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Hungarian party campaigns for recognition of Scythian heritage

1 September, 2009

According to Hungarian newspapers, the xenophobic, anti-Semitic party Jobbik (“The Righter”), which has three seats in the European Parliament, has launched a campaign to expunge from textbooks the accepted theory according to which Hungarians are a Finno-Ugric people, and replace it with one according to which they are related to the Huns, Avars and Scythians, Indo-Iranian nomads that inhabited large parts of the Eurasian steppe in the first half of the first millennium C.E. The party, whose EP delegation is led by a professor of criminal law and whose paramilitary offshoot, the Hungarian Guard, has recently been banned, called on the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and universities to rectify their curricula, asserting that the Finno-Ugric theory was a Hapsburg plot to break the self-respect of the Hungarian people. The signatories of the petition include a professor of archaeology, the self-described founding director of the Centre for Asian Studies at the University of Pecs, and a self-described anthropologist.

Linking Hungarians to Oriental origins has been a strand of Hungarian nationalism since the late 19th century. The idea is to stress the uniqueness of Hungarians and their difference from other Eastern European peoples. Yet the Scythican-Avaric references echo those of Russian Eurasianists, whose ideology tends to be that of Russia as a grand synthesis of Orient and Occident (see an interesting recent book by Marlene Laruelle): quite a different proposition from those of Hungarian nationalists, who stress isolation rather than mixing.

I recently had a conversation with my colleague Thijl Sunier about exactly how and when Islam has come to be the Other of Europe, and when and how alternative historical narratives disappeared. Southeastern Europe, where discourses of the bastion of Christianity against Ottoman barbarism have been a mainstay of nationalisms, is an interesting case in point. The re-emergence of self-Orientalising ideologies within mainstream nationalism complicates the picture. Jobbik’s leaders have expressed support for Hamas, some sympathise with Iran’s government, and ties exist between Jobbik and the Hungarian Islamic Community. (Eduardo Rozsa Flores, who was recently killed during a supposed plot to assassinate the Bolivian president, was a member of both.) So Jobbik’s wish to establish Hungarians as an Indo-Aryan people makes sense in today’s politics as well as within the historical frame of Nazism (and WWII “Hungarism”). Yet the Hungarian Guard’s vigilante patrols in villages with large Gypsy populations (who would logically be fellow Indo-Iranians) have been even more high-profile than its anti-Semitism. Jobbik is also the champion of animosity towards Russia (it has been demanding the removal of Soviet war memorials) and the only party that has made opposing immigration a consistent element of its campaigns (this element is not very distinctive, because no party supports immigration). So it is not clear what its version of history between antiquity and the Hapsburgs would look like. In any case, this campaign is likely to signify the return of radical revisionist (including but not limited to self-Orientalist and racist) voices into academic history writing, from which they had been banished since World War II.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. 3 September, 2009 4:16 pm

    Fascinating post TTD.

  2. Soterioss permalink
    1 August, 2011 11:21 am

    Well, Finno-Ugiric is similar to the Hungarian language, from what I understand. At the same time, Hungarians ARE related to Huns and Avars, but they ARE NOT related to Scythians or Sarmatians — at least not directly, although the Turkic tribes which invaded Europe in the first centuries of the Common Era must have intermarried at least a little with Scythians on their way westward. The original Hungarians (Magyars) were Turkic, like the Huns and Avars, but they assimilated indigenous Panonians when they arrived in the Carpathian region, this mixture gives rise to the modern-day Hungarian ethnos. If we judge a people by the language they speak and by how they choose to identify themselves, we would have to say that the Hungarians are a Turkic people.

  3. Soterioss permalink
    1 August, 2011 11:32 am

    Follow up: Just to clarify, “Turkic” is kind of an umbrella term. This is not to say that the Hungarians are entirely related to people from Turkey. Rather, they share a common ancestry (historically) with people from Turkey, as well as with people from the Central Asian nations, like Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, and with people from Mongolia. The same is true of the Finno-Ugiric people. Originally, the Finns are descended from very ancient Siberian tribes, many of which most probably had a Turkic provenance. We must keep in mind that ethnic groups are defined by their genetic markers but also by how they choose to define themselves – specifically by their culture and language. The Hungarians refer to themselves as Magyars, a Turkic ethnic distinction. If they understood themselves as a collective group to be Scythians, such an endonym would not have been employed.

  4. vas laji permalink
    15 October, 2011 3:38 am

    ”’xenophobic” the truth???

    we were for 1600 years scythians and from 1850 we just hinked one and turned ”finnougrian”??!!

    that was just a theory made by habsburgs sended from wiena who even dont know hungarian!

  5. 15 October, 2011 4:29 am

    Thanks, Laji, for this timely and sophisticated contribution. I think you needn’t worry: the Hungarian government is working full speed at remythologizing history. Give them ten years and you’ll be Scythian again. I just hope you’ll go back to Meotis and leave Hungary for the Moravians.

  6. ahddub permalink
    20 August, 2012 5:46 am

    Soterioss you are wrong, the scythians were hungarians.
    The language evidence is the Issyk-kul silver dish stele in hungarian, from a scythian burial.
    The uralic hypothesis is fake, the real uralic speakers were the gravettians. Scythian royals are from sumer which was an uralic language too.

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