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[Podcast]

The Call of the Drums

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Where the barbarians are: the Hungarian right’s obsession with a false history

Misremembered histories are often more powerful than fact—look no further than the Tea Party, a political movement that wealthy donors and disaffected cranks built upon stacks of unused high school textbooks. However, the United States isn’t alone in such wonky mythologizing. Viktor Orbán, the far-right prime minister of Hungary, has embraced Turanism, which entails a bogus story of his nation’s founding, in order to further the success of his political party, Fidesz. This revision, which asserts that Hungarians are descended from triumphant Turkic barbarian empires from the East, has grown a culture in direct opposition to the European West. With state support to fund false anthropologists (and to silence critics), Turanism’s aggressive nationalism takes priority over neoliberal multiculturalism—and keeps Orbán in power.

As Jacob Mikanowski discovered when he visited Hungary to report for the August issue of Harper’s Magazine, this feedback loop is equal parts kitschy and dangerous. Equestrian pageantry and yurt exhibits draw crowds to the Great Kurultáj, an annual festival, while Orbán and Fidesz rewrite the Hungarian constitution. In this episode, Mikanowski speaks with web editor Violet Lucca about gerrymandering, tribal politics, and Attila the Hun T-shirts.

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