Tradition versus History: the Hungarian Version 12

The extreme right Movement for a Better Hungary (Jobbik) has been busy revising the legitimacy of Hungary's current borders (along with the borders of several neighbouring countries), now it has decided to take a deeper stab at history. In September this year, the party published an English article on its website, claiming to unmask a conspiracy by 'foreign linguists' that has lasted for more than a hundred years. The conspiracy in question concerns, in the party's view, the very origins of the Hungarian nation. The main point that Jobbik's ideologues are trying to make is that in the nineteenth century, German linguists in the pay of the Habsburgs intentionally undermined the tradition Hungarian vision of national origins, and invented the idea that Hungarians are a Finno-Ugric group. "Before, Hungarians had an altogether different view about their own origin. They held that they were the descendants of Hun-Scythian ancestors."

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The arguments used to discredit the generally accepted theory of the Finno-Ugric origins of Hungarian language are both ridiculous and familiar: "they [the Habsburgs] commissioned foreign linguists to construct a fake narrative that was alien to the native notion of history". The purpose was, according to Jobbik, "to break national resistance by depriving the nation of its traditional views of history". One could have dismissed the whole story as a hopeless farce, were it not for the sad similarity of the arguments used by Jobbik and those used by 'nationally minded' practitioners of memory politics all over Eastern, Central and South-Eastern Europe.

Arguments such as the wrong national origin of historians or linguists ('foreign linguists') or the assumed existence of a 'native notion' of history may sound totally ridiculous to professional historians educated at most Western universities. What is the relevance of a historian's ethnicity to the content of his/ her theories? And what is a 'native notion' of history anyway? Can the history of ancient Rome be written only by classical Romans? That would disqualify all historians writing after 476, wouldn't it? And on what grounds can a 'traditional view of history', if proven factually wrong, be held as more important than the scholarly (researched) version of historical events?

But this is not how the practitioners of national memory politics reason in many cases. To them, History is not a branch of Social Sciences (or even Humanities) but a repository of memories and myths from which ideological messages can be extracted at convenient moments. While doing this, many of them would deny the same right to appropriation of history by groups not associated with nation states. Condescending remarks made about branches such as Women's History and Queer History by conservative historians and their colleagues in political circles would be too many to count.

The national memory experts from Jobbik, however, go a step further. Not only do they tacitly admit (through the formulations used in their 'unmasking' article) that a 'traditional' national view of history is more valid than international academic research results. They are also set to disseminate their view of history and its usages throughout Hungarian society. From the same article we can learn that " Jobbik supports the establishment of new university departments and other civic workshops devoted to the research of the history and the origin of Hungarians. It calls for the establishment of a new institution dedicated solely to the research of the ancient history of Hungarians. Jobbik also calls for the revision of textbooks of the elementary and high schools, in order to let children and young people getting acquainted with the true history of their ancestors."

One can only wonder what a 'civic workshop devoted to the research of history' is. A scholarly-minded branch of Jobbik's Hungarian Guard perhaps? It remains to hope that Jobbik's colleagues in the Balkans, in Russia and in the BNP will not take over and spread the practice of civic history workshops. Otherwise, within a generation we may find the history of Europe revised beyond recognition.

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Komentāri (12) secība: augoša / dilstoša

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Erik 26.06.2010 21:33
I am a Hungarian but not a member or sympathizer of the mentioned party. But we should not downplay some facts: Finno-ugrism in Hungary was sponsored by Habsburgs in a time when German almost became the national language of the country. And those who were pushing Finno-Ugrism at that time also thought that Hungarians should use German in every field of life honestly believing that it's the best for the nation.
And who were against it?

Those 19th century intelectuals, writers who were against finno-ugric ideas whome we have to thank that we still speak Hungarian.

Their endeavours were met with the following justification "Why do you care for the Hungarian language when we proved you it's humble origin related to that of the primitive people ... ?"

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Destination USSR 25.11.2009 10:07
I guess what present Latvia's government says, if minorities move to EU and leave most "native" and "Western" part of "native citizens" with the task to pay the debt to IMF alone.

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Kalvis to Zorro 25.11.2009 09:41
>>> it's not so much about nation's rights to (or not to) search for its historic roots. It's about how you search for it and what kind of arguments you accept to be valuable in this process.
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Isn't it safer to leave this process enterely to the people involved. I have no problems about Hungarians being Finno-Ugric after all. But Hungarians should be trusted to decide their most important cultural connections and roots by themselves. Same thing about Latvians. For example, do we really need other people (without the experience of SS legionnaires) to tell us what to do on March 16? There may be different opinions about this date to be sure - but ultimately it is for us (native-born citizens of Latvia) to decide. Not for Mr. Putin's Russia, recent immigrants or anyone else.

Having foreign-speaking dissenters in our midst who are always prone to shout "Fascists! Nationalists!" - it is not helpful to have polite society, let alone having bridging and bonding social capital here in Latvia. We can be very patient, but we should not make any compromises about Latvia being a European country with Western values (once this is a consensus among us - Latvians).

>>>> And concerning long term - weren't there other conclusions from Putnem's side?
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I'm not sure about his conclusions about long term. As far as I know, he found ways how to quantify social capital (questionnaires, interviews), he measured it in various locations in the USA, found negative correlation between social capital and diversity, explained some of it, and published papers.

Many European nations (including Latvians) are in mortal danger because of our demographics. The total fertility rate (dzimstības koeficients) is 1.3, when it should be about 2.1. With this trend we will have half of our current population within 50 years, and our pension budget will become even more strained. And this means having solidarity among ourselves and improving social capital. Some social scientists (like Roberts Ķīlis) are misguided - they believe that aging of population can be stopped by immigration. And they do not care about the long-term consequences.

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Veiko Spolītis 25.11.2009 07:55
Thank you Marija for posting news about the Jobbig gangsta "new ideas"! Unfortunately, without liberally minded folks using methods of Harold Laswell and economy deteriorating revisionists a'la Jobbik, BNP, and lookalikes would foool hoards within and there are plenty of undemocratic borderstates in EU who would just love to fund such nut crackers:)

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ZoRRo 25.11.2009 00:37
not exactly about the blog but -

to Kalvis -

whatever the story is about, there seems to be 1 main conclusion from your side: immigrants = outsiders = 'they' vs. 'us' = threat. short and simple, isn't it? oh, and yes, sometimes 'immigrants' can be replaced by 'russians' or whatever is actual at that moment to take the honour to be a common enemy.

it's not so much about nation's rights to (or not to) search for its historic roots. It's about how you search for it and what kind of arguments you accept to be valuable in this process. And if your statement is - the process that was described in Golubeva's blog is welcomed: "Likewise Hungarians [should] celebrate their Hun-Scythian ancestry, which makee them different from their Indo-European neighbors." Then you should also take into account that in fact being finno-ugric already means being quite different from "their Indo-European neighbors". So your own logics somehow doesn't work very well here.

Plus, I admit, I haven't read completely the Putnam's 2007 you refer to - but weren't the consequences you qouted related to short-term? And concerning long term - weren't there other conclusions from Putnem's side? Plus, hwo about the critics to this work - exactly from methodological point of view? shouldn't it be mentioned, too?

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Kalvis 24.11.2009 19:33
(Here is a full quote - definition of "bonding social capital") - Schuller, T., Baron, S. & Field, J. (2000). Social capital: A review and critic. In S. Baron, J. Field, & T. Schuller (Eds.). Social Capital. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Robert Putnam's theories are important from the nationalists' perspective - because he concludes that social capital decreases where there is a ethnic or racial diversity. The usual quote is this:

"Diversity does not produce ‘bad race relations’ or ethnically-defined group hostility, our findings suggest. Rather, inhabitants of diverse communities tend to withdraw from collective life, to distrust their neighbours, regardless of the colour of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more, but have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television. Note that this pattern encompasses attitudes and behavior, bridging and bonding social capital, public and private connections. Diversity, at least in the short run, seems to bring out the turtle in all of us." (Putnam, Robert D. (2007) 'E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century The 2006 Johan Skytte Prize Lecture', Scandinavian Political Studies 30 (2), 137–174.)

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Kalvis to Scientist 24.11.2009 19:25
To fit within this framework, I would rather speak of bonding social capital. It can be defined as follows: "Bonding social capital refers to the links between like-minded people, or the reinforcement of homogeneity. It builds strong ties, but can also result in higher walls excluding those who do not qualify, American college fraternities being a prominent example of such bonding." (Schuller, Baron, & Field, 2000)"

It is difficult for me to point out the best reference about this - but common experience tells that in the wartime, in time of disasters (or more recently - during Baltic struggle for independence from the USSR) one can observe a more acute sense of mutual solidarity. It seems to be caused by the sense of common enemy or common danger.

I do not know of any easy way how to improve the "bridging" social capital though. I think that we in Latvia might lack both of them.

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Scientist 24.11.2009 18:35
To Kalvis
"Nothing increases social capital like a perception of a common enemy."

On the basis of which academic study of social capital did you make this consclusion, please? The studies I know (Putnam, Inglehart) distinguish bridging and binding social capital, and state that bridging social capital (the one that matters in democratic societies) is not fostered by too close groups with common perceptions of enemies.

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Kalvis 24.11.2009 18:12
Interest about ancient history is an inevitable in modern Europe as native populations decline in their numbers, and immigrants arrive - often with their own history narratives, their own heroes, their religious sensitivities, etc.

If European nations would not honor their common historical ancestry, they would be soon overrun by immigrants and their culture. Places like Hungary, UK, Northern Italy and Croatia would become mere geographic names in the vast expanse of Eurabia.

We in Latvia like to commemorate March 16 and other unique aspects of our history. If somebody cannot accept that - he should reconsider, if Latvia is his home. Likewise Hungarians celebrate their Hun-Scythian ancestry, which make them different from their Indo-European neighbors. I think it is a positive tendency - common history or even perceived history, knowing the things that distinguish us from the outsiders helps to make society more cohesive and friendly, it increases mutual trust and increases social capital.

Nothing increases social capital like a perception of a common enemy. And Latvia has a large room for improvement as far as social capital is concerned.

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Andrejs 24.11.2009 17:32
In the perfect world of language classification, there is indeed a single tree of languages (and like with species in evolutionary biology, we can trace the history of any two related languages up to its closest common ancestor). From this perfactionist's point of view there is only one proper place for Hungarian language in this tree - it is a Finno-Ugric language.

On the other hand, real life is often much more messy. Languages receive influences from various sources. Since Hungarian has only about 200 common roots with Finnish or Estonian, it is plausible to think that there were other major influences on this language. And it may turn out that Jobbik is right to some degree.

In the same vain, we usually classify English as Germanic language family (West Germanic, Anglo-Frisian group to be exact). On the other hand, about 40% or more of the words in modern English come from Romance languages - it was influenced by Latin, French and Norman (the language used by William the Conqueror and his men, who settled in Brittish isles in large numbers). And the descent of British people is a different matter altogether - some studies indicate that the haplogroups of modern British inhabitants are similar to those of - Basque people in Spain. Which suggests that about 80% of the British population are still descendants of the earliest human settlers in post Ice Age Europe. After that came waves of conquerors - Celts, Angles, Saxons, Danes, Normen. They influenced the language and culture, but the bulk of population are still descendants of earlier people. Because the conquerors always came by ships and their number was limited. Therefore there are reasons why some people would want to preserve the unique human qualities and genetics of the original British islanders, and slow down the mass migration.

As Oscar Wilde would put it "The truth is rarely pure and never simple". And so it is with human languages and human ancestry, which can influence each other beyond the hierarchical framework of the traditional language families.

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