HISTORY THAT DOES NOT GLORIFY THE NATION IS “STOMACH-TURNING”
2020. november 2. hétfő, 11:45
During the summer, Magyar Narancshad lots of fun with a book launch in Felcsút, the village where Viktor Orbán spent a few years as a boy and where he now can admire a football stadium for 3,500. The occasion for the gathering was the appearance of a book titled Labdarugás és tudomány (Football and Science). I also devoted a post to this event and recalled a Guardian article about “Viktor Orbán’s reckless football obsession.” His addiction to this sport is especially glaring today when the rate of COVID-19 fatalities is on the rise and yet Orbán’s brand new stadiums are full of football fans.
As far as Orbán is concerned, football is not just a sport, it is also an art and, as the book title indicated, a science. The prime minister’s critics are convinced that Orbán’s interest in science stops somewhere on the football field and that he is “distressingly uninterested in culture,” as András Márton, an actor and theater director, put it in an interview a few days ago. “I suspect,” he continued, that “there are serious blemishes in his education and maybe that’s why he doesn’t like artists and scientists.”
One thing is sure, he cares not a whit about the damage his politicians and hangers-on are doing to the academic discipline of history. In fact, he seems to be attracted to pseudoscience. His very first undersecretary for culture, Géza Szőcs, apparently a good poet, was a total quack when it came to the reinterpretation of the pre-history of the Hungarian tribes. Interestingly, Miklós Kásler, a medical doctor who became minister of human resources, is also fixated on the same question, naturally without knowing anything about it.
In the spring and summer of this year, an intense historical debate began after the appearance of two new history textbooks. The Society of History Teachers asked the medievalist Nóra Berend, professor of history at Cambridge University, to critique the medieval sections of these textbooks. Anyone who knows Hungarian can read her article, “Little Hungarian Mythology,” in Civilhetes. The textbooks are designed to immerse children in the glorious Hungarian past, the result of which will be immense pride in belonging to this exceptional nation. The publication of her commentary set off the pseudo-scientific spokesmen of the Hungarian far right, who congregated around Magyar Nemzet, Pesti Srácok, and its new internet television station, Pesti TV.
The attack began in October, simultaneously on two internet news sites, which indicates that the editors of these government publications work hand in hand when it comes to vilifying “enemies of the nation.” The author of the Magyar Nemzet article, titled “She hates the Hungarians that much,” is Tamás Pataki, a young journalist, who claims that Berend’s article is “full of erroneous claims and professional mistakes.” It is unlikely that Pataki has more knowledge of history than what he learned in high school or perhaps as a university student. Therefore, any criticism of Berend’s professionalism belongs to the realm of the absurd. Soon enough, we learn what Pataki’s real problem is. It is that “left-liberal historians find everything that is Hungarian wrong.” But the left-liberal charge is obviously not enough for Pataki, who at one point calls Berend “Erzsébet Andics’s best pupil” and someone “who took careful notes at the propaganda department of the Soviet Union.” For those unfamiliar with the name of Erzsébet Andics (1902-1986), she was a Muscovite politician and a perfect specimen of the primitive Marxist historians of the Rákosi regime.
There is no reason to summarize Pataki’s “professional objections,” but perhaps nobody should be surprised to learn that, according to “our expert” on medieval history, “the aforementioned historian is in the pay of a certain billionaire.” What is Pataki’s proof that Berend has been the financial beneficiary of George Soros? “The author published a lot in Népszabadság and Népszava, and in one of her articles she admits that she sympathizes with George Soros’s theories about an open society.” Moreover, she wrote an article in Népszava about Sweden, in which she spoke highly of the country that gave a home to refugees. “The official scientific social science departments are full of people with such left-liberal conceptions, giving the false appearance that they are there because of professional qualities, but they are biased and bigoted.”
Hungarian warrior on a western “expedition”
The Pesti Srácok articlewas also written by a young journalist, Gergő Szabó. His criticism of Nóra Berend again centers around “left-liberals” who have an aversion to “national pride” and who express disdain for the Hungarian nation.
What bothers both Pataki and Szabó is that Berend sets the record straight about the frequent attacks by Hungarian warriors on West European towns and monasteries in the tenth century. The textbooks she was critiquing try to portray these excursions as planned offensives in the interest of an already existing Hungarian central power. But, in fact, they took place at the behest of foreign kings and princes. The Hungarian warriors were, in effect, mercenaries. “The foreign rulers paid good money for their help.” The second objection was her reference to “the acquisition of prey and prisoners.” Szabó writes that, “according to Nóra Berend, it would be good if everyone understood that the Hungarians were a rude mob who robbed, stole, and supported those who paid more. The ‘specialist historian’ must have received the bad news by now that this barbarian herd somehow survived here in the Carpathian Basin and this disgusting horde established medieval Europe’s strongest state.” In summary, Szabó finds Berend’s thoughts “stomach-turning.” They don’t advance legitimate debates but “draw them back into the swamps of socialism.”
Some people might consider these journalistic attacks on bona fide historians of stature not something to fret about. Just let them talk, so what? The problem is that by now scores of new “research” institutes, with salaries underwritten by the Orbán government, are busily working on a history that is brimming with national pride while truth falls by the wayside.