(No More Politically Correct Lectures)
For most of you, watching the two Presidents speak this past week
would have underlined the enormity of differences in their fortunes.
Mr. Gorbachev looked a lonely figure on May Day. At the low point
of a once-spectacular personal career, he was now gazing over a
vast landscape of failure. It was more than the spectacular political
failure of 1989, or the ongoing economic failure of decades, or
the humiliating military failure of 1991. It was, and is, the historic
failure of a people to utilize the centuries of its existence, to
develop the treasures of the land it inhabits.
By contrast, Mr. Bush was speaking in Ann Arbor at the height of
personal popularity enjoyed by any elected leader, presiding over
a society more successful by and large than any known to us through
written history. Yet, as he was addressing the folks at the University
of Michigan, I was suddenly aware of a growing and anxious sense
of deja vu, some painful memory believed long buried underneath
the box which houses my naturalization papers.
Mayday...May Day! The message suddenly came loud and clear from
my subconscious. Yes, there it was: throughout my teens, on every
1st of May, I had to spend the entire day walking between the Communist
Party secretary and his wife. Since Hungary had few tanks and no
rockets to put on parade, it was millions of her citizens filing
past the statue of Stalin under whose gigantic moustache members
of the party leadership stood. They waved benevolently to us, their
serfs, who in turn shouted pre-fab, drilled-in words and slogans
- mindlessly, frantically, rhythmically.
The day began with most of the country going to assembly areas
by 0600. We stood endlessly, holding up icons depicting Marx and
Lenin, or placards proclaiming victory for the peace camp and death
blows to the American imperialist war machine. We knew that it would
be hours upon hours of being told to quick- march for six-and-a-half
minutes, stop abruptly for thirty, go back two blocks, make a detour.
If we were lucky, by 1 p.m. we 'made' the platform under The Moustache.
We did whatever we were told - not only because attendance was compulsory,
but because at the end of it all a sandwich was awaiting us for
certain. In some cases one was even invited by a group of workers
whose meal included a small individual piece of meat and potatoes.
The "honor" or spending the day walking between the party
secretary and his wife came my way for good reasons. Like every
factory, office, school, Budapest's famed Music Academy had its
own Communist Party organization, wielding the supreme authority
in all matters, including life and death. (The latter in particular.)
For most of my ten years there the secretary was a young man, six
years my senior and, like myself, a budding concert pianist. His
first name was Gabor - no relation to the sisters whose last name
it is. Gabor took a special interest in me because, as he put it,
I was in the danger of being forever lost in the cesspool of liberal
thought. 'Liberal,' as all of us knew, was the curse word ascribed
to the evil ideology of the American military-industrial complex
with which it was undermining the will of the workers to organize
and fight. To be accused of being a liberal was tantamount to being
an agent of the Imperialists, a dog on chains for short.
Nor did Gabor joke about such things, and not only because he
lacked a sense of humor. It was widely known that he had his own
parents deported because they used to operate a small store. He
also had several fellow students expelled for life because of telling
some joke implying criticism of leaders. When he said he was worried
about me, I was suddenly worried about me, too. At 17, I already
looked back on a dubious past. Barely 13, a fellow student reported
me for saying that a real artist could not be a Communist. (I had
read Marx the year before and the conclusion seemed obvious to me.)
Later, because of repeated attempts to pursue my studies in Italy,
I was subjected to a torturous disciplinary trial where I barely
escaped expulsion. Under these circumstances, Gabor was being most
generous to offer the fruits of his political wisdom for several
uninterrupted hours each year. He was a man of great power; I was
a boy holding, at best, dangerously ambiguous attitudes. Yet, although
I scarcely deserved it, he was going to show me the path to achieving,
as he put it, political correctness.
In time Stalin's statue was replaced with Lenin's, Lenin's with
green grass. Mr. Gorbachov's May Day was an embarrassment, and Gabor's
wife asked me not long ago whether I could help them come to America.
When I made big eyes, she explained that after the recent changes
Gabor was no longer understood in Hungary. That did not altogether
surprise me. But for Gabor to come to America?! To the very heart
of the military-industrial complex, to the center of monopoly capital
and imperialist exploitation?
Then I heard Mr. Bush's speech in Ann Arbor. If it is true what
the President - and David Brinkley, and Sam Donaldson, and Bill
Bennett - are saying, Gabor just might feel right at home with the
political correctness at many of our universities. He would be surprised
at first to find that the word liberal means the exact opposite
here, but why get hung up on words? Well, some words do matter and
"political correctness" happens to be one of those: the
very use of it implies that there is such a thing. If there be such
a thing, then some will always claim that they, and they alone,
know what is correct. Gabor would fit right in of course but, frankly,
I am once again worried about me.
Where can I go? Life in Latin America, Africa, Asia, or in a Sioux
village does not attract me. I wish nothing but the best for those
who live there, but I went to a lot of trouble to get here with
my 23 dollars and no English in 1959. My desire was to live in a
country where English is spoken, English-based law is practiced,
where individuals of any ancestry flourish as they never could in
their place of origin. That, I thought, was worth fighting for every
day if someone got left out for whatever reason. I still think so,
but I would just as soon not be told about the person's sexual habits
or the injustice meted out to his or her ancestors. No one has asked
me about mine.
We should not tolerate injustice in our midst, but I would give
anything to be spared the lecture. All my years in Hungary I heard
nothing but lectures, and not only from Gabor. Like the ones we
get today, the lectures were uninformed and threatening, displayed
questionable syntax and no sense of humor.
Mayday! Someone has stolen the laughter of our youth! Will the
new slogan be "Bores of the World, Unite!"? I hope not.
I hope that, for the rest of you, "Gabor" will merely
conjure up an aging beauty who punched it out with the Beverly Hills