Post's Posting Preposterous

Scripps-Howard News Service 3.12.02
Balint Vazsonyi

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 rag.

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 Party.

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 neighbors.

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.

I did.

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.