I’m sitting here at home and looking at the laminate floor. Just like my grandmother looked at the stone floor in her kitchen, the polished cement tiles. Like my great-grandfather looked at the packed dirt floor. Like my father looked at the parquet. My winkles are also deepening in the same places and for just the same reason, I’m afraid.
I’m Hungarian, whatever that may mean. I live here in this small country somewhere in Eastern Europe. I don’t even live badly. I’m not poor, I had a good education, I speak English and French, I love this country. I love the mountains, and that I live in a country where there are mountains, said in jest to be hills. I love the rivers, the Danube and the Tisza, I love the Balaton, the lake whose waters are warm right through in the summer. I love the Hungarian language, the poetry and novels, I love our history. I love Budapest, this fantastic city!
I’m Hungarian, so considering the historical past, I love Central Europe as much as I love my homeland. This German term ‘Middle Europe’ means something that no longer is and never even was. It was no more than a 30-year illusion, sometime at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. A kind of trickery stage-managed by the Austrians, where for a short time, everyone could become what their abilities predestined. Where it didn’t matter what language the empire spoke. I love my Slovakian, Romanian, Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian, Polish, Ruthenian, Austrian, Czech, Bosnian, Jewish, Gypsy, Ukrainian, Saxon and Swabian friends. I love the languages that they speak. If I look back at my family tree, many of my ancestors were members of the nationalities I’ve just listed.
I’m a bad Hungarian because I read Central European writers. Because I fraternise with Slovakians. Because I listen to the Serbs. Because I’m capable of suppressing the dogmas indoctrinated at school and accept that historical events take on another hue when viewed from a different perspective. I’m a bad Hungarian because I’m open and I ask questions and because I also ask for forgiveness from strangers for the atrocities of my unknown ancestors.
In just the last ten days, the following has happened. A Hungarian politician forbade officials to participate in the Romanian national holiday. A Romanian politician declared that Romania extends to the river Tisza. A group of young Slovakians on the train I was travelling on (from Slovakia to Hungary) chanted the whole way “Hungarians, Hungarians, fucking Hungarians”. A Hungarian politician said at an event that it’s time to reclaim what is ours. Based on a Slovakian decree law, they want to expropriate the name of a school in Kosice. The school is named after Sándor Márai. The most famous person writer from Košice (who’s actually of German origin, but wrote in Hungarian and considered himself Hungarian), who deservedly became world-famous. Serbs beat up some young people who were speaking Hungarian in the street. Poland recalled and, what’s more, officially demoted the head of the Berlin (Germany) Polish Institute because of ‘too much Jewish content’.
My great-grandfather is sitting in his rustic kitchen, looking at the packed dirt floor. Perhaps he’s also smoking a pipe. He’s been called up to the army. Little did he know at that time, that he would finally escape home from Russia after eight months’ walk and countless suffering. My grandmother is sitting in the kitchen, looking at the cement tiles. Perhaps she’s kneading dough. She’s afraid for my grandfather who is in the middle of digging trenches. She’s afraid of the invading Soviet soldiers, afraid of being raped, which incidentally could then also happen. She’s afraid because her friend and her entire family have been taken away and will never come back again. My father is sitting in the kitchen and looking at the parquet. Perhaps he’s also afraid, perhaps he’s thinking about his parents. I’m also sitting in the kitchen. I’m reading my grandmother’s letters, written in Slovakian. Also, my great-grandfather’s, who mixed German in with the Croatian. Meanwhile, the world is tearing around above my head and reverting to the snarling monster which we thought we had defeated forever. Why do only I notice all this? Where are those who raise their voices against the animosity impregnating everything?
This region, Central Europe, has already sparked two world wars. If we continue like this, then we’ll live to see the third too…