A curious idea came to mind, as I was watching New York City’s Puerto Rican National Day Parade last weekend: what would a “Hungarian National Day Parade” look and feel like? It was strangely unimaginable to institute a Hungarian version of the festivities.
That’s because, first of all, Hungarians are not exactly the parading type (I notice this even on myself, not to mention with my family). Perhaps more importantly, it seems to me that Hungarians (the vocal ones – I sure should not make a claim about all of them) already have their own preferred way of parading themselves. In paramilitary formation, as supporters of a a far-right party, and as out-racists and nazis.
That last bit was an aside and an occasion for a short update on the newest example of Hungarians earning a name for themselves as the new home of Neo-Nazism in Europe. As the most current installation of the saga that involves supposedly “civil guards” harassing the roma minority in Hungary (all of which is made possible by the government’s tacit tolerance, or unwillingness to intervene), France 2, the French public tv channel ran an hour-long expose on the situation this weekend. It featured members of the paramilitary who proudly showed off their Nazi tattoos and called themselves ‘racists,’ smirking defiantly, knowing that no one was going to understand that coming out as a racist is no badge of honor in anyone’s world, but looking psychopathic enough to indicate that they would rather go down in a violent showdown than let the world get away with their mistaken ideology of tolerance and mutual understanding. These same members also confirmed that their aim, contrary to what their leaders spin for the Hungarian media, is indeed to remove all romas from the country. “They cannot possible become useful members of society, because criminality runs in their genes,” reasoned one of them. Way to go Hungary, and congratulations on another successful way of showing your face to the world! In some sense, much of what I’d like to do with the theme of an Imaginary National Day Parade has to do with this: that there are alternative ways of showing off national pride.
Namely, we could play a game of imagining for ourselves a Hungarian National Day Parade, modeled almost entirely on the Puerto Rican National Day Parade. This is what we do in order to play the game: let’s imagine that Hungary is an island-nation (which is practically what it is, even without being geographically situated on an island.) Let’s imagine that we’re quite a small nation: about 3.8 million in population. But we also have 4 million ‘nationals’ living outside of our borders, who proudly call themselves Puerto Ricans (actually, to get closer to the Hungarian reality, we would have double the numbers. But that’s really good, in fact, since we have to put together a BIG parade. 2 million people were at he Puerto Rican Day parade.)
Actually, the part about there being about as many Hungarians living outside of its borders is especially fitting. I feel like I’m on the right track, and that with minor modifications we can easily become Puerto Ricans. We just need to imagine that we’re a very poor nation. I know, I know, there is nothing that the average Hungarian thinks more about than being poverty-stricken. But on this count, let’s imagine that we’re a bit poorer than we actually are. Hungary’s 2010 GDP was $136,000 in 2011 – as opposed to $117,000 in Puerto Rico. Can we imagine ourselves about 8/9th poorer than we actually are? Shouldn’t be so hard (not counting the arithmetics: it does not have to be exactly 8/9th. Approximately 8/9th will do). I’m also aware that it’s never just the GDP: the unemployment rate is pretty bad in Hungary too. So is it in Puerto Rico. In fact, we’d have to imagine ourselves a bit more unemployed as a nation in order to become Puerto Ricans: more like 16%, as opposed to 11.3% – 1.5 times more unemployed.
But here comes the best part of the game: through weird international pacts and arrangement on which we are not going to comment at this time, we also become a semi-colony of the United States – just like the Puerto Ricans did. Now I know that this is a no-no thing to imagine for Hungarians, but it’s very important if we’d like to proceed with this game. It’s because of our special status which we’re going to have to imagine right now that we are automatically citizens of the United States (Hungary: could you please imagine that you are a special nation? Yes, thank you, I thought we could.) There is no way we would be entertaining a whole huge parade on New York City’s 5th Avenue without the US citizenship, duh.
So, socioeconomically speaking, we have managed to imagine ourselves Puerto Ricans. In terms of our current political standing in the world, this will be a little bit more difficult. Puerto Rico has a population of only 3.8 million, while 5 million call themselves Puerto Ricans in the US. This is why President Obama paid a visit to Puerto Rico – something he very emphatically refused to do with Hungary (for more on this, see my own posting: https://thecontrarianhungarian.wordpress.com/2011/05/30/hogy-volt-obamas-visit-to-warsaw/)
But we don’t really need the political standing to hold our imaginary Hungarian national pride parade. The Irish and the Puerto Ricans kept on parading without any recognition of their proper parading capabilities – and it’s only now, after decades of successful parading that Barack Obama acknowledged their efforts in the form of a visit. What we’re coming up against, however, are the psychic adjustments we’d have to make in order to parade the right way (and, by implications, to stop parading the wrong way – pay attention, Jobbik and your supporters [Jobbik is the far-right parliamentary party that protects the more and more explicitly political manifestations of the Hungarian neo-Nazis]. These are going to take a toll.
To start out with, can we even imagine 2 million Hungarians marching up Fifth Avenue in costumes and dancing to music? Actually, can we imagine 2 million Hungarians united in their cause? And out on the streets to show that they are united? Not against something -Communism, the government, or the Romas – but in order to show up on the streets as Hungarians. Not in those over-intellectualized and pathos-laid ways that seems to be the only way Hungarians seem to be able to celebrate their Hungarian-ness (not counting the more violent manifestations: maps of “great hungary” harkening back to a political past in which the annexation of Hungarian territories made the country complicit in Nazi Germany’s destruction of Europe, or the Sunday morning marches of paramilitary forces. Recent news are that the Hungarian government is trying to include a few more religious holidays in the country’s calendar, such as August 15, the day on which Mary, mother of Jesus, ascended to heaven [if i’m not mistaken]. Can we cancel all of that, and add a Hungarian National Parade Day? Not, you know, like August 20th or October 23rd. A special day for celebrating Hungary in this brand new, national pride parade way)
This is how the Puerto Ricans do it: With an enormous number of Puerto Rican flags, they meet up at the beginning of the parade route. They tend to organize themselves according to “who” they are. For example, if you work for the MTA (the New York equivalent of the BKV), you go on the truck provided for the parade by the MTA.
It is true that this does not necessarily tell people who you are. On the other hand, this is not about you, but about your national pride – a pride shared in the collectivity that are “Puerto Rican.” If enough people go on the MTA’s truck, that shows that Puerto Ricans are integral to the working of the MTA. The problem with always trying to show it to the world who you are (and for this, we have such wonderful ideas coming out of Hungary right now: how about being self-avowed but largely misunderstood racist, or a committed Nazi, or an agent of Europe’s new holocaust?) is that all too often one ends up posing as someone one unconsciously wants to be. It makes one mistake the imaginary for what is real. [Do I need to provide a detailed reading for you, neo-nazis: the past, and its glorification, is an Imaginary Hungary. Your showing off on the streets in your black boots and tight muscles is a body that you think signifies strength. That’s an Imaginary strength: all we see is a despicable person, with a despicably confused head.]
There is a charmingly simple answer to how parading is to be done in the Puerto Rican parade. It is by no means as glorious as the unending evocation of the historical roots of that glorious super-nation that used to be the Hungarian. But it counts among its advantages that it is liveable, that it’s a reality one can fall back upon every day, and that, even though it is not uninterrupted happiness, it’s something one can choose to be thoroughly content with.
So, in order to play this game, we wouldn’t have to adjust, psychically speaking, to being Hungarians happily ever after. We’d just have to be content while showing off as our very own boring and unexceptional selves.
Practicing being all-inclusive – even though we’re celebrating our nation only – would also come to us easier that way. The Puerto Ricans in New York (who, we should keep in mind, have endured long decades of being discriminated against, on the basis of their skin-color, because of their accent, because one can so easily poke fun of their music, their values, and their culture) can put together such a huge parade only because they are okay with others wanting to be Puerto Ricans for just one day. That’s what having a parade is all about: if we were to have a Hungarian National Day Parade, it would make everybody want to be Hungarian for a day. Which means that anybody may come, dance, or give money to the event. No frowning on people, no telling them that they do not fit the standards of those with whom we’d prefer to associate with, no refusing to shake hands with them. It could be our greatest enemies who might want to come and take part in what’s supposed to be our moment. The answer, on the part of the organizers of the Puerto Rican parade, seems to be that they are proud to have produced something they want to be a part of. That sounds like a very mature response. But a warning to all of you Hungarian neo-nazis: you shouldn’t expect anyone, except perhaps president al-Assad of Syria, to ever want to be a part of your parade.
There was an incredibly bizarre truck in the Puerto Rican parade: Ronald McDonald, who of course is far from looking Puerto Rican, rolled his truck up on Fifth Avenue, waiving to the crowds and perhaps even distributing it’s undigestible french fries (my sources unfortunately contain no information about the freebies they brought). McDonalds in fact hired a crew to visit all 46 stops of the parade (every single city in which the parade is going to be celebrated throughout the summer). They are one of the sponsors of the festivities.
I can already see the same truck roll through the route of the Hungarian National Day’s Parade: imagine it arriving on Clark Square, ready to get on the Chain Bridge, on a route thickly lined with cheering Hungarians. The national instinct of defiance kicks in: we should refuse to shake hands with him (this passive aggressive way of showing one’s contempt for a person from whom one nevertheless accepts a favor or an honor is especially popular among Hungarians, who are usually supporters of one of two political parties, but might have to accept honors from politicians of the other camp. It’s become a habit to show one’s scorn by refusing to shake hands).
But Ronald McDonald does not want a hand-shake. He patiently keeps waiving at the crowd (since he’s practically a puppet, it wouldn’t be far from the truth to stipulate that he has no emotions either: he is not offended). On his truck are Hungarians working at McDonalds (that’s who the truck carried in New York: Puerto Ricans proud to be workers at McDonalds).
So the game is that we’d have to become able to welcome even Ronald McDonald in our parade. In spite of the fact that McDonalds hires romas, and sells its (sub-standard) product to them non-discriminately. We would have to welcome Ronald McDonald in our parade, and not think too much about it. Let them pass and cross the Danube, in the name of the rather obvious and easy-to-embrace idea that we are who we are as we are – rather than as some kind of a show of symbolism for a nation we think we are, or think we should be.
I’ll be willing to consider Jobbik and their para-military as a legitimate player in Hungary’s political life once they are able to welcome Ronald McDonald in their parade.
By the way, boozing was allowed throughout the parade, for whoever though it necessary. As long as they were able to complete the parade route.