Interview about the results of the Institute of Hungarian Studies, new projects, headwinds, scientific canons, the past and present of Hungarian prehistory research. -Tibor Franka interviewed Gábor Horváth-Lugossy, Director General, in the weekly magazine, Magyar Demokrata. The fact is that the Institute of Hungarian Research has succeeded where others have not. 

We successfully took sample from the skull of King Saint László in the Saint László herm in Győr, while others published in a book that the relic was unsuitable for sampling, i.e. no DNA of any value could be extracted from it. Well, I am pleased to announce that the head reliquary contains a quantity of DNA suitable for archaeogenetic analysis," Dr Gábor Horváth-Lugossy, Director General of the Institute of Hungarian Research, told Demokrata.

- In mid-November, the sensational news was published that, unlike Balázs Mende's research team, experts of the Institute of Hungarian Research had successfully taken a sample from the herm of King Saint László, from which the DNA sequence could be determined. What does this scientifically important step mean and what can be expected?
- We can see that with the right archaeogenetic expertise, which my colleagues possess, the genome can be extracted. With this scientific step, we have reopened a national issue that was previously considered unsuccessful and closed, and we are doing the job as it should be done: at the highest scientific level. It is only the Institute of Hungarian Research that is capable of achieving it in Hungary today. This is not the first time that I have told you the good news that after the laboratories in Harvard and Leipzig, the Szeged laboratory of the Institute of Hungarian Research - built in cooperation with the University of Szeged - is among the most advanced laboratories in the world in the field of archaeogenetics. It is something we can be truly proud of. The competition is tough, but we are standing our ground. The government has not only recognised that one of the keys to the survival of the present Hungarian nation is the rebuilding of national consciousness, which has been eroded over the past two hundred years for well-known reasons. The scientific and intellectual work carried out by the Institute of Hungarian Research, which we bring to the table month by month, is a prerequisite for this. Politics creates the hardware and we create the software.

- How is this to be interpreted here?
The most important findings of the analysis of King Saint László's herm can be summarised in at least three ways. The first is the possibility of scientific verification that the skull is indeed that of Saint László. If it is, it will be of great help in further research on the Turul dynasty, because after Béla III we can identify another ruler of the dynasty, which may contribute to the identification of new descendants and ascendants in the family tree.  Another result of national impact, if the ruler is identified, is that the Hungarian people will be able to pray to St. László, for example in Győr, in front of his remains, strengthened in spirit.  The sacral, living influence of Saint László is much greater than we think today.

- Why have other researchers failed?
 I am sure that no serious research, especially national research, can be done in a forced and soulless manner. This is true in any field of science. It could be done for a while, and there was a demand for it from the great powers, looking at history through the lens of science policy. Let us just think of the history of language or archaeology. The history of language is the discipline that was developed the earliest. With the 'recognition of the Finno-Ugric linguistic affinity' (János Sajnovics), in the 19th century, the history of language and a 'family tree' were essentially developed. It became a scientific dogma that the language family is identical with the ethnic origin (Pál Hunfalvy). Although other or contradicting opinions were constantly being put forward, as well as claims of affinities with other language groups (Turkic, Caucasian, Dravidian, Palaeosiberian), or the assumption of a super-language family (Ural-Altaic), or the proof that linguistic and ethnic affinities were not closely related, these were swept off the table. So much for scientific freedom…

- And where are we today?
The situation has not changed by the 20th century. There are two specific reasons for this: first, the fear of a repetition of a frightening example. This was the rise and fall of Marrism around 1950. Marrism was a highly non-conformist, innovative communist linguistic trend, which Stalin personally eliminated when he began to see it as too innovative. There was an obligation to keep Hungarian linguistic views "subordinate" to Slavic linguistic data. By the way, this is why it has become the most rigid discipline in most need of renewal. Archaeology has also proved this. For this theory was never compatible with the archaeological finds: the Hungarians are archaeologically related to the archaeological material of the Steppe horse peoples and not to the Finno-Ugric, supposedly linguistically related peoples, some of whom still practise fishing, hunting and gathering and pursue a Palaeolithic-Neolithic lifestyle. Nor does it help that Hungarian prehistory research was a marginalised activity from 1945 until recently, and a suspicious practice during the socialist era. The minimal amount of research on prehistory was not conducted objectively.

- But in what way?
The theory can be roughly summarised as follows: does the research in question apply the Marxist historical scheme; if it does so, and is willing to interpret, for example, the nomadic empires as an ancient slave-holding class society in which the necessary class struggle is demonstrated, there is no obstacle to the further development of the existing scientific theories. In practice, the following difficulties arose: in the Soviet empire, research was also burdened by a significant pan-Slavic nationalist ideology, and scientific research was always subordinated to current domestic political conditions, which could change at any time. As a result, research on Hungarian prehistory was in a tight spot, since it sought to explore a broad non-Slavic past in the Carpathian Basin, a cardinal spatial point of the Pan-Slavic ideology; it was almost automatically stigmatised as 'nationalism'.  Outstanding Hungarian researchers became unacceptable to the system because of their political activism (e.g. Bálint Hóman) or simple personal conflicts, slander and unfounded denunciations (e.g. Nándor Fettich), their life's work had to be largely erased from academic consciousness, and the gap had to be filled by the contributions of party activists who were of course professionally worthless.

- Is it true that there was more freedom of research in the Soviet Union during the same period?
It is ironic, but in the Soviet Union there were indeed better opportunities for research on Hungarian prehistory, because research on Eastern Hungarians did not run up against the ideological barriers of pan-Slavism. From the 1930s onwards, the basic works of Soviet researchers could enter the scientific canon of research on our eastern ancestors. Typically, these scientific achievements, for example the famous work of Zaharov-Arendt, were accepted by the science policy of the Horthy-era without the slightest problem. Later, Zaharov and Arendt became victims of the Stalinist purges, so their work should have been subsequently erased, but the constant lack of information in Hungary meant that the fact did not reach the ears of the relevant comrades in charge, so no real change was made. In Hungary, the few researchers who had the opportunity to participate in field research in the Soviet Union were at a great advantage, but instead of ideological loyalty, the only one of them who left us a valuable and exemplary oeuvre was István Erdélyi.

- How far did the researchers get, how far were they able to get?
In the late 1950s, a disingenuous result was the professional view that the common people of the Conquest were Hungarians and not Slavs. This was a way of overturning an erroneous dogma of the late 19th century, but at what cost? By an absurdity that still haunts us to this day: according to them, the Carpathian Basin was empty at the time of the Conquest, the conquerors had arrived in a vacuum. Thus it was possible to reject the pan-Slavic and Daco-Roman theories without any systemic objections - but as a 'compromise' they ruled out all research on our relations with the pre-Conquest peoples, the Scythians, the Sarmatians, the Huns and the Avars. As a result of this approach, Gyula László's two-stage, and later multi-stage conquest theory, the research on the treasure of Nagyszentmiklós and many other areas were automatically placed in the category of 'unscientific'.


- How should we interpret "unscientific"?
The main characteristic of prehistory research under communism was extreme conservatism, because new perspectives, data, hypotheses always implied the possibility of deviating from the Marxist dogma. The concept indicates that directions labelled as 'unscientific' cannot be researched or refuted, but are to be silently ignored. If we ask what the consequence of this has been, we get a depressing answer: emphasis on the masses of ancient Hungarians, the neglect of the elite; the slow, aimless pseudo-identification of the common people of the ninth and tenth centuries, the denial of the questions of the Avar continuity, the violent silencing of Hun traditions. Gyula László's so-called double conquest theory also fell victim to this one-sided and biased prehistory research. But I could say that in the 120 years since the publication of the volume "The Wellposts of the Hungarian Conquest" (Gyula Pauler - Sándor Szilágyi), no attempt has been made to compile a modern and sufficiently thorough collection. Despite the fact that new sources on the history of the Hungarian occupation and the 10th century have been found, they have not been able to enter the public consciousness. Research on the sources of the ninth-century Avar period is still only partial, but the most serious shortcoming is the lack of research on the Hun era: practically there is no research on this two-hundred-year period. 

- It is astonishing. What is the reason for this?
The Hun tradition has been branded as unscientific. The Sarmatian period was also treated unfairly, and only recently has it come to the forefront of interest, and for a long time there was no demand for the study of written sources, because it was not believed that this period had anything worthwhile to say.

- Has the regime change brought any difference?
After the regime change, something quite amazing happened, which perhaps reached its peak in the 2000s. This is the view that could be characterised as follows: the left-liberal scientific canon has taken a hypersceptical stance on prehistory research. For these reasons, the scientific work of the Institute of Hungarian Research is also highly responsible. One day we will remember as a historic moment, when Miklós Kásler put the plan for the Institute of Hungarian Research on Viktor Orbán's desk and the Prime Minister supported it. It was no accident that the national government called us into existence, and I feel that the government has found us reliable partners. We will carry out the research on Hungarian prehistory that was previously neglected and has now finally been made possible, as it is an important basis for building a strong Hungary.

- How far have you got?
Over the past three years we have been steadily delivering results. But let's just stick to archaeogenetics: we were the first in the country to set up a Research Centre for Archaeogenetics, we carry out hundreds of sequencing procedures every year, we have international publications, we have organised archaeogenetic exhibitions and conferences, we have conducted numerous Hungarian and international sampling projects in Croatia and Mongolia and we have developed world-class laboratories in Szeged and now in Budapest. Our researchers train PhD students with archaeogenetic expertise in their university affiliation. Such precision, attitude, perseverance and spirit, alongside the highest scientific excellence, are the guarantees of the achievements of the Institute of Hungarian Research, which is in fact the success of the whole country. All our researchers are well aware of the fact that when they join the Institute, they are not only supposed to do their own research. We have the added bonus, which I could simply describe as national service. It is always there in our minds. It is part of our everyday life.

- The identification of the DNA of Béla III of Hungary was first raised by Professor Miklós Kásler, Minister of Human Capacities, who was supported by Cardinal Péter Erdő. Why was this collaboration important at the beginning of the research?
Let me add one more name to the list.  Sándor Pintér, Minister of Interior, is one of the supporters of the research.  Minister Miklós Kásler started the genetic research on the Turul dynasty (better known as the House of Árpád) in the first half of 2010 as Director General of the National Institute of Oncology.  Thanks to his prestige and his long personal and good relationships, Cardinal Péter Erdő became the main patron of the research, and Minister of the Interior Sándor Pintér provided a HUF 20 million grant to make the research possible.  I am confident that, decades later, future generations will remember them as having written themselves into the history of the nation.  

- Last July, an internationally acclaimed scientific paper was published by Prof. Dr Miklós Kásler and Dr Péter L. Nagy on the Y-chromosome analysis of Béla III. What does this paper reveal about the origins of the Árpád dynasty? 
On the one hand, they found that the male lineage characteristic of the Turul ethnic group originated in what is now northern Afghanistan, with a secondary extension to the Caucasus foothills and the Volga-Ural region.  The Árpád dynasty descended from a male branch of the ancestors of the Bashkirs in the Volga-Ural region.  On the other hand, in the course of the research, which the researchers of the Institute of Hungarian Research were integrally involved in, individual markers allowing the genetic identification of all the other males from the House of Árpád were identified and described. Without this scientific finding, there would be no point in opening up the graves of prominent individuals in identified locations. Without this scientific finding, there would be no point in opening up the graves of prominent individuals in identified locations.

PHOTO: TIBOR VERMES/DEMOKRATA Miklós Makoldi, Head of the Research Centre for Archaeology of the Institute of Hungarian Research and Gábor Horváth-Lugossy, Director General of the Institute

- What do you think about the person who is not an archaeogeneticist, who was once dismissed from the ongoing genetic research of a king of the Árpád dynasty for interfering with the research? This person then "launched into" the relic of another king of the Árpád dynasty - stating that no valuable DNA could be extracted from it - and now it turns out that he is making a sensational claim to have found the tomb of Andrew I in Tihany?
I also know that, although he was present at the beginning of the genetic research on the first Árpád ruler, later the research leaders dismissed him from the project. Nevertheless, a sample was also obtained by the laboratory where he was employed, but no results were reached. They said that the bones were not suitable for DNA extraction and analysis. The same was the case with the bone marrow from St. László's herm. In the volume, we read that "DNA sequences were obtained, which were not suitable for meaningful analysis, conclusions and comparisons". Our sampling this year confirms that this is not the case. The DNA content of the skull is complete and beautiful, and we have started writing an international scientific publication. I have also read the sensational news about King Andrew I, but in fact we have seen nothing new so far. Nor can there be much, because the genealogy of the House of Árpád was established years ago by the research team led by Miklós Kásler. This is why there is something to compare the bones of Tihany with. Moreover, everyone knew already that András I was buried in the Abbey of Tihany. The actual confirmation would require a scientific publication on the table. It has not yet been published.

- Does all this prove that hitherto unknown questions and trends in the field of prehistory research have arisen thanks to DNA information, genetics?
The questions were already known, but nobody had clarified them. And those who have tried, have failed scientifically and often existentially. Lives and families have been ruined. The world has passed us by, but we are now up to speed and even well ahead of the competition. I would say that no new trends have emerged, but it is now possible to discuss different theories without preconceptions. Using the categories of Hegelianism, at the Institute of Hungarian Research it is possible to freely clash theses and antitheses, which in a good case will lead to a synthesis. Whatever the result, it must be based on scientific principles. Now, the results of the latest scientific researches do prove that both folklore and chronicles are right about our origins. I should note quietly that there is not a single mention of language affinities or language families in the chronicles. In fact, the word family itself only entered the Hungarian language in the 12th century, but we only started to use it in the late 19th century.

- It seems that basic assumptions and professional achievements accomplished so far, such as the theory of Finno-Ugric affinity, may be overturned and lost. How much professional and political headwind is there?
There is a headwind, of course, but you can't move forward in calm. St Ignatius of Loyola said in the 16th century: 'There is no storm worse than calm'. Then Albert Wass had his own saying about headwinds: 'He who stands on a hilltop is blown by the wind'. Very briefly, I would answer the question that there is no real scientific debate about our results. That would require the publication of scientific papers on what other researchers see differently, on what they have concluded, and on the basis of what research. There are none. Accusations in daily or weekly papers are another matter. They are not worth talking about. We once responded to such a piece of writing and received the feedback that it was the best paper on the history of science in the last ten years. The truth is, however, that we regret the precious time spent on the attempts of keyboard heroes. We prefer to concentrate on our job.

- What's wrong with you?
A canon institutionalised over many decades, a vast network, does not like the fact that what they have advocated, said and taught, needs to be corrected. Not for their sake, but for the sake of the knowledge, self-esteem and national consciousness of the generation that will come after us. Not to mention the fact that our awakening of self-awareness in the world is also appreciated by our former Eastern kinsmen, who are giving us all the support in the research of the past of the Hungarian nation as one of the most ancient peoples. We have experienced this in Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Georgia. They have been waiting for us with open arms for thirty years, and now we have gone to them. And our research is a good complement to Hungary's international efforts, to building relationships. Very good examples of this are the recently signed cooperation agreements with Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Turkey, China and the Georgian cooperation that is just being launched. But I do not want to skirt the issue. To answer it, we are feeling the pressure. Let's stick to the latest discipline. The creation of archaeogenetics in Hungary has also consumed an enormous amount of energy. It may be useful to give the readers a brief overview of what has happened in the last twenty years in this field. In 2000, the Szeged school of Prof. Dr István Raskó, who published studies on the Hungarian conquerors in several scientific journals and who had four PhDs, performed a successful archaeological DNA isolation; the project was able to operate until 2009, because from 2006 onwards all resources were gradually withdrawn. Then, from 2010, they tried again (without funding) to continue their historical genetics research in Szeged, practically fed up with the lack of results, but due to the lack of resources, they did not have many opportunities. In the same year, Miklós Kásler, the head of the National Institute of Oncology, came up with the idea of archaeogenetic research on the Turul dynasty (Árpád House).

- It caused quite a stir at the time.
Not by chance. The old-new Szeged genetic approach and the new genealogical approach were under open or covert attack, of which there is a good deal of written material. In the meantime, in 2017, Endre Neparáczki defended his PhD thesis "Investigation of the genetic ancestry and kinship of the conquerors using archaeogenetic methods", based on international publications. The thesis were immediately challenged. Then, in 2018, a publication on the genetic identification of the male line of the House of Árpád, led by Miklós Kásler, was published, which was also the subject of an immense amount of disinformation. The Szeged and Budapest schools provided exact new data on Hungarians, their genealogy and possible migration. There were attempts to suppress these research results and, when they were published in journals, to challenge them in the tabloid media. These obstructions are still at work today.

- But there has been a turnaround, because the Institute of Hungarian Research was established...
Indeed, in 2018, in a no less turbulent academic environment, the Hungarian government founded the Institute of Hungarian Research, which immediately linked the Szeged and Budapest schools. Although this fight still looks like a David and Goliath battle, we hope that this time David will win again.

- The unmarked tomb at Székesfehérvár contains other royal bones that could provide some definitive genetic answers to questions about Hungary's turbulent history. Is it possible to separate the bones in a conclusive way?
The examination of the bones preserved in the Székesfehérvár ossuary will settle a centuries-old debt to our ancestors. If we only look at the last thousand years, at the major historical events that occurred there, we slap our foreheads: why has this not happened so far? A thousand years ago, the Basilica of St. Stephen the Assumption began its operation in full sacramentality. It became the coronation place of the Regnum Marianum, the apostolic kings of the Kingdom of Hungary, and their final resting place. It is a place of power where our kings were crowned and buried two hundred years after the Turul dynasty had died out. Then, during the Turkish wars, it also took two hundred years before it was completely destroyed, a fact that the Hungarian nation, as a Christian bulwark, could not prevent. In 1848, the only intact royal tomb was found, that of Béla III, who was reburied in the Matthias Church in 1898.  Here, thanks to the previous tripartite collaboration, the archaeogenetic sampling was carried out and the origin of the Turul dynasty was established in 2017.  This is the origin, if you like.  It is on the basis of this research that the members of the Turul dynasty can be identified from the nine hundred bone fragments found in and around the ruined basilica.  The research is still being carried out at a very meticulous and accelerated pace, but if we can identify just one or two of the Árpád kings, or possibly more, we will have achieved our goal.  But we Hungarians like to set the bar high and get the job done properly, so this year we sampled the remains of Matthias Hunyadi's son and grandson in Lepoglava, Croatia, and determined the genealogy of the House of Hunyadi.  We are now waiting for the international scientific publication to officially improve our position on King Mátyás's genealogy.  So, if we are lucky, we will be able to identify Mátyás Hunyadi.

- What do you hope to achieve?
Our aim is that these rulers could be laid to rest in the dignified manner they deserve. And I haven't even mentioned Charles I of Hungary or King Louis the Great, who are also currently lying unidentified in nylon bags and metal boxes somewhere. At the end of our research, a ceremony of reburial of our holy kings and the inauguration of a National Pantheon could become a reality, unique in the history of the world. The Hungarian people have always been characterised by their respect for their ancestors. We can see that Úz Valley cemetery that is devoid of rulers is equally important to us, as is the fate of our heroes who died for our homeland. The situation in Székesfehérvár is no different: Bishop Antal Spányi and Mayor András Cser-Palkovics give us all their support. We are taking samples from all the skeletons, so we have a good chance of extracting usable DNA. 

- The work of the Institute of Hungarian Research is already world-class. Will there be another sensation?
It is a significant scientific achievement, a sensation if you like; that we have successfully overcome the previously declared unsuitable sampling status of the skull of our holy king and proved that it is possible to extract DNA, so that the origin of the person preserved in the herm can be identified. Of course, here too, the first thing is to write and publish a scientific paper, which I must emphasise, is a huge job usually taking one and a half to two years. The good news is that, under the leadership of my co-director Endre Neparáczki, my colleagues are already writing a paper presenting the results of the archaeogenetic analyses. Although it will take months, let's hope it will be worth the wait.

- From the point of view of Hungarian prehistoric research, the excavation of the Abasár royal tomb led by Miklós Makoldi could be equally conclusive?
It already is. The Abasár excavation has been unprecedented in the last eighty years. Here too we are exploring a specific royal tomb, that of the third king of the Kingdom of Hungary. Sámuel of Aba, who - according to our chronicles - was related to the Turul clan by a common ancestor. In the meantime, director Miklós Makoldi and our colleagues have excavated the undeveloped, currently researchable part of the basilica-sized Benedictine abbey, which was part of the clan headquarters and covers an area of more than 5,500 square metres. Next to it is a circular church, probably dating from the 10th century. It was literally dug out of the ground in less than a year because it had previously been the site of a lorry park and a residential building. The historic site has been open to visitors since September. We have been working in cooperation with László Horváth, Member of Parliament of the region and Attila Kazsu, the mayor of Abasár. Even the stone altarpiece depicting Mary is unique, because no other Gothic stone carving of this quality from the 13th century has been found in the Carpathian Basin, but I could also mention the 15th-century tomb covered with a tombstone lid decorated with two mythological Turul birds and the royal crown helmet of the Aba clan.

- Has Sámuel Aba's tomb been found?
More than thirty skeletons have been found inside the church, 15 of which are in the sanctuary area. In addition, a small ossuary has been found. These are still being examined, but we are confident that the DNA of the Aba clan will be identified, thanks to the identified tomb in which a pair of siblings of the Aba clan was buried. If their genealogy can be determined, it will be easier to identify the other bone remains, which may already include the remains of Sámuel of Aba. On behalf of the Institute of Hungarian Research, I am most proud of the fact that my colleagues, despite all the difficulties of the weather and the epidemic, worked at such a speed that the participants of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress in September were able to see the walls of the thousand-year-old abbey, a monumental testimony to the more than thousand years of the Christian Hungarian nation, in physical reality. Thanks to the excavation, we can now see more clearly what our ancestors built a thousand years ago, and here too, a thesis about the structure and appearance of the church, previously thought to be scientific has been overturned.

- The birth of the Institute of Hungarian Research is attributed to Miklós Kásler, Minister of Human Capacities, and it is a young institution, as is the Research Institute and Archives for the History of the Hungarian Regime Change (Retörki), which is very important in the light of next year's elections, because their continued existence may be in doubt following a left-liberal takeover. Are you, as young and successful researchers, concerned about this possibility?
Retörki was founded in 2013, it has been operating for almost 9 years and this year it became a foundation, so its long-term viability seems assured. The Institute of Hungarian Research has been operational since 2019 and we are not envisaging a change of government. Looking back at history, we Hungarians always benefited from the stability of leadership in the country. Haste and false promises have never led to good outcomes. We are familiar from our history with short reigns of kings, interregnum periods, and we have seen how it is when prime ministers replace each other, sometimes from the same team. These missteps have never led to results; the country became impoverished, fell under foreign influence, and suffered losses after losses. It is advantageous for us Hungarians, and even for other peoples in the Carpathian Basin, if the Hungarian leader is strong, decisive and defends the traditions of our ancestors and Christianity. St. Stephen once said: "The fourth adornment of the rule is the loyalty, strength, diligence, cordiality and trust of the chiefs, counts and knights. For they are the defensive walls of your kingdom, the protectors of the weak, the destroyers of the enemy, the enlargers of your borders", while another quotation is: "following our ancestors occupies the eighth place in royalty.  The greatest royal honour, as far as I know, is to follow one's royal ancestors, to imitate one's parents."

- Following in the footsteps of great kings and great ancestors, how far can we go in reclaiming our common consciousness?
“Avares, quos modo Ungarios vocamus”, or “the Avars, whom we now call Hungarians”, wrote the Saxon Benedictine monk and chronicler, Widukind von Corvey in the 10th century. A thousand years have passed since then, and the latest archaeogenetic and classical-philological research confirms the presence of the basic population of the Carpathian Basin for thousands of years, the kinship of the people from the East, and the fact that the Avars certainly spoke Hungarian. This is where we are now.