By Julia Suryakusuma
Some days ago, I achieved historical continuity between Hungary and Indonesia — well, at least in connection to my father and me. How so?
In the early 1960s, my father was assigned to set up the Indonesian Embassy in Budapest. Indonesia had already established diplomatic relations with Hungary in 1955, but did not actually have a physical embassy.
During my father’s time there as chargé d’affaires, he met with many high-ranking officials. Among the old photos from those times, there is one of him shaking hands with János Kádár, Hungary’s prime minister at the time. Kádár was PM from 1956 to 1988. Thirty-two years, just like Indonesia’s Soeharto.
As dad’s daughter, I was invited to a luncheon at the State Palace on Feb. 1 — hosted by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo naturally — in honor of Victor Orban, the current Hungarian prime minister who was here for an official visit. I had my photo taken with him. Cut-to-cut: in 1962 my dad with the then Hungarian PM, in 2016, me with the current Hungarian PM.
While 54 years have lapsed, my fond memories of Hungary have not. My father passed away in 2006, so unfortunately he could not witness the historical continuity his daughter created, albeit only as a snapshot (pun unintended!).
When we lived there, we first stayed at the famous Gellert Hotel, built between 1916 and 1918 in Art Nouveau style. Situated at the foot of Gellert Hill and on the right bank of the River Danube, it was probably one of the most beautiful places to start our life in Hungary.
Indeed, it’s still one of the most famous historic hotels in Europe.
We eventually moved to a house in Lepke Utca (Butterfly Street) on the Buda side of the city, which had a huge garden, two swimming pools and about 100 apple trees. Our household staff consisted of Mariko and Ibolya, and their families became our Hungarian family. The embassy chauffeur, Mr. Bologni, was my favorite because his taste in dolls and clothes that my mum would sometimes ask him to buy for me and my sister was great.
One day, while driving my mother, he pointed to a beautiful mansion. “Madam, that used to be my house”. A former aristocrat, after the Hungarian revolution of 1956, his property and wealth were seized by the Communist government that came into power. Changes in political power unfortunately do tend to have their victims. Sometimes, lots.
What do Indonesia and Hungary have in common? It’s mostly an exercise in contrasts: one is archipelagic, the other landlocked, Indonesia’s population is 256 million, Hungary’s is less than 10 million; geographically, Indonesia is more than 20 times the size of Hungary; Indonesia predominantly consists of Muslims while Hungary of a variety of Christian denominations.
Indonesia has lots of natural resources, Hungary has some, but nothing compared to Indonesia.
In terms of social indicators, Hungary is way above Indonesia. It has a Human Development Index of 44, while Indonesia’s is 110. Hungary’s maternal mortality rate and infant mortality rate are, respectively, 17/10,000 live births and 5/1,000 live births, while Indonesia’s is 126/10,000 and 24.29 /1,000 live births. Last but not least, Hungary has 13 Nobel Prize winners, and Indonesia — none!
Being in the presence of the two leaders at the luncheon, and even chatting with them briefly, I couldn’t help thinking of their leadership styles. Both are close in age —Jokowi being born in 1961 and Orban in 1963, but like the countries they lead, they too are a study in contrasts.
Jokowi is sometimes said to be a karbitan (artificially ripened) leader. Karbit is Indonesian for calcium carbide, which produces acetylene gas used to artificially ripen fruit. His meteoric rise from mayor of Surakarta (2005-2012), to governor of Jakarta (2012-2014), then (narrowly) winning the 2014 presidential elections is the reason for this epithet.
After the initial euphoria, indeed it was often painful to watch him in his first year. So far he has survived, still with his “mild and gentle” leadership style, except when it comes to the death penalty.
The recent disbanding of the Red-and-White Coalition (KMP), led by Prabowo Subianto’s Gerindra party certainly helps, giving Jokowi a majority in the House of Representatives.
Orban is anything but karbitan – he’s a seasoned, skilled and consummate politician. At age 14-15 he was secretary of the communist youth organization KISZ. In 1988, he was founding member of the Fidesz party (Alliance of Young Democrats), rising up the ranks until in 1993 he became the first president of the party. Under his leadership, Fidesz gradually transformed from being a radical liberal student organization to a center-right people’s party.
Those were turbulent years and fall of communism, in Eastern Europe – region that my friend prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic calls “the world’s last underachiever”. However, every rule has an exception. Orban was only a remarkable 35 years old when he became prime minister, serving between 1998 and 2002. From 2002 to 2010 he was in opposition, and won his second premiership in 2010, winning 53 percent of the popular vote and a two-thirds majority of seats.
In the media Orban has been described as right wing and populist, even fascist. In July 2014 he announced his plans to make Hungary an “illiberal state”, citing Russia and China as examples. He also stated that it was important to secure his nation’s borders from mainly Muslim migrants “to keep Europe Christian”.
Orban is said to be the new brand of politics in Europe, i.e. right-wing veering to ultra nationalist: France’s National Front, Poland’s new conservative leaders, and the Tories in Britain.
Even in Nordic countries, extreme right wing political movements are also emerging. Denmark and the Netherlands are examples of ultra-liberal societies having a backlash.
Love him or hate him, Orban is a force to be reckoned with. He’s had a long and winding career, “Orban shapes as much as fits the European Zeitgeist,” as the Politico news website states, with migration being just one example.
Jokowi, reckon you can pick up a few leadership tips from your Hungarian counterpart?
Julia Suryakusuma is the outspoken Indonesian thinker, social cause fighter and trendsetter. She is the author of Julia’s Jihad.