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Fri. October 22, 2021
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Hungry of Hungary – One (Senti)Mental Journey
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By Julia Suryakusuma

Some days ago, I achieved historical continuity between Hungary and Indonesia. Well, at least in connection to my father and me. How so?

In the early 1960s, my father was assigned to set up the Indonesian Embassy in Budapest. Indonesia had already established diplomatic relations with Hungary in 1955, but did not yet have a physical embassy. 

During my father’s time there as chargé d’affaires, he met with many high-ranking officials. Among photos from those times, there is one of him shaking hands with János Kádár, Hungary’s then-prime minister. Kádár was PM from 1956 to 1988. Thirty-two years, just like Indonesia’s Soeharto.

As dad’s daughter, I was recently invited to a luncheon at the State Palace on February 1st — hosted by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, naturally — in honor of Victor Orban, the current Hungarian prime minister who was here for an official visit. I had my photo taken with him. Cut-to-cut: in 1962, my dad with the then-Hungarian PM; in 2016, me with the current Hungarian PM. 

While 54 years have lapsed, my fond memories of Hungary have not. My father passed away in 2006, so he unfortunately could not witness the historical continuity his daughter created, albeit only as a snapshot (pun unintended!).

When we lived there, we first stayed at the famous Gellert Hotel, built between 1916 and 1918 in Art Nouveau style. Situated at the foot of Gellert Hill and on the right bank of the River Danube, it was probably one of the most beautiful places to start our life in Hungary. 

Indeed, it’s still one of the most famous historic hotels in Europe.

We eventually moved to a house in Lepke Utca (Butterfly Street) on the Buda side of the city, which had a huge garden, two swimming pools, and about 100 apple trees. Our household staff consisted of Mariko and Ibolya, and their families became our Hungarian family. I favored the embassy chauffeur, Mr. Bologni, because of his impeccable taste in the dolls and clothes he bought for me and my sister at the behest of my mum.

One day, while driving my mother, he pointed to a beautiful mansion and said, “Madam, that used to be my house.” A former aristocrat, after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, his property and wealth were seized by the newfound Communist government. Changes in political power unfortunately do tend to have their victims. Sometimes, many.

What do Indonesia and Hungary have in common? It’s mostly an exercise in contrasts: one is archipelagic, the other landlocked; Indonesia’s population is 256 million, Hungary’s is less than 10 million; geographically, Indonesia is more than 20 times the size of Hungary; Indonesia predominantly consists of Muslims, while Hungary hosts a variety of Christian denominations. 

Indonesia has a multitude of natural resources. Hungary has some, but nothing compared to Indonesia.

In terms of social indicators, Hungary is ranks above Indonesia. It has a Human Development Index of 44, while Indonesia’s is 110. Hungary’s maternal mortality rate and infant mortality rate are, respectively, 17/10,000 live births and 5/1,000 live births, while Indonesia’s is 126/10,000 and 24.29/1,000 live births. Last, but not least, Hungary has 13 Nobel Prize winners, and Indonesia: none! 

Being in the presence of the two leaders at the luncheon, and even chatting with them briefly, I couldn’t help but think of their leadership styles. Both are close in age —Jokowi being born in 1961 and Orban in 1963, but, like the countries they lead, they too are a study in contrasts.

Jokowi is sometimes said to be a karbitan (artificially ripened) leader. His meteoric rise from mayor of Surakarta (2005-2012), to governor of Jakarta (2012-2014), then (narrowly) winning the 2014 presidential elections is the reason for this epithet. 

After the initial euphoria, indeed it was often painful to watch him in his first year. So far, he has survived, retaining his “mild and gentle” leadership style, except for when it comes to the death penalty. 

The recent disbanding of the Red-and-White Coalition (KMP), led by Prabowo Subianto’s Gerindra party, certainly helps, giving Jokowi a majority in the House of Representatives.

Orban is anything but karbitan - he’s a seasoned, skilled, and consummate politician. At ages 14 through 15, he was secretary of the communist youth organization KISZ. In 1988, he was a founding member of the Fidesz party (Alliance of Young Democrats), rising up the ranks until in 1993 he became the first president of the party. Under his leadership, Fidesz gradually transformed from a radical liberal student organization to a center-right people’s party.

Those were turbulent years during the fall of communism in Eastern Europe – a region that my friend, Professor Anis H. Bajrektarevic, calls “the world’s last underachiever.” 

However, every rule has an exception. Orban was only a remarkable 35 years old when he became prime minister, serving between 1998 and 2002. From 2002 to 2010, he was in opposition, and won his second premiership in 2010 with 53 percent of the popular vote and a two-thirds majority of seats.

The media has described Orban as right-wing and populist, even fascist. In July 2014 he announced his plans to make Hungary an “illiberal state,” citing Russia and China as examples. He also stated that it was important to secure his nation’s borders from mainly Muslim migrants “to keep Europe Christian.” 

Orban is said to be the new brand of politics in Europe, i.e. right-wing veering to ultra nationalist: France’s National Front, Poland’s new conservative leaders, and the Tories of the United Kingdom. 

Even in Nordic countries, extreme right-wing political movements are also emerging. Denmark and the Netherlands are examples of ultra-liberal societies resulting in backlash. 

Love him or hate him, Orban is a force to be reckoned with. He’s had a long and winding career. “Orban shapes as much as [he] fits the European Zeitgeist,” the Politico news website states, with his policies in migration just one example.

Jokowi, reckon you can pick up a few leadership tips from your Hungarian counterpart?

Julia Suryakusuma is the outspoken Indonesian thinker and social-cause fighter. She is the author of Julia’s Jihad.


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