It was sometime in early 1994 that I signed up for an internet political discussion group on Hungary. I was totally ignorant of the political situation at the time and knew almost nothing about József Antall and his government. When I introduced myself on the list and mentioned that I'm a historian, one of the contributors reacted hysterically: "I never want to hear about another historian." I simply didn't understand what his problem was. It turned out that Antall himself was a historian who wrote rather pedestrian pieces on the history of medicine when he served as director of the Museum of Medicine in Budapest. His niece's husband, Géza Jeszenszky, became foreign minister. Previously he was associate professor of history at the Karl Marx University of Economics. The minister of defense, Lajos Für, was also trained as a historian but because of his role in 1956 worked as a researcher at the Agrarian Museum; in 1989-1900 he catapulted straight into one of the history departments at ELTE as a full professor. His political undersecretary was also a historian, Ernő Raffay. The internet list member was totally fed up with József Antall and his government full of historians.
Out of this lot there was one name I was familiar with before the change of regime: Lajos Für. In 1987 I was involved in the publication of a book The Hungarians: A Divided Nation edited by Stephen Borsody, who bitterly complained to me that one of the contributors from Hungary sent him a manuscript that was simply incomprehensible. It turned out to be Lajos Für's piece. The editor made a notation in the book: "This edited English version is an abbreviated adaptation of the Hungarian original." In plain language, Borsody had to rewrite the whole thing. The same Lajos Für today is closely associated with the Hungarian Guard. He was one of the two sponsors of the organization.
Ernő Raffay, Für's political undersecretary in the ministry of defense in the '90s, is no better. He is involved in all sorts of revisionist causes. He established a research institute that devotes itself to the study of the causes and consequences of Trianon. The research institute publishes a quarterly, Trianon Szemle, that is available in bookstores specializing in far-right literature. Raffay in his short biography prepared for his unsuccessful bid for the 1998 elections proudly announced that "he had never been a member of the Communist Party or its successors." However, wagging tongues claim that he was an informer who wrote lengthy reports on his colleagues at the University of Szeged where he taught between 1977 and 1993. Since he left politics his star has only risen. Since 1996 he has been teaching at the Gáspár Károlyi Hungarian Reformed University and not in any lowly capacity but as head of the department, vice-president, and dean of the faculty of arts. What kind of history he must be teaching we can well imagine after the interview he gave a couple of days ago to the right-wing website www.tortenelemportal.hu.
But before I go into the details of Raffay's view of twentieth-century Hungarian history, let's not forget about Géza Jeszenszky, the former minister of foreign affairs. He was a disaster as foreign minister and was no better as Viktor Orbán's ambassador to Washington. After his political career ended he went back to teach at Corvinus University, as the old Karl Marx University is called nowadays. Luckily he doesn't appear too often in the media, and therefore I was somewhat surprised to see him on TV as a participant in a discussion on Slovak-Hungarian relations. Actually the whole program is worth watching because the Slovak ambassador in Budapest was there in addition to a Hungarian of moderate views from Slovakia and a young Hungarian expert on Slovakia who seemed to be on the side of Slovak-Hungarian reconciliation. Jeszenszky was the only panelist who held a rather one-sided view of the matter. In addition, he showed an unpleasant trait. He managed to make sure that everybody knows how important a man he was. In every second sentence he mentioned his role either as foreign minister or as ambassador in Washington. It was pitiful.
But let's go back to Raffay who announced the other day that between 1989 and 2000 there were "at least half a dozen occasions when [Hungary] had the opportunity to change the Trianon Dictat." All three governments (Antall's, Horn's, and Orbán's) could have effected "territorial changes either by diplomatic or by military means." Specifically? Already in 1990 the question of "an alliance between Croatia and Hungary" came up that would have allowed Hungary "to regain those territories taken by the Serbs." According to Raffay he urged József Antall to attack Serbia, but the prime minister allegedly told him that first Hungary must become stronger economically. As far as Slovakia was concerned Raffay thought that in 1992 when Slovakia still had no army it would have been easy to take back the Hungarian inhabited areas. As for Ukraine, Leonid Kuchma outright told him that "if you want Carpatho-Ukraine, take it!" Sure thing!
Népszabadság did a little research on Raffay's contentions, and it turned out that most of his stories are outright fabrications. In fact, during the Croat-Serbian conflict Antall was deadly afraid that the war might spread into Hungary and that the Hungarian army was in such bad shape that it wouldn't be able to defend against the intruders. Kálmán Lőrincze, head of the Hungarian forces, told Népszabadság that there was never any thought of getting involved in the Croatian-Serbian war. Even Sándor Szakály, a military historian of decidedly right leanings, called Raffay's contentions ridiculous and unfit for a historian. Out of all these ramblings there was only one factual episode: the so-called Kalashnikov affair. In January 1991 a Serbian television station showed videos of Hungarian weapons being transported to Croatia. A Hungarian state company called Technika Külkereskedelmi Vállalat made a deal in October 1990 with the Yugoslav Astra Company to sell ten thousand automatic weapons to the Croatian police. This deal allowed Croatia to take the first military steps toward its independence. In parliament an MSZP MP asked Géza Jeszenszky about the truthfulness of the Serbian report. Jeszenszky in his reply said that "the political right is the one that represents the national interests." After that answer the MSZP delegation walked out of the chamber.
In any case, under the present circumstances these ghosts from the past seem to be bent on deepening the crisis that exists between Hungary and some of her neighbors. Whether this is a concerted effort or just the acts of irresponsible people is hard to tell.
And I just shudder to think what future history teachers are learning from Ernő Raffay. As it is, we cannot be terribly surprised about the strides Jobbik has made among the younger generation.