Hungarian WATCH is thrilled to share with you an exclusive interview with Kati Marton, the internationally acclaimed, Hungarian-born reporter and writer for human rights advocacy. She is the author of several books, including Enemies of the People: My Family’s Journey to America and, most recently, Murder in Jerusalem, which was published in May by Corvina. (For a full bio, see bottom of this blog post.)
KATI MARTON: “WE CAN’T ALLOW DEMAGOGUES TO MANIPULATE PRESS FREEDOM”
Patricia Eszter Margit talked to Kati Marton in her New York home about Hungary’s situation today, especially about redefining its identity as a multicultural and democratic state.
PATRICIA ESZTER MARGIT: You finished your latest book, “The Enemies of the People,” by expressing your concern about growing intolerance and extremism in Hungary.
KATI MARTON: Hungary cannot think that in the 21st century any European country could carry on as a monolithic, uni-cultural state. France is a good example of how a nation state could transform itself into a multicultural state. It is unreasonable for some people to expect to be able to prevent immigration or being able to turn on a segment of their population, like the Germans used to turn against Jews. This kind of behavior is no longer conceivable.
PEM: Last year several Gypsy families have been attacked by neo-Nazis and murdered in their own homes in Hungary.
KM: This is unacceptable. The Judeo-Christian value system is no longer an ideal in Europe, since more than 20% of the population of some of the major European cities are Muslim. Their values have to be incorporated into the European identity. The Gypsies are part of the European tapestry, just like African Americans are part of the American landscape. They might not be the most productive part of society, they might need a “leg up” through affirmative action. Both sides feed into the “Gypsy problem.” I don’t believe that any humans are born good or bad. People turn out a certain way because of what happens to them when they get here; they are a product of their environment.
PEM: Are there any parallels between your childhood experience in Hungary and what you see now regarding the actual political situation and, more specifically, how journalists are being treated?
KM: Hungary is at one of the most important historical moments of its history: finally it is a full member of the European Union. That is why it is especially important that Hungary would play by the rules of democracy. I’m very disturbed by what is happening in Hungary right now. Our organization, the Committee to Protect Journalists, has issued several statements, as well as a letter in January to Prime Minister Orban, asking him to repel the restrictive new media law to make sure its in accordance with the EU structures. We got Lady Cathy Ashton [High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union] involved to watch out for what is done in the European Union’s name by a country that was leading its Presidency. We can’t allow demagogues to manipulate press freedom.
PEM: We see in the Middle Eastern uprisings that, because of the spread of social media and alternative news sources, it is harder for demagogues to manipulate the masses.
KM: While I think that social media is just a facilitator, I agree that it became harder for dictators to hide the truth. Dictators like Milosevic kept their population prisoners of the past, kept the historic injustices enlarged and inflamed. That is much easier than actually providing a good fortune for their population with jobs and healthy economy.
PEM: If your parents could give advice to journalists in Hungary today, what would it be?
KM: I believe in the presence of evil. I have experienced it in my early childhood, during the Communist terror, as well on the Balkans, where good men got quickly overpowered by the bad. There weren’t enough good ones left to do good. But what I have learned through history is that each individual can make a large difference: Raoul Wallenberg did, just as well as my parents and my late husband. Therefore we cannot sit by while others are oppressed.
PEM: How could Hungarian journalists improve the situation, given the circumstances?
KM: My advice would be not to start out writing with any preconceived point-of-view about anything. Question even the basic rules! It is easy to manipulate the press, therefore everyone should cite at least two independent sources for every story. Make sure you keep yourself out of the story. Don’t let the politicians use you because they will try, for sure.
Kati Marton has successfully combined a career as a reporter and writer with human rights advocacy. Contributing to major news organizations such as ABC News, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Public Broadcasting Service, National Public Radio, Atlantic Monthly, The Times of London and The New Republic. Marton has been formerly the director, the chair and currently is a board member of the Committee to Protect Journalists, an organization founded to monitor abuses against the press and promote press freedom around the world. She also serves on the board of directors of the International Rescue Committee, Human Rights Watch, the New America Foundation and the Central European University, where she is this year’s graduation speaker. Her parents Ilona and Endre Marton were the last two independent journalists reporting from behind the Iron Curtain in the 1950’s and have been arrested as spies by the Communist government. Upon their release the family moved to the United States.
Patrícia Eszter Margit is an author, cultural critic, journalist, sociologist and community organizer originally from Hungary. Her writings have appeared in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Jerusalem Report, Nepszabadsag (the largest Hungarian daily), and Marie Claire magazine. She is the author of The Jewish Bride, a bestseller published in Hungary in 2009.