What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Hungarian speech-acts

I had a good chat yesterday with someone who observes, much more closely than me, the discourse in Hungary about Afghanistan, and it turned out I haven't heard of some quite amazing things (in a negative sense) said recently. I'll point out one of those things for now.
Make no mistake, there is no actual, extensive public discourse about Afghanistan as such. A discourse analyst has rather just a few speech-acts to look at, but no discourse really in the sense of those speech-acts having some deep impact.
To write about all this is challenging for me, because I don't really want to get involved in Hungarian domestic politics. I am, however, quite committed to saying what I think to be important with regards to Afghanistan. And in this case, I ran into some things that I found extremely annoying, from the right of Hungarian politics.
For any Hungarian reader's attention who would try to establish my party affiliation or even sympathies based on this (sorry, I don't have such a thing), let me mention some examples to show that I equally dislike when annoying things are said, say, on the left. Wherever such things are said, I don't like that. I was annoyed when former Hungarian defence minister Ferenc Juhász (Socialist) stated that "This is about NATO, not Afghanistan. Well, what would we have to do there if it were not for having a common responsibility with our allies? The point is that September 11 brought a key change in the relations between NATO, America and Europe. There was a basic need for solidarity from Americans. We had no other real option but to give them help." This was the kind of meant-to-be blunt honesty that is meant to be really sympathetic for Hungarians, but actually evades direct responsibility for what we are doing in Afghanistan. By the way, it is even inaccurate, since right after 9/11 it was more the rest of NATO that was concerned that the US wasn't particularly eager to take many along for the ride into Afghanistan (even while some of those voicing concerns over this at the time wouldn't have been perfectly happy to really do something there).
On another occasion, I was just as annoyed by former Vice-President of the defence committee in the Hungarian parliament (currently head of the national security committee and a right-wing politician) István Simicskó's statement (quoted here, for example) that Afghan combat engineers should be trained instead of Hungarian combat engineers dismantling IEDs themselves, to which he added: "of course Afghan people's lives are important, too, but no Afghan combat engineers come to us here, when explosive ordnance from the Second World War is found here somewhere." This was, again, some meant-to-be sympathetic remark addressed to a Hungarian audience, which overlooked not much else than the existing huge differences between conditions in Hungary and Afghanistan and the fact that Afghan combat engineers are being trained.
Ok, I punched left and right by now, so by now everybody can realise it was in general against bad remarks on Afghanistan and not really against people or parties - we may move on to what I've just read today. Here are some excerpts from an interview prepared by István Lovas who is currently the Brussels correspondent of the right-wing Hungarian daily Magyar Nemzet. He was asking questions from Csaba Varga, commander of the Hungarian unit serving at Kabul International Airport, like this:
Lovas: What does it feel like, at the air base, Colonel?
Varga: Good. It's not just me, but also my partners. That's the truth. We prepared for this mission.
Lovas: It is noon now. Do you know what happened here, a few hundred meters from us when we arrived to Kabul, about four hours ago?
Varga: What happened?
Lovas: Two Germans were murdered. Do you feel alright?
Another excerpt:
Lovas: Where do you live at the bases?
Varga: In containers.
Lovas: I don't want to go into domestic politics. But a part of the Hungarian Leftist-Liberal press thought it was intolerable for a certain minority living in Hungary to live in containers.
That's it. Just for your information, in the latter case, Lovas is referring to the Hungarian Roma minority.
I won't comment on all this extensively, but, focusing on the Afghanistan-related aspects of this, I kind of naively wonder at first when I read things like this, if Lovas really doesn't realise that he is showing himself to be more concerned about Hungarian troops and Afghanistan than the Hungarian soldiers, who are actually serving there? Showing his concern that troops may live in conditions which he thinks are bad because the Hungarian "Leftist-Liberal" press doesn't see those as good for Romas for whom he doesn't say those conditions are really bad... uh, I'm not going on with this, this is just so incoherent and annoying.
I would find Lovas' voicing of deep concerns less problematic if Lovas would have written that in some essay somewhere (which, frankly, I wouldn't bother to read). But in an interview with someone serving his country in Afghanistan... Where the hell is respect in that?

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