Folkdance at the Brandenburg Gate, Swing in the park, beautiful Hungarian women walking “below the linden trees” in traditional Hungarian folk costumes, and 200 guests at the embassy. The Friends of Hungary Foundation recently hosted a cultural diplomacy show in Berlin, to use the Philidor Institute’s production in order to show high-ranking German guests, that Hungary is an important part of the European community. Speaking at the event, both Budestag Vice President Hans-Peter Friedrich and Gergely Gulyás, head of the Hungarian Prime Minister’s Office, claimed that it was important for both sides that Germany and Hungary maintain a good relationship.
Renaissance, baroque, and 21st century music and culture were all on display at the Friends of Hungary Foundation’s evening event in Berlin. The program attempted to show that Hungary has always had an important role in Europe, while Friedrich and Gulyás discussed the political dimensions of this theme in speeches at the event.
“To This Day, I am grateful to Hungary for Opening its Borders”
In his talk, Friedrich emphasized the importance of the opening of the Eastern bloc’s borders in 1989, a historical moment that Hungary played a huge role in as well. The German politician also noted that this moment, the fall of the Iron Curtain, was, for him, one of the defining moments of his life. He argued that the Hungarian and German peoples have been in continuous contact for over a thousand years, from St. Stephen’s marriage to the Bavarian Gizella and the settlement of the Danube Swabians into Hungary to the aftereffects of the 1956 Revolution and the university exchange programs that exist to this very day. Friedrich stressed the importance of dialogue, while comparing Europe to a forest that is unified even if the individual trees may differ.
“Our Constitution is Based on Traditional European Values”
In his speech, PMO Chief Gergely Gulyás quoted the above from Fidesz’s extensive constitutional amendments, when the right-wing party also inserted into the country’s constitution clauses arguing that Hungary is a part of “Christian Europe”, and that family is at the core of society. Gulyás also quoted from Fidesz’s founding document, which he claimed was still in line with the party’s current goals:
“Fidesz’s activities stem from the need to build a new Hungary, one in which the nation, having regained its healthy sense of identity, is capable of effectively working on behalf of those Hungarian left outside the country’s borders; a nation that, on the basis of national independence and solidarity with the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe, is capable of cooperating towards realizing the idea of a unified Europe.”
The recently-promoted politician criticized what he claimed was the European Union’s “incompetence”, which, he argued, prevented the bloc from defending its external borders. In what was assumedly a reference to illegal immigration into Europe, he claimed that a community cannot function if laws don’t apply to everyone. And in what was likely a response to recent EU concerns over violations of European human rights and the rule of law in Hungary, Gulyás claimed “Brussels is not attacking Hungary for violating European community law, but rather for keeping it, as Hungary takes the Schengen agreement seriously.”
“I Would Like Truth and Understanding for Hungary”
These words were said by Professor E. Sylvester Vizi, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Friends of Hungary Foundation. According to Vizi, those living abroad and who can influence local opinion-makers’ views of Hungary have a very important role to play. He emphasized that this goal, of providing public opinion with factual information about Hungary, was one of the reasons the Foundation was launched in 2011. Vizi also noted that the Friends of Hungary’s founding members include world-renowned thinkers and artists, including Nobel-prize-winning chemist György Oláh, historian and journalist András Oplatka, opera-singer Éva Marton, gynecologist Alfréd Pasternak, Sándor Lámfalussy, a man often remembered as one of the “fathers” of the Euro.
“A Great Many Things Connect the Two Countries”
In his speech, Péter Györkös, Hungary’s ambassador to Germany, argued that one of the reasons it is sometimes hard to understand Hungarians is that they are alone in speaking one of the hardest languages in the world, which he claimed could in turn lead to “misunderstandings.” The ambassador claimed that, often, reports about Hungary appear in the German press that, according to him, “completely disregard reality.” He also claimed that these “reports” somehow “mislead” public opinion. Györkös also made note of some of the major events of the two countries’ shared history: the unhappy, bloody Battle of Lechfeld (955), the marriage of St. Stephen and Gizella, and the construction of the Hungarian chapel in Aachen were all important moments over the course of the centuries. He also expressed his view that there will be many important shared points between the two countries in the future as well.
“Hungary in Europe – Europe in Hungary” – Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin
It’s easy to find elements of Italian Renaissance and German Baroque music in Hungarian folk music. Likewise, in the realm of swing music, virtually the same lyrics existed in 30s and 40s in both Germany and Hungary.
Likewise, while Hungarian folk dress is uniquely beautiful, it too has been impacted by wider European culture: for example, the outfits of the Transylvanian village of Torockó (Rimetea in Romanian) have multiple similarities to German folk costumes. Hungarian motifs have been popular in the 21st century as well, as world-famous designers such as Dolce & Gabbana and Kenzo have included motifs from the town of Kalocsa in their collections.
On May 16th, 23 Hungarian artists travelled to Berlin in order to shed light on these parallels, particularly on the idea that European nations’ cultures cannot exist without each other, and that Hungary has played an important part in this as well. The world-famous singers Márta Sebestyén and Judit Andrejszki performed alongside folk- and early-music bands, respectively. Likewise, jazz singer Veronika Harcsa performed German-Hungarian swing classics together with guitarist Bálint Gyémánt.
reporting by Zsófia Nagy-Vargha
translated by Tom Szigeti