A A A

Archive for June, 2013

Chicago of the Balkans: Budapest in Hungarian literature 1900-1939

By Blog Admin, on 27 June 2013

József körút (Boulevard), c. 1935, Pest as the centre of the press

József körút (Boulevard), c. 1935:
Pest as the centre of the press (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

From the golden age of Hungarian Jewish culture to inter-war anti-semitism, Budapest is constantly being rewritten, finds Gwen Jones.

Writing in 1910, a good decade before Al Capone and associates attained international notoriety, the Hungarian critic and arts patron Lajos Hatvany (1880-1961) introduced an imaginary Western European reader to the latest developments in his country’s culture and history. Tracing Hungary’s elevation following the 1867 Compromise with Austria, from ‘a rudimentary agricultural people to a higher rank’, into the era of economic growth and progress, he suggested that the country was not merely Europeanizing, it was Americanizing: ‘Budapest will become the Chicago of the Balkans’.

My book takes its title from Hatvany’s ironic remark, and discusses the ways in which Hungarian intellectuals viewed and wrote about their capital city from the turn of the twentieth century until the outbreak of World War Two. Referring to the speed with which Budapest grew in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, and contrasting this with a dusty ‘Balkan’ backwardness on the periphery, Hatvany placed the Hungarian capital within an absurd contradiction. In this, he was far from alone.

While compiling the book’s index, which was by far the most entertaining part of the entire writing process, I began by listing references to ‘Budapest is Hungarian’, and then for ‘Budapest is not Hungarian’. Next, I compiled various images writers had used to describe the city over this forty-year period. Budapest had been compared to, among other things, Babel, Babylon and Sodom. It was a ‘New Jerusalem’ built by Jews, and ‘Judapest’, the latter description attributed to Karl Lueger, who was mayor of Vienna from 1897 to 1910. Budapest was the Hungarian Paris, a muse, a parvenu, a Potemkinopolis, a whore and a volcano. Moreover, the Buda side was stuffy and conservative, much like an elderly uncle, while Pest, the centre of commerce, journalism and cabaret, was a cocotte, a fashionable prostitute. In the words of Rezső Seress’s popular interwar chanson, Hiába van palotád Budán, ‘No point your having a villa in Buda, it’s Pest where you go for fun’. (more…)

Russia: Back to no future

By Blog Admin, on 18 June 2013

Moscow Russia anti-Putin Graffiti R-EVOLUTION-2

Photo: Victorgrigas via Wikimedia Commons

With his regime running out of steam, Vladimir Putin is resorting to the rhetoric of the past and traditional values. Marie Mendras sees little future in it. 

The moment of truth for a non-democratic leader is when he needs to revive his fading authority and legitimacy. A snatched electoral victory over a year ago brought Vladimir Putin no new popularity, indeed quite the opposite.

Since his return to the Kremlin, his words and actions have reflected entirely negative emotions, such as fear of his own people, distrust of the elites around him, and a desire to avenge himself on those who have dared oppose him. Much of his energy goes on proving himself right and his critics wrong: he even accuses these of working for foreign powers and endangering national security. Putin has not recovered from the humiliation and scare of last year’s political contest, and is now facing tough economic and social challenges. The choice he has made is to try to restore his authority with a combination of targeted repression, doctrinaire ideology and an increase in control over institutions and companies. This is an unlikely recipe for success.

Weakened legitimacy

Vladimir Putin was re-elected on a controversial vote in March 2012. He could have won his new mandate more honestly, had he accepted the possibility of a second round runoff, but he was determined to win an absolute majority in the first round. He wanted to humiliate the other ‘authorised’ candidates by raising himself high above them, proving that he was the one and only – and a loyal Central Electoral Commission conferred on him a generous 63% of the vote. A year on, all the voters’ associations and NGOs that investigated election fraud are being harassed and some, like the Golos association, might have to close down. Key figures in the movement for free elections are also being prosecuted.

Putin’s election in 2000 and 2004, and Dmitry Medvedev’s election in 2008, were ‘managed’ ballots as well. This time, however, things turned out less manageable than usual. The widespread and vocal public protest of the winter of 2011-12, news of which flew around the country in a few keystrokes, exposed all of the regime’s rottenness and trickery. And the anger of a revitalized civil society was directed at the leader in person, under the ubiquitous slogan: ‘Putin, ukhodi!’ [Putin – out!]. His party fared badly in the parliamentary elections of December 2011, and in Moscow itself its performance was a complete disaster.

Throughout the 2000s, Vladimir Putin built his power and legitimacy on order, rising living standards and Russia’s growing global status. However, he will have more difficulty delivering in all three of these areas in the months and years to come, and he will be held to account for it. (more…)

How Poland came to be a major EU power

By Blog Admin, on 12 June 2013

Flaga RP z UE

Photo: Michal Osmenda via Wikimedia Commons

Poland has emerged as a major player in EU politics. The question now is what it wants to do with its new found clout, writes guest contributor Roderick Parkes.

There’s much to be learnt about power in the EU just by walking around its capitals. Parisians don’t walk so much as proceed; Berliners stare; Londoners apologize when bumped into, then look resentful. As for Varsovians, they simply don’t make space for others.

Conclusions? The French view power in terms of self-aggrandisement; the Germans, in terms of scrutiny and mutual control; the British, as a furtive game of playing states off against each other. As for the Poles, everyone knows why they don’t budge: they have an inferiority complex and a strong dose of territorial angst.

Except, of course, that these days they do budge. Polish street etiquette is improving markedly, and a stroll from Nowy Świat to Ulica Warecka is no longer a full-body contact sport. That’s good news for visiting Brits, who no longer have to apologize as they are trodden underfoot.

 It’s good news, too, for the EU: it speaks of a growing sense of ease among Poles as the country’s weight in the bloc has grown. The question now is what Poland wants to do with its new-found clout. (more…)

Moldova: An unravelling success story?

By Blog Admin, on 5 June 2013

IMG_9953

Photo: Anna Woźniak via Flikr  CC BY-SA 2.0

Vlad Filat, until recently Liberal Democrat Prime Minister of Moldova, is locked in a power struggle with Vladimir Plahotniuc, the country’s one and only oligarch. This war of attrition threatens the Eastern Partnership’s ‘success story’ and with it Moldova’s reform project says Andrew Wilson.

Not every policy detail may have been perfect in Moldova since 2009, but at least the narrative seemed right. Eastern Europe’s only ruling Communist Party fell from government. The changeover was mythologised as the ‘Twitter Revolution’ – a precursor of the ‘Arab Spring’ and ‘Moscow Winter’ – although in fact it was a prosaic process of elections and parliamentary arithmetic. The Communists were replaced by the smooth-sounding Alliance for European Integration, which was soon getting rave reviews for its reform efforts from the EU. Tiny Moldova leapfrogged the other five states in the Eastern Partnership and seemed to be first in the queue to sign an Association and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement at the Vilnius summit in November 2013.

 By 2013, however, reviews were getting more mixed. Since the beginning of the year, Moldova has plunged into the kind of political infighting reminiscent of Orange Ukraine at its worst. After a previous crisis over the presidency was solved in 2012, it had seemed the current parliament would sit out a full term until the next elections are due in 2014. Today, Moldova has to sort out three simultaneous problems: it has no stable government, new elections are threatened and it is limping toward the November summit. It might collapse over the finishing line or just before; it might have a sudden burst of energy in the finishing strait; or it might fail a last-minute dope test.

So what went wrong? In reality, the three-party Alliance for European Integration was badly designed at birth; more exactly, at its rebirth. The first incarnation of the AEI in 2009-2010 struggled with a minimal majority over the Communists. That majority was improved at new elections in November 2010, but the elections also gave Russia the chance to push hard for an alternative alliance between the Communists and the pivotal Democratic Party (which includes many ex-Communists). Vladimir Putin sent his right-hand man, Sergei Naryshkin, to Chisinau to seal the deal. He didn’t succeed but encouraged the Democrats to secure a high price for not defecting back to the Communists, with the signing of a secret agreement in December 2010, leaked in 2012, to partition not just ministries but also supposedly neutral state institutions and revenue streams among the AEI’s three component parties.  (more…)