Is it funny if I’m not laughing?

Hungary has been in the international news lately. The New York Times ran a piece with the headline: As West fears the rise of Autocrats, Hungary shows what’s possible. In it, Patrick Kingsley talks about the eight years of Orbán’s rule:

Through legislative fiat and force of will, Mr. Orban has transformed the country into a political greenhouse for an odd kind of soft autocracy, combining crony capitalism and far-right rhetoric with a single-party political culture. He has done this even as Hungary remains a member of the European Union and receives billions of dollars in funding from the bloc. European Union officials did little as Mr. Orban transformed Hungary into what he calls an “illiberal democracy.”

It’s a long and detailed article and well worth a read. I knew things were bad, but I hadn’t realised how bad, embarrassingly bad. There’s no shame at all it would appear.

“A company belonging to the prime minister’s son-in-law was already meeting with mayors about a future public procurement before an E.U. grant was even announced — and then he ended up as the main contractor.”

Across the pond, The Guardian was having similar thoughts. It ran a piece headlined Orbán allies could use EU as cash register, says MEP. Jennifer Rankin talks of how Hungary isn’t the only one getting rich off the back of poor EU control and almost non-existent accountability. But, as is pointed out, none of this is technically illegal.

“Getting public contracts now in Hungary is a matter of friendship and not a matter of merit,” Engel said. While “not technically materially illegal, where else in the European Union would you have a system where public contracts of significant size go to family members of the head of government?”he said. “I don’t think that happens anywhere else.”

Is Hungary going to become an example for other countries in the region?

Strangely though, these dire accounts of what’s going on here didn’t bother me nearly as much as reports last week of the mayor in the village of Gödre advertising the local töpörtyű és forralt bor fesztivál as being migránsmentes (migrant free). I read it on an English-language site and immediately thought: Fake News! Has to be.  I asked some Hungarian friends to do my due diligence for me and scan the Hungarian-language press to make sure it wasn’t some sort of early April Fool’s joke. But no. It was real alright. Shamefully real. And the justification?

“Firstly, let’s make it clear: the term has only come up regarding our pork greaves [crackling] event, not any other events. I don’t think I need to explain why we can call it – jokingly – migrant-free. And guess what, we have achieved our goal! Hopefully, we have managed to pique the interest of many, that was exactly the point of promoting the event. Please don’t see politics or provocation into this, because the event is not about that! It is, however, about building a community, keeping gastronomical traditions alive, as well as fostering personal relationships!”

I’m all for building communities and keeping traditions alive. I’d even go as far as giving the nod to fostering personal relationships – but to exclude migrants? I’m a migrant – an economic refugee from a country I can’t afford to live in. I know plenty of others like me. Does the migrant-free banner include me?

I asked around – just to see – and guess what? Apparently I’m okay. I might be a migrant, but I’m not a Muslim. There but for the grace of God, eh?

I’m beginning to wonder if it’s just me. I know I was cursed with a hair too much consideration for others to the point I’m borderline obsessive about making sure that, for instance, the neighbour lady living below me isn’t kept awake because I fancy doing dishes after 10pm (her bedroom is beneath my kitchen) or letting the chap  behind me in the checkout queue with only five items can go ahead of me because I have a trolleyload and he shouldn’t have to pay for my extravagance with his time or offering my seat on the bus to anyone who looks 10 years older than me. But maybe I’m just supersensitive. Maybe when they tell me that I’m okay because I’m not Muslim, they’re joking. Maybe they don’t really mean it. Maybe they’re only saying it to get a rise out of me. Like the Mayor of Gödre, this migrant-free thing might be one massive joke that no one takes seriously. Except me. Have I lost my sense of humour?

Yet I remember my boss in Alaska and his near constant refrain when it came to such matters: If no one is laughin’, then maybe it ain’t that funny.



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13 Responses

  1. This is the second time I’ve seen the word ‘greaves’ used to mean ‘crackling’. Is it an Americanism? It’s not in OED. And if any devout Moslems had turned up they could have been offered libatöpörtyű, very tasty and fully kosher/helâl!

    And at my advanced age, more than once I’ve been offered a seat on a tram by a much younger female – I know they’re only being kind, but I hate it and always decline.

    1. I found reference to it as a piece of armour used to protect the shin. Assume that’s where it comes from. I note how you used Moslem and I used Muslim and I checked. “Moslem is the form predominantly preferred in journalism and popular usage. Muslim is preferred by scholars and by English-speaking adherents of Islam.” and in the same article – ‘Whereas for most English speakers, the two words are synonymous in meaning, the Arabic roots of the two words are very different. A Muslim in Arabic means”one who gives himself to God,” and is by definition, someone who adheres to Islam. By contrast, a Moslem in Arabic means”one who is evil and unjust” when the word is pronounced, as it is in English, Mozlem with a z.’ There’s loads more – apparently it’s quite the argument. But I have more to be doing. Thanks for the diversion though.

      1. The piece of armour (a sort of shin-pad) was ancient Greek, and served to protect the lower leg against the bottom edge of that big circular shield that was used at one time, But I don’t see the connection. OED also gives a meaning as a fibrous waste product in the manufacture of tallow.

          1. Perhaps – it looks as if none of your bloggers knows any better. And as to Muslim/Moslem, I think you’ll find that these are simply accepted spelling variations, as in OED. Your version that Moslem pronounced Mozlem = unjust etc. is correct in that there are two similar Arabic roots. One, slm as in salām ‘peace’ and islām ‘submission’, gives muslim ‘one that has submitted (esp. to God)’. The other is zlm, which can be seen in Turkish zulüm ‘oppression, cruelty’, zulmet ‘darkness’ and muzlim ‘gloomy, sinister’. The latter, however, can hardly be seen as a loan-word in English. My Arabic is very lame, very Turkish-dependent, so I can’t say any more.

  2. Hi Mary, I am from Hungary and totally understand your astonishment.

    However, there are a few things you should know about this.

    1. By “migrants” those people are meant who are coming to Europe from 3rd world countries by the masses and mostly illegally. And their only “contribution” to society is living off on benefits and increasing crimes, as seen in Sweden, Germany and several other countries.

    2. We are a very friendly bunch, LOVE guests. Through the centuries, we have been hosting many ethnic communities, coming from various countries : the Balkans, Germany, China, etc, refugees, workers, family members, students. The key is INTEGRATION, that they are part of the Hungarian society, fitting in well, while keeping their own languages and customes. I think it is only the Roma people who give some issues.
    The kind of migrants of point 1 above are not willing to integrate, therefore the word has a negative connotation.

    3. This is my experience from participating in countless festivals and other cultural events all over Europe in the past 35 years: except for occasional, performing folklore groups, I have not seen Muslim people being interested in the local cultural traditions, celebrations, festivities. So they actually exclude themselves, even without being banned.

    I hope you can look at this now in a bit different light.

    1. Thanks Andrea, for your comments. I, too, have experienced first-hand the kindness and generosity of the Hungarian people. I’ve been welcomed and included. My issue, no, my astonishment at this is that one entire tranche of people – Muslims – are being excluded. That’s like saying every Irish person is an alcoholic, or every German is a pedant. And if, as you say ‘I have not seen Muslim people being interested in the local cultural traditions, celebrations, festivities. So they actually exclude themselves, even without being banned’, Muslims choose not to attend then where is the problem? Why the need for a blanket ban? In my experience (Malta, Ireland, UK) a lot of migrants want to contribute but are not allowed work until their status has been resolved. This can take years. It’s not an unwillingness to integrate but rather a failure to facilitate that integration. We will have to agree to differ.

      1. Thank you Mary for your response and I am glad that you felt welcomed in Hungary!
        Again: in this case the word “migrants” means what I described in 1. and 2. Let me know what was unclear in that, so that I can clarify.

        1. And their only “contribution” to society is living off on benefits and increasing crimes …. Many would work,Andrea, and happily do so I think, if they were allowed to. These types of generalised statements can’t be good – to say every asylum seeker resorts to crime and choose to live off benefits is dangerous. Not every Irish person is an alcoholic. Not every Hungarian has forgotten how to smile.

          1. Alright, Mary, you are welcome to think and write in your blog whatever you want – I am out of here, and probably this was my last visit.
            You asked a question ,but instead of trying to understand it (or asking for clarification, if something wasn’t clear), you keep going on with straw man arguments.
            Be well.

      2. I reckon that the ‘blanket ban’ was merely ironic! Anyone actually turning up would have been welcome, no questions asked. But “when in Rome, do as Rome does” is basically sound advice.

  3. You’re right, it isn’t funny. It astounds me when humans who are so intelligent, do such stupid things to exclude each other.
    And congratulations because someone loved this post so much, they added it to the #BlogCrush linky! Feel free to collect your “I’ve been featured” blog badge 🙂

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