Monday, August 11, 2008


Speaking of Slovakia, on my way to the pub I had a brief chat with a Hungarian at North Greenwich tube station:

Jonathan: So you’ll just need to change at Bank. Where are you from?

Hungarian: Hungary.

Jonathan: Budapest?

H: Yes

J: Nice. I used to live in Slovakia, in Bratislava.


J: Or Poszony, as you’d say..

H: Yes, exactly! (he joyfully exhorted with great vigour), that’s right! (big smile).

J: Ah…(I sighed internally, while smiling).

J: You know, in 2002 it said “Pozsony” not Bratilava on railway station timetables in Gyor. I wonder why it now says Bratislava. I suppose the EU put pressure on the Hungarians, what do you think? You know, to recognise Slovakia's rights.

H: Pozsony is Hungarian, it was built by Hungarians.

He obviously wasn’t that interested in the finer details of why Hungarian claims on the soul of Bratislava/Pressburg (the pre 1918 German name) had been symbolically knocked back. I felt tempted to ask if he was a Hungarian nationalist but desisted, sensing the question might be taken as a rousing provocation to a tension I didn't want to experience as I looked forward to my first pint.

So I hear, many Hungarian families have maps of the old Hungarian pre-WWI Empire. At opportune, heart swelling moments they might bring them out and show them to guests, waxing misty eyed over the "true" size of their country. While I’m sympathetic to the pains relating to the decline in status and self-respect the loss of an Empire can bring –after all it happened to we British– are we sure that coveting the formerly possessed lands of foreign peoples, in order to compensate for a perceived diminution in ones own ethnic-national prowess, is entirely called for. Can't we see through all this?

Or to put it differently, if it’s ok for Hungarians to want Slovakia back, as well as large tracts of Romania and Northern Serbia to boot, is it also ok for the British to want India back, or our African former colonies, or indeed Canada, Australia and the states of New England?

Personally I'd say no, surprisingly enough, perhaps; for all kinds of reasons to do with stepping beyond outworn paradigms of domination and coercion. And if it's not ok for us to recycle our old dominating ways, I presume it is also not ok for others to do the same –or is that me being naive?

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