The Atlantic has just published my short piece on Baranta, the youngest of the world’s so-called traditional martial arts.
Around this time last winter, at a gymnasium 45 minutes outside Budapest, I was startled to come across a group of roughly 30 men and women with wooden axes. I was in town reporting a profile of Hungary’s nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orbán, who was born nearby. The ax-wielders had gathered to practice something called Baranta, which is perhaps the youngest of the world’s so-called traditional martial arts.
While they took turns swinging and blocking, one member of the group, a beefy man with a tight, gray, military-style haircut, walked over to where I was standing and began excitedly talking to me in Hungarian. Even with the help of a translator, I had difficulty keeping up with what he was saying. Perhaps sensing this, he pulled out his phone to show me a series of videos. In one, a group of men was engaged in a sort of synchronized whip-play. In another, a combatant with an ax faced off against an opponent with a saber, while a third circled the fray with a bow and arrow, looking for a shot.
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My profile of Hungary’s increasingly authoritarian prime minister has just been published in Bloomberg Businessweek.
The soccer match hasn’t drawn much of a crowd. It’s being played in tiny Felcsut, Hungary (pop. 1,800), and the teams on the field are ranked 3rd and 10th out of the 16 squads vying for the national championship. Except for a small section where fans of the visiting team are clustered, only a sprinkling of the 3,500 seats are occupied.
This isn’t the kind of contest where you’d expect a prominent politician to show up—unless that politician is Viktor Orban, 51, the Hungarian prime minister. Having just returned from a trip to South Korea, Orban’s made the 45-minute drive from Budapest to Felcsut. He’s wearing a black coat and long gray scarf, and when the game begins he’s standing by himself just outside the glass walls of the VIP booth, in line with the center of the field. When the home team, 10th-place Puskas Academy, threatens the opponent’s goal, he puts both hands over his mouth. When the ball goes wide, he turns and slaps a concrete pillar. Just before halftime, a Puskas attacker rifles the ball into the back of the net. Orban raises both arms in triumph.
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