the hungary problem


How is it that Hungary, Central Europe’s democratic wunderkind of 1989, could find itself the European Union’s problem child two decades later, with a nationalist strongman at the helm, the economy in shambles, and a ferocious far right both in its parliament and in black uniforms patrolling its suburbs? Hungary’s dire condition—and how it came to pass—is the topic of the veteran Mitteleuropa expert Paul Lendvai’s most recent book, Mein Verspieltes Land: Ungarn im Umbruch, or My Squandered Country: Hungary Transformed, released last year in German and in Hungarian this past January. The 81-year-old Lendvai is one of the grand old men of Central European journalism, author of a stack of books translated into a dozen languages. But never before has one of his titles provoked such fierce reactions from the powers that be. The right-wing network of the Fidesz party, led by its undisputed front-man and Hungary’s current prime minister, Victor Orbán, has done all it can to discredit Lendvai. Thanks to a landslide victory in the 2010 elections, Fidesz now controls more than two-thirds of parliament, and the liberal and leftist oppositions have imploded. Yet the right is paying attention to My Squandered Country—perhaps too much attention for its own good. Without a penny of advertising the book emerged as Hungary’s best-selling nonfiction title this spring.

more from Paul Hockenos at The Boston Review here.