Polish Modern Art Foundation

Jerzy Celichowski

Prior to the adoption of a new constitution in Hungary in 2011 the preamble to the Polish Constitution was often mentioned as the “Polish model” to follow. It was mainly the phrase “both those who believe in God as the source of truth, justice, good and beauty, as well as those who do not share such faith but draw those universal values from other sources” that caught the imagination of the Hungarians. When the constitution was finally passed the Polish subtlety was nowhere to be found. The new preamble starts with “God bless the Hungarians” and continues later with “We recognise the role of Christianity in preserving nationhood”, the rest of the text was similar in character. In the context of the “Christianity that preserves nationhood” “those who do not share the faith” became unworthy of mention.

The Polish right expressed delight. “A similar preamble to the Polish Constitution is our dream and – we are convinced of this – of the vast majority of Poles. The Hungarians demonstrate to us that such dreams can be realized” wrote the Academic Civic Club of Poznań. The pluralistic Poland ceased to be a model, it was replaced by the right-wing Hungary of Viktor Orbán.

The already existing ideological friendship linking the political and, perhaps even more importantly, cultural camps of the right in both countries rose to a new level and it has been making its mark at all levels, from the state ideology to the football fans’ clothing and tattoos ever since.

The right-wing counter-revolution has not been limited to a revision of the political and legal systems. One of its main concerns has been history, which has been given a nationalist bend. The preamble to the Hungarian Constitution contains an interpretation of the history of the country implicitly freeing the Hungarians from responsibility for everything that happened during the German occupation and communism. This approach is well illustrated by the monument of the German occupation, which was placed at night under police protection, and which presents Hungary as an innocent victim of aggression; it strikes many Poles but also many Hungarians as absurd.

In this one can recognise echoes of the discussion of Polish responsibility for the Jedwabne pogrom, where inhabitants of the town burnt alive a couple of hundreds of Jews, and other crimes committed by Poles during the war. These crimes are countered by cult of the Ulma family murdered for helping Jews along the logic: the heroes are ours, we do answer for the criminals, the scum without nationality.

Historical politics, of course, is not limited to the preamble of the constitution. Other important instruments in its creation include museums, monuments or promoted heroes.

A good example of such museums are the House of Terror in Budapest or the Warsaw Uprising Museum. They have contributed, respectively, to the strengthening of the sense of innocence among the Hungarians and the development of unconditional cult of the Uprising, regardless of its defeat and its costs. It is not by accident that these two institutions were created as projects of top political leaders, Viktor Orbán and Lech Kaczyński.

In contrast to the museums the wave of the newly-erected monuments has a more grassroots character. This is often reflected in their kitschy aesthetics – googling images of these monuments is telling – which gives them a specific aura of authenticity.

Poland is still unquestionably dominated by Pope John Paul II, whose monuments have been erected almost since the moment of his election. Next to him, however, there are new heroes, above all “the cursed soldiers” – anticommunist resistance fighters after the war.

In Hungary the person commemorated by most (49) monuments after 1990 has been the nationalist writer Albert Wass. His books are massively published and read, sometimes as many as fifty titles by him are simultaneously available in a bookshop.

These heroes are venerated even if they are accused of war crimes – in contrast to the enemies, the “Brussels” abroad and “traitors” at house, for whom there is no understanding or mercy. Accusations of communism are routine. Even graves are not spared: recently abusive slogans have been painted on the tombstone of the Polish communist leader Bierut, a couple of years ago the skull of the Hungarian first secretary Kádár was stolen from his grave.

In the meantime, old symbols of glory and national pride are restored. In Poland they come from the period of World War II. After its comeback of the resistance symbol of the kotwica (anchor) has been appearing on the walls, clothes, tattoos and even on baseball bats, a weapon of choice for street fights. The far right parades with the pre-war Little Swords of [Boleslaus] the Brave.

In Hungary symbols from the half-mythical period of proto-Hungarians dominate. They include the the old Hungarian script rovas, the mythical turul birds or archers on a horseback as well as the flag of Árpád stripes turned earlier into a fascist symbol by the Arrow Cross movement.

These motives have appeared on the newly created genre of clothing patriotic bringing a huge success to this sector of the market. Such clothing has become especially popular among the politically engaged football fans, who connect fanatical devotion to their club with the ideology of the extreme right.

The contacts between the Hungarian and the Polish fans are lively and they do not limit themselves to watching football games but often stray into politics. The Polish word “ustawka” (a pre-arranged massive fight between fans of two clubs) has even made it into Hungarian, which reflects both a cult of violence and the recognition enjoyed by Polish fans among their Hungarian peers. Interestingly, one of Hungarian companies producing patriotic clothing is named just Ustawka.

Trends experienced by Poland and Hungary, both at the level of governments and their cultural background, are similar. Traditional Polish-Hungarian friendship has been recently leaning toward nationalism.

The national revival has the face of a football fan wearing a patriotic hoodie and brandishing a baseball bat decorated with the kotwica.

Jerzy Celichowski