East and West in Modern Hungarian Politics


  • Katalin Rac University of Pennsylvania




Identity Discourse, Self-Orientalism, National Origins, Internal and Foreign Politics, Hungary, István Széchenyi, Endre Ady, Viktor Orbán


More than any other politician in current Hungarian politics, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán refers to “east” and “west” in his public addresses as symbols of antithetical political cultures and cultural value systems. Of course, he is by no means the first Hungarian statesman to do so. From the Middle Ages, references to the Asian origins of the nation were mobilized by chroniclers and statesmen to characterize the national character and Hungary’s place in the European Christian political community. During the Enlightenment, the embracing of a perceived cultural hierarchy between west and east entered the Hungarian public discourse, and from the Reform Era the two intellectual streams shaped modern Hungarian identity discourse equally. This paper describes the national identity discourse that emphasizes the Asian origins of the nation through the lens of what I call “self-Orientalism.” Whereas Orbán’s political addresses can be viewed as a continuation of the self-Orientalizing language, the examination of the ways in which he breaks from the tradition of self-Orientalism teaches even more important lessons about the viability of the reference to the east-west dichotomy in the global political arena.






Thematic Cluster: Space, Place, and the Making of Modern Hungary [Part I] Guest editors: S. Jobbitt and R. Győri