Great swarms of Hungarians are leaving the country, the biggest wave since the 1956 revolution was repressed. "You should leave the place that’s not good for you. Those who are leaving are right to do so. And they will regret it, just like those who will stay", poet and ex-MP Endre Kukorelly reckons.
It’s them who should just go the hell away, is what I often thought in countless situations, but clearly, I was fooling myself. Clearly, they will not go the hell away, that’s the gist of it: to make me feel this way. That’s what they’re ultimately driving at, for all of this to get to a point when they, as opposed to me, will still be content to stay here, whereas I will irrevocably lose all inclination to exist in such circumstances. Thus, if someone – caught in an unbearable situation – is waiting for those who made the situation unbearable for them to just go away, instead of them going away, then it follows that this situation is not really unbearable. It’s actually bearable. And he’s bearing it, instead of getting the hell out: well now, this someone happens to be me. It was me, it is me, I didn’t leave, I will not go, my parents stayed in ’56 (my mother wanted to go, my father didn’t), we returned home from Munich in ’67 (I went with my father, while my mother and sister where withheld as hostages), and so on and so forth. Not even in the bleakest seventies, or the hopeless eighties did I go. I should have fled. You should flee!
You should leave the place that’s not good for you. Those who are leaving are right to do so. And they will regret it, just like those who will stay. I regret not going. It simply makes my stomach churn whenever I wonder about why I didn’t stay in 1974 in London or Stockholm, in ’76 in Paris or Brugge, why I didn’t escape in ’77 from Dubrovnik to Italy, why I didn’t stay in ’80 in Rome, or at least get off the train in Vienna, or stay in ’82 in Barcelona, in ’87 in Amsterdam, or why I didn’t settle in ’88 near Hamburg, in a small North-German village called Rethwischfeld. It makes my heart churn. And then came the regime change.
Everything we wanted to leave this place for, suddenly arrived at our doorstep. Freedom, bananas, free elections.
You go into the store, and buy a hand of bananas. You take the banana, and everything is OK, everything is changed, even you’re changed, especially you. Radically changed, radically the same. I'm staying in New York in 1992. Or in Berlin in 1996. It is obvious that I should have stayed in Berlin or NY. I lived for a whole year in Berlin, and then it expired – but what exactly?
Besides life expiring, of course? The year ended quickly, like all years do. Sometimes I revisit my house in Berlin, the house where I lived then, and find that strangers are living there now, how dare they live in my house? What gives them the right? Why don’t they just get the hell out? I get off at the Halensee stop from bus 29, which used to be 129 back then (it seems they reorganized public transport in Berlin), I walk across the railway lines, stand in front of our door, and I nearly collapse because of the pain. Go away and stay there, stay if it’s good for you, if it’s not too horrible, feel the longing, feel the doubt, feel the pain, let the pain cut deep, you’ll regret it either way! Weep, laugh, deal with it! “Laugh at the stupidities of the world, and you will regret it; weep over them, and you will also regret it. Laugh at the stupidities of the world or weep over them, you will regret it either way. Whether you laugh at the stupidities of the world or you weep over them, you will regret it either way,” wrote Søren Kierkegaard in 1843 in Either/Or. And then he added: “This, gentlemen, is the quintessence of all the wisdom of life.” There is no such thing as good.
Yet maybe this is good. Or not good, but anyway, even if it is not good enough, this is what we’ve got, and at least we have this. You get stuck there and you return, those who can, go away, those who can’t, do the same. If you can, you stay, if you can’t, you stay nonetheless. How can you survive in a “three hundred Euro” country, they ask, and then they go and become servants for three times that much money. They go for the rare, niche jobs that pay ten times as much, they leave here because they feel mistreated, they feel harassed due to their identity, their religion, or I don’t know, something like that. They’re right. Great swarms of Hungarians are leaving the country, the biggest wave since the 1956 revolution was repressed. Twenty thousand poets are heading towards the West, wrote then László Cs. Szabó in London, just like there were “twenty thousand Czech poets” going to the West after ’68. A long, long time ago, in a Munich bar, I was having a beer with Ota Filip and I couldn’t really figure out whether he was content or not. He must have been, I realized, since I would have gladly changed places with him. But of course, you can only change places with yourself.
Endre Kukorelly (1951) is one of the most important poets of the mid-generation. He is a founding member of the party "Politics Can Be Different" (LMP), and served as MP from 2010 to 2012, when he resigned from his mandate. This article was originally published in Hungarian in Magyar Narancs.
Translated by: Szabolcs László
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