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H-NET BOOK REVIEW Published by HABSBURG@h-net.msu.edu (August 2005) Laszlo Kontler. _A History of Hungary: Millennium in Central Europe_. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. 527 pp. Maps, notes on pronunciation, bibliography, index. $26.95 (cloth), ISBN 0-40390-316-6. Reviewed for HABSBURG by Rebekah Klein-Pejsova, Columbia University, Department of History In the Spirit of Regional Reconciliation Laszlo Kontler has written an important contribution to the history of east central Europe that HABSBURGers will want to use in their teaching. Although the work was originally commissioned by the Atlantisz Publishing House in Budapest for the general non-Hungarian reader interested in Hungarian history, Kontler goes beyond this audience in the scope of his analysis. Undergraduates and graduate students will benefit from a solid narrative that successfully endeavors to avoid "emotionally colored" assessments of Hungary's role in the region's history (p. 11), and from an analysis that actively engages with Hungarian historiographical debates around pivotal issues such as the causes of Hungarian decline in the early modern period, the idea and practice of Hungarian liberalism in the late-nineteenth century, and the dissolution of the Kingdom of Hungary after the First World War. Originally published in English in 1999, it has been translated into Czech by the Lidove noviny publishing house in Prague for their History of States (Dejiny statu) series, and into Russian by the Ves mir publishing house in Moscow. The 2002 Palgrave Macmillan edition includes an updated bibliography and epilogue concerning political developments after the changes of 1989. Unfortunately, the book has not yet appeared in Hungarian. Kontler handles the formidable task of writing a one-thousand-year history of Hungary by setting the story into a comparative framework and paying close attention to structures and processes. He examines the territory of Hungary and its inhabitants throughout a millennium, locating today's Hungary inside a symbolic Central European geographic region, alongside its intimate neighbors and within historical greater Hungary. The most striking feature of Kontler's method for accomplishing this goal is his usage of a bi-polar framework of Magyar self-perceptions for defining the lines of development of nation and state: a defiant introversion to "true to stock Magyarness" versus an extroversion to "Europeaness" (p. 20). Kontler argues that these streams arose as a consequence of Hungary's interminable heritage of belatedness, which forced a deeper reflection on the challenges of identity than in the countries of the center. The issue of polarization within Hungarian identity works as an interpretive motif, particularly in the twentieth century and in the overview of Hungarian political life from 1989 to 1999. It also serves to situate Kontler's work within the current divisive Hungarian political and intellectual climate. Kontler himself belongs to the "European" stream of this equation. A scholar whose primary research interests include early modern political and historical thought and the Enlightenment, he has been the head of the History Department of the Central European University in Budapest since the summer of 1999. In addition to numerous articles and chapters in Hungarian and English on Enlightenment themes relating to England, France and Germany, he published another book through Atlantisz in 1997 on early modern British conservative political thought. He has been an active supporter of cooperative regional projects, including a collaborative book project by young Romanian and Hungarian scholars, which he lauded as an "[effort] to transcend the limitations imposed by traditional patterns of inquiry and communication." This is the spirit in which he wrote his history of Hungary. Kontler based the structure of his book upon Hungarian and regional history courses he taught to North American and Western European students, originally under the guidance of the late Peter Hanak, whom he acknowledges as his pedagogical mentor. The book is broken down into eight chapters bound by landmark dates (e.g. 1526-1711), each beginning with a thematic overview and subdivided into sections which are more indicative of Kontler's understanding of Hungarian historical processes. For example, in chapter 7, "In Search of an Identity (1918-1945)," the third section, entitled "On a Fixed Course," extends from 1932, when the New Right leader Gyula Gombos became Prime Minister, to the end of the Second World War. The length given to each chapter is roughly equal, though the last three chapters feel shorter due to an acceleration of the pace of the prose, as well as Kontler's greater utilization of a bi-polar interpretive framework. Kontler's strongest chapter is the fifth, "Enlightenment, Reform and Revolution (1711-1849)," and concerns his period of specialization. The main issue with which he grapples in this chapter is the ability and willingness on the part of the Hungarian nobility to adapt to change. He sees them as having failed to do so, leading to the retention of "ossified structures and relationships, and the difficulties of the country in coping with the challenges of modernity" (p. 195). The introductory section, "Reflections on Symbolic Geography," was originally published in the _European Review of History_ (1999/1) as part of a thematic "ten years after" issue. This is an excellent opening piece for an undergraduate course on the history of the region; it is right on target for introducing the complications of geographical location and terminology. Kontler wishes to vindicate the idea of "Central Europe" in his work, not as a term used to emphasize closeness to the west or as a political tool of separation (here he considers the "Central Europe" discussions of the 1980s and the post-1989 transition), but as a means of historical interpretation and modern self-reflection. Throughout the work, Kontler seeks to provide sober analysis and break down romantic interpretations in favor of practical explanations. At the same time, he gives voice to exceptions and alternatives, which would have favored the "European" over the "Magyar" stream in Hungarian national development. He looks for the opportunities that existed for avoiding what he calls a "fixed tragic course." The alternatives are also a series of lamentations: if only Istvan Szechenyi's warnings about the multiple nationalisms in the Carpathian Basin had not been brushed to the periphery of Hungarian political interest in the 1840s; if only the Nationalities Law of 1868 had been interpreted in the spirit that Ferenc Deak and Jozsef Eotvos intended; if only the Hungarian gentry class had renounced stubborn selfishness and embraced progressive national rejuvenation; then perhaps the dismemberment of historic Hungary could have been avoided. For Kontler, the greatest tragedy of the Treaty of Trianon, following the First World War, is that it "contributed to the survival of socio-political structures which had steered the country toward the war and its consequences" and "kept the damaging nationalist agenda of the dualist period alive into the 20th, and quite possibly the 21st century" (p. 327). Kontler's discussion of the post-Second World War era, "Utopias and Their Failures 1945-1989," offers possibilities and alternative visions. He writes, for example, that the elections of 1945 in Hungary were the most democratic and free in Hungary until 1990, but the ability to develop democratically was whisked out of Hungarian hands. The strong point of the section is the attention it pays to the cultural and intellectual sphere, which is usually neglected. I found this section, however, to be the weakest in the work, as the narrative becomes heavy with the influence of today's divisive political/historical atmosphere, particularly as that friction stems from post-1989 manipulations of the 1956 revolution. The discussion of the communist takeovers in Hungary is rushed, with no mention of the role of the Allied Control Commissions. The reader may not understand from the statement "[Imre] Nagy ... announced Hungary's neutral status on November 1st " (p. 429), that Hungary actually pulled out of the Warsaw Pact at the same time that Soviet troops were crossing into the country. The discussion of Janos Kadar jumps chronologically, so that the reformist Kadar of the late-1970s and 1980s overshadows the one who was selected by Moscow to clean up after 1956. The Hungarian right does not like to talk about the reformist Kadar, but instead focuses on his first incarnation as "Moscow's delegate ... [who] put into action all tools of terror and a dictatorship," as he is described in the Hall of the 1956 Revolution in the controversial Terror House Museum. The primary purpose of Kontler's bibliography is to provide suggestions for further readings on Hungarian history in major western languages, predominantly English. From an introductory bibliographical note, the reader learns that he primarily drew his source material for this book from the studies of distinguished historians whose works have only been published in Hungarian. Due to the opaqueness of the bibliography, the book ought to have footnotes, so that those other than the hyper-initiated reader would be able to follow the threads of Kontler's analysis and better discern his original interpretations. While even the excellent volume edited by the late Peter Sugar, _A History of Hungary_ published in 1990, lacks footnotes, the absence here is more striking because of Kontler's historiographical engagement. Further comparison with Sugar raises the issue of the advantages and disadvantages of a millennial history written by a single author versus one written by a team of contributors. While in a multi-authored work each contributor writes from strength, it can be a bumpier ride with many voices. A single-authored work offers more unity and continuity of presentation, but can also reveal the author's main area of specialization or an overstatement of purpose. Both Kontler's history and Paul Lendvai's _The Hungarians: A Thousand Years of Victory in Defeat_ (2003) are single-author studies with a purpose. Lendvai, an accomplished journalist, grapples with issues of Hungarian identity in an emotionally charged inward examination of Hungarian national belonging. Kontler examines Hungary's place within Central Europe and Europe, reflecting on the tensions embedded in Magyar self-perceptions and their effects on Hungarian national and state development. I would recommend using Kontler's work together with Sugar's as complementary pieces for undergraduate courses covering east central Europe or zeroing in on Hungary. Note . Laszlo Kontler, Forward in _Nation-Building and Contested Identities: Romanian and Hungarian Case Studies_, ed. Balazs Trencsenyi, Dragos, Petrescu, et al. (Budapest: Regio Books, 2001). Copyright (c) 2005 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For other uses contact the Reviews editorial staff: email@example.com.