As he so often does, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán stole the show at last week’s Bálványos “open university” for ethnic Hungarians in Transylvania, with a not-so-subtle verbal intervention in Sunday’s referendum on the impeachment of Romanian president Traian Băsescu.
The resulting furor dominated international headlines about the event in Băile Tușnad/Tusnádfürdő, and certainly overshadowed one other event that might have been of interest to the global press.
Two days before Orbán’s bombshell, Fidesz parliamentary caucus leader Antal Rogán and Orbán’s international communications “czar” Ferenc Kumin made some waves by telling a seminar that Hungary’s image in the Western world had been unduly shaped by economic interests opposed to the government’s rough treatment of banks and corporations, and “ultra-liberal” journalists.
While it’s hard to dispute that foreign banks and multinationals doing business in Hungary are not feeling so charitable towards the current Hungarian government, I don’t think this is the reason “ultra-liberal” journalists may be on the warpath. After all, just look at the coverage of Iceland, which stiffed “international capital” in ways Orbán and Co. could only dream of.
Instead, I would say there are other reasons international journalists – who indeed, tend to be liberals – tend to trash Orbán’s Hungary. And the primary one is a reflexive liberal internationalist distaste to things like “summer camps” where right-wing nationalists get together and gripe about liberals.
Seriously. As someone who isn’t a full member of the cabal of ultra-liberal internationalist journalists, but who knows how it works, I can easily see an editor green-lighting a front page feature about a shadowy “training camp for Hungarian irredentist nationalists deep within Romanian territory.”
Not lurid enough for you? No problem! Because the week before Bálványos Hungary’s firebrand House Speaker László Kövér presided over the opening of a “patriotism camp” (Hazaszeretet Tábor) down in Zalaegerszeg, where 50 youths from local villages – and some ethnic Hungarian kids from neighboring Slovenia – will spend several weeks this summer.
“Always be proud of your Hungarianness, and never let others discourage you from it,” Kövér told the campers. “This is your gift and heritage from God, which you must nurture and enrich.”
Kövér, who was photographed with some uniformed camp officials toasting the camp’s opening with a shot of pálinka (fruit brandy), conceded that the camp’s name may raise a few eyebrows.
Since the Zalaegerszeg camp’s program mostly seems to consist of cultural heritage activities – workshops to learn traditional fishing and hunting techniques and so on – it might be hard to portray it as a training ground for ultra-nationalist militants, even if the opening saw some kids lining up behind the controversial Árpád flag (above).
Then again, it wouldn’t be too hard for a dedicated ultra-liberal internationalist journalist to connect the dots between the Zalaegerszeg Patriotism Camp and the Budapest-based Militarytábor (“military camp”), which counts the government and the Budapest Police among its partners:
Militarytábor is a military camp specially created for kids. Learn everything that was mandatory for foot soldiers during conscription times. Participate in military training exercises all day long. Live firing with AK-47s, hand grenade throwing, gas attacks, night raids, urban combat, obstacle courses, camouflaging, water jump. Our specialists are trained by professional sharpshooters, SWAT team members and government guards. Lunch at noon, football and games in the evening. Nights on military camp beds in tents. Night watch duty with arms by kids. Everything here is done at command for a whole week. If you last, it’s gonna be an experience of a lifetime. We don’t have forced marches or underwater swimming in full gear because it’s skills, not physical strength, that counts here. Apply now!
Now, like I said, I’m not one of those ultra-liberal internationalist journalists who would suggest that there is anything sinister about a network of nationalist training camps for right-wing Hungarians. But I’d bet a week on the Croatian coast that at least one will read this.