Hungarian and Polish Press Roundup: Diversionary Maneouvres

Népszava (Hungary), 27.05.2010

The parliament in Budapest decided last week that Hungarians living abroad are eligible for Hungarian passports. Slovakia reacted promptly with a law stripping all those who accept Hungary’’s offer of their Slovakian passports. The press calls the dispute an anachronism, and sees Hungary’’s move as interference in Slovakia’’s election campaign.

The left-leaning daily Népszava suspects that the current tensions between Hungary and Slovakia are a diversionary tactic orchestrated by their respective governments. Ferenc Kepecs reports: It’’s a commonplace that the nationalists of one country can’’t get along without the nationalists of another despite the fact that they spend their time attacking each other. The escalation of tensions aids their bid to cast themselves as the only true guardians of their people and divert the public’’s attention from their problems and mistakes. The Slovak government under Robert Fico wants to divert attention from its poor performance in negotiations with other EU countries when it came to Slovakia’’s contribution to the bailout for Greece. … For its part the new Hungarian government led by Viktor Orbán is playing the national card because it lacks a programme and can’t fulfil its pompous promises.

Népszabadság (Hungary), 27.05.2010

Tibor Kis believes that, should the Hungarian parliament pass the law on the collective nationalisation of Hungarians living in neighbouring countries it could be the beginning of a freeze in relations between Budapest and Bratislava: One thing became obvious to the Hungarian Slovaks yesterday: In Fico’’s eyes Hungary will become a declared enemy of Slovakia the minute it adopts the law on dual citizenship. This is likely to happen today. On Tuesday Fico declared quite openly: “What is happening in Hungary is dangerous for Slovakia”’. Slovakia’’s Hungarians naturally see Fico’s words as a threat. And that is precisely what the Slovak head of government intended. His harsh words were not so much aimed at Hungary but at them – which is only logical because he has influence over them. He can make their lives even harder.

Élet és Irodalom (Hungary), 28.05.2010

The newly-elected Hungarian parliament has got off to a vigorous legislative start, adopting in its first two weeks not only the citizenship law, which has caused indignation in neighbouring countries, but also introducing a so-called Trianon Remembrance Day (to mark the 1920 peace treaty that deprived Hungary of two thirds of its state territory). Political scientist Daniel Hegedüs comments: If the focus on the dual citizenship was not enough to confirm Western opinion formers in their belief that the Hungarians are nationalist mischief makers, few can doubt this following the tabling of the bill on national unity. Naturally, the ninetieth anniversary of the Trianon tragedy needs to be marked with dignity but it would be more appropriate to leave this to the historians.

Gazeta Wyborcza (Poland), 26. and 28. 05.2010

Two main currents have dominated political discussion in present-day Poland, says Marek Beylin – on the one hand, a bureaucratic notary state, representing the ruling Civic Platform (PO) and a dark fantasy state of the Rights and Justice Party (PiS) on the other. Yet the discussion really ought to focus on something quite different: The spokespersons of the two major parties first have to shed a few illusions. Our hard-line conservatives, who have been calling for a centralized state that imposes collective identities and interests, finally ought to realize that this is not what a significant majority of people wants or needs, since even some supporters of PiS or of Jarosław Kaczyński would not trade the freedom to shape their own lives and to choose their own values for the idea of a fantastic state. In the period of national mourning many people claimed that the Poles’’ response proved that this is the kind of state they want. It is time to see our society for what it really is. Many of the mourners who paid tribute to those who died were seduced by the idea of mourning, an idea of a state transported from a heroic-romantic tradition directly into the present. This seduction was based on civil society’’s nostalgia for the heroic tradition rather than a political approval for its actual resurrection. The mourning, although it projected a unified picture, was experienced in many different ways. For it is the politicians, ideologues and opinion polls who create and promote the myth that every one of us is a coherent whole and that by choosing a political option we choose everything it involves. Whereas, in fact, every one of us contains many fragmented worlds and we choose only scraps out of what is presented by politicians – those scraps that have a better fit with some of our own individual expectations. What can a government do with this? It can allow this variety of views to flourish by not being just a notary of social processes but also their patron, by taking a firm stance against the discrimination of ethnic and sexual minorities, by supporting women in their struggle for equality. Either will the state transform itself in line with new social trends, getting closer to the great democratization of societies and individuals trying to look after them; or it will become an anachronistic entity that causes frustration and provokes rebellion.

Although satirist Jacek Fodorowicz sympathizes with the victims of Poland’’s recent devastating floods, he is more interested in uncovering the causes of the extraordinary aversion to insurance on the part of his fellow countrymen: Spending money on insurance means losing it for the sake of a nebulous promise that you might eventually, just, get something in return while, at the same time, depriving oneself of real commodities which the same money can buy you straight away. Besides, before spending money on insurance one needs to have the certainty, or at least a realistic hope, that the insurance company will continue to exist for a while; that the state as such will continue to exist and if it does, that it won’’t decide all of a sudden to requisition all the premiums paid up until now or to turn the money into bits of paper without any value – none of this we could not take for granted for many years. The only thing that’’s certain is: whatever I spend on food or drink today is mine. Everything else can disappear at any time. Younger citizens of Poland may not even remember the fraudulent currency exchanges or the galloping inflation under the People’’s Republic but that’’s what family tradition is for. Their dads might tell them stories about the way the state insurance company used to compensate them for a wrecked car – the insurance money was based on official prices and, if the car had been bought for miraculously acquired dollars, its price would be converted using the official exchange rate. Given that in forty years of the People’’s Republic there had not been a single case where someone would have walked into a shop and bought a car at the official price, let alone for dollars, the money the insurance company paid up seemed like a cruel joke. That is why the belief that every zloty spent on insurance is by definition a lost zloty has become encoded in our genes. To this you must add a more recent experience, all the true or exaggerated stories of insurance companies fighting their clients for every zloty on the grounds that they have to protect themselves against a plague of fraudulent claims. Some more time needs to pass before we will be persuaded that it makes sense to get insured.

Tygodnik Powszechny (Poland), 28.05.2010

Katarzyna Kubisiowska challenges the traditionally cherished image of the Polish Mother: It’s easy to live with a woman like this: she does not talk back, she does not beg, she does not protest. As an almost public commodity she endures any absurd ideas linked to her image. She is an ethereal creature, not affected by periods, labour pains or menopause. The Polish Mother’’s physiology is insignificant when it comes to the Fatherland. What does this image stem from? It stems from subjugation. Her figure was supposed to reinforce national feelings in the 19th century when our fatherland was robbed and partitioned by other countries. For two hundred years she has been presented as suffering, unhappy, even crucified. She has died many times – in various uprisings, during World War II – but there was never any doubt that she would be resurrected. When she slipped off the black hood covering her face a noble and innocent face would be revealed. The Polish Mother can take on every burden since the sole purpose of her life is to sacrifice herself. Two years ago I was shocked to read, in one of the national dailies, statements by politicians from various parties professing their gratitude to their mothers. Every one of them without exception said that the most wonderful thing was how much this woman had sacrificed herself for them. She would count every penny, just to save up for her son’’s flat. She gave up her career. She was ready to come whenever he called. She had no demands, desires or ambitions of her own. On examples of two women artists Katarzyna Kubisiowska shows how in the 21st century Polish women have started to shed this traditional image. The first, Elżbieta Jabłońska is Supermother in a photograph from her 2002 cycle Domestic Games, showing her in the kitchen wearing a Superman costume, her young son in her lap. I respect this picture for its universal reversal of values and because I am sure that many women, who have to make a superhuman effort to cope with the abundance of everyday chores, will identify with her. Yet, at the same time, this picture still includes an element of consent with the role of a victim, which is part and parcel of the image of the Polish Mother.

That is why Katarzyna Kubisiowska prefers the harsh and uncompromising photos of Diane Arbus who broke with the traditionally sugary image of the woman with her child.  She is particularly taken with the way artist Monika Drożyńska stares out of a photograph taken by Grażyna Makara two years ago. Neither the delicate features of the young woman’’s face, nor the folksy shirt and loosely plaited hair can deprive her bold gaze of its force. Even the meanings hidden in the knife and fork, held by the artist as military accessories, fade vis à vis the uncompromising look in her eyes which says: nothing is impossible, I want to take whatever I can from life, I am entitled to happiness.

Polityka (Poland), 31.05.2010

Recently there has been a deluge of new Polish translations of famous works of world literature. Why do translators tackle books that have already been translated into Polish, and often quite well?, asks Justyna Sobolewska: Should translators strive to be faithful to the original or try to ensure their translation sounds good? As a recent article in the Magazine littéraire reminds us, all sorts of things were acceptable in 19th century French literature: drastic cuts, translators adding their own passages or leaving out entire book chapters. The proponents of the school of humility on the other hand insisted that a true translator has to serve the author. What most of the new Polish translations have in common is fidelity to the original. Radical interference with the text is no longer fashionable. Foundations for the body of Polish translation of world literature were laid during the Young Poland period. It was the first literary period in which the translators had the ambition to transpose into the Polish literature not only individual authors or individual works but an entire literary tradition. Translators such as Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński, Edward Porębowicz, Leopold Staff, Jan Kasprowicz and Antoni Lange believed in a civilizational project. New translations often correct mistakes of previous translators. This is quite common in many cases, with one exception – that of Boy-Żeleński. His translations have been criticized yet they are irreplaceable. Adam Pomorski doubts if anyone would dare to translate Stendhal or Balzac after Boy. “‘Boy had a fantastic command of Polish and that is why he has cast what I would call a castrating shadow over Polish fiction writing. Boy was perfectly at home in the French of the salons. And even if something sounds ungrammatical in Polish, it is still brilliant. At the same time, he constantly balances on the thin edge between fidelity and infidelity”’, says writer and translator Marek Bieńczyk. “In Poland there is no tradition of translation criticism, which just goes to show how provincial we are. Whenever new authors are reviewed, their translators are not mentioned although a splendid book is also the result of the translator’’s effort. It is only thanks to the translator that the author sounds good in Polish. The name of the translator ought to appear on the book cover to make the readers realize that this is Flaubert translated by Ryszard Engelking. Translators are invisible in present-day Polish culture,”’ complains Jerzy Jarniewicz, author of a new translation of Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Also in this issue: an interview with Andrzej Wajda, about Katyń and Smolensk. The tragedy has unified us, the funeral has divided us. This is nothing new. After all, we have survived the government of Jarosław Kaczyński, who is the demon of conflict.

© Perlentaucher, Salon