Notes from the Carnival Ball

DSC_0379Carnival ball (farsangi bál) at the community cultural house in one of the old Swabian towns on the outskirts of Budapest. 

A couple of hundred people, most of them 60 and older, sitting at long tables before a dinner of red cabbage and fried meat dumplings. Everybody is dressed up, almost all the men wear suits and ties. They watch a trio perform a variety of music in the shadowy hall, from German oompha to Hungarian and American pop hits from the 60s and 70s.    

They watch young people perform a waltz. The performers then select partners from among the spectators. Instantly other couples join and the floor is full of shining bald heads and white hair turning to the music. 

The music stops, the couples sit, the mayor stands for a speech. A proficient public speaker, confident, fluent, well-told anecdotes, a single political reference to the event as a needed distraction from the mounting tension of “public life.” 

All heads are turned in the same direction, listening intently to the town father. Conservative folk, many of them of German descent. Disciplined, practical, hard-working people, they are cultured to an equal or greater degree than their equivalents in the West, though are more linguistically isolated and less able to understand the greater world around them. 

Members of a small and vulnerable nation seeking community with those of the same language and background, looking for unaffected pre-System Change companionship in a crass post-System Change world.  

Rock-solid Orbán supporters, they will follow him through thick and thin as he turns Hungary back toward the East, as he wages populist battle against the European Union, as he dismantles the country’s democracy and takes control over their sources of information in order to create a highly centralized, semi-authoritarian state.  

It is a state in which they feel comfortable: secure under a strong leader fighting in the interest of the Hungarian nation against foreign predators and their domestic accomplices, one who has defended them against the manipulations and exploitation of the free-market and ensured their basic subsistence through cuts in the cost of household gas, electricity, heating and water. 

Friendly people. Generous people. Benevolent people, though inherently suspicious of the motives of outsiders.

This demographic—nominally anti-communist, though nevertheless uniformly nostalgic for the monolithic simplicity and unfailing continuity of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party dictatorship—has abandoned the affinity it once felt for the ideals of western liberal democracy. As one of the most powerful constituencies in an aging population, it will provide the Orbán administration with a steady base of support well into the 2020s. 

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