János Lackfi: HALF EMPTY


Magyar man gets up of a morn, feels like filth and his back is giving him hell. He sits up in bed and switches the radio on. The price of petrol has gone up again, an old lady has been mugged in broad daylight, the Municipal Transport Company is on the brink of bankruptcy, the opposition are on the streets demonstrating against the current government and the extremists are demonstrating against the demonstrating opposition. Bitter saliva collects in the mouth of  Magyar man but he can’t spit on the floor so he swallows the stuff and begins to think his miserable thoughts. What kind of country is this after all? It’s got no oil and its mineral riches are poor… It’s sold off all its best land to bloody foreigners … It’s got no sea or mountain peaks and its capital like an aggressive sponge sucking all the life out of the pathetic provinces… Its food is greasy, its citizens drink a chemical cocktail instead of fine wine… Its beautiful music has Roma roots and yet its youth still twitch to a techno tempo while most of its internationally recognised scientists are of Jewish origin and variously forced to seek solace elsewhere… Its national sport is soccer that is bad beyond words and yet its star strikers still earn ten times more than its world-class water polo players…

Magyar man eventually reaches the conclusion that it is a source of shame to belong to this nation that has not had an understanding of how to make a decent living since records began, learnt all it knows about farming from the  straight-laced Slavs, all it knows about industry from the  upright Germans and the glory of gardening from diligent  Serbs. And that was only when a cultured Europe finally  forced it to drop its bloody sword with which it had held the  civilised Christian world in terror for what seemed like an  age. “Homo” needs no explaining but “hungaricus” comes  from those monstrous Huns who marauded their way half  around the world leaving burning buildings and massacred  masses in their wake. Magyar man of myth spent the longest time wandering to and fro in Asia before trundling into the  Carpathian Basin with ransacked riches, a wheelbarrow of Turkish words, a herd of horses, a bunch of bows and arrows  and in desperate need to rest a while. Suitably refreshed,  he took up arms for whoever paid the highest price and his  infamous ferocity led the nations of Mediaeval Europe to  mutter a quiet prayer that went something like this: “Lord,  save us from the arrows of Magyar marksmen!”

The first king of the Magyars was Saint Stephen who  spread Christianity rather thickly with a sharpened knife  throughout his kingdom and had a nonbeliever nephew  cut into quarters and his entrails skewered on the gates of  four separate cities across the land. An 18 warning sign was displayed by the side of the quartered remains to protect  underage TV viewers. The government bureau, with a brief  to maintain public hygiene, chose to ignore the risk of mass  epidemic and instead recorded the number of complaints

received about rotten carcass segments displayed beyond reach in open spaces but never opened the parchment en­velopes. King Matthias, the nation’s favourite sovereign, sucked the fat from the bones of his loyal peasants and even came up with a cunning smoke tax so as not to Limit state revenue to one man one house. He spent the money on reading matter and cannon fodder while his subjects remained illiterate but nonetheless opposed to war.

The Magyars were literally adored by their nation neigh­bours: the Turks for a hundred and fifty years and the  Austrians for two hundred years before letting the Russians  smother them with brotherly love for a further forty. Magyar  man appeared inclined to rebel every one hundred years or  so only for the oppressor of the day to stub out the revolt  like a smouldering cigarette and find a soft-spined col­laborator to build his regime around. Then came the period  of independence following the political transition that  proved to be full of personal disappointment, political  sniping and yet more scuffles with the neighbours. Those  who had once been friends were just as likely to spit on each  other as shake hands. Magyar man likes nothing more than  to feel good and sorry for himself and he gets terribly angry  when he has that right robbed from him.

(From ‘Homo Hungaricus’. Helikon Publishers, Budapest 2013)

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