Way back in 2011, when I was visiting Hungary, I did a post in typical MR style: My Favorite Things Hungary. I had no particular political point in mind, and indeed the current disputes over Hungary did not quite exist back then. Nonetheless, if you survey the list, just about every one of my favorites listed ended up leaving Hungary. The one exception, as far as I can tell, is film director Béla Tarr, but he is a critic of both nationalism and Orban.
All the rest left Hungary.
And while I cannot give you exact numbers, a large number of them were Jews or half-Jewish, hardly examples of Christian nationalism.
You should note that Hungary has a longstanding tradition of flirting with fascism and indeed going beyond mere flirting, for instance as exemplified by the Horthy government of the interwar years.
Once you get past all the polemics and name calling (not to mention the reality), here is the lesson I draw from the current debate over how parts of the Right are embracing Hungary. It is genuinely the case that liberal societies often draw upon less liberal societies for a good deal of their cultural vitality, most notably the United States recruiting various creators from Central Europe — including Hungary — during the 20th century. (Or the blues drawing some of its depth from the history of slavery.) That point should be appreciated, even though we all should recognize it is not worth Hungary’s history, including its feudal and conquered past, for being able to say your country produced Bartok and Solti.
The current Hungary, sadly, has nothing remotely like the Hungarian cultural blossoming that ran from Liszt through Ligeti. Instead it is giving us an empty huff and puff of rhetoric, “owning the Libs,” having “the right enemies,” gender role polemics, and so on. It is not producing great buildings like the Budapest of times past, and it is not developing a significant Christian tradition of the sort that might have marked the 19th century Hungarian Church (however you might feel about that, I can tell you it is not my thing, though I can appreciate the liberal elements in it).
These days we have a U.S. television show host visiting Hungary and serving up thin polemics which are then debated on Twitter. There is only a thin veneer of culture behind the whole thing, and a lot of unearned borrowing against earlier Hungarian creative traditions.
Don’t fall for it. If you wish to respect Hungarian culture, listen to Bartok’s “Out of Doors” [Im Freien], or Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes. What is there now is the straggling remnant of a cultural destruction led by both fascists and communists. Current commentators can spin the current situation all they want, but it hasn’t worked out for the better, and Hungary is lucky to be in the EU at all.
Even American cultural borrowing from Central European traditions peaked some time ago. George Szell brought Beethoven to the Cleveland Orchestra in 1946, and it was adored and financially supported by conservative Midwestern businessmen, as it should have been. Szell passed away in 1970. Ligeti himself stretches improbably late into Hungary’s cultural golden run.
If you think the current right-wing Hungary fandom is going to restore or revitalize either Hungarian or American culture, there is a bridge I would like to sell you, the Széchenyi Chain Bridge in fact…