In praise of János Kádár

Zsolt Semjén, Hungary’s Deputy Prime Minister, was present at an exhibit abbreviated as Fehova (Fegyver-Horgász-Vadász, or in English Weapon-Fisher-Hunter), which celebrates Hungary’s hunting traditions and is attracting an estimated 60,000 visitors. Mr. Semjén is himself an avid hunter and this past week voiced his opposition to a European Union initiative aimed at restricting the possession of firearms for the purposes of hunting. Mr. Semjén is also the president of a national lobby group for hunting rights. In 2012, Mr. Semjén dreamed about turning Hungary into a “world power” in terms of hunting by reducing bureaucratic red tape when it comes to hunters obtaining various licenses, including for firearms.

On Saturday, however, Mr. Semjén spoke to the pro-government Echo TV, reminiscing about the 1971 World of Hunting Exposition, held in Budapest, which drew some 200,000 foreign visitors to the People’s Republic of Hungary, with the participation of 52 countries. Leonid Brezhnev and Prince Philip were among the foreign dignitaries to visit Hungary and this expo was the first of its kind. The deputy prime minister remarked that the 1971 expo was the apex of Hungarian hunting and then added:

“Independent of any political overtones, János Kádár and János Fekete successfully consolidated both financially and in a certain sense politically the given situation, considering that from Leonid Brezhnev to Franz Josef Strauss, everyone was here. The Hungarian emigration was able to come home for the first time to hunt, and so on. Independent of the the nature of the political regime, it is without a doubt that the expo was the apex of Hungarian hunting….Hunting has nothing to do with politics. We don’t want to pass political judgments, but on the fiftieth anniversary of the 1971 World Expo, we will organize a grandiose world exposition on hunting. At the centre of this will be Hungary’s hunting culture, which we brought from central Asia.”

János Kádár (left) hunting with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in the seventies. Photo: MTI.

János Kádár was known for his passion for hunting. There is a story about how the communist ruler sent a telegram to a friend of his who wanted to go hunting together, remarking: “Parliament is in session. I cannot go now. Kádár.” To this his hunter friend responded: “The bull is mooing now, while parliament is open all year long. If you want to shoot, come now.” For Kádár, hunting was not only a favourite hobby, but it also formed part of his political strategy. As Zoltán Barotányi explains in his essay from 2012: the traditional hierarchy of the hunting world complemented the hierarchies and power structures of the one party state. Additionally, hunting was an opportunity to bring together powerful men representing different and sometimes conflicting interests, people often in dispute with each other. This created an opportunity for male bonding within the communist nomenklatura. Kádár even spearheaded an organization in 1963 called the Mutual Understanding Hunters’ Association, which welcomed state and party leaders. In addition to admitting the members of the Central Committee of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, Kádár also invited intelligence officers, key media personalities, military personnel, the ruling party’s first secretaries in various counties and directors of government departments.

Kádár’s hunting club required even the highest ranking members to undergo hazing rituals, of which the fraternity-type paddle (spanking) initiation was the most common. New members were forced to lie across the carcass of a slain animal, while being paddled by other members. But members enjoyed many privileges, including annual galas, where they were often entertained by iconic comedian Géza Hofi. The Mutual Understanding Hunter’s Association died in the same year that János Kádár left this earth–namely in 1989, when his regime also collapsed. Many were furious to learn about the relative extravagance of these hunting circles and how they resembled the behaviour of noblemen prior to 1945.

Mr. Semjén explained that the fiftieth anniversary of the 1971 expo, to be held in 2021, will reflect on the legacy of Hungarian historical figures who embraced hunting culture–starting from the legendary brothers Hunor and Magor, considered, according to the legend, to be the ancestors of the Huns and the Magyars, all the way to controversial twentieth century nobleman and writer Albert Wass. One assumes, given Mr. Semjén’s words, that János Kádár will be given pride of place at the grand expo, which he added would include arts displays and gastronomy too.

The deputy prime minister said he understands that many Hungarians “have an aversion to hunting, but significantly fewer are opposed to boar stew” (vaddisznópörkölt, in Hungarian). Mr. Semjén noted that there are half a million registered hunters and fishers in Hungary, which he argues suggests significant societal support for the sector in Hungarian society.

Mr. Semjén believes that hunting encourages “national propaganda, in the positive sense” and is an “immense opportunity for tourism.”

Given his praise of János Kádár and the nature of today’s System of National Cooperation, one cannot help but wonder if the positive role of hunting in terms of building cohesion within the nomenklatura is also a reason for the deputy prime minister’s passion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *