December 12 1993 was a Sunday in Hungary. Every kid was therefore glued to the TV set watching Walt Disney Presents. The first cartoon was an episode of Duck Tales, “A Whale of a Bad Time”.
At 18:08 the episode reached its dramatic apex: upon hearing about the loss of his ship, Scrooge McDuck was stomping on the dinner table, yelling “A sea monster ate my ice cream?”
And that’s when TV screens went dark in every Hungarian household.
After 15 excruciatingly long minutes Chopin’s Funeral March started and I called my parents:
“Dad, I think József Antall had died.”
József Antall was the first democratically elected prime minister of Hungary after the democratic transition of 1989. His death was not shocking news – he was known to be terminally ill. What was frustrating is that “A Whale of a Bad Time” was the second episode of a four-part series. But the adults didn’t care.
The interruption of Disney’s Duck Tales is a so called “flashbulb memory” shared by every Hungarian millennial. Just as every American remembers the Kennedy-assassination, every Hungarian millennial remembers when the death of József Antall was announced. We are even called the “Duck Tales generation”.
It was the moment politics made its way into our lives for the first time. And when it frustrated us for the first time.
Kids born after 1980 grew up in a country fundamentally different from that of their parents – and different from today’s Hungary.
Millennials were brought up and came of age during the Great Optimism. After decades of authoritarianism and a centrally planned economy we were convinced that democracy and market economy will finally deliver prosperity and freedom.
Today’s Hungary resembles the authoritarian, communist past – rather than the country of Great Optimism. It is not the prosperous country we envisaged and optimism gave way to fearful populism.
On September 1 1939 British children experienced a similar disappointment. An episode of Mickey Mouse was interrupted when the BBC announced the declaration of war. BBC suspended broadcasting for seven years but in 1946 the cartoon was continued exactly where it left off – in true British fashion.
We have never had such narrative closure.
This blog is written from the perspective of Hungarian millennials who are not comfortable with the new authoritarianism. Today, many of them live abroad.
Meanwhile in Budapest shares their stories and their views.
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