Post's Posting Preposterous
Scripps-Howard News Service 3.12.02
It scarcely behooves a news organ of international standing to
print disinformation with potentially lethal consequences for the
leader of a nation. Yet, thinly disguised as concern for NATO, Jackson
Diehl made the Washington Post a player in Hungary's coming parliamentary
elections. His March 4 article places the venerable newspaper in
the embarrassing position of sounding like an extremist party-political
Moreover, Diehl portrays the Bush White House as interfering in
the free elections of a valued and trusted ally, apparently favoring
the Socialist Party - until rather recently known as the Communist
To be sure, I telephoned Diehl the moment I had finished reading
his poisonous assertions about Hungary's current prime minister
and candidate for reelection, Viktor Orban. Diehl accused him of
nothing less than being "worthy of the 1930s," and by
this he did not mean America's Great Depression, but Hitler's demand
of "Lebensraum" for Germans at the expense of Germany's
Long on incendiary rhetoric, Diehl seemed short of substance when
I asked why he had written that Orban harbored such thoughts. "Hungarians
I know assured me Orban had used a word that is the equivalent of
Lebensraum." When and where? "I don't have details; you
will have to find them yourself," he replied.
Apparently, during a morning radio program, Orban spoke of closer
economic cooperation between Hungarians residing in the Hungarian
living sphere and those three million Hungarians whose living sphere
is within the borders of other countries. The discussion had to
do with economic spheres, and nothing whatever with territorial
revisions or demands.
One can sympathize with Diehl. For eight years, he got used to
Bill Clinton openly supporting socialists from Great Britain to
Israel, and regularly dispatching James Carville to run the shows.
George W. Bush does not believe in that practice, not even at a
time when non-socialist governments in Europe are in such short
supply that the reelection of Orban might be welcome. (Since 1990,
no head of government in formerly Soviet-occupied countries has
been elected for a second term.)
But, to be a serious participant in the discussions, Diehl needs
a higher level of accuracy and expertise. He does not know when
Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic joined NATO. He does not
read Hungarian. Does he read German? "Lebensraum" is now
a commonly used word that simply means environment.
Central Europe is complicated, and Hungary even more so. Europe
is a continent of Germanic, Slavic and Romance peoples. Living in
the middle of it, Hungarians are none of the above. Surviving eleven
centuries without a single relative in the neighborhood is an accomplishment.
But the "reward" came in the form of the Treaty of Trianon
which, at the end of World War I, carved off two-thirds of Hungary
to create Slovakia, Yugoslavia, and Greater Romania.
Nothing similar ever happened in history. Village streets became
international borders, families torn and kept apart. The mistreatment
of Hungarians by Slovak and Romanian authorities is probably the
sole daily atrocity consistently ignored by the great powers. The
political reality is that no prime minster of a free Hungary can
disregard this unnatural state of affairs; only communists have
- so instructed by the Communist International.
Before anyone resorts to name-calling ("irredentism"
is a popular brand of tar and feathers), they should listen to Zoltán
Kodály's magnificent "Psalmus Hungaricus" - his
evergreen response to the hated treaty and its consequences. One
doesn't have to understand Hungarian, merely read the 55th Psalm
on which it is based.
But, just as the long-suffering Hungarians of Transylvania - for
one thousand years a bastion of Hungarian culture - do not engage
in aggressive behavior, much less terrorism, so Orban has stayed
clear of any expression that would imply the use of force to resolve
the anomalies of the last eighty years. A year ago, he impressed
a distinguished audience at the American Enterprise Institute with
his quick-witted, unorthodox, refreshingly candid approach to many
a probing question.
Actually, the emergence of a young leader (Orban became prime minister
at the age of 35) might be of special interest to Americans. The
countries of Central and Eastern Europe are typically governed by
people who suffer from the destructive historic baggage left over
by the bloodlettings that occurred mid-century. As are America's
statesmen, Orban is free of that baggage and can approach sensitive
matters from a healthy distance.
Nonetheless, unlike Diehl, I will refrain from expressing a preference
in elections which are not the business of United States citizens.
But I will welcome a recent speech by Orban, delivered at the dedication
of the "House of Terror" - a building in Budapest about
which I have written extensively. After housing Hungary's version
of Hitler's National Socialists, the mansion was taken over in 1945
by Hungary's version of Stalin's International Socialists. It was
taken over lock, stock and barrel - meaning torture cells, equipment
and, yes, personnel.
Now officially a museum, the exhibits depict Nazi butchers on one
side, communist butchers on the other. The point: to teach new generations
the most important lesson of the twentieth century - that Nazis
and Communists were, are, branches of the same tree.
I know the inside of that building. When I was nine years old,
in March 1945, I rescued my brother from there.
If Diehl wishes to rise to Orban's level of credibility, then just
once he would have to get as upset about Communists as he does about
Nazis who, after all, were beaten to a pulp almost sixty years ago.
On the other hand, the Wall Street Journal reports that Hungary's
communists - now renamed "socialists" - have condemned
the "House of Terror," protested against its opening,
and vowed to replace it if elected in April.
In other words, the communists are still very much with us.