Baranta is the ancient martial art of the pagan Hungarians who thundered into Europe on horseback a thousand years ago. It’s a mixture of archery, riding and sword combat, practiced by patriots who want to feel close to their great forebears.
Also, it’s a fraud, or rather a self-deception, dreamed up out of nothing by nationalists in the 1990s who claimed to be reconstructing their forebears’ combat style from references in Byzantine and Frankish chronicles.
The real message? “Ours is an ancient culture deserving respect by the virtue of its weight of age.”
Hungary emerged from Communism a poor country, where wages were low and unemployment high. The 20th century felt like a long sequence of defeats. The 1956 uprising against Soviet occupation was put down by invading troops from Russia and other Eastern Bloc countries. Until two thirds of its territories were sliced off by the Treaty of Trianon after World War I, Hungary had been one of Europe’s largest countries.
There were wounds to lick, and ruminating on past greatness helped.
The anniversary of the Battle of Hastings prompted an outpouring of similar sentiments from certain quarters, with pro-Brexit politicians Dan Hannan and Douglas Carswell conjuring up a prelapsarian vision of a free Anglo-Saxon society laid low by Norman tyranny in 1066.
This isn’t history. It’s national epic, like fantasy Hungarian karate. It fits a classic narrative of wounded nationalism that you often see in places where people seek refuge from the prosaic present in a mythologised past.
In both cases, it’s nonsense made up to compensate for the smallness of the present.
Serbia fell to the Turks at Kosovo Field in 1389, Hungary at Mohács in 1526. In each country’s national mythology, they spent the following centuries in a kind of national twilight awaiting resurrection.
England is in a bout of revanchist nationalism of that kind. In response to every defeat, dream up some shimmering past glory and locate it in the mists of time.
More than any other European country, England is struggling to face its status in the world as a country that makes a modest and declining contribution to global GDP and population. Consoling stories about winning World War II count for little when Germany is clearly so much more important. The British Empire’s principle victims, India and China, are set to be the most powerful countries of the 21st century, while Great Britain, the unit at its core, is in the process of splintering into two or maybe more countries.
So the Brexit epic is pointing us towards an Anglo-Saxon state of nature. Expect more of this. All we need is our own cod-karate.