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Reinterpreting a 'Founding Father': Kossuth Images and Their Contexts, 1848-2009

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image of East Central Europe

The present article reconstructs the ways the public and historiographical image of Lajos Kossuth, the central figure of the 1848–49 revolutionary tradition in Hungary, was negotiated during the last 150 years. Similar to the images of other founding fathers and national heroes in other cultures—such as Garibaldi, Piłsudski, Atatürk, Mazzini, Herzl, Masaryk, Bismarck, or Al. I. Cuza—the competing representations of Lajos Kossuth formed a central part of the political and scientific discourses throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In addition to the most common images of the cultic “father of the nation” and “national Messiah,” one can encounter such different schemes of collective self-projection as the “overly emotive opposition politician,” the “successful gentry,” the nobleman “defending his class privileges,” or the “inconsistent revolutionary.” Arguably, these images to a large extent fit four political languages determining Hungarian public discourse in the given period, such as “conservative realism,” ethno-protectionism, Marxist socialism, and communism. While these political languages were very different from each other, they were strikingly similar in the sense that they were built on strong enemy images. Consequently, analyzing their historical projections we can learn about the traumatic ways their adherents related to political modernity, manifested in visions of a fundamental enemy endangering the future of the community.


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