Noémi Szécsi responds to Hari Kunzru’s ‘The Frightening Hungarian Crackdown’ in The New Yorker
I was thirteen when I discovered that all things I had learnt in school about the history of my home country was a lie. All those young communist martyrs – swindlers to a man. New heroes were coming to town. It was 1989 and I was mystified by a brand-new history.
It took a long process – and several changes of government – to realize that once again I was lead astray, and I needed therapy.
The kind of therapy writers use. A novel. That was when I started to write Communist Monte Cristo, the story of the implacable enmity between the left and the right in Hungary – in the fate of a handsome vegetarian butcher. During the two-year research done for the book I learnt to find the distance to Hungarian politics, I learnt how to be moderate and careful when expressing my opinion who is guilty for what in this country.
‘The problem is that in Hungary there is no honest conversation, no honest discussion; two sides are entrenched in their own little forts and throw manure at each other. And there can only be two sides: you are either an antisemite (if you say something the left does not like) OR you are a traitor to your country (if you say something the right does not like)’ – comments a reader on the present The New Yorker-article about Hungary which gives an idea of the toxic atmosphere we live in but contains minor inaccuracies for the sake of stronger colours.
All those people who talk of the devil now – they were silent between 2002 and 2010. Those who cried then – they shut up now. Mátyás Rákosi, the communist party leader and prime minister allegedly used to say in the late 1940s that it is hard to build a democracy with nine million fascists. Yes, he was hungry for Stalin’s appreciation… We, the people, are nor communists neither fascists in Hungary. And we know that Imre Kertész is a great writer. But I won’t deny the existence of some raging idiots in Hungarian politics – some of them were mentioned in the article.
I tend to think that the real problem of this country is not its oppressive historical past, but the provincialism, incompetence and nepotism with which it struggles for ages.
I like this quotation engraved in the Canongate Wall of the Scottish Parliament building: ‘Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation’.
We, Hungarians, could have had the chance to live like that many times.
But we never did.
Noémi Szécsi is at the heart of the new generation of Hungarian authors. Her first novel, The Finno-Ugrian Vampire (Finnugor vámpír, 2002) translated by Peter Sherwood was published by Stork Press in October 2012. The Finno-Ugrian Vampire was selected for 2012 European Literature Night and was voted Best Book in Hungary in 2011.