Imre Kertész speaks to Le Monde

16/02/2012 § Leave a comment

I thought this interview with Le Monde, (via the Bookslut blog) in which Kertész speaks about the current political situation in Hungary, was tremendously interesting, so I thought I’d translate it into English (it’s quite a rough and ready translation). Pdf here.

I don’t agree with his ideas about the polarity between the East and West, tribal and Christian cultures in Hungary, but what I think is especially interesting is what he says about Hungary’s history:

The question I ask myself is: why has Hungary always taken the wrong path? Remember. When revolution was roaring through Europe, Hungary supported Marie-Thérèse! From the 16th century onwards, the country was first part of the Ottoman empire, then the Habsburg, then the Soviet bloc. Every time, it tried to play the game of the country which had absorbed it. That appeared to work quite well. But only in appearance. Under Kadar the country seemed like the most enthusiastic part of the Soviet camp, but that was at the price of the suppression of the 1956 revolution and a political indebtedness which cost them dearly. The current situation is just another example of this tendency to take the wrong path. The Hungarian state chooses today to be in opposition to Europe in the name of the defence of its national interest, which gives the impression of a return to sovereignty. But once more it’s in error. Nothing new, no problem, and therefore no solution because there is no problem.

Can we see a parallel with the 1930s?

In Hungary, yes. There are pages on that in my Diaries. Images. The walls of the metro escalators in Budapest covered in posters in the same green that the Arrow Cross Party used (Hungarian fascists of the 1930s): “Neither left nor right, Christian and Hungarian” and underneath, the sign of the far-right party. These visions remind me of my childhood. In 1938 we collected the electoral flyers of the Arrow Cross Party: Jews in top hat and tails, bouncing like fleas in the passage of a steamroller…

How do you see the future?

Some days, I tell myself that secretly the Hungarians know that we’re going in the wrong direction. And that Orban will fail–after all, in the 1940s, the situation in Southern Tyrol seemed equally intractable. And that was resolved. But I don’t think we can rule out any hypothesis. It’s also possible that Hungary will descend into utter chaos. That would be a tragedy, but when the people are alienated from politics and the economy is in an impasse, the danger is serious. The question of the gypsies is as important as that of the Jews. If the systematic persecution of the gypsies continues, they will eventually lose patience. They will be driven to violence.

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