The “Black Army” and the Arrowcross

Maybe because the parliament is not in session, maybe because all the politicians are taking their yearly summer holidays and therefore not much is happening, but the news of the Jobbik’s plans for the establishment of a quasi paramilitary organization doesn’t want to disappear from the media and therefore from public discourse. The members of the "Black Army" as Hungarians immediately named it after the famous mercenary army of King Matthias (1458-1490) will have an insignia that closely resembles the Arrowcross armband. One can nitpick over how many stripes the so-called Árpád flag had and how many the official party flag of the Arrowcross Party had, but there can be no question about the number of stripes on the Arrowcross armband and this insignia: five red and four white, starting with red and ending with red. That takes me back a bit to the Arrowcross Party and Ferenc Szálasi, the Hungarian führer.

Szálasi was an army officer who finished military school in Wienerneustadt in 1915 and was immediately sent to the front, where he spent three years. Once he returned, he worked in the ministry of defense. In 1923 he was admitted to the Military Academy (Ludovica) and from there on had a successful career, mostly in the service of the general staff. It was around this time that he began to show an interest in politics, although officially Hungarian army officers were forbidden to engage in party politics. So officers of a radical political persuasion gathered in semi-illegal groups. Soon enough Szálasi became their organizer and ideologist. His ideology was quite confused and became more and more confused as time went by. Eventually, he decided to leave the army, thus freeing himself from the constraints of a military career, and devote himself entirely to politics. He established one right radical party after another, but the conservative Hungarian government arrested Szálasi time and time again and forced his parties to close. His parties, under different names, were rather unsuccessful. They numbered from a few hundred to perhaps a couple of thousand. This was the situation until 1939 when he established the Arrowcross Party (Nyilaskeresztes Párt). Why was this party more successful than its predecessors? The answer seems today simple enough. Szálasi, inspired by a trip to Hitler’s Germany, embraced national socialism. The party began to play an active role in the political scene and gathered many recruits. By the end of 1939 it had about 300,000 members. The government, not quite knowing how to react to this right radical threat, decided to introduce secret voting everywhere in the country. Until then the electorate could vote secretly only in large cities. The idea was not a good one from the conservative government party’s point of view: 31 members of Szálasi’s Arrowcross Party were elected to the House. However, the government parties and Miklós Horthy, the governor, didn’t want anything to do with him, not even after March 19, 1944, when the Germans occupied Hungary. After October 15, 1944, when Horthy announced his intention to abandon the German alliance, the Germans arrested the governor and turned to Szálasi, who formed a government. During these few months the paramilitary forces of the Arrowcross Party committed incredible crimes against Jews and others they considered their enemies. People were marched to the Danube, shot, and their bodies thrown into the river. These Arrowcross atrocities continued even when Budapest was already surrounded by Soviet troops and Szálasi and his cabinet abandoned the city and kept moving westward, Soviet troops on their heels. Eventually Szálasi was arrested by American troops and was sent back to Hungary where he was tried and executed on March 1, 1946.

The Arrowcross’s days of terror have not been forgotten, and therefore the black shirts and their insignia ignite real fear in many people. The youngsters who began the Jobbik have scant knowledge of the past and perhaps don’t realize what they are doing. I don’t think that they read any of Szálasi’s ramblings about his political ideas, but if they did it is really worrisome. The only good thing is that today it is 2007 and not 1939. The question is whether the Hungarian legal system is capable of handling this situation. At the moment there seems to be no legal means to forbid the establishment of this organization. Those who were instrumental in laying down the legal system of the Third Hungarian Republic wanted the maximum freedom of expression. Such freedom permits the establishment of antidemocratic organizations whose aim is the destruction of the very democracy they cherish. But perhaps this is also a safety valve.