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Liberals at a loss about state honours to Kertész

September 1st, 2014

A left-liberal writer thinks the government has managed to baffle the opposing camp by decorating Nobel Prize winning author Imre Kertész. His conservative counterpart believes this was a win-win game for both sides and a contribution to bridging deep-set divisions.

In his 168 óra cover story György Dalos, a former left-wing anti-communist dissident writer now living in Berlin, believes that the government was acting on selfish political grounds when it conferred on Imre Kertész the highest state honour (see BudaPost, August 18). At the same time, he criticises those who called on the Nobel Prize laureate to reject the Order of St Stephen from the right-wing regime. Analysing the possible motives of the government, Dalos suggests that Hungary’s leaders hoped to improve their image after “suffering several unpleasant defeats” on Holocaust remembrance issues during this seventieth anniversary year. The planned common events with Jewish groups throughout the year were scuppered by differences of views which led to a boycott of state events (see BudaPost, throughout 2014). Dalos deems that effort unsuccessful, but concedes a tactical victory to the government in “baffling the potential opponent”. Liberals and left-wingers have considered Imre Kertész their own hero, especially as he was viciously attacked by right-wing authors because of his tough words on present-day Hungary. (He even denied being Hungarian – or Jewish for that matter – in an interview, by which he meant that he wanted to be judged by what he wrote and not by his origins.) Dalos dismisses as “unconvincing” those left-liberal explanations, according to which Kertész’s sane judgement has been impaired by his illness (he suffers from Parkinson’s disease) or that he was “sold to the ruling party” by his wife. In reality, Dalos explains, Kertész has never belonged to the liberal elite; he has always been a lonely figure and remained one even after he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature twelve years ago. Nevertheless he expresses some disappointment when he ends his article with an exhortation to readers “not to condemn or approve of Kertész, but to read him”.

In his customary weekly editorial on Heti Válasz,  Gábor Borókai characterises explanations by frustrated left-liberal critics as “ugly”. The ugliest of all, in his view, was an editorial by Vasárnapi Hírek in which Kertész was described as “sitting in his wheelchair, with a clearly deranged expression in his eyes, exchanging kisses with Mária Schmidt” (the historian who is the founding director of the House of Terror Museum and the leader of the team working on the future House of Fates Holocaust memorial site and educational centre, due to be opened next year). Kertész was depicted, he notes, as “His Majesty’s Holocaust clown”, and thus “Hungary could be called Nazi again”. On the other hand, Borókai suggests, those right-wingers who used to vilify Kertész have chosen between two separate attitudes now. Those belonging to the far-right Jobbik have turned their anger against the government as “a traitor to the Hungarian cause”, while the moderates have toned down their voices, on the grounds that “Viktor Orbán must know what he is doing”. All in all, Borókai writes, the case has been fruitful, both for the government, by enhancing its prestige, and for Kertész whose prose will now reach an audience denied it so far by political barriers. And by rejecting partisanship, both the government and Kertész have contributed to “Hungary’s re-unification.”

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