orbán’s authoritarian regime. These people are “heroes” whose achievements must be lauded in an appropriate manner. Magyar Krónika will concentrate “on the good and on love.” It will report good news. For example, if someone notices that dandelions are in bloom, he should sit down and write about it. If in the organic market a duckling was nice and yellow, one should write about it. If utility prices decrease, naturally one should write about it. And it goes on and on.

Out of the 100 people invited maybe 30-40 showed up for a meeting on Thursday. Viktor Orbán, who is supposed to be on the editorial board, was there as well. Mind you, he was smuggled in by members of his anti-terrorist team via a side entrance because in front there was a fairly large crowd of demonstrators and reporters who had a jolly good time with their posters. The whole thing quickly became a huge embarrassment which, it seems, Viktor Orbán himself recognized. According to people present, Orbán called Kerényi’s letter “infantile and ludicrous.” He also expressed his misgivings about launching the project before the election.

But it is not easy to convince Kerényi not to proceed. Yesterday morning on ATV’s Start, he denied that he had been chewed out by the prime minister. He also claimed that the number of those who were reported to have declined the invitation is all wrong. He said that the first issue, which will be #0, will come out sometime in May, regardless of what Orbán said earlier. As for the letter, it was intentionally written in this ridiculous style because he wanted to call attention to the project in this way. The brouhaha will help the popularity of Magyar Krónika.

That newspapermen working for Magyar Nemzet, Magyar Demokrata, and Magyar Hírlap went to the meeting I can understand, but it is disheartening to see people with some reputation in their fields willing to become part of such a cheap propaganda stunt. For me, the most shocking was the presence of Gergely Prőhle, assistant undersecretary in the Foreign Ministry, perhaps because I met him in person in New Haven. He is considered to be a moderate conservative with a wide knowledge of the world, someone who served as ambassador to Switzerland between 2003 and 2005 and subsequently held a high position in the ministry until 2006. Keep in mind that his tenure in the ministry was during the socialist-liberal administration. And now the only thing he could say at the time of leaving the meeting was that in general he writes about foreign policy and he plans to do the same for Magyar Krónika? And Kerényi’s letter? “It is a question of style.” Sad.