In Search of Tradition

Not far from the Budapest Hilton there is a memorial to Ferenc Kazinczy. On top of a pedestal is depicted a woman holding a tea candle. There is a medallion on the pedestal with Kazincy’s profile. The monument was built in 1931, the 100th anniversary of Kazinczy’s death. Kazinczy was a translator, epistolarian, and a language reformer. He was of significance to Hungarians because of his work in the later 18th and early 19th centuries to modernize the Hungarian language, leading to its being officially recognized in 1844.

Ferenc Kazinczy Monument by Pásztor János

The sculptor was Pásztor János (Gyoma 1881 – Budapest 1945).  Erika Zimányi, from Visitor Services at the Museum of Fine Arts Budapest, wrote me that the sculpture itself had nothing to do with Kazinczy, even though the same sculptor made both the statue and the medallion. However, according to Zsuzsanna Bajo, of the History Department at Central European University, the monument and well were made for the anniversary of Kazinczy’s death, and the tea candle is a symbol of the enlightenment that Kazinczy represents. These two opinions differ, but in any case,  it is not surprising to see Kazinczy honored in this way.

The search for validation of a native language can be fundamental for minorities. We had some friends for example who told of a preacher from their church who visited a Hungarian community in Romania, where for a long time their own language was banned. The preacher gave a sermon that a friend of his had written in Hungarian, which had a profound emotional impact on the congregation. One can think of other examples of attempts to revive or preserve old languages, such as Frederic Mistral, who worked to preserve Provençal, the Gaelic League that among others worked to restore the Irish language, or the revival of spoken Hebrew in the late 19th century. Further afield, one can think of Alan Lomax, who worked to preserve both American and British folk songs.

Despite all the homogenizing effects of technology, political hegemony, commerce, entertainment, and so on, many people want to preserve things that are unique to themselves.  It is best to recognize this and respect it, rather than to try to suppress differences. Immigration is a touchy subject these days, and I think it is important to make a few observations. It does not hurt us, for example, if others in our country speak a different language; rather it is an incentive to learn that language, to go to related festivals and celebrations if invited, to learn about and respect the lives of those among us who are a little – or even a lot – different. It is more honorable to be welcoming and interested than merely tolerant, or worse, prejudiced and intolerant. In turn, most minorities eventually assimilate to a large degree, within a very few generations. What their descendants preserve of their traditions in general is harmless to the rest of us, and possibly enriching as well.

To see this monument on the Buda side of Budapest, go to Castle Hill, 084 Castle Gate Square. (084 Bécsi kapu tér Kazinczy emlékkút).



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