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‘Hungary is Lost’

Subtitled:  Hungry in Hungary!

Fleeting impressions from a recent visit to Budapest are confirmed in this eye-opening analysis of the recent decline in Hungarian democracy and civil institutions. 

Following the Russian invasion of Hungary in 1956 there was an infamous bloody clash in the pool at the Melbourne Olympics between their respective water polo teams. And as a young water polo player mentored by ‘reffos’ from Hungary in the Bronte club, I’ve had a tenuous link with that country.

Hungary has a population of only ten million souls, but four million live below the poverty line, and one million in extreme poverty. The economy is declining, and a kleptocracy under PM Viktor Orban is ripping off the country and unaccountable EU funds, while stirring up anti-Jewish, anti-foreigner sentiments.

The country was occupied by foreigners for 450 years, but under its leader Miklos Horthy, who was a faithful ally of Hitler, 437,685 Hungarian jews were sent to Auschwitz during WW2. Its modern history is tumultuous – later it contributed to the fall of the Berlin wall by opening its borders to fleeing East Germans.

The pseudonymous author also explains fascinating undercurrents of Hungarian society, drawing on two archetypes. The betyar or Robin Hood ideal of robbing the rich for the benefit of the poor, and the hussar sense of entitlement of the nobility without estates. Both feel above the law and justified in rorting the system. His conclusion is not positive.

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Who put love in Slovenia, a pocket-sized country squeezed between Austria, Hungary, Italy and Croatia? While roaming central Europe, your KC reporter was delighted by its capital Ljubljana, a city of 200,000 with its old town centre built around a picturesque canal system. Mountains are visible all round in the distance.

Town buildings offer an impressive mix of architectural styles, and one man is responsible for much of it. Local architect Joze Plecnik made a reputation renovating massive Prague castle in the 1920s. After architectural pilgrimages in Europe and teaching architecture in Prague, he returned home and had design commissions for many buildings in Ljubljana. He and Le Corbusier were outspokenly critical of each other’s ideas.

Plecnik had no family, apparently no lovers, and even declined a marriage proposal so as to concentrate on his work. His preserved studio home is where he worked obsessively, supported by a loyal housekeeper. The house reflects a singular mind, with many design details to suit his daily habits and quirks. Visitors were received in a back room without seats and given short thrift. His single bed was set in the study with his desk. Important guests were invited into a small inner sanctum.

Despite his solitary lifestyle Plecnik was very influential and persuasive in business matters and taught thousands of students. He was forgotten after his death in 1957, until a Pompidou Centre retrospective in 1986 relaunched interest and appreciation of his eclectic work.

Next time in Slovenia I would go further afield to visit the bucolic green countryside and mountains seen only from a train window, including famous Lake Bled.

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As predicted, ScoMo has rushed to sign us up for a US ‘mission’ in the Strait of Hormuz, by assigning two warships and 200 troops to help patrol the Persian Gulf, so-named because it’s literally in Iran’s backyard. Ostensibly, the purpose is to protect oil tankers operating through the 39 kms narrow strait. The announcement was slid out quietly under cover of a news cycle full of Pell’s Smell.

Foreign Minister Payne had the Orwellian effrontery to say that this commitment would ‘de-escalate tensions’ in the region. How does that work? Big Donald had unilaterally withdrawn the US from a successful multinational nuclear control agreement with Iran, thus triggering off some tit-for-tat shipping harassment by both sides.

Britain and France are not onboard yet, so we get maximum brownie points with our great ally and protector, Uncle Sam. As usual there is no parliamentary debate, and the Opposition fails to interrogate the objectives of another military adventure far from Australia’s shores. We-will-never-learn.

Folks, this has been going on since NSW sent troops to NZ to help quell rebellious Maoris in mid 19th century. Later, Australian colonies chose to defend the Empire in Sudan, South Africa, China and above all in WW1. Then we changed patrons and followed the US into Korea, Malaysia (just for old time’s sake), Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and others I’ve forgotten.

In Unnecessary Wars, Henry Reynolds traces the inglorious involvement of our colonial troops in the Boer War of 1899-1902. The fabled light horsemen were in fact up to their bloody elbows in cruel mistreatment and murder of Boer civilians, which was then covered up with fake news of heroic actions. 

The causes of Empire (‘one country, right or wrong’) and nation building, combined with a glorification of war and militarism were a heady mix and precursor of Anzac myth making. The states and new Federal parliament did debate the South Africa engagement, but the pervasive pro-war ethos prevailed, and set the scene for 120 years. We’ve since jettisoned the need for even a simulacra of parliamentary analysis. Gung ho!

 

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Oh no, here we go again – I have that sinking feeling in my stomach, or is it my blood boiling. ScoMo is already following that long tradition of erstwhile Liberal PMs sucking up to a US president by offering to support the USA in actions against Iran (following America’s withdrawal from a nuclear deterrent agreement!). All the way with Donald J, who didn’t even request our help. Just like Vietnam back in the day, where we asked to join in. Remember how well that went for Australia, not to mention the poor Vietnamese?

Ironically within days Professor Hugh White, noted academic military strategist, has launched a new book ‘How to Defend Australia’, where he apparently argues strongly that we should shed any further delusions about Australia sheltering under the safety of a US security umbrella. A fictitious treaty obligation used by successive Australian governments to justify going to war alongside Uncle Sam, most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan? Another calamity for all sides involved!

As China rises and US dominance in Asia wanes, we are gunna be on our own, says the expert professor, who also suggests doubling our military expenditure and even discuss getting our own nuclear weapons. Tell him he’s dreaming, which he clearly is! But meanwhile he could drop by ScoMo’s Canberra office on his way to uni, and let him in on the latest strategic thinking. So that we don’t have to risk Australian troops on another needless military excursion into the Islamic world. With no guarantee of US protection insurance. 

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Louis de Bernières’s book Captain Corelli’s Mandolin sold well in the day and prompted a movie with Nicholas Cage and Penelope Cruz, which I haven’t seen. Set on the Greek island of Cephalonia, the over-tragic love story deals with its wartime occupation by German and Italian forces, and the subsequent Greek civil war.

Although the plot is over-wrought and the characters over-drawn, the book has a hidden gem worth mentioning. Chapter 35 “A Pamphlet Distributed on the Island, Entitled with the Fascist Slogan ‘Believe, Fight, and Obey’” is a funny, sarcastic and hyperbolic take on Mussolini’s life and rise to power in Italy, in seven pages.

“Italians! Let us celebrate together the life and achievements of Benita Amilcare Mussolini, Who from unpromising beginnings has led us to perdition.

In His infancy He was thought to be dumb, but later proved to be incorrigibly garrulous and more full of wind than all the cows that browse the pastures of the Alps. As a boy He blinded captive birds with pins, plucked the feathers of chickens, was deemed uncontrollable, and pinched little girls in school in order to make them cry. He led gangs, started fights, sought quarrels without provocation, and refused to pay up on the bets that He lost. At the age of ten he stabbed a boy at supper, and then stabbed someone else shortly after….”

That covers just the formative years, followed by ever-increasing levels of violence, political manipulation and eye-popping transgressions. I’m not familiar with the history of the Mussolini years, but I presume the author hasn’t invented something so fantastically obscene?

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Recently in Hawaii your eagle-eyed correspondent discovered on a wall in a humble abode this ironic (iconic?) reference to a famous all-male supper, which may have taken place on 01 April many years ago. That’s what we call juxtaposition!

Hawaiian last supper

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John Menadue (Qantas boss at the time) recently posted online a memoir vignette of my brush with infamous French agents in the South Pacific:

https://johnmenadue.com/peter-ohara-my-lunch-with-french-secret-service-agents-who-sank-rainbow-warrior/

French agents

P.S. Latest news from Hao is a proposed Chinese project to build the largest fish farm in the South Pacific – Bon Appetit!

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