My Trip to Hungary

                I’m writing this blog post about my trip to Hungary about a month ago. I wish I could say that I was on vacation, but I went for a funeral. Still, I noticed a few things there that relate to our class, so I thought I would write about them in the blog. First, I should give a little background.

                I stayed in a small town Dunapataj (pronounced with a y-sound at the end, not with a hard j-sound) in the south of Hungary. I should also mention Ordas (pronounced Ordush, with a sh-sound at the end), which is next door. They have grown together. I have family and friends in both, with my grandparents’ house in Dunapataj. The topics that follow have to do with both towns, their inhabitants, and small town life in Eastern Europe, which fascinates me.

The Schism

                Dunapataj and Ordas are historically split between the Catholic Church and the Hungarian Reformed Church. The main road through the middle of both towns marks the divide, although pretty much only the elderly still attend church. My grandfather was Reformed, and my grandmother Catholic, so there was a controversy back in the 1940s when they married. My guess is that after their generation is gone, the churches will be empty and close down.

Graveyards

                The religious split affects the graveyards.  Of course, I spent a lot of time in them, as I was in town for a funeral and there was a national holiday in celebration of the dead. During the holiday, families walk through the graveyards, visit relatives, and leave candles and flowers on graves. It was beautiful at night, when the candles were still lit. Apparently, there was a controversy years ago, when a Reformed Church priest objected to the candles. These days, though, everyone takes part.

                In theory, the Catholics and Reformed should be buried in separate graveyards, but things did not work out as expected. The graveyards are mixed. The strange thing is that priests have traditionally decided where people will be buried. I heard some complaints about that. It leads to strange situations like family members buried in random places, nowhere near relatives. My great-grandfather’s grave is in one corner of a graveyard, far from my great-grandmother and my grandparents.

                How do I know what denomination is buried where? Each tombstone has a different marking for its owner’s religion. Catholics have a cross, while Reformed have either chalices or weeping willow trees. I asked why a weeping willow, and the explanation is it represents a human life. Like a willow tree, which looks strong at first but, then, looks sad and weary once its branches have grown out, a human being is strong in youth, but age, sin, and suffering make it sad and weary like the tree. At least, that is the way I understood it.

The European Union

                I was surprised to hear complaints about the European Union from locals. They told me about EU funds paying for public improvements and historical renovation. The results are uneven. A friend took me on a walking tour, and even within the same neighborhoods some roads were repaved, while others were broken.  There were dilapidated houses between nice, refurbished houses. Apparently, some money goes to the houses.

                The architecture is interesting. I do not know anything about styles, but the refurbished houses look very traditional. Plus, there are some new accoutrements. One street corner had an old fashioned well and wheelbarrow, though the well is covered by a grate. I wonder what period the local government is trying to rebuild.

                Most of the complaints had to do with other countries getting more EU money than Hungary gets. Big countries like France and Germany, locals told me, are the main beneficiaries, and other, small Eastern European countries, notably Romania, get most of the aid. There were also a few comments about how the EU should help more with unemployment. Finding enough work is a problem around Dunapatj and Ordas. A childhood friend of mine could not make the funeral, because he was working in Germany. Romanians, locals complained to me, come to Hungary to find work, so they supposedly take Hungarian jobs. That reminds me of complaints here in America about undocumented workers.

Final Thoughts

                I wonder if the lack of interest in the church in Dunapataj and Ordas are part of the growing secularism I keep hearing about in Europe these days. I attended a Catholic mass as part of the funeral (I am not Catholic), and everyone there was elderly. In our meeting with the priest two days before the funeral, he complained about how much he travels now, because there are fewer priests to tend to parishioners and church business. Regardless, it is interesting to see old religious traditions, like putting candles on relatives’ graves, survive the church. Most of the people I saw in the graveyard do not go to church.

                As I was walking around Dunapataj and Ordas, I was thinking about historical renovation and the European Union. I found a new statue dedicated to WWI vets, a bust of Lajos Kossuth in front of the school, and a dedication to Ferenc Rakoczi in Ordas. Did EU money go into those, and, if so, were there any strings attached? How much influence did locals have on those commemorations? What kind of history is being recreated? How is renovation under the EU or post-Soviet Hungary different from Soviet days or even Hapsburg days? At this point, I think I need to take a few days in the library and online to research the EU to find out if it actually is funding rebuilding projects.

One Response to “My Trip to Hungary”

  1. Matt Gravely says:

    Laszlo-

    Thanks for writing about your trip to Hungary, although I’m sorry to hear that it was for a funeral. I found your analogy of the weeping willow and human life to be quite interesting and insightful. I don’t have much else to say except that I enjoyed reading your post.

    Thanks again,
    Matt