What I learned from living in Hungary

di Francesco Giubilei
9 Agosto 2021

After three months in Hungary it is time to return to Italy but, like any great long journey, the return is never the same as the departure and, a physiological melancholy for what one leaves behind, is replaced by the excitement for new challenges and projects to be faced with a new awareness, enriched from a different perspective from many points of view. I spent these months doing a fellowship at the MCC (Mathias Corvinus Collegium), the main Hungarian university college which is also a think tank with offices throughout the country. It is a rapidly growing reality with Hungarian professionals who are supported by scholars and teachers from all over Europe and is mainly made up of young people with the aim of educating the Hungarian ruling class of the future. At the same time it is a structure with a strong international vocation which, combined with the activity of foundations, magazines, institutes, makes Budapest an attractive place for conservatives from all over the world. It is no coincidence that some of the most prominent conservative American and European intellectuals and journalists have decided to spend a period of time in Budapest.

The purpose of my stay was to know Hungary better and carry out research on conservative Hungarian and Central European thought. In recent months I have met hundreds of people, held conferences in many Hungarian cities (and in Slovakia and Poland), participated in television and radio broadcasts, met journalists, intellectuals, ministers but also citizens who have nothing to do with the political world.

About ten million inhabitants live in Hungary and, despite being a nation from a not very large territorial point of view, daily the main newspapers, televisions and media around the world, talk about this country, in particular for government policies made by Orbán. A trend that will be destined to grow in the coming months, especially at the beginning of 2022 with the elections that represent a crucial appointment for Hungary’s future. We have to say the truth: Hungary does not have a good reputation in most of the western media. The main liberal and mainstream media carry out a press campaign against Hungary but also numerous commentators who we can consider moderate, liberal or who defines themselves conservatives, do not miss the opportunity to attack Hungary. One of the first things I learned after a few days in Budapest is that most of the articles or news we read about this country in the main international media, are reported in a biased, tendentious (when not false) way. Many journalists write about Hungary without even visiting it and without personally observing what is happening in central Europe, others arrive with the article already written in their heads. A few days ago, in one of the main American newspapers, commenting on the speech of Fox’s anchorman Tucker Carlson in Esztergom, was published an article in which it was stated that Carlson had his speech during a “far right” event. In reality, it was a student festival with music, concerts, debates, food stands but stating such an inaccuracy would already be enough to lose all credibility in writing about Hungary.

Today the main attack on the Hungarian country is that it does not represent a democracy, a paradoxical accusation when you consider that the capital Budapest is ruled by a left-wing mayor. Many Western European journalists make the mistake of judging Hungary and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe by the same criteria of western. This is wrong for numerous reasons but one in particular: until more or less thirty years ago, there was a communist dictatorship in Hungary and Eastern Europe. To forget the Hungarian revolution of 1956 or the Prague Spring in 1968, means not being able to understand what communism represented for these people: the oppression of any form of freedom. In the same time we cannot forget that, while the Hungarians were fighting for their freedom in 1956, the Italian Communist Party sided with the Soviet tanks. It is true that, compared to other territories, communism in Hungary was less oppressive (hence the expression of goulash communism) but Kadarism represented a dictatorial form that shaped the character and personality of the Hungarians making them reluctant to any interference from the outside.

The Hungarians are strong people and they do not like anyone from outside telling them what to do and how to behave or impose decisions contrary to the people will. The more attacks arrive from the outside, the more the internal front is compacted.

A sentiment that has ancient origins but which developed in the twentieth century after the defeat in the First World War, the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian empire and the Treaty of Trianon in 1920. In Western Europe, Trianon represents one of the many treaties that marked the twentieth century but in Hungary it is a real national tragedy whose wounds have not healed even today. The consequences for Hungary were terrible: compared to the Kingdom of Hungary, the land area was reduced by two thirds and from 19 million to 7 million inhabitants. If multi-ethnicity is dissolved, at the same time millions of Magyars find themselves living in other states that are not always friendly towards them. Even today there are millions of Hungarians living in Transylvania (Romania), Vojvodina (Serbia), Ruthenia (Ukraine), in southern Slovakia and in the border areas of Austria and Croatia. The issue of Magyar minorities in other European countries is deeply felt and we cannot ignore this topic to understand Hungarian foreign policy, as well as the pragmatic approach between West and East. A pragmatism that goes hand in hand with a strong Magyar identity represented not only by history and traditions but also by the Hungarian language, one of the most difficult European languages with ancient and obscure origins belonging to the Finno-Ugric linguistic lineage.

What do I bring with me from this experience in Hungary? In addition to many new friendships and numerous contacts, the awareness that we cannot continue to judge with the eyes of Western Europeans what is happening in Hungary by imposing policies, rules and lifestyles that are not necessarily suitable for central and eastern Europe. Dialogue and collaboration between EU countries is based on mutual respect and we Western Europeans do not always respect the decisions taken by the parliaments of the Visegrad countries nor do we know their history which would help us to better understand many positions and to read them not with our eyes but with those of who, until more or less thirty years ago, lived under a communist dictatorship and know what it means to live without freedom and national sovereignty.