Something Rotten in Hungary

I’ve been remiss in this blog , while I did intend to take a breather from writing ,I didn’t imagine it would be for  quite this long~

When I last left off , I  had shared with you that I wanted to take a step back from analyzing and interpreting my life and just live an unexamined life full of “do” and free of “ponder”. While that’s really not “me” at all, I was actually pretty successful at it for a while there. I hung out with family and friends, I read, I biked , I travelled in the US and I knit . It was a great summer. Then September came and my life of “doing” went into overdrive. I am still flat out but I feel compelled to write this piece.

September  began with a two week biking trip to Hungary and Slovakia with a friend. As soon as I returned  home I plunged into a Culinary School Program , all consuming, hence the lack of blogging, but it’s time… I need to write about that trip.

Never having been to Eastern Europe, the bike trip was a revelation. We began in Bratislava, Slovakia. My friend  and I were arriving from different US cities, her flight getting in a few hours apart from mine. We arranged to meet in the town square where a local festival was in full gear.

I sat in one of maybe a hundred metal chairs lined up in front of a bandstand, half of them unoccupied, letting my jetlagged self soak up the still warm rays of September sun as I awaited her arrival. The square was intimate, surrounded with mid-eighteenth century buildings that had in common a Baroque sensibility and dull, peeling paint. I was charmed by the presentation going on onstage, Adults, musicians and singers, in native dress teaching children who clambered up on stage traditional songs and dance. It was so seemingly innocent, so joyful. Proud parents to my left and right smiled, clapped and sang along.

I won’t burden you with the  entire travelogue , I promise, but we did have some unique experiences .They included the chance to learn how to make strudel and Hungarian flat bread and an exhibition of hundred year’s old Hungarian cowboy skills, a Roma band performing with a  deeply soulful Hungarian vocalist. And of course we biked, ( one day I biked for fifty five miles, my personal record, but in truth it was only because a handful of us got lost! ) We biked in city and countryside alike, the most frightening biking was a stretch along a narrow highway, less than an arm’s length from speeding cars and trucks for a breathless four kilometers. The most thrillingly wonderful ride was riding into Budapest alongside thousands of marathon runners in one of  Europe’,s largest road races… that was really very cool! We learned that the closest language to Hungarian is not German but Finnish (!) and we saw the usual stunning churches. (That last sounds jaded and I am not really but you know after awhile an amazing European Church just kind of becomes another amazing European Church.) We had impossibly (and wonderfully) strong coffee and were served a very lot of organ meats. Organ meats are very big in Hungary apparently, who knew? We passed huge , abandoned aluminum factories built by the Soviets during their occupation of Hungary, part of their grand plan to build industry in Hungary and Soviet era soulless apartment complexes, stolid and bleak, pushed up against charming, if neglected ,centuries old Hungarian housing. We visited the magnificent  Opera House in Budapest, and my personal favorite, we visited the incomparable Széchenyl Thermal Baths, a hot spring bath complex of indoor and outdoor mineral health baths dating from the mid-nineteenth century,great for sore biking muscles and  filled with people from all walks of life and all ages. Old men playing chess at the edge of a pool, oligarchs with young playmates draped on their shoulders, teenagers and dowagers in bikinis. It was quite unlike any place I have ever been.

I wish that all of this had formed my deepest, most lasting impressions.

But under all this panoply of sights and sounds is a darkness that became more and more apparent as the trip went on, something deeply disturbing is happening in this region. Something I have looked for news of since my return and still see so little about it in our press.

Hungary was an early cooperator with the Hitler regime and hundreds of thousand of  Hungarian Jews were sent to their deaths in the matter of only a few weeks. This country which is geographically central has been occupied by and an appeaser of outside governments for much of its existence. While it is now a democratic society, it’s democracy is only two dozen years old , it is fragile. The economy is poor, unemployment is high and there is a resigned bitterness in the populace that is widespread and paplable.

A third of Hungary’s parliamentary government is controlled by the Jobbik Party and this party is positioned to have an even stronger presence after the upcoming elections. The Jobbik Party is a Neo-Fascist political party, with an avowed agenda against Jews and Roma, a focus on Hungary for Hungarians (where have we heard something like this before?). It also had a paramilitary arm which has since been officially outlawed…and yet…

Young men in black shirts and military insignia are to be found throughout the country, a new movement is building. Hungary is not the only place this is happening in the world but what is remarkable is how deeply involved in the state government the fascists are and how powerful they have become…with no ceiling in sight. There is a growing sense of Nationalism and suddenly the concert I attended in nearby Bratislava on my first day and all the various folk  crafts, dances and demonstrations we witnessed throughout our travels took on a darker tone for me.

We have heard the words “Never again.” in reference to the Holocaust. I think we need to be alert today and to pay attention. We must never cast our eyes away again.

Please take note and keep your awareness on guard. I fear there truly is something rotten in Hungary.

This entry was posted in Bigotry, Culinary, Cycling, Hungary, Travel and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Something Rotten in Hungary

  1. Barbara D says:

    As my mother always said: the one thing history teaches us is that history teaches us nothing. We are capable of repeating the same mistakes time and again. It does make me grateful, despite our woes, to live in this country. Yet another wonderful, eye opening blog!

  2. Oh Barbara, she was so right! Thank you so much and I feel the same way , we are so very lucky to be here!

  3. 17lorraine says:

    Wow! I had no idea. How horrifying. We must be vigilant and never allow such atrocities to happen again.

  4. I hadn’t either Lorraine, it is truly frightening. I’m not sure if I can post a web link here but here is an August posting of this year by Amnesty International http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/hungary-roma-trial-verdict-2013-08-06

    This blog has always just been a personal, not political, space but I thought maybe others were as unaware of this as I had been…. I see a little more in the papers about it than I saw when I first got back…but not very much.

  5. Jeanne Leonard says:

    Chris,
    Thank you for having the courage to share your experience. It would be easier just to focus on the beauty of the churches and events. Your words sent chills up my spine and reminded me to be ever vigilant and keep love in my heart towards everyone.
    Hugs and love,
    Jeanne

  6. Thank you dear friend. It would have been impossible to write at all about the trip without exposing this ugliness to the light of day. There are other places in the world where genocide has taken place post Holocaust of course and it isn’t the only place where anti-semitism, anti- Roma, and anti-homsexuality movements (the last of whichI’ve learned since is also part of the Jobbik agenda) are taking root, there is currently also Golden Dawn in Greece for example. But what is especially chilling to me is that this is a party which is considered legitimate in Hungary…that is already strong and getting stronger. Their supporters are not just a bitter fringe but a well educated, well financed party… and currently, the most popular party for Hungarians under the age of 35. Jobbik isn’t fringe at all it is mainstream and becoming more so. It is expected in the 2014 elections that they will garner significantly more power than they have already, power which is already considerable.Jeanne the kind of love you have in your heart and demonstrate every day in the world is the main reason for hope for this world. I love you, Chris

  7. Kimberly says:

    I had missed reading your thoughtful insights. Really. Thank you as always for sharing pieces of your story… -Kimberly

  8. Jackie says:

    Once again, you reel me in with your words and encapsulate me in your journey. As I read some of your experiences in Hungary, I had flash backs of my first encounter with sweetbreads, and the spas in Switzerland. Both were eye openers to me. I am left speechless and deeply saddened to Hungary’s plight. Now I have another country to add to my refrigerator.

    • Thanks so much Jackie and yes, it was really so shocking to me , both to see and to realize how little we hear about it! Is that a refrigerator prayer list? That would be a wonderful thing to do , to pray for their country – I should too .

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