Rustem Adagamov, one of Russia’s most popular photo bloggers, whom we have also often quoted, surprised his readers with some Hungarian photos as an Easter present. It is a great honor for us Hungarians, for in Russia, we are so rarely mentioned that they do not even have a proper national nickname for us. The photos were taken by Reuters press photographer Béla Szandelszky five years ago, on 9 April 2009 at the Easter festival in Hollókő, an archaic mountain village of Northern Hungary included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage, and they depict the most famous Easter Monday custom: the sprinkling.
“All the noisier is the second day of Easter, when young lads go to sprinkling, and at the wells they pour water from buckets in the neck of the careless girls, or even dip them in the water, but they do not mind, and on the next day they return it with interest on the lads, because Monday is their day. Az Osztrák-Magyar Monarchia írásban és képben (The Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in writing and picture), vol. III. (1888). “Hungarian folk customs.” The illustration depicts the “return-sprinkling” on Easter Tuesday.
We have all heard from books and oral folklore about Easter sprinkling with water buckets, but I think that personally we know only its tamed version, a subtle sprinkling with a few drops of eau de cologne, practiced by young boys on Easter Monday mornings on the girls of the neighborhood. Although I admit that from the formidable Soviet eaux de cologne of my childhood even a few drops could cause the same lasting damage as a bucket of water poured onto a poor girl. So neither do we in Hollókő witness the unbroken survival of an archaic tradition, but rather the fact that the village, which, as a living open-air museum, manages a considerable tourist traffic, performs this custom as a pseudo-spontaneous tableau vivant, like one of the program points of the Easter festival, while on the stage good old Nikola Parov and Ági Szalóki provide the well-known background folklore music.
How do Russian readers receive this exotic tradition? Adagamov’s post got ninety-eight comments, from which we try to form a picture about which picture they form about us. Almost none of them takes into account the festival context, but they look both at the costume and the custom as a living tradition, and on this they lay praise or blame. They compare it to the Thai Songkran festival – which indicates the broadening horizons of the new Russians –, as Russofiles they feel nostalgia for the preserved tradition, as Orthodox they condemn it as a pagan custom, as feminists they brand it as sexist, or as a sign of the new Russian national self-consciousness, they reject it as a “European” phenomenon. Some typical comments:
• An illogical custom. In the spring, when it’s cold, men sprinkle women with water, and then they still expect children from them. Do they intentionally support natural selection?
• How is that eurobureaucrats have not yet realized that this is a humiliation of women?
• And they only sprinkle women? The height of sexism! It seems that Femen has not yet heard about it.
• Do Hungarians also celebrate Songkran? – It also occurred to me, but in Thailand everyone sprinkles everyone.
• Does UNESCO require them to sprinkle girls with water?
• Wet T-shirt contest, traditional style?
• You see, the Hungarians preserve their traditions, unlike us, who became a rootless people without proper traditions.
• Where do you see Hungarians here? The blogger writes that these belong to the PALOTS nationality! [in reality, this is a Hungarian regional identity]
• This somehow reminds me the African “native villages”, shown to the tourists for money.
• They do it as a fertility magic. They were pagans, they remained pagans.
• Fascists and gayropeans!
Someone mentions that the Eastern Slavs also know this custom, and as an evidence, they post a picture from Lviv by Aleksandr Petrosyan. Judging from the site – this is Lviv’s main square, with the Holy Spirit pharmacy in the background –, this might be just a similarly organized show as in Hollókő. However, this does not prevent the Western bloggers from including this photo – not taking the context into account, just like their Russian colleagues – in most of the “Only in Russia!”-type image compilations. For everyone, it is always the neighbor who has lost his mind.