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Sunday, June 24, 2012

History and national sentiment

Listening to the debates around Horthy and Kádár (the first was the governor of the Hungarian Kingdom which had no king and led Hungary - driven by the hope to get back the territories lost in the peace treaties after the first world war (simply called Trianon in Hungary due to the place where its Hungarian part was signed) from Hitler, the second "reigned" over the time between 1956 (crushing of the Revolution) till the dawn of the system change over the "merriest barrack" of the socialist camp) and noticing that even if two evoke the same facts and both think they are in the centre and are realistically judging these eras, they can draw diametrically opposed conclusions, it was interesting to read an article of Tony Judt (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/08/books/08judt.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all) in his book: Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century (see also: the review by the Guardian ) about the seven-volume "Lieux de memoire" from Pierre Nora where he - end Nora - diagnosed the recent problems in the French historic conscience: on one hand: history and memories have lost their relation to each other - meaning that before, the memories of people about history were shaped by what historical science said about the events and was taught at school while as historical narrative is very little taught now at schools, they lost touch with each-other. It has to be known that on French motorways, not only tourist attractions but also places where important historical events took place, are marked with a board, showing the name of the place and a picture of the event but with no further explanation. I had to search the net for example to identify a place, where the picture showed armed people (the French will apprehend, but by the scenery, they could have been robbers) stopping a post-coach. Well, at home I found out that this was the place where Louis XVI was captured when he tried to escape the revolutionary court which later sentenced him and his wife, Marie-Antoinette, to death. These boards meant something to those who could connect to the historic event and its significance and meaning to the French from the name of the place (other examples being Péronne, Verdun, Ypres from the first world war). The other aspect is maybe best shown that such a board does not show Vichy (at least did not when Judt wrote his book). And the reason is that there is no universally agreed narrative about what it means and it is thus not integrated into the political conscience of the Fifth Republic. This does not mean - writes Judt - that a uniform appraisal is necessary, there are other events which are controversially interpreted (even Jeanne d'Arc, being the favourite of the Le Pens - it was Jean-Marie in Judt's time, now Marine) but that it was not discussed. Mitterand, who consciously tried to celebrate the glory of the French and has thus built and inaugurated memorials all over the country, was conspicuously silent about Vichy. Hungarians have a similar - although not at all silent - conflict with both long periods of the twentieth century - although one could argue that the period before - 1867 to 1914, when Hungary was part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and when most of the conflicts which resulted in such a bloody harvest, were sawn - is also not processed in national memory and common conscience. A glimmer of hope is that debating began and, as mentioned, a common understanding of the facts may emerge. There are, however, some factors which make it almost impossible to achieve a "minimum of understanding" which, I think, Judt and Nora consider as a precondition: the connection to daily politics, the polarisation of political camps, coupled with the total lack of interest for politics on the part of the majority, and these two, seemingly contradictory factors leave space for purely emotional approaches. And in my opinion, only a rational approach can arrive to this mentioned minimum of understanding. While searching for links for this post, I found an interesting article about the same topic, also inspired by Nora's gigantic enterprise. When I read it, I may return.