Viktor Orbán’s Hungary
The road to Keleti Station
In autumn 1995, I started my third year of college abroad in a provincial city in southern Hungary called Szeged. Despite the hours I spent each day studying the language, it was many, many months before I could put two words together in Hungarian, not to mention a coherent sentence. Historically it has been extremely difficult to convince or coerce anyone to learn Hungarian, but when some finally did – including many Jews, a number of Slavs and Romanians, and more recently me – the new converts proved ready enough to join the ranks of chauvinistic propagandists of the language’s inherent pre-eminence. Example: I think Calaf’s aria from Turandot (“Nessun Dorma”) sounds better in Hungarian.
Yet even I am forced to admit that once the peculiar diacritics and intonation of the language yielded to coherent sentences uttered in a particular, scrutable context, a lot of what Hungarians say – like a lot of what people say in any language – is banal, or even cruel.