In his blog post from Tuesday, Fidesz's József Szájer MEP launched a valiant cavalry attack against Neelie Kroes, European Commissioner for fundamental rights. Among other things, perhaps as a proof of Hungary's commitment to the European Union, he wrote: "To us, Hungarians it is very important what people abroad think about Hungary – perhaps more so than to many other European nations".
Is it really? I don't think so. Or at least we seem to be on a completely wrong track.
Over the last couple of weeks I had to travel a lot – mostly towards the south and the east, to the Balkans, scorned so often in our parts. People I met, my friends, even journalists all confronted me with one and the same question: "What on Earth has happened to Hungary?!". They could not understand, they could not fathom how the eminent pupil of yesteryear became the problem child of the EU. How it transformed from a promising emerging market into a candidate for state default, from the most stable young democracy into "Orbanistan". Sure, they also have their own troubles within and without the EU. But we really seem to have succeeded to ensure that our neighbors treat anything Hungarian with caution or concern, even with rejection, instead of respect and appreciation. Anyone trying to promote a successful Hungarian company abroad is in for quite a struggle nowadays. Even on the Balkans.
Undoubtedly, it's the policies of the current Hungarian government that must take most of the blame for this. It was only recently, more exactly around the end of last year that Hungary was put into the "prisoner's box" internationally, because of the new constitution and the cardinal laws. That was when the dam broke, that was when we ended up on the title pages of international newspapers, and that was when the Hungarian question became a dominating agenda point at EU institutions. However hard Fidesz may be trying, hardly anyone is interested the saga about the police charges of 2006, and the "peaceful demonstrators blinded by rubber bullets".
The main problem though is that this isn't the real issue. Governments come and go. Most politicians are completely forgotten by later generations. One day, Hungary will even be excused for Orbán. What is really dangerous about our current situation is that, slowly and unnoticeably but for many years to come, the picture could be transformed that the world has of Hungary. Not the picture about Orbán or Fidesz – but our image. And you bet not in a good way.
What are we like, really? The politicians of Fidesz like to project the image of a strong, independent, proud, and talented nation. Europeans, however, seem to see a perplexed, confused nation that is at war with the world and itself. And that without any tangible reason. I believe that one of the most important reasons for our international and domestic troubles is that our self-portrait – as painted and most probably also believed in by Fidesz – has nothing to do with reality. That is why Europe does not understand us, and that is why the government is also at war with a considerable part of its voters.
Of course, having adopted the one-party constitution, and the cardinal laws to complete it, the governing majority already preaches consolidation. If they have their way, a new Pax Orbana is upon us. Evidently, they covered all the bases, they hold all the chips, that is what would serve their interest. And yes: they have a serious chance to remain in the saddle for many years to come. In the meantime, they will do all they can to really transform the country according to their liking. It may very well be that most of us will, in a couple of years, resign to that stupid, avid, false and slushy set of myths that, in the interest of their political power, they would like to use to replace Hungary's colorful culture and history.
The outside world, however, will not be blinded. Hungary will only receive friendship, esteem and help in the trouble if we accept ourselves the way we really are, and if we also project that self-image to others. For happiness, there is no need to want to be world champions in everything. There is no need to fool ourselves with myths about "having the highest number of Nobel laureates per capita". (Brace yourselves: Hungary would be about 10th in the EU rankings...). The sun shines, the bread is soft, wines are fine, and girls are pretty outside Hungary, too. But does that really mean that Hungarians cannot feel strong, clever and special?
All successful strategies are based on a good analysis. And for this reason: as long as we do not know who we are, we won't be a successful nation. We won't even be a nation at all. If we are to emerge from our current troubles, we do not only have to face Orbán, we have to face ourselves, too. In time before our great freedom fight transforms all friends into adversaries. Because then we shall really lose in everything and all the time.