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Hungary on the border-land of two world powers: the Habsburgs and the Ottomans: Aftermath of the Ottoman Period

On the weekend of March 23-24th, 2013, scholars of Hungarian studies convened for the 32nd György Ránki Hungarian Chair Symposium entitled, “Hungary on the border-land of two world powers: the Habsburgs and the Ottomans.” This symposium, which brought together scholars from across the U.S. as well as from Hungary, was sponsored by the Indiana University György Ránki Chair in Hungarian Studies, Department of Central Eurasian Studies, Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center, and Russian and East European Institute.

In the final panel of the conference, entitled, “Aftermath of the Ottoman Period,” panelists examined developments in Hungarian political, cultural, and intellectual spheres and the legacies of the Ottoman Period.


From “alla Turca” to “style hongrois:”Musical exoticism on the borderland

Professor Lynn Hooker, from Indiana University’s Department of Central Eurasian Studies, presented a paper thatdiscussed the allure of the exotic in European music.

“The tradition of European classical music has long invoked the exotic. Two of the most prominent exotic referents in the European classical tradition are the Middle East—first and foremost Ottoman Turkey—and the Hungarian gypsy.”

Professor Hooker examined how these two exotic traditions were related. The use of references to Turkish music to elicit the exotic was used all over Western Europe throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Prominent composers such as Beethoven and Mozart were influenced by the music of the Janissaries, an elite corps of the Turkish military.

“All over Western Europe, exotic characters regularly peopled the stage throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. While many of these spectacles referred to no exotic individual in particular, the prominence of the Ottomans in international politics of the period gave Turkish references a charge that other Oriental character types lacked.”

However, at the same time that Turkish janissary music, defined by its fast tempo and jangling sounds, was inspiring, it also limited the musical repertoire for expressions that later came to be desirable. By the 19th century, Hungarian gypsy music, known for its flexibility and movements from slow to fast tempos, allowed for a virtuosic expression that fit the ethos of the Romantic era.

Professor Hooker discussed in detail the works of two composers of Hungarian origins, Johann Strauss’s “The Gypsy Baron” and Jeno Huszka’s “Gül Baba.” From this comparison, she highlighted the tension between an exoticism of the periphery produced by a European center and the reproduction of an exotic self from the periphery, or auto-exoticism.

“Composers from the periphery struggled with how to participate in the musical life at the center and to differentiate themselves.”

Importantly, she discussed these traditions as products of the colonialism of that period, whose legacies continue to this day.

“As with other forms of Orientalism, we find musical exoticism rising alongside colonial encounters and clashes.

Western European modernity is predicated on a conception of selfhood that was made in large part in reaction to Europe’s others. Simply put, it is because of difference that modern, Western people can know who they are.”


Enthusiasm for a Hereditary Enemy: Demonstrations for Turkey in Budapest during the 1877-78 Russo-Turkish War

While Professor Hooker brought together a comparison of Turkish and Hungarian musicaltraditions that were treated as peripheries in the creation of a modern European metropole, ProfessorIván Bertényi, Jr., György Ránki Hungarian Chair Professor, Indiana University, explored the changing relations between the Turks and Hungarians themselves in the building of the modern Hungarian nation.

In his paper, Professor Bertényi pursued the puzzle of how the Turks went from being the perennial enemies of Hungarians to their brothers within the span of a few decades during the late 19th century.

Historically, the Turks were seen as the archenemies of Hungary, having brought about the fall of the powerful Hungarian Kingdom epitomized in the Battle of Mohacs in 1526. The 150 years of Ottoman rule that followed was resented by all major political groups.

“The Turks became symbols of the evil foreigners, the hated pagans.”

This perennial hatred of the Turks persisted up to the first half of the 19th century and was depicted in the romantic nationalist style of paintings of that time.

“The Turks were represented on these pictures always as the hereditary enemies of Hungary. The greatest national heroes were the ones who could defeat the Turks. The greatest national martyrs were those who died from the weapons of the Ottomans.”

Yet merely a few decades later, during the 1876-78 Russo-Turkish War, Hungarian public support was overwhelmingly in support of the Turks. Not only were public demonstrations held demanding a pro-Turkish foreign policy, but public sentiment was such that some local leaders even attempted military and logistical support for the Turkish troops. Professor Bertényi posed the questions:

“How can we understand the enthusiastic demonstrations in Hungary for their hereditary enemies? Why had Hungarians forgotten their bloody wars against the Turks? Why did they think that the Turks are their friends, moreover, their brothers?”

To answer these questions, Professor Bertényi looked to the importance of the events in the decades leading up to the Russo-Turkish War that could change the tide of nationalist sentiments. These decades saw the birth of the modern Hungarian nation-state as well as its repression by new national enemies, and paradoxically, its aid by an old archenemy.

“The so-called Reform Era concluded into the lawful revolution of 1848 when the Hapsburg king let Hungary turn to a parliamentary monarchy and the April Laws guaranteed the autonomy of Hungary within the Hapsburg monarchy. 1848 can be called the ‘rebirth’ of the Hungarian nation and the establishment of the modern Hungarian state.”

Yet the modern nation of Hungary was forced to defend her independence against the Hapsburgs. Led by Lajos Kossuth, Hungary defeated the Austrian forces. But the Russian Empire intervened to deal Hungary its defeat, forcing Kossuth and others to flee to Turkey in 1849. The Turks sheltered the Hungarian refugees, refusing to turn them over. The old archenemy of Hungary had saved the lives of its national heroes.

“The huge significance of Kossuth in the souls of Hungarians is one of the facts that helps us to understand why the emotions towards Turkey changed so dramatically.”

At the same time, modern nationalism created a new enemy to fear, the Russians.

“Following the very simple logic, ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend,’ the Ottoman Empire’s successful fight against Tsarist Russia could have been seen as a revenge for 1849.

The Turks might have been considered the hereditary enemies of Hungary earlier, but since Hungary had other enemies, the negative effects of the Ottoman wars were put in the shade.”


The Turanian Language Concept in Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century Hungary

Professor Bertényi’s paper thus demonstrated the emergence of a modern Hungarian nation in the midst of various external threats. Yet at the same time, the project of building a Hungarian national identity was also taking place from within.

In his paper, Matthew Caples, PhD Candidate, Central Eurasian Studies Department, Indiana University, examined the popularity in Hungary of a linguistic theory that paradoxically treated Hungarian in a pejorative way. The importance of linguistic theory was its centrality in the construction of a modern national identity.

“Native language has long been recognized as a core component of modern national identity, indeed it is perhaps its most salient element.”

A Finno-Ugric linguistic paradigm developed by Hungarian scholars often met with hostility or indifference in spite of its more scientific grounding. On the other hand, a theory of a Turanian language family received much more enthusiasm among Hungarians even though it was the work of non-Hungarians that portrayed Turanian languages in a negative light.

The theory of a Turanian language family was first articulated by the German-born, British scholar, Friedrich Max Müller, and his mentor and friend, the Prussian diplomat and scholar, Christian Charles Josias Bunsen.

“Turanian was essentially an all-encompassing grab-bag category for any languages apart from Chinese, that belonged neither to the Aryan, that is the Indo-European North-Semitic classes.”

Furthermore, these classifications of languages were tied to classifications of people.

“For Müller, the class to which a language belonged was a reflection of the evolutionary progress of its speakers. He considered Aryan or Semitic languages to be state or political languages. Turanian dialects, by contrast, were nomadic languages.”

Such a classification system, which argued that Turanian speakers were incapable of any kind of enduring political organization, including that of the nation-state, went against the tide of Hungarian nationalist narratives of the late 19th century.

 “Why did such a pejorative Turanian concept become popular in late 19th, early 20th c. Hungary?”

Mr. Caples identified the traditional belief that linked the origins of the Hungarian nobility with the Sogdians and Huns, a belief that went back several centuries.

“Thus the Turanian theory was compatible with these noble traditions, and perhaps even leant them a pseudo-scientific basis.”

However, the theory of a Turanian language family was widely disputed on scientific grounds. As scientific developments in the 20th century increasingly pointed to the Finno-Ugric origins of Hungarian, Hungarian scholars began to look to Turkic origins, or a variety of ethnic fusion scenarios, as an alternative compromise.

Others, however, saw the search for Hungarian origins as a fruitless endeavor. Mr. Caples quoted a Hungarian historian of philosophy:

“We must resign ourselves to this lack of kin. We have no relatives anywhere on the face of the earth. What good is linguistic kinship if the soul is different? Ours is the only nomadic people to have become European without, however, losing its ancient way of life and its soul.”


Closing Remarks

In his closing remarks, Lászlo Borhi, Hungarian Fulbright Professor, Indiana University, Central Eurasian Studies Department, Senior Research Fellow, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, emphasized the need to connect distant historical periods to the 20th century and the recurrence of many themes in culture, economy, politics, diplomacy, and more throughout the different historical periods. One of these themes was Hungary’s quest to leave the periphery and join the center.

“1989 and the self-liberation of the countries of central Europe have opened a new window of opportunity for the age-old quest to join the center. And twenty years after the transition, this question unfortunately, whether Hungary will be a member of the periphery or of the center, is still open.”