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The Central Asian Turn in Hungarian Identity Politics: Is Self-Orientalization Different from Orientalism, if it is Different?

Szafonova lecture
Wednesday, May 10, 2023, 11:00 am – 1:00 pm

Turanism appeared as a scientific term in the 19th century. Although later it was contested by the academic community, the concept became highly popular in the first half of the 20th century among Hungarian intellectuals and politicians. This theory suggested that Hungarians belong to a huge family of Turkic people, including those that occupy contemporary Central Asia.  Recently we saw a dramatic revival of this concept while Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan (and also Azerbaijan and Turkey) became more present visually in public and cultural events sponsored by the Hungarian state. However, this apparently innocent interest in newly found brothers and sisters is also a form of diplomatic, political, and economic expansion, even if not immediately profitable. The earlier versions of Turanism in Hungary were deeply connected to its unrealizable colonial ambitions. How does this newly revived Turanism promote self-orientalizing discourse? Does it present an alternative to colonial orientalism, or is it a form of new populist colonial expansion? The talk will discuss these questions by tracing the heritage of the Hungarian ethnographic tradition, the impact of the Hungarian emigree community on identity politics implemented since the fall of the Socialist regime, and finally the case of the biennial Kurultaj festival.  

Image credit: Tatyjana Szafonova