“Long Torn By Ill Fate”

Melinda Borbely Singing Hungarian Folk Songs

Today was another Hungarian festival, this time it was the Tavaszköszöntő at the First Hungarian Reformed Church of Los Angeles. Although I can speak Hungarian (ungrammatically), I have a difficult time understanding the language when all the long agglutinative words are strung together in paragraph lengths.

Still, just letting the language wash over me, while understanding only bits and pieces, sends me back to my roots. As a child born in the Hungarian neighborhood of Buckeye Road in Cleveland, Ohio, I did not even know that English existed as the language of my home and neighborhood was strictly Magyar. Listening to spoken Hungarian makes me feel as if I were being washed by the gentle waves of the Danube as it flows through Budapest.

This is the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Trianon, which resulted in millions of Hungarians being assigned to Czechoslovakia, Romania, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia. One cannot go to a Hungarian gathering without seeing a map of the pre-Trianon borders of Hungary. It has led to a mythology of the lost cause, which is perfectly enshrined in the Himnusz, the Hungarian national anthem. Here is a YouTube video of the Himnusz:

Here are the lyrics in all the stanzas of the Himnusz:

Verse 1
O God, bless the nation of Hungary
With your grace and bounty
Extend over it your guarding arm
During strife with its enemies
Long torn by ill fate
Bring upon it a time of relief
This nation has suffered for all sins
Of the past and of the future!

Verse 2
You brought our ancestors up
Over the Carpathians’ holy peaks
By You was won a beautiful homeland
For Bendeguz’s sons
And wherever flow the rivers of
The Tisza and the Danube
Árpád our hero’s descendants
Will root and bloom.

Verse 3
For us on the plains of the Kuns
You ripened the wheat
In the grape fields of Tokaj
You dripped sweet nectar
Our flag you often planted
On the wild Turk’s earthworks
And under Mátyás’ grave army whimpered
Vienna’s “proud fort.”

Verse 4
Ah, but for our sins
Anger gathered in Your bosom
And You struck with Your lightning
From Your thundering clouds
Now the plundering Mongols’ arrows
You swarmed over us
Then the Turks’ slave yoke
We took upon our shoulders.

Verse 5
How often came from the mouths
Of Osman’s barbarian nation
Over the corpses of our defeated army
A victory song!
How often did your own son aggress
My homeland, upon your breast,
And you became because of your own sons
Your own sons’ funeral urn!

Verse 6
The fugitive hid, and towards him
The sword reached into his cave
Looking everywhere he could not find
His home in his homeland
Climbs the mountain, descends the valley
Sadness and despair his companions
Sea of blood beneath his feet
Ocean of flame above.

Verse 7
Castle stood, now a heap of stones
Happiness and joy fluttered,
Groans of death, weeping
Now sound in their place.
And Ah! Freedom does not bloom
From the blood of the dead,
Torturous slavery’s tears fall
From the burning eyes of the orphans!

Verse 8
Pity, O Lord, the Hungarians
Who are tossed by waves of danger
Extend over it your guarding arm
On the sea of its misery
Long torn by ill fate
Bring upon it a time of relief
They who have suffered for all sins
Of the past and of the future!

It is a powerful anthem. Hearing it sung at the festival today, I felt like taking my sword and riding to the border to stop the Turkish invader in his tracks. It is such a powerful hymn that it is forbidden to be sung at international sporting events—which just adds to the Hungarian sense of grievance.


It looks as impressive as all get-out, but the Fisherman’s Bastion (Halászbástya) on Budapest’s Buda bank was actually built between 1895 and 1902 to serve as a viewpoint over the Danube. The myth behind it is that during the Middle Ages, it was the role of the Fishermen’s (Halász) Guild, located in the general vicinity, to protect that reach of the river from invaders.

Sitting across the Danube from the Bastion is the Hungarian Parliament, built around the same time. There was a lot of construction in Budapest around that time because 1896 was the thousandth anniversary of the settlement of the Magyar peoples under Arpad in the plain that was to become Hungary.

And here is the view of Parliament from the arches of the Bastion.

I was in Hungary and Czechoslovakia with my parents in 1977 and saw the sights with my cousin Vörös Ilona, who worked for the Hungarian State Railways (MÁV). It was an interesting trip. In addition to Budapest, we hung out at Lake Balaton, visited a huge opera festival in Szeged (where, to stay in a railway workers’ hostel, I had to pretend to be a Hungarian railway worker), and travel to where my father was born in the present day Slovak Republic.

Like Poland, Hungary was on one of the main invasion paths into Europe. Its history was a tragic one, fighting off (not always successfully) the Mongols, the Austrians, the Germans, and the Russians. Now it’s ruled by a rightist dictator named Viktor Orbán, who is smarter than Donald J. Trump, but in the same political ballpark.

Sinking Your Teeth Into Florence

No, Not Florence, Italy: Florence, South Carolina

I was just having a conversation with a friend of mine about dentistry. Depending on where you are, dentistry can take your household finances and turn them into mulch.

For their dental care, my Mother and Father actually ripped off the Peoples’ Republic of Hungary (that’s Magyar Népköztársaság for you fellow Hunkies) by having the Communists pay for their false teeth. I doubt they flashed their American passports, but they got thousands of dollars worth of dental care for bupkis.

One could cross the border into Mexico for inexpensive dental work, but there is no good way of holding the dentist accountable if something happens.

My Aunt Margit moved to Florence SC in the 1970s. When she died in 1977, my parents were in Budapest and couldn’t get back in time for the funeral; so my brother and I went instead. One of the things I discovered while there is that Florence was a major dental center, with some clinics doing dental procedures 24/7.

I don’t know if that’s still the case, but there are scads of dental clinics still in operation—many of which have no problem with giving you a price list in advance of need. I suspect that since dentistry is so competitive in Florence, there must be some good dentists to be found there. Even if they voted for Trump and Lindsey Graham.


Lake Balatón with Tihany Abbey, Burial Place of Magyar Kings

In 1977, I went to Hungary and Czechoslovakia (before it was split into two countries) with my mother and father. We spent a couple of days in a hostel on the shores of Lake Balatón, one of the largest in Europe. I remember it as a large but shallow lake in which one could walk out a half mile before getting in over your head. The average depth of the lake is only about 3 meters. The cafés around the lake served a kind of carp called, in Hungarian, ponty (that’s only a single syllable, which can be pronounced only by Hungarians).

I was delighted to find this poem by the Chilean novelist and poet Roberto Bolaño, which mentions the lake:


Poetry slips into dreams
like a diver in a lake.
Poetry, braver than anyone,
slips in and sinks
like lead
through a lake infinite as Loch Ness
or tragic and turbid as Lake Balatón.
Consider it from below:
a diver
covered in feathers
of will.
Poetry slips into dreams
like a diver who’s dead
in the eyes of God.

Those last few lines pack a punch, which I am still trying to figure out. Maybe the original Spanish will help:

un buzo
envuelto en las plumas
de la voluntad.
La poesía entra en el sueño
como un buzo muerto
en el ojo de Dios.

Or maybe it won’t help. But that’s what poetry is all about. Coming back to it again and again until everything seems to click into place.

The Race to Germanistan

Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Péter Szijjártó

Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Péter Szijjártó

As you may know, I am sympathetic with Hungary’s decision to close its borders to the prospect of uncontrolled mass migration. In doing so, it took a lot of heat from the European Community as well as the U.N. For some quixotic reason, Germany’s Angela Merkel has opened the doors wide to hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa. (Whether the German people will be quite so welcoming remains to be seen.)

Martine and I watched an interview on BBC with Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Péter Szijjártó, a young well-spoken diplomat. The interviewer, Stephen Sackur, kept trying to pillory the Hungarians for acting in a way reminiscent of the darkest days of World War II. (All the while, Britain is less than willing to accept the onslaught of migrants waiting in Calais to stream through the Chunnel.)

Szijjártó correctly sees mass disorganized migration as a violation of sovereignty. He doesn’t want to see his country trashed, its crops trampled down, and its law enforcement officials beaten up for trying to restore order. You can see the 20-minute interview by clicking here.

My own opinion is that the mass migration of 2015 will not end well, neither for the participants, nor the countries along the way, nor for the ultimate destination: Germanistan.


I Don’t Blame Hungary

Afghan Men Are Controlled by Hungarian Border Police

Afghan Men Are Controlled by Hungarian Border Police

For the last two weeks, the news has been full of a mighty onslaught of hundreds of thousands of people from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries to Northern Europe, where the streets are paved with gold. The numbers of refugees are almost comparable to those of the Huns, Vandals, Visigoths, Lombards, and Ostrogoths during the later Roman Empire.

That’s why many smaller Balkan and Central European countries have had enough. Rather than be inundated by invasion-strength numbers of mostly Islamic refugees, they have elected to close their borders. Even Germany has to revise its original open borders policy: There are far more than 800,000 refugees currently enroute to being second class citizens in western and northern Europe.

According to a chart published on the BBC website, only a plurality of the migrants between January and August of this year seeking asylum in Germany are from Syria:

Note the large Number of Balkan Refugees

Note the large Number of Balkan Refugees (Source: BBC)

Hungary has been widely attacked for its decision to seal its southern borders and attack crowds trying to break through with tear gas and water cannons. Even Serbia, whose hands are far from clean (note the large number of Serbians seeking refuge) went so far as to call Hungary “uncivilized” for attempting to divert the invasion.

Don’t forget that all of these countries on the road to Austria and Germany had been attacked and occupied by the Turks, in some places until only a hundred years ago. Budapest and other Hungarian cities are still full of Turkish baths and fortifications, with an occasional minaret breaking the skyline. Hungary is one of the two main invasion paths to Western Europe (the other is Poland), and fearful memories among my people are still raw after half a millennium.

Many if not most of the refugees will eventually find homes in Western Europe. Some will find their dreams coming true; some will be poor and unemployed, a prey to jihadist recruiters; some, as in Italy, will sell themselves into prostitution.  The refugees are a diverse bunch, and will undoubtedly be a political football for decades to come.

The Phantom Republic

It Lasted for Less Than 24 Hours

It Lasted for Less Than 24 Hours

The darker green area on the above map marked Carpatho-Ukraine declared its independence from Czechoslovakia on March 15, 1939. Within less than 24 hours, it has been absorbed by Hungary with Nazi Germany’s blessing.I guess, from Germany’s point of view, it didn’t matter because it was inhabited by a bunch of Slavs, who were deemed to be of inferior racial stock. And Hungary by this time was an ally of Germany: My people were not only Aryans, they were Hung-Aryans. (In actuality, Hungary’s ruler, Admiral Horthy was intimidated into joining the Axis powers when he saw what happened to leaders of adjoining countries—such as the assassinated Engelbert Döllfuss of Austria—who were not part of Hitler’s program.)

When I was a young stamp collector, I was surprised to find that Hungary was not in the Overrun Countries commemorative series of 1943-1944. It was only later I found out that Hungary was part of the Axis.

The Overrun Countries: I Guess Hungary Was Part of the Bad Guys

The Overrun Countries: I Guess Hungary Was Part of the Bad Guys

Hungary paid dearly for being part of the Axis. Although we “got” the short-lived Republic of Carpatho-Ukraine, we lost thousands at Stalingrad when the Nazi 6th Army was surrounded by the Russians.

And, after World War Two, the Carpatho-Ukraine territories were made part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. And, as they say, that was that!

A Hungarian Artist Goes to War

Painting by Béla Zombory-Moldován

Painting by Béla Zombory-Moldován

He was a twenty-nine-year-old artist who was taking a vacation at Novi Vinodolski on the Croatian Coast of the Adriatic Sea when the world suddenly erupted. He, and all the other young Hungarian men, were called to report to duty. It was almost a hundred years later that Béla Zombory-Moldován’s The Burning of the World: A Memoir of 1914 was translated by his son Peter and published by the New York Review of Books.

Reading of the horrible confusion on Eastern Front in Galicia, where the 31st Royal Hungarian Regiment was battling the Russians in Galicia, I decided to look for some of the painter’s work. Below is a still life from the 1950s:

A Still Life

A Still Life

Perhaps when I have finished Zombory-Moldován’s book, I will write about the young ensign’s experiences in the war. Like the Eastern Front in a later war, it was a campaign marked by confusion and carnage.

An Embarrassment to the Russians

Cardinal Jószef Mindszenty

Cardinal Jószef Mindszenty

I have just finished reading Victor Sebestyen’s excellent Twelve Days: The Story of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. As a Hungarian-American I was acutely conscious of the events of that Fall. I never forgave President Eisenhower, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, or Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld of the United Nations for what I felt was their craven refusal to confront a very sticky issue. Did I say confront? They essentially ignored it—even while Radio Free Europe was broadcasting military advice and promises of American and U.S. military aid. Aid that never came. All that came was a mass invasion of Russian troops and armor that crushed the rebellion definitively.

As a kid in Cleveland in 1956, and as a student at St. Henry’s Catholic School, I had always thought that one of the heroes of the Revolution was Jószef Cardinal Mindszenty, Prince Primate, Archbishop of Esztergom, and leader of the Catholic Church in Hungary from the last year of World War II to his death in the 1970s. Poor Mindszenty had been imprisoned by the Hungarian Communist leadership until the beginning of the Revolution, in which he actually played no real part. Just days after he was released from prison, he sought asylum of the American legation in Budapest, where he stayed for the next fifteen years.

As a Catholic school kid, we were urged to sell the Diocese of Cleveland’s Catholic Universe Bulletin from door to door in our neighborhoods. According to the Universe Bulletin, Mindszenty was the hero of the Hungarian Revolution, whereas actually he played pretty much a walk-on, walk-off role. But I was just a kid and I believed all that pap.

In the end, Mindszenty proved an embarrassment to the Russians because it kept the memory of the uprising alive in peoples’ minds, even if he himself was a non-player. In the end, Pope Paul VI ordered Mindszenty to leave Hungary, and the Kádár government allowed him to go. His continued existence in the American legation made it difficult for the Catholic Church to come to any accommodation with the Kádár régime.

Mindszenty was just a minor embarrassment to the Russians. It was the Hungarian Revolution itself that proved to be a much greater embarrassment. After 1956, the Communist parties of Western Europe felt that Russia had behaved brutally. Never again were the Communist parties of France, Italy, Britain, and other countries bring any serious political influence to bear. From 1956, it was a mere 31 years before Soviet Communism itself crumbled.


Nasty and Pungent

To What Extent American? To What Extent Hungarian?

To What Extent American? To What Extent Hungarian?

A few days ago, I went into one of my Hungarian moods, most likely from feeling extremely dissociated from the Scotch-Irish Confederates that seem to be making so much of the political news. My old friend Lynette commented that she felt I was mostly an American who just happened to think of himself as a Hungarian.

To be sure, if I stepped off the plane at Budapest’s Ferihegy Airport, I’m sure I would think of myself as mostly American, especially if I got a whiff of Hungary’s own Right Wing, the (un)worthy descendants of World War Two’s Arrow Cross, which bid fair to out-Gestapo the Gestapo.

I find it helps to think of myself as a Hungarian whenever I take a sustained look at America’s ugly politics. Think of it as a distancing maneuver. Here is the America of Donald Trump, Wayne La Pierre, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, John Boehner, and the Tea Party—and there I am, off to the sidelines, with an expression on my face of having stepped into something particularly nasty and pungent. Me? I’m a Hungarian, folks: I had nothing to do with this stramash except, perhaps, to admit to having nothing to do with it.

Some people might say that instead of standing off to the side, I should be more directly active politically. Here’s where I must sadly shake my head and say, “Sorry, folks! I’m not really a people person.” I’m fully as capable of damning Progressives as I am of damning Tea Partiers, except that I hate the latter even more.

Some day, the last raggedy elements of the Confederate States of America will sink into the mire. I will probably no longer be around to celebrate. Besides, knowing American history as I do, I am sure it will be replaced by other tendencies equally repellent.