Friday, January 13, 2012

The Aftertaste of Goulash Communism

by Péter Zilahy

New York Times

January 13, 2012

The National Gallery at Buda Castle, once the residence of Hungarian kings, provided an apt location for the official celebration of Hungary’s new constitution. The government had requested 100 artworks defining 1,000 years of Hungarian statehood “to hold our ancestors as a shield against cynicism,” as Prime Minister Viktor Orban declared in his opening speech. The director of the National Gallery did not attend. He had sent in his resignation on Dec. 31, the day before the new constitution went into effect.

Several artists and politicians loyal to Mr. Orban’s Fidesz Party did attend, however, and were also able to marvel at the 15 new paintings commemorating events from Hungary’s recent past. The painting of World War I made a cavalry attack of Hungarian hussars look like a Sunday outing in the country rather than a bloodbath. My grandfather, an officer in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, could tell you a treasure trove of stories about the scars and bullet holes that made his skin seem like an old map of Europe. When I try to picture history, I see my grandpa sunbathing on the veranda.

Against the backdrop of Budapest’s stunning panorama, Mr. Orban announced “the re-establishment of the Hungarian state.” Then the celebrating crowd proceeded to the Opera, where they were met by an equally excited crowd of tens of thousands of people calling for the prime minister to resign. One banner read: “Happy New 1984!”