A village located in five different countries
August 29, 2019
“Frank, you are Dutch and an Indo. But why did you choose Hungary for your documentary?”1 people ask me. It took me some time to find the complete answer. Let me first tell the story of the village Moekatsjevo (Мукачево). If you were born in this village in the beginning of the last century and you stayed in Moekatsjevo, then your cv is like this: Kindergarten in Hungary, primary school in Tjechoslovakia, WW II in Slovakia, middle ages in the Soviet Union and as a pensioner you live in Ukrain. Without putting a single step out of the city.2 The story like that of Moekatsjevo doesn’t leave me cold. But why?
First a question easier to answer. Why a documentary about a country in Central Europe could be helpful? Central Europe and Western Europe have things in common, for else they wouldn’t be both part of the EU. But Central Europe is also very different from Western Europe and still we are living in the same European community. And at the moment there are serious tensions between Western Countries and the Visegrád countries.3 And anyhow, we have to deal with these tensions. But how?
Central Europe: the same fate
In the corridor of the house of our Hungarian friends is a map of Hungary from before WW I. In the documentary our friend Kati indicates a town on the map where her father was born: Nagyvárad. When her father explains to the authorities he was born in Nagyvárad, they don’t believe him when he says he was born in Hungary. Nagyvárad now is a part of Romania but between the wars was a part of Hungary.
Nagyvárad was part of Hungary before the Trianon treaty. With this agreement, Hungary lost 2/3 of its territory and population and economic treasuries: salt and gold mines, forests, legs of transportation system was cut, and so on… Great powers, moving borders and always the danger of heavy violence. Just one of the many examples.
I could easily tell you stories about the Polish people my wife and I met in our lives. A few years ago we lived for one week with the family of my colleague. In the 80’s we stayed with a Polish family in Christmas time. But it would take too far to tell you all of these stories. To make a long story short: family feeling.
Why Central Europe has such an impact on my personal feelings. One part of the story is this family feeling I described before. Another part of the story has something to do with the history of my own parents. They had to leave behind their home two times in their live. The first time because they were not welcome anymore in Indonesia. The second time because we had to leave New Guinea. Russian submarines were near the coast of New Guinea, ready to attack.8
Russian submarines ready to attack New Guinea
In Central Europe people may feel displaced in their own country as a result of political powers. As an example the regime of Rákosi. Rákosi was the communist ruler in Hungary from 1949 till 1956. He didn’t allow the Hungarians to show their own culture. The Hungarians were not allowed to feel home in their own country. Displaced in your own country. A Hungarian friend said to me: “Western people are not able to understand the doings of Rakosi and Kádár’s communist area: mental terror, closed borders, killings of people due to political reasons.”
Recovering the Hungarian soul after centuries of foreign occupation is an important driver for the nowadays politics in Hungary.
What about the political situation in Central Europe. Let’s focus on Hungary now. “You’re a liberal.9 That was what Hungarian friends who support Orbán said to me when I explained my views on democracy and the EU. I think they are right, but when Orbán supporters call you a ‘liberal’ it’s not a compliment. But it also triggered my curiosity. These Hungarians have different views. What are those views and what’s the background?
A Hungarian and a Dutch family together in Budapest. They always give us a warm and tasty welcome.
After the fall of the Wall I read “The Magic Lantern: The revolution of ’89 witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague” of Timothy Garton Ash.10A beautiful and happy view on turbulent times. He was a good friend of Havel.
The same Timothy Graton Ash now writes in the Guardian11 that “Fidesz has effectively demolished the independence of the judiciary, as documented in an extensive report by Judith Sargentini for the European Parliament. It has also changed the electoral law so that in 2014, Fidesz got 66% of the seats in parliament on 44% of the vote (whereas in 2010 it needed 53% of the vote to get the parliamentary supermajority that enabled it to change the constitution). Much of the media, already dominated by owners closely tied to the Orbán regime, has now been consolidated in a so-called Press and Media Foundation, effectively a pro-government cartel. Hungary has sunk down the World Press Freedom index to 87th this year.”
In the European elections Orbán got 52% of the votes. So the majority of the Hungarians still support him. You might think these voters are a bit manipulated but in my view they are not crazy. Let me invite you to consider some historical facts. Then you might sense why things are happening in Hungary now like they do. So liberals: brace yourself now.
The end of history?
Many West Europeans were happy with the fall of the Wall. At the same time we in Western Europe are not always aware that the fall of the Wall resulted in chaos and robbing of the countries in Central Europe.14 “The fall of Wall could happen due to an economic crisis of the West, they looked for new markets. Central Europe, especially Hungary was just before a financial collapse, that’s why Hungarian communists were so flexible to open the country for the Western capital” a Hungarian friend told me.
In the west we thought it would be ’the End of History’.15 Liberal democracy was considered to be the end (goal) of societal development. In Central Europe this view was often felt as a kind of Western arrogance. After the fall of the Wall people from the west were eager to buy land to make profit or to settle with new businesses in the Central European countries. In Central Europe some people literally lost their ground under their feet.
In the house where I presented for the firts time my docu to the Szirmay family
The event ‘The Hungarian soul and the fall of the Wall‘ offers you the opportunity to feel, hear, smell and see the history of one of the Central European countries: Hungary. After this event you will have a better understanding and feeling of the dynamics in this part of our Europe. It would be a pleasure to meet you November 1.
- A Life in Hungary
- Midden-Europa achter de schermen, van Habsburg naar Brussel; Renée Postma, 2004. NRC article
- The Visegrád Group is a cultural and political alliance of four Central European states: the Czech Repulblic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia
- ‘First to understand before being understood’ is one of the ‘7 habits of highly effective people‘ (Stephen Covey)
- Bloodlands, Europe between Hitler and Stalin; Timothy Snyder, 2011
- Föld! Föld!; Sándor Márai, 1972
- Midden-Europa achter de schermen, van Habsburg naar Brussel; Renée Postma, 2004.
- Russische duikboten voor Nieuw-Guinea, Historisch Nieuwsblad 11/2013
- Liberal, not in a party political sense but liberal as an attitude striving for freedom and progressiveness
- The Magic Lantern: The revolution of ’89 witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague, Timothy Garton Ash, 1990
- Europe must stop this disgrace: Viktor Orbán is dismantling democracy, Timothy Garton Ash, the Guardian, 20 JUN 2019
- Föld! Föld!; Sándor Márai, 1972
- Van den duivel en de vernietiging van de Hongaarse democratie, Dzsingisz Gabor, 20 dec 2017
- Good descriptions in Midden-Europa achter de schermen, van Habsburg naar Brussel by Renée Postma, 2004
- The End of History and the Last Man is a 1992 book by Francis Fukuyama
- De autoritaire verleiding by Casper Thomas, 2018