Hungarian right radicalism: 1920 and today

During the Kádár regime relatively few biographies of politicians from the Horthy period appeared. One reason was the Marxist belief that political leaders play relatively minor roles in history. A second reason was that it was somewhat risky to write a political biography of a counterrevolutionary figure. No reputable professional historian would write a biography of Miklós Horthy, for example. In fact, we are still waiting for such a work. However in the last fifteen years or so several serious biographies of well-known politicians of the Horthy regime have appeared. To mention only two: a political biography of István Bethlen written by Ignác Romsics, perhaps the best historian of the period, and another one of Pál Teleki, twice prime minister who committed suicide in 1941 when Hungary agreed to take part in the German attack on Yugoslavia. The author of Teleki Pál (Budapest 2005) is a young historian, Balázs Ablonczy, a former student of Romsics.


Teleki is a highly controversial character mostly because of his intense “scientific” antisemitism. It was during his first premiership (1920-1921) that the infamous law, known as numerus clausus, was prepared by the Hungarian government and voted on by an overwhelming majority of parliament. This law fixed university quotas according to nationality and religion. The law’s real purpose was to limit the number of Jewish students. But here I don’t want to focus on Teleki but rather on the political situation when he first became prime minister in July 1920.


The Hungarian Soviet Republic came to an end when the Red Army attacked the Romanian troops that had already advanced as far as the left bank of the Tisza River. The Romanians, who were itching to get rid of the communists and occupy the Hungarian capital, counterattacked and within a few days were in Budapest. Meanwhile, the Hungarian counterrevolutionaries under the military leadership of Admiral Miklós Horthy moved from the southern town of Szeged and advanced as far as Lake Balaton where in the town of Siófok Horthy established the headquarters of the National Army. The members of the National Army were an interesting lot: the whole army consisted only of officers whose political views were fiercely anticommunist. These officer detachments went from village to village looking for former supporters of the Soviet Republic whom they often executed on the spot. Once the Romanians left Budapest in November and Horthy moved in, some of these detachments continued their murderous ways. Eventually there was a legitimate government recognized by the Great Powers. But it was unable to put an end to the activities of these detachments because they enjoyed the protection of Horthy, by then the governor of the country.


There is a frightening parallel between right radicalism in the summer and fall of 1920 and Hungary today where groups are targeted and representatives of those groups attacked. In 1920 the primary targets were Jews, today mostly Gypsies and gays (though Jews aren’t immune).


To go back in time and flesh out the story a bit. Radical groups comprised of former officers, young no-goods, and university students became especially active after the Treaty of Trianon was signed during the summer of 1920. In July, for example, about 30 right radicals broke into the Café Club and attacked the patrons. One of the victims, a bank director, died as a result of the eight dagger wounds he received. A lawyer who happened to be walking nearby was shot to death. Considering that Café Club was situated on Lipót körút, in the middle of a heavily Jewish district of Pest, it was clear who the targets were. At least the perpetrators were caught a month later and received sentences of more than ten years. However, a few months later another mob attack occurred at the same Café Club. Members of the “patriotic mob” badly beat the customers.


As I was reading about these horrendous stories from 1920 it was hard not to think of the repeated atrocities committed in our time. Then, largely due to the efforts of Teleki and his successor Bethlen, the murderous activities of these radical groups were stopped and the Hungarian radicals were pushed into the background. One can only hope that the same will happen now, but such an outcome would need the active support of the opposition. I’m really curious when Viktor Orbán will realize that it’s in his best intererst to help put an end to the activities of the extreme right-wing groups. Perhaps at the moment he thinks that the goverment’s inability to act forcefully will help his party. However, today’s political advantage might turn into a serious disadvantage later. Most of these radicals are almost as dissatisfied with Viktor Orbán as they are with Ferenc Gyurcsány. They consider him too liberal, too beholden to Israel, the United States, and the multinationals. One day they might turn against him and then what? Will a couple of slaps on the face be enough as Viktor Orbán thinks? I very much doubt it.

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Sandor
Guest

A couple of comments.
About the numerus clausus, a subject talked about incessantly, you say: it was approved, “voted on by an overwhelming majority of parliament.” It would be more accurate to say that it was approved overwhelmingly by the few MPs present at the time. The vote was timed to be just before Christmas, so barely a few MPs was there.
As far as Orban and the right are concerned, these disparate groups are held together mostly by his tacit support.
The cynical and duplicitous denials and repudiations he produces only when pressed, are reassuring to the thugs. But why should anybody else be reassured by them, when his deputy, right today, is gallivanting in the next ultra-right wing demonstration on behalf of that stupid statue, not far from the place where their predecessors murdered the patients of the Jewish hospital?

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Sandor: “It would be more accurate to say that it was approved overwhelmingly by the few MPs present at the time.”
In my opinion it didn’t really matter given the composition of that particular parliament.

Adrian
Guest
“it was hard not to think of the repeated atrocities committed in our time. Then, largely due to the efforts of Teleki and his successor Bethlen, the murderous activities of these radical groups were stopped and the Hungarian radicals were pushed into the background.” This passage seems to imply that today’s far right groups have actually killed people, which simply isn’t true. It seems that that most serious beatings have been administered by the police, which as a law and order nut, I am glad of. People are dying in France and I think one has died in Britain as a result of clashes over islamist issues. I think you are overstating the street violence in Hungary, which by British standards is very tame. In addition, the street conflict is now going the way of the liberals, Magyar Garda demonstrations are now significantly outnumbered by Roma or Anti-anti-semitic demonstrators. I remember the Anti-nazi league seeing off the National Front, and it makes me proud to be British. “I’m really curious when Viktor Orbán will realize that it’s in his best intererst to help put an end to the activities of the extreme right-wing groups.” With this I have to agree,… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Adrian; “This passage seems to imply that today’s far right groups have actually killed people, which simply isn’t true.”
Perhaps I assumed too much. I thought most people knew that no blood has been shed yet. However, the intent was there. They were just too stupid. See the Molotov cocktails thrown at politicians’ houses/apartments or the several shots fired through the windows of a house inhabited by Gypsies only a couple of days ago.
As for police brutality, I consider the whole issue overblown by certain people close to Fidesz. Orbán thinks that the paralysis of the police force is in his political interest.

Viking
Guest
I know I have written this before. The radical intellectuals like the leadership of Jobbik are very clear over that their main target is Viktor Orban. Their aim is to split Fidesz and create a big radical right wing. They have *nothing* over for Fidesz, which they regard as a “liberal Jewish Gypsy-friendly power-hungry machine”. For tactical reasons they have to present it a bit more “mainstream right-wing”, not targeting Fidesz openly. They do this of 2 reasons: 1) Not to scare away Fidesz-supporters at the 1st contact. 2) To be able to field common candidates, with Fidesz/KDNP. If we look at the situation today in BP, I may be wrong, but I get the feeling that with the XII-statue building permission row, it can actually help MSZP, both in BP and on National level. SZDSZ and Fidesz will probably be the net losers. I agree with Eva that the actual attacks (fire-bombs, white powder scares) on politicians has been of a high level, including a lot of planning and logistics. It was not just an impulsive action on the street, with or without alcohol. That no-one died so far is actually more the attackers clumsiness. The problem is that… Read more »
Adrian
Guest

Viking,
“Check other countries, always starts with clumsy performed operations by amateurs”.
Can you give any examples: the one I am intimately familiar with is Northern Ireland, there was no “clumsy” period once the British Army were deployed to quell street violence, the provisional IRA responded with murderous force. But this is not a good counter example to your argument because the provisinal IRA was a successor organisation to the IRA, which had won a terrorist campaign/ freedom fight 50 years earlier.
The attacks on politicians in Hungary are at about the same level as attacks by animal liberationists in the UK or anti-abortionists in the States. Individuals like the Unabomber or the Soho Nail bomber have been more deadly and more terrifying than anything seen in Hungary since the mafia turf wars in the mid nineties. I have to wonder if anybody in Hungary – at present – is really prepared to murder for their political beliefs.

Viking
Guest
Adrian, I am thinking on countries like West-Germany (Bader-Meinhoff) and Italy (RAF), during the early years. The Irish situation is, as you point out, different. But did not Provisional IRA get a lot of support after the “Bloody Sunday”? Also referring IRA to have won a “terrorist” campaign will not win you any friends South Of The Border? Personally I dislike the “terrorist” stamp. IRA/ANC/French Anti-Nazi Guerrilla were all called “terrorist”, but I know I use it also sometimes. Just to make my point clear. I agree with your comparison with “animal liberationists in the UK or anti-abortionists in the States”, but I believe, at least in the US, they have killed people? Doctors and/or nurses. It is also true that lunatic “lone riders” can cause a lot of harm. In Sweden we had the “Laser Man” a few years ago, who shot at people in Stockholm looking “non-Swedish” with a weapon with a laser-sight. But, my point is that a ‘group of people glued together with a common hate and an aim to change, with no hesitations to use violence to reach the aim’ can come forward in Hungary today. We have since many years the people around the… Read more »
Adrian
Guest

Viking,
I agree with much of what you have to say, especially “fire bombs are rather useless”. They are very common in civil violence in the UK, but I can’t think of an example where anybody has been killed by one – in fact kids throw them for fun without murder in their hearts. The explosive which frightens me in semtex, the IRA also used mortars, RPGs and heavy machine guns.
Have we even had gunfire at one of these far-right demonstrations? It’s hard to beleive, so close to the borders of the former Yugoslavia, that these weapons are not avilable to someone in Hungary with the resources and the will to use them. Thank God, no one has, but it makes me suspect the will is at present lacking.

Viking
Guest

The IRA is more a proper ‘liberation war against an occupying army’. We have had some few real shootouts in Europe, typically Baader-Meinhof/RAF trying to rob banks or kidnap people.
I do not think, that is waiting us the next year, but maybe a bomb or 2. Hopefully just for show, without any real damage.
True, throwing fire-bombs at demos are sadly a bit of today’s script. The Police is prepared and normally rather well protected, only some by-standers could be hurt. Normally the Police have Paramedics on the scene to fix those cases also.
To fire-bomb a house is different, especially done without any warning, when people are sleeping. Part of the house could catch fire and then the situation gets out of control. Also where offices been attacked they were located normal apartment houses, which in worst case could have lead to a big fire. I see these bombs as more dangerous than the ones at demos.

Adrian
Guest

Viking,
“I see these bombs as more dangerous than the ones at demos”
Thanks for an argument, I don’t dispute for a minute that a petrol bomb thrown at a house at night is much more dangerous than one thrown in a street when the emergency services are already on hand in large numbers. However, the main effect of a such an attack is to start a fire, the blast damage is unlikely to cause a fatality.
Finding figures on this was difficult, but in 2006 in the USA, 31,000 arson attacks resulted in 305 fatalities.
http://www.usfa.dhs.gov/statistics/arson/index.shtm
This suggests a probability of 1 in a 100 of an arson attack resulting in a fatality. In an attack involving a weapon that aims to cause blast damage, I would guess the probability would be 1 in 1: it would be good to have the rambler (one of the v-words) challenge these figures, but this is the wrong forum for him. But until this view is coherently rubbished, I’m sticking to my guns – petrol bombs are not serious weapons against houses – but apparently very effective against soviet tanks.

Viking
Guest

Apparently “a 33-year-old man with ties to far right groups” (MTI) had gone a bit further in the studies of terrorism and explosives. He, who is named TK, had “three five-litre incendiary pipe bombs, an unspecified number of ignition devices and nine smaller pipe bomb” (MTI).
This is of course a much higher degree of logistics, preparations, planning and motivation, than just, probably drunk as a skunk, go out and take a pot-shot or two on the local Roma-family. Not to define the people behind these devices, even if they did not explode, as being able to kill for their beliefs, would feel a bit strange. You hardly build these devices for any other purpose than killing people.
As I started up with, it always start simple, a bit amateurish but the small core will gain knowledge. You just need to have the political situation there.

Viking
Guest
If I allow myself to speculate a bit, the late time in the evening of arrest probably means one of 2 things: 1) Undercover agents for NBI (Hungarian FBI) in the crowd following the most radical elements, could get information during the day that bombs would be placed out. 2) The NBI knew about this plan before (without telling the local Police of course) but had not enough to catch the person/s/ over the actual bomb-maker. The gambled with that they would have control over the situation and let the bomb-maker transport the devices to the scene, following every move, waiting for the correct time to act, catching several of the suspected organisation around the bomb-maker. At this moment we do not know which scenario is the correct one. The second is of course a bit worrying then a surveillance operation in a crowd, where it can be 10.000s of people moving around and can turn against the arresting officers, can completely fail. Either the planting out of bombs was abandon, for whatever reason, or in the way of the arrest was made points at a rather lonely bomb-maker without a proper organisation around him that can do the actual… Read more »
Odin's lost eye
Guest
In this world where education, boredom and stress can take well to do young men like Osama bin Laden from a comfortable life to that of an outlaw on the run anything is possible. The problem is worst where a small group with the philosophy or ‘stop at nothing to achieve our ends’ become active. The larger the group becomes the easier it is to spot. The structure of terrorist groups was developed long ago in Russia by the ‘proto communists’ and has been developed from there. The problem for a Democracy is the ‘rule of law’. You cannot just ‘rub someone out’ for doing or plotting naughty things. One should also remember that a terrorist only has to ‘get lucky’ once the police/secret intelligence people have to ‘get lucky’ all the time. Quite often the SI services will stay quiet about something they know about. Sometimes they will let the offenders get away with things because they are after something bigger. @ Mr Viking you say *** “Are they ready to kill for their political beliefs? Well, throwing a fire-bomb at a house where people are sleeping in, is attempted murder. No question about it. Of course when someone… Read more »
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