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Batthyány Lajos Alapítvány
Polgári Magyarországért Alapítvány
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20 November 2018

In Answer to Herder and Ady (1977)

In the year currently drawing to a close, Gottfried Herder’s noteworthy prediction has once more shaken our intellectual life, if only on the surface.

As Emil Kolozsvári Grandpierre wrote in Kortárs,1 the gloomy prediction has been mentioned by many for almost two hundred years, but it is never quoted accurately. The version he knows, the one generally quoted, of the German text first printed in 1791, runs thus: “In a few centuries, perhaps the language of the Hungarians, a small people squeezed in between others, will be no more.” The precise translation is this: “The only people of this race, that forced themselves into the rank of conquerors, are the Hungarians or Magyars. [...] At present, intermingled with Sclavonians, Germans, Wallachians, and others, they constitute a smaller number of the inhabitants [of the country], and in a few centuries perhaps their language will be nearly extinct.”2

This was written not by just anybody, nor published just anywhere. The author of the four-volume Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit already had under his belt the Abhandlung über den Ursprung der Sprache3 and a large body of studies on Shakespeare, Ossian, the Bible, and the folk poetry of various peoples. Rousseau was his master, and Goethe his pupil, among others. He sought out reasons, and demonstrated connections. His authority goes beyond his own era.

In its context, the sentence was not a prophecy but an observation. When it came to the knowledge of Hungarian intellectuals, it found them in a shocking state after a major loss of blood (following a century of torpor). The loss of blood is no figure of speech: the Hungarian Jacobins had met their doom in the summer of 1794.4 The sword and the prison door strike literature and intellectual life more than anything. It is a cliché to indulge in the consolation and self-deception that the disquieting observation, or rather judgement, was like the prick of a syringe. It shot a hot yet beneficial fever into the weakened body and spirit; it drove away the sickness, and renewed the conscience of the nation, of even the people. Literary history holds to this version to this day. The genius got back on his feet.

This approach is incorrect; the opinion hasty; and the consolation is self-deception. The notorious injection was only beneficial and stimulating to the body when the body itself was getting stronger. If not, it contributed to the pathogens of corruption.

According to the words of Kölcsey, Berzsenyi and Vörösmarty*, the sufferer, at first, gives quite a different sign of his state. There was no self-deception there yet. The engaging thing about their voice (and this might mislead someone who only listens to the voice) is that it is manly. But what does it say about the future?

The Four Rivers shall greet another nation,
another tongue, new customs by their banks.

Here, in “Zrínyi’s Second Song”
, Kölcsey paraphrases Herder in verse, almost to the letter. Every time Berzsenyi begins by addressing the Hungarians, need we repeat that it is under Herder’s injection that he expresses what the battered body wants to say, as a legacy? And the ruminator of Nyék? His mind clouded by both alcohol and desperation, Vörösmarty forbade his children to recite his poem inspired by the prophecy: And the grave, where the nation is lowering…”6 On the lips of the sick, more alarming than wailing is silence. Or when noise overpowers the sigh. The tingling bustle, the clamorous liveliness, with which the booming period of the Compromise of 18677 is depicted (overhastily, once more), shut mouths, like all extortion of a people. According to a famous line of poetry, it was not that one and a half million Hungarians emigrated to America, but that they tottered. This was a far-reaching poetic flash, because it not only expresses that these one and a half million set out tottering from starvation, but also shows the state of those staying behind.8 Statisticians’ computers demonstrate in a matter of minutes what surplus population there would be in our ancient settlements without this depopulation. We will have to take account of this later on.

The great topic of conversation in the Reform Era,9 that the decades of the Hungarian language could be counted on two hands, was still much talked-of at the end of the century, though it became a boring, unsubstantiated rumour, like another one: the increasingly rarely mentioned problem that not just Hungarian words but Hungarians themselves are decreasing in number.

This concern was silenced by two voices coming from opposing sides. The camp of which Pál Hoitsy was still a child dreamer thinking that thirty million Hungarians could be produced urgently. The other camp put forward no arguments against these concerns, or feverish symptoms, rather they merely dismissed them as morbid Hungarian indulgence, boorish patriotism, and reactionary fallacies that all modern discussion should avoid. And yet, after one hundred years, who dared to look Herder’s prophecy in the eye? Who had the eyes and the instinct to grasp what was happening around him?


The picture Lajos Fülep** paints of the person in is dreadful and grotesque. He was considered by Fülep to be the greatest and most sensitive talent of the era, and said to him:

[...] in the morning, when I wake up after a difficult, short night’s sleep, and I look around the loathsome hotel room, like a prisoner in his cell, completely alone in the room, do you know what I think of? You’ll laugh at it!”

Lajos Fülep’s friend, preening himself bitterly, rubbing the lashes on his large eyes, thought: “Now, the last Hungarian is waking up and getting dressed.” After another quiet night spent persistently sipping wine, the gentleman uttered these very words to his friend over an early morning glass. Memory is best served by repetition. Over time, Lajos Fülep, his good friend and incidentally a reliable source, often recalled it, which inscribed it into his memory. The man who spoke it was Endre Ady. He continued: “...when I pull my shoes on to my feet, these Hungarian feet, with these Hungarian hands – I know, it’s ridiculous, but I can’t help it, it doesn’t leave me for a minute, not even when I’m asleep...”

The idea that he was the last living Hungarian.

And meanwhile, as this too was sinking into Fülep’s brain, Ady stretched out his legs, and raised his right hand. He looked at and showed the limbs of the last remaining Hungarian.

He continued: “It is like some persecution complex, but there is no name for it; it is unclassified.”

Manuals of psychopathology do have a name for it, but let us not go for the newest, most fashionable, overhasty explanation. When, in our circle of friends and students, we browsed through those books, we called this, after the multitude of complexes, the Isaiah or Jeremiah complex, and we were ready to provide scholarly proof. Already, Aeneas, lamenting to Dido, suffered from this.

In this manner, prophets and exiles identified themselves with their people. They believed, for life or death, that their eye is their people’s eye, their ears are their people’s or nation’s ears (though nation in the modern sense did not exist); that with their tongue, the Lord was speaking; in other words, the Genius of their community, the spirit that yokes them together, seems to have a special binding power).

Because they are the last who can raise an appeal against the destiny of the tribe, they have to shout loud, courageously, until it drives them mad, risking to annoy the tribe or anger the king.

For they know the truth. And as a result, they know the future.

That morning, Ady uttered these words too as he gazed into space: “My Hungarianness is nowhere but inside me. It is in the people, but it does not live in them, because it remains unconscious, silent. I see it: I feel it in them. They do not know, they do not feel it in themselves, so they don’t see it in me either. And it is nowhere but within me. I am the last living Hungarian.”

Even Ady said this was insane. It was like hearing someone else speaking with his own voice – once ancient “Kayán”,10 once the lost rider galloping like a ghost over the fens, about whom he wrote what is perhaps his most modern poem.11

Fülep draws a sharp distinction between Ady’s desperate feeling of being alone and the existentialists’ feeling of solitude or Kierkegaardian anxiety. Fülep in retrospect says that Ady, who was almost pathologically anguished, “feared not for himself but for the cause he represented”. Ady considered revolution to be necessary and felt it was unavoidable. He put his faith in his fellow fighters and revolutionary friends, but even of this he has a stifling account. “They think the same, want the same, as I do, but only in their minds and hearts, only in their thinking and honesty; but what I am saying – my Hungarianness – is not in their flesh, their kidneys, their lungs, not in every part of their souls, and, without it, you won’t have this people go about their revolution. [...] Here even the best revolutionary, the most perfect leader, would not be enough if my Hungarianness is not in him, because then the revolution is not the revolution of this people.”

But what people did he identify himself with? What kind of leader could he have followed? György Dózsa;12 in his heart he always swore that Dózsa’s people was his own; he repeated it time and again, whenever the occasion might arise.


As well as Ady’s lyrical sensitivity, we praise his sensitivity for seeing into the future. Prophecies about Hungary (Jóslások Magyarországról [1936]) was the title of an influential posthumous collection of his writings. In what way were his prophecies more earth-shattering than those of Herder?

They generally came true before our very eyes.

How to explain that the awareness-raising, deep shock was hardly noticed? The same thing happened as when Berzsenyi and Vörösmarty sounded the keynote. Aesthetics masked ethics. The sonorous voice was practically a consolation against what it expressed: the shining (splendidly new) form drew attention away from the gloomy (darkly old) content. And if people did hearken to it? “I am Hungarian, an ancient cheerless Hungarian pupil”, the lyricist might say.13 Those who interpreted the text of the gloomy song correctly became gloomy Hungarians, even if they were “learned”: almost strays to be protected from racism.

Because this voice, this sorrow, was obviously not pleasing to the establishment camp whose precentor became Jenő Rákosi, and its leading master was “the new, boar Erzsébet Báthori”.14

But those who noticed this constant Adyesque” tone of lamentation in Hungarian poetry, how did they explain it, what did they take it for, in retrospect? To take the most recent and most prestigious example, György Lukács said more than once of this anxiety for the nation characteristic of Hungarian intellectual life that it is a waning class, the gentry and born nobility, that are mourning their own fall. Those who take this for a national manifestation are fundamentally wrong. With this opinion, which today is generally held in intellectual circles, György Lukács himself is in error. Folk literature is familiar with this guttural voice of anxious concern; it is a characteristic of non-written lyric poetry, the folksong, just as it is of “Kuruc” poetry.15 Incidentally, the one who most perfectly captured this voice, Ady, was not of the gentry class.

Neither was he a noble. What then? This is another delicate issue, which therefore needs to be clarified, or, at least, touched upon. How could Ady produce so many modern poems, which were not actually decadent in their inspiration, to the confession of feelings that made him smile, or embarrassed him?

A biographer like István Király16 is obviously better prepared than I to give an account of this most painful aspect of Ady’s tragic sensibility, who mentioned fate so often, the distortion that his era imprinted on his intellectual profile, and continues to do so. If a literary historian, who has travelled through the land (especially Hungarian wasteland), takes just a glance at the photograph of the original house of the Ady family in Érmindszent,17 he will see unmistakable proof that someone born in this serf’s house with a thatched roof and only three narrow windows, had a father who sowed and put litter down for animals himself, a mother who milked the cows, tended the hens, and mixed swill for the pig herself. Ady’s Chieftain Ond and all his descendants were born in the Compromise-era head of Lajos Ady.18***

The birth-place of Ady at Érmindszent, Romania. Source: Wikicommons


In the public and intellectual life of an era of almost unrestrained wailing and derision, this Endre Ady from the peasant’s house and background in Érmindszent felt himself to be the last of the Mohicans, the last of the Hungarians. Hearing the authenticity in the voice, we can postpone a thorough investigation of whether to treat as respectable parental enthusiasm or as authentic data that the name András Adi first recorded in the birth register was changed only years later to Endre by his father, who by then was looking up to him – this, too, awaits the philologist’s rigorous proof. The centuries-old lament that found its voice under the thatched roof at Érmindszent was not the whine of a doomed aristocracy. Ady’s high-order lyric poetry speaks from the heart in the same way as the fiddle of Karinthy’s circus acrobat.19 The most Europe-concerned poet of his time, he was not the last scion of a people falling silent, but actually the first who wanted to make his point at a sufficiently high level in spite of everything, which forced him into an impossible situation. After all, he too explains in the confession relayed by Fülep: “A count obviously always feels he is a count, even when he is alone. The farm- hand too feels he is a farm-hand, whether the feeling is pleasant for him or not. But neither feels he is the last of his kind. I constantly feel that. And if it was like this yesterday, the day before yesterday, and before that, always – then it must certainly be true. Tell me, is it possible to live like this?”

This is the recurrent question!” writes Fülep, concluding Ady’s confession with an exclamation mark that would not be justified if it did not express how this question tormented not Ady alone; Fülep too repeated it, waiting for an answer. Yes, the question recurs to this day.

We cannot give a meaningful answer until we answer the question of the era of Herder, understand the problem the question poses, and formulate the answer from our own time.


Rarely have larger and more lavish gold-gilt picture frames been made than for the current Ady celebrations, on the occasion of his centenary. Yet why must we go along with those who have felt the celebration to be formal, the frame to be empty? The youths paraded on television justly shrugged their shoulders when asked what this poet meant to them. The portrait of Ady projected before us umpteen times, his glorification as a national, indeed international genius, missed the main characteristic of his poetry. All because of an unfortunate word. That Ady’s Hungarianness can be seen in terms of race is clear to all of us; yet his use of the word race (faj or fajta, “sort”) has nothing to do with racial theory, and even less to do with counter-revolutionary racism. We have not got to the bottom of a fundamentally poetic concept of Ady’s, and so, to this day, we have not faced up to the complete picture of Ady. From the very beginning, he established himself in the highly refined poetic trend which has Kölcsey and Berzsenyi at its beginning, and held his ground under such menacing skies that menace seems fateful.

Portrait of Endre Ady. Photograph by Aladár Székely. Source: Wikicommons

The sky was no more graceful to Ady’s own generation. And even less so to the generations after him, on whom the fulfilment of his prophecies came crashing down. Have we ever dared to address these fulfilments? We know that during the 1918–1919 Revolution that proclaimed his thoughts as victorious, and that books, articles and memoirs have called “triumphant”, Ady’s spasmodic mouth wanted over and over to say one word clearly: Transylvania. Because he had never prophesied anything as dark as what he now saw with his dying eyes. And not only in the “sky” but also in the land of his people. Our view is now objective. Our eyes have been trained to see clearly by the cold passing of the years. We cannot afford to blur our vision in this respect either. How else could we glimpse the clarity of hope we wish to speak of at the end of this discussion?

The Marxist parties, with the party of a still living Lenin at the forefront, said the peace dictate of Versailles (Trianon) in 1919 that placed every third native Hungarian speaker (a total of over three million souls) in another state was a historical crime. The time outdoing Ady’s worst nightmares was the time of national unity of the peoples between the Baltic and the Adriatic. One is made of three pieces, the other of four, while each in turn is made up of many more. The community of native Hungarian speakers was thus broken into pieces. A shock of this scale had happened to this people once before in history: after the Battle of Mohács, when it was split into three in the same way.20

The basis of Herder’s prophecy, that the Hungarians were a small people among larger peoples, goes back to this period, the time of Islam invasion. We know the calculations of how many more Hungarians there would have been without the Battle of Mohács.

Using the general average of natural reproduction, it is possible to make a realistic estimate of the number by which the three million people broken away in this century would increase in their natural environment, their own community, over fifty years. Adding the destitute masses who “tottered” out into the world, there are few catastrophes like this in the globe. The vision of the destruction of the nation becomes understandable when the fanatics of the Nazi expansion of the Greater Germanic Reich brazenly claimed Transdanubia. This threat, too, was not without basis.

Almost more catastrophic than the quantifiable damage was the way it affected national consciousness. Without a mental force to bind us together the cohesion of public sensibility – there is no nation. To this day we have not faced this question: what was the real voice of the nation fatefully trampled underfoot? It was not Ady’s appeal the inter-war establishment wrote into the sky. It wrote the slogans of a Sunday- gentlewoman rhymester. One of them was that the entire former country was paradise, the unfortunate irredentism of which only fuelled the surrounding nationalisms.21

The other slogan puts its faith and hope in a settlement for the injustice not in earthly but divine wisdom, shrouding it in Messianic mists.22 The Ady camp could not subscribe to this view. It rejected this so vehemently that, in opposition to the Horthy system (another question that needs to be faced), it almost felt sympathy for the neighbouring countries. People expected more good for the nation from Masaryk and Beneš than from the leaders of the Hungarian state. Another issue we need to face: the time has come to see that the Socialists examining the nationality question expected the practical solution to the question from a chain of dependencies that required, if not Old Testament-style Messianism, at least New Testament-style chiliasm.

We have to lay a broad and sound foundation to demonstrate a deep connection. We cannot give a final answer to Herder’s prediction without listening very carefully to Ady. We cannot bring Ady’s words close to our youth without representing what rustles in the judgement that was not Herder’s alone. We can confront Ady’s true face only if we confront – if not Herder, then his over- enthusiastic followers who have twisted his words.


Anyone who wanted like Ady and his forerunners to be a loyal European and yet, as Csokonai had put it, “a loyal Hungarian” is caught in a tight corner. Louts threaten them from all sides. But can we say anything less: what the “loyal Hungarians” see, the clearer they see it, the more European they are?

Whenever I had to apply that notorious healing-venom syringe, I was always anxious as I pricked with it. As we have seen, the Europeanness of Hungarian literati is measured by how they relate to the fate of their (albeit involuntarily) branded people: whether the Herderian reaction in them is negative or positive. There were those of more sensitive nerves (call them artistic) who with an awareness of danger grafted into them had moments of fearful fever. We need not go far looking for the intent to truncate countries to the point of disappearance, the organised destruction of peoples. Here is the example of Poland, the Armenians, the Jewish people, and I could go on. They too had moments not so long ago when their country virtually ceased to exist, and the future of the nation became the toy of battling armies and the games of chess which powers carving up territories between themselves always play. For there are facts, equally durable, that surpassed the feverish desires of the conquerors of the migration period.

After weighing my words, or rather with due respect for ideas, I have to say this: in the mid-twentieth century, a responsible statesman, Beneš, opened the gates to madness when he made a government programme (commenting on it without weighing his words) and a law stripping Hungarians of their rights in order to expel a people without remainder as a result of which the irresponsible chorus bellowed for decades: back to Asia with the lot of them, where they came from, where they wedged themselves in from. This was not, and could not be, a so-called actual danger, but only because not only nationalism was moving the pieces on the playing board of politics.23 But the mental and emotional destruction in the people such raging caused is enormous all the same. For there is a psychic danger – and this is what we want to speak ofa distortion of consciousness and, due to certain statements, a distortion of public consciousness.

Herder had been an authority, a victorious leader of intellectuals in Europe, and people jerked up their heads at his prophecy – and not just Hungarians. It was also noticed by the intellectual leaders of the peoples between whom, according to Herder, our smaller people is squeezed in. Herder wished no ill, but his unfortunate definition began the “awakening” that declared the Hungarians to be an alien body among a series of peoples dependent on one another. When Batsányi and his generation appeared, the Viennese broadsword on the necks of the Hungarian Jacobins and the judgement of the Weimar scholar glinted from the West, the German side, while flashes of blades from the other corners of the compass could already be detected, which were to prove even more fatal than the former. The second half of Herder’s sentence is doubly worrying: “perhaps their language will be nearly extinct”. This implies that the Hungarians themselves are too small in number, and thus need not be taken into account, not even as much as their neighbours, who might not have felt it previously, but will now be prompted to feel Hungarian presence as an intrusion. Thus began the fracturing of the medieval community of peoples of various mother-tongues of the Danube region, then called Hungaria.

All this is behind us. The intellectual life of the world has made quite a turn. However pressing material interests and concerns are, it is worth adding a word or two to the balance. If what has gushed forth from my syringe causes fever, I take the consequences. I can say mollifying things, even turning towards the shadow of Herder occasionally appearing.

It is not my aim to characterise the ring of public emotions that encircled us in the past and recent past. We have no direct influence on the heat of changes. We are mere observers of the situation of our “diaspora”. But we can influence both through our own social conduct.

Changes in our economic situation and our general state have for a long time and even in circles beyond this Continent inspired respect and attention – respect sometimes tinged with a little yearning. Respect for a people who have pulled themselves together after so many trials, who have stood their place among the peoples of the world, and have progressed upwards on the steps of stable development. Herder would hardly recognise them. Nor would those who gloated over his prophecy, spreading and aggravating it.

In a similar manner, our intellectual life, too, is showing signs of change and increasing clarity; the symptoms of ideological confusion, which Ady’s spirit would have recoiled from, are passing. The gradual dispersal of passions and misunderstandings – this being clarity of vision – reveals what tough tasks await our intellectuals. The service of timely national consciousness.

In this way the writer who has gathered so many concerns could draw up an encouraging summary. Incidentally, I had drawn it up before I started writing these lines.


Not for the first time do I think, having written a piece published in a foreign journal in three languages describing our people, our country: perhaps it will say something not just to Scandinavians and South Americans, who have never heard a tinkle about us, but to my fellow countrymen. Let me insert what I wrote for the foreign journal as an introduction here, as a kind of reminder. For many, I hope, it is merely a repetition of data. But this bird’s-eye view could be instructive for all of us.

A long, black boat paddled by a standing steersman betokens Venice; a little girl in clogs with a white headdress: Holland; a man teasing a bull with a dagger: Spain; a soldier in a kilt with bagpipes: Scotland.

Hungary has been encapsulated by a rider on horseback, the horse’s mane billowing, the man wearing pants more like a skirt.

Anyone who knew Hungary at all had this image of it.

Can we at all replace these clichés from our grandfathers’ time, which our imagination considers the coat of arms of a given country? Can the shield of a country be drawn using modern characteristics? The typical traits have to be carefully chosen so that in place of stereotypes, empty images, we instil living ones into the general consciousness.

These lines are written by a lyric poet, one whose pen has been whetted on some surrealist stones and thus desires to reveal new realities.

For the new-style montage of the coat of arms of his country, he offers the following elements.

About fifteen or sixteen million Hungarians live in the world. Of these, only ten million live in the territory of the country, within its borders; the rest live outside, a significant part of them stuck onto the country as the crust sticks to the crumb of the bread. We have to look carefully to see the borders of the truth and an undeniable, concomitant question.

Hungarian is neither Germanic, nor Slav, nor Romance in origin; its only related languages in Europe are the far-off Finnish and Estonian. Every third Hungarian thus not knowing, or mastering with extreme difficulty, the language of a state markedly different to his or her own language – struggles with countless difficulties, which to this day are not sufficiently recognised. The basic reason for this is that, in our century, the humanism proclaimed by Socialism has proved ineffective in the face of unexpectedly wide-spread national irritation, particularly the impatience inflicting national minorities.

This would be one half of the coat of arms. The other would be that all of this is borne by the native base of the linguistic community. Their situation, too, is demarked by their relations. The electric wire blows the fuse even at the slightest contact; the tangles of national frontiers are just as sensitive. One unwanted contact, and the home of humankind goes up in flames. The rights of national minorities are not protected by any international agreement. The peace treaties classified these as rights of the individual, and self-evident. Only by their individual conduct can countries with any size of diaspora express their opinion of the correct or incorrect application of the most basic human rights.

Describing the conduct of Hungarians in Hungary in this respect requires the word European. What did this word mean on the lips of humanists, initially? Discipline in debate; noble competition on the path to sacred purposes. Hungarian intellectual life is increasingly recognising its vocation: it proposes the conduct desired by popular humanism to native Hungarian speakers all over the world. Not in an easy situation.

In the spirit of Lenin, in the Soviet Union the laws protecting the right to exist of nationalities are based on the most progressive principles. In Western Europe, about twenty million people live as national minorities. The situation of some of them is precarious.

According to authentic data and verifiable complaints, a minority population of several hundred thousand souls, indeed over a million, has no university in its own language; the one it had had, was wound up.24 There are no colleges either, and shortly there will be no secondary schools, because the ones that used to exist will be turned into vocational schools teaching only in the language of the state. Consequently, national-minority youths cannot even learn a trade in their native language, and thus cannot be mechanics or machinists, only day-labourers. Europe’s largest national minority is Hungarian-speaking – about 16–18 per cent of the entire 20 million.

There is a growing number of instances of a pedagogical crookedness whereby primary-school children read in the textbooks in their own language of their own ancestors as barbarian invaders, as inferior ravagers (little in the way of truth), and of the architectural masterpieces of their forefathers as evidence of their crime. The pedagogical aberration is even more marked if children cannot learn the alphabet in their native language. More than 20 per cent of the children in the largest national minority in Europe are in this situation. Partly because of the parents’ own “will” – who would not save their children from an almost apartheid fate if they could? The minority intelligentsia is disappearing in vast swathes of territory: in a whole series of minority towns minority cultural life is dying out.

This results in violations of not only minority and nationality rights but basic human rights. Derangements are rampant. Doctor and patient of the same mother tongue speak via an interpreter, because the doctor is compelled to speak the official language. In many places, the practice is to relocate nationality graduatesif they have kept their native language all through their education – to a place far from their birthplace, to what for them is a foreign-language area. To their birthplace are sent intellectuals who do not speak the local language. Towns of 100,000 inhabitants and the minority communities of entire cities have no way to communicate their gravest complaints but by making signs, as in the healthcare jungle. By way of black humour, the image of a priest taking confession, even from the dying, via an interpreter would obviously raise laughter. Yet, even in church, he is not to preach in the language of his people. My pen has been sharpened in the school of the Jacobins, too. This was also one of their dreams: one state, one system of measurement, one language. How convenient, and how logical! This has been the ideological alibi for all forceful assimilation. Even the elementary pupils of Holbach and Diderot would look at one another in surprise and comment on the outlandish thinking whereby various majorities marginalise a minority treated as unclean only in order to fully swallow it up to the very last.


The more external forces nudge them, even non-human communities and units develop a healthy internal power, a new cohesion. A family whose members suffer unfair treatment outside their home sooner or later gels together not only because of the links of kinship and blood. Coercion also builds up moral power; even according to the law of action and reaction, it induces and then produces an excess of current, like the hydroelectric power stations. The most severe pressure is turned to glory.

This is how Hungary operates today, indisputably and respectably, in the heart of Central Europe.

Initially, the wild blows of history shook modern Hungarian intellectual life to the core. Yet, it soon found its vocation; the time of testing brought success, and it learned how to operate. From the literature of thiskinless people”, two great poets stood out as famous throughout Europe in the 1400s and 1500s; one wrote in Latin, the other in Hungarian.25 In this midst of fierce intellectual, public and Protestant religious dispute, the country reached such peaks as to enact the first law of tolerance in the continent, ensuring freedom of religion and religious use of the mother tongue, in 1606.26 Within our borders or without, our best publicists, with exemplary self- possession, have offered to develop traditions to live by and undertaken discussions to dispel all misunderstandings and contradictions.

Our beleaguered peasants have bequeathed to us a fine word and custom: “kaláka”. This is when neighbours get together and help one for free, harvesting grapes or other crops, or building a house. The only peace that will endure today is one built in such a neighbourly “kaláka” fashion.

In a turbulent world, Hungary subsists in a kind of wind shadow area. This is shown by the external image of her cities. In our streets, ruined so many times but stubbornly rebuilt and cleaned up, a visitor from any continent experiences nothing but hospitable security.

Such a description of the country is unavoidably a kind of tourist propaganda, as well. Instead of alluring phrases, allow the fact-friendly lyric poet to insert some data here. In the first ten months of 1977, the borders of Hungary (population 10 million) were crossed by 11 million foreigners, nearly 4 million of those living in Hungary travelled abroad, 300,000 to Western countries. Figures like this make the oft-serenaded “blue” Danube seem blue in daylight too, not just in night-time illuminations. Its banks are populated not by horse riders brandishing war hammers but by serious, yet affable students, young men and women, with books on the humanities and technology. A foreigner who picks up some of our language, if he listens to conversations on the bus, cinema lobbies and canteens, will hear the same wily, witty, and candid speech as in any metropolis in our civilisation. But there are naturally more sombre exchanges too. Some problems require particular responsibility to speak about more often.

Anyone inclined to treat conflict in a way upsetting the state of peace even in thought is spreading fury. This has to be repeated emphatically here too – in the knowledge that national minorities the world over are increasingly enraged.

This is widely reported in the press at all hours of the day. It seems that in our century “fragmented peoples” keenly feel that time is not on their side. That is how it appears. Civilisation is herding populations into towns and cities, and cities have always been melting pots. Technology has served this end with such wild development that it has lurched into its opposite, and it is conceivable that it, too, will aid the contrary direction. The Catalans, for instance, fought for the enforcement of their national rights, primarily their language, through the radio, and now perfect it through television, in spite of the pressure from both sides (which at times is even benign). Each national minority (and nation) today loses the competition if its population increase falls behind fatally. In other words, if individuals do not acquire the awareness from the community of their people that their descendents will receive protection from and belong to a community for which each one will make a sacrifice without worry, with faith in the future.

The scrutiny of the past and the clarification of misunderstandings will open the way to this faith. It will help, with facts, to scatter forever the gloomy prophecies of yesteryear. According to an ancient belief, one can make a lion backtrack by persistently staring in its eyes. I believe that a dawn is coming for humanity – through gazes that can tame beasts.

Translation by Richard Robinson

(Printed by courtesy of the Hungarian Academy of the Arts.)


* The major writers of the 1830’s (Ed.).

** The major philosopher of art recalled his 1906 nights of drinking with Ady in 1969. (Ed.).

*** Ady’s brother, a grammar school superintendent. (Ed.)




1Contemporary”, the monthly journal of the Hungarian Writers’ Union since 1957.

2 Outlines of a Philosophy of the History of Man. London: Johnson, 1800, p. 476.

3 For an English translation see: Treatise upon the Origin of Language. London: Longman, 1827.

4 A 200–300-strong secret movement was set up in 1794 and wound up by the imperial secret police in the same year. 18 members were sentenced to death (15 pardoned) and a further 18 to long prison terms.

5 Ferenc Kölcsey: “Zrínyi’s Second Song” (trans. Adam Makkai), in: Makkai, Adam (ed.): In Quest of the Miracle Stag: The Poetry of Hungary I–II. Chicago, IL: Atlantis–Centaur, Framo; Budapest: Tertia, 2000–2003, p. 229.

6Appeal”, which serves as a second national anthem. See Makkai, op. cit., p. 260.

7 The Compromise between Habsburg Austria and Hungary in 1867 is often identified with the whole period up to 1918.

8 Attila József’s poem “Hazám” (“My Homeland”).

9 The period between 1830 and 1848.

10 A personification of wicked glee in Ady’s “The Ancient Kayán”. See Makkai, op. cit., p. 486.

11The Lost Rider”. See Makkai, op. cit., p. 502.

12 The leader of the massive peasant rising in 1514.

13 Ady’s poem “Morognak a vének” (“The Ancients Grumble”).

14 The notorious epithet Ady gave in his poem “Rengj csak, Föld” (“Shake on, Earth”) to István Tisza, Prime Minister of Hungary between 1913 and 1917, an epitome of the conservative–liberal establishment of the period. Member of a leading aristocratic family, Erzsébet Báthori (1560–1614) was alleged to have been a serial killer (a vampire) – the allegations were recently proved to have been trumped up by the Habsburgs to seize her vast estates.

15 Freedom fighters of the turn of the 17th century, who later, as outlaws, produced a significant body of oral poetry.

16 Academician (1921–1989), a committed Marxist interpreter of Ady. He presided over Ady’s 100th anniversary celebrations, which also occasioned Illyés’s essay.

17 Today, Ady Endre in Romania.

18 In “Ond vezér unokája” (“Grandchild of Chieftain Ond”), the poet describes a visionary apparition of his savage ancestor Ond, one of the seven chieftains of Hungarians in the 9th century, and his aversion to him.

19 Frigyes Karinthy: The Circus / Der Zirkus (1915). Budapest: Kossuth, 1993.

20 The devastation of the Hungarian army by the Ottomans in 1526 led to division of the country into three parts until the late 17th century – the central areas directly occupied, and destroyed, by the Turks; the Western and Northern areas, Royal Hungary, came under Habsburg rule; and Transylvania became an Ottoman tributary governed by Hungarian (usually Protestant) princes.

21Csonka Magyarország nem ország, egész Magyarország mennyország” (“Dismembered Hungary is no country, undivided Hungary is heaven”).

22Hiszek egy Istenben, hiszek egy hazában: Hiszek egy isteni örök igazságban, Hiszek Magyarország feltámadásában! Ámen” (“I believe in one God, I believe in one country; I believe in one eternal divine justice; I believe in the resurrection of Hungary! Amen”).

23 Fully supported by the Czechoslovak Communists, the 1946 Beneš Decrees deprived ethnic Germans and Hungarians in Czechoslovakia of their citizenship and property, resulting in the entire relocation of the former and partial relocation of the latter. After the Communist takeover in 1948, citizenship rights were restored to the remaining Hungarians. It was due to censorship that Illyés sought to lessen Communist responsibility (no “so-called actual danger”) in the atrocities and that he did not mention the fate of the Sudeten Germans.

24 The Hungarian-language university at Kolozsvár (Cluj) was closed by the Romanian Communist authorities in 1959.

25 Janus Pannonius and Bálint Balassi respectively.

26 As a consequence of the rebellion against the Habsburgs and the resulting Treaty of Vienna (1606), freedom of religious practice was enacted for a Protestant majority in the Habsburg part of Hungary. In the Transylvania part, independent of the Habsburgs, Parliament had already enacted freedom of religion and conscience, first to do so in the world, in 1568.

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