An historic note on refugees

Every day, new tidings arrive from Russia about the slaughter of Jews. Russian Jews flee towards Galicia, and they might be upon the Hungarian border in a day or two. Counties like Nyitra, Szatmár, and Szabolcs are sending memorandum after memorandum to the Parliament, demanding a stop to this immigration […].

(Gyula Krúdy: A tiszaeszlári Solymosi Eszter, IV., 1931, my translation)

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Language is flawed

If you’re not perplexed that I, a Catholic, would support marriage equality (translated by many as ’gay marriage’), you can stop reading this post. OK, just kidding, read on please, I’d hate to lose readers.

It’s not exactly marriage equality that I support: I am against banning or regulating lifestyles as long as they don’t harm the life, safety, and liberty of other human beings. As long as the respect for individual human life is held up, the government has no business in interfering. And marriage equality is one of the things where this is true. As the resolution of the US Supreme Court says (Syllabus, (b) 2): Continue reading

Values

The value I’ll always hold on to and won’t negotiate is this: the respect for individual human life. Do you agree? Do you also think the life, safety, and freedom of another person is just as valuable as your own?

If you do, we’re on the same page. Nothing else matters. Our skin tones, languages, cultures – our collective identities –, our social statuses might be different, yet we’ll be able to respect one another. Continue reading

I was a stranger and you did not receive me

Some governments in Europe are raving against foreigners, economic immigrants as they like to call them. They try not to be so inhumane as to exclude refugees, but in effect they are: they do mean to exclude anyone who’s trying to cross their border. This becomes apparent the moment you walk up to the border and meet the immigration authorities.

Some days ago, in an absurd and rather unpolished move, the Hungarian government posted a number of billboards telling immigrants to stay away. An example: “If you come to Hungary, you must not take away our jobs!” (Hungarian language uses exclamation marks more often than English.) Or:  “If you come to Hungary, you must respect our culture!” Which made me exclaim, culture my backside. What culture is it that tells strangers off without hesitation, without respect to individual human life? Continue reading

Clarity

The Pentecost is a celebration of clarity and understanding. It also comes with a mission to share the good you came to understand.

In Auschwitz, victims were sometimes locked in coffin-sized cells, where they could not sit or lie down. In my late teens, I was shown these cells – beside all the rest of the horrors – when we visited Cracow and its region with a school group.

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Meet Spotty: She’s an Easter Rabbit, and She’s Not A Toy

I have long planned to write a post on how there can be no moral integrity without freedom. I was procrastinating: I was forever waiting for the “proper” occasion and the “proper” words. And in the aftermath of Easter, I end up sharing a silly and naïve story – which happens to provide just the perfect example for what I have to say.

I thought I’d stand up for the liberty to keep pet rabbits in our homes – and, on a more serious note, I plan to criticize prohibitions in general. There were plenty of advertisements – very rightfully – discouraging the traffic of rabbits, first sold as Easter presents for kids, and then thrown out, set loose, or killed when the kids no longer find enjoyment in them. Yet I have a point or two to add to that argument.

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Barabbas

Every Easter, this text returns to haunt me. Written by Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy in 1917, it’s an anthem of moral individualism: a reminder that liberty and moral integrity are gifted to the individual – and that the collective can only corrupt them.

Although I’ve already posted this piece last Easter, I thought it had a place on this blog, too. The translation from Hungarian is mine, although I took hints from another, heavily abridged version.

For those of you who read Hungarian, here is the original: http://www.szepi.hu/irodalom/kedvenc/kt_030.html

It’s only fitting that I post this on Good Friday – but this is my Easter greeting, too: let us all have a happy time, but not an oblivious one.

Barabbas

by Frigyes Karinthy

On the third day, at dusk, he stepped out of the tomb, and quietly began to walk down the road. Black smoke was rising from the ruins, and surrounded him. At the bottom of a dry ditch, he found the first of those who, in front of Pilate’s house, had shouted the name of Barabbas. The wretched man was wailing at the red fumes with a blackened tongue.

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Passing Judgment – Again

My daily outrage:

Pope Francis – head of the church I belong to – has just passed the following judgment over childless couples: “[…]not having children is a selfish choice”. I have heard this comment all too often these ten years. But I have bad news: not a single man, not even the Pope, is entitled to the moral high ground to speak like this.

I don’t know what games His Holiness is playing on us, but he clearly changed his moral standards over the last couple of days, and not for the better (see his remark where he promoted violence against children). Maybe this is a political move to appease the hardliners within the hierarchy of the Church. Maybe something else. I don’t know. I’m not to judge.

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Boundaries

Infinity is really hard to experience. Math works with it – in fact, math works with all sorts of different infinities – but everything we actually see has boundaries. We don’t even know if space is infinite – most probably it isn’t because we haven’t seen anything beyond twenty-nine billion light-years or so. From this, science actually estimates the size of the observable universe around 93 billion light-years.

On the other hand, physics tells us that these very distant objects are moving away very fast, and there’s no telling if and where they will stop. Math has a term for that, too: finite but unbounded.

A person has boundaries. They don’t necessarily start at our skin. If a stranger moves too close (to our taste), we feel violated. When we feel possessive about our belongings, we like putting them within our boundaries. Right now I’m sitting in a café, with my bag and coat on another chair across the table. If someone came and took – touched – them, I would feel violated. Does this make them part of me – do my boundaries extend to them across the table?

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No Simple Case

January 27 marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz – and the death of Hungarian writer Antal Szerb. It’s the dark irony of fate that on the same day Allied troops entered the death camp, Szerb was beaten to death by Hungarian Nazis (calling themselves ‘Hungarists’ or those of the ‘Arrow-Cross’) in a forced-labor camp in Balf, Hungary.

Szerb was of Jewish descent, but at the same time he was a Hungarian literary scholar through and through. The blackguards who did the beating were not men of culture – how could they know that the man they killed had done more than anyone else to spread and promote Hungarian literature?

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