Conservative historians in Hungary?

Huge political controversies can erupt in Hungary, even on Sundays. Here is the latest. Yesterday morning Árpád Szakács, a lawyer and history buff, gave a press conference in front of the Budapest Public Library named after its founder and chief librarian, Ervin Szabó (1877-1918). He demanded the removal of Szabó's name because he was a communist.

First, some background. On September 16 MTI reported that a group of historians established a foundation "to correct and neutralize the negative influence of Marxist historical writing that is still perceptible" in Hungary. The new organization is called the Foundation for National Conservative Historical Research and is headed by Gábor Vincze, editor-in-chief of a publication called Nagy Magyarország (Great Hungary). As the people close to the publication explained, the name cannot cause any confusion concerning possible revisionist tendencies because the title is not Nagymagyarország or Nagy-Magyarország, which would designate Greater Hungary. No, they simply want to make it clear that their research extends to all regions of the Carpathian Basin. I might add here that this has been always the case in Hungarian historiography and the distinction seems forced to me.

Nagy Magyarország is not available on the Internet, but from what I managed to find out most of the people who are involved in its publication are either members of Jobbik or very closely associated with the party. Árpád Szakács is the publisher of Nagy Magyarország. Among the contributors one can find a Jobbik member of parliament and someone from the editorial board of Barikád, the official organ of Jobbik. It seems that Nagy Magyarország is "the historical arm" of Jobbik.

What I find astonishing is that reactions to Szakács's demands pro and con talk about everything, including the nature of Ervin Szabó's political views, except what is really important: the far right is working on rewriting Hungarian history. They are trying to eradicate all traces of the Hungarian social democratic tradition of which Ervin Szabó was a part.

The Jobbik attack on Hungarian history began with an assault on Mihály Károlyi, the prime minister, later president of Hungary in 1918-1919. They demanded the removal of his statue that stands close to Parliament because, according to them, Károlyi was a traitor who was responsible for the Treaty of Trianon and who handed over power to the communists. I'm not planning to go into the details of this very confusing period, but believe me that Károlyi didn't do anything of the sort. He happened to be a decent man who thought that because of his well-known pro-Entente stance the Great Powers would be kinder to Hungary. As we know, that was not the case. The accusation that he handed over power to the communists is also baseless.

One could easily ignore Jobbik's demands if they didn't receive support from important Fidesz politicians. In the case of the Károlyi controversy it was László Kövér, the speaker of the house, who came to the rescue. Yes, he said, Károlyi's statue must go. He even had a suggestion about who should receive a statue in its place: Anna Kéthly, one of the leaders of the Hungarian Social Democratic Party who ended her life in exile after the 1956 Revolution.

There is no question that Ervin Szabó was a socialist who translated the works of Marx and Engels into Hungarian with his own introductions. It is also true that in his later years he was attracted to revolutionary syndicalism, but it seems to me that Jobbik's real problem with Szabó is his total rejection of any kind of nationalism. If we had all read Magyar Hírlap religiously we could have predicted that Ervin Szabó would soon be a target. Gábor Szabó, one of the founders of Jobbik and the Hungarian Guard, wrote an article in Magyar Hírlap (September 17, 2010) about Ervin Szabó entitled "An anti-Hungarian 'revolutionary.'" (In fact, in the original it was "népforradalmár" [people's revolutionary], a word that doesn't exist and makes no sense.) In it, he accused Ervin Szabó of being the initiator of the Hungarian socialist movement's antagonism toward natonalism which is of course nonsense. After all, social democracy was a movement based on internationalism.

In any case, in those days being a social democrat or a syndicalist or a translator of Marx and Engels was tolerated by the authorities. Ervin Szabó published widely in Népszava, the official organ of the Hungarian Social Democratic party, he became founder and chief librarian of the Municipal Library and was also accepted in Hungarian liberal circles. But this world is totally alien to Jobbik's leaders. Even historical figures who don't share their worldview must be banished. Their statues must be removed, streets or institutions named after them must be renamed: they were communists, traitors, "nemzetietlen," or whatever. They held opinions different from what Jobbik considers to be acceptable. And that's enough.

Géza Szőcs, born and educated in Romania, decided to support Jobbik in its quest to marginalize Ervin Szabó, the man who introduced the public library system to Hungary. Szőcs is a poet and writer who was picked by Viktor Orbán himself to head what used to be the ministry of culture. A few months ago Szőcs got all mixed up between linguistics and DNA; echoing Jobbik's infatuation with Kazakhstan, he promised money and government support to find the real relatives of the Hungarians in that region. He now wholeheartedly supports Jobbik's demand to remove Ervin Szabó's name from the Municipal Library network in Budapest. After all, he knows so much about syndicalism. Just as much as he knows about the origins of Hungarians.

And now we come to the crux of the matter. We don't know where Jobbik ends and Fidesz begins. The Hungarian right is composed of shades of radicalism that has nothing to do with conservatism even if Jobbik's historians call themselves "nationalist" and "conservative." The editors of Nagy Magyarország proudly claim that well-known, mainstream historians, economists, and academics have published in their quarterly. And indeed, Géza Szőcs himself appeared in the very first issue which was devoted to Trianon. We find in subsequent issues the names of the late Jenő Gergely, ELTE professor of history, Ernő Raffay, historian and undersecretary in the Antall government, Sándor Szakály, military historian, László Bogár, economist, member of the first Orbán government, and one could go on.

With thousands of threads these people are connected to one another and thus it will be practically impossible to get rid of Jobbik. Or, rather, one can destroy it as a party, and Viktor Orbán is very skillful at such maneuvers, but the spirit will live on in any party that claims to belong to the right.

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Paul Haynes
Guest

A thoroughly depressing article (no offence, Eva).
I never used to be glad to live in England, but things like this are making me revise my opinion.
One can only hope that the retards in Jobbik get the two Szabós mixed up and get rid of the other one by mistake.

Passing Stranger
Guest

I didn’t realise Gabor Vincze cast in his lot with the loopies. Shame.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Passing Stranger: “I didn’t realise Gabor Vincze cast in his lot with the loopies. Shame.”
Good that you mention. I wrote a longer piece on this issue for Galamus and our editor-in-chief expressed her disbelief that this is the same Vincze. I said that of course I am not 100% sure, but it looks like it. Then, she wrote someone who teaches at Szeged University and the confirmation came: yes, he is and he always had a tendency toward “a frustrated view of history.” Whatever it means. One thing is sure he is now squarely in the Jobbik camp.

Paul Haynes
Guest

And now the Swedes as well.
As I sit here hearing ‘liberals’ justifying the insane extremes of the ‘Coalition’, and reading about Fidesz and Jobbik in Hungary, the French ‘deporting’ EU citizens from one part of the EU to another, just because they are Roma, and a bunch of Nazi fixated loonies holding the balance of power in a country that was once a beacon of sanity to the rest of us, it seems the whole of Europe is going mad.
Is it just a reflection of the tiredness of post-war socialism and social-democracy, or merely a reaction to uncertain economic times (or a natural by-product of consumerist societies?), or is it that the last generation to have experienced the war and the hollocaust is now dying out, and the memories and understanding of how that particular evil came about are fading?
I sincerely hope it’s not the latter, because, if it is, we are in for some very bad times.

Sandor
Guest

I happen to have read some of Ervin Szabo’s writings.
He was indeed a socialist and the initiator of the library, but above all he was one of the initiators of sociology in Hungary.
Most of his writings, chiefly articles, are concerned with the life of the poor, the working people and occasionally the mistreatment they receive at the hand of the authorities.
From what I can gather about this artificial controversy, it is obvious that the attack on this truly remarkable man is ideologically fueled and that the idiots who support it have never ever read anything Ervin Szabo has written.
This whole tempest in a teapot is just an other testimonial to the utter vacuity and idiocy of the Hungarian right.
On the other hand, it is reassuring that the Thought Police is hard at work, just a few more months and the whole national conscious will be totally cleansed of any thought and any memory. No wonder they are so easily lead by their noses.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

@Sandor@ I guess this way Jobbik believed to attract voters of Fidesz. But Fidesz as some times before agreed with the proposals of Jobbik and let Géza Szöcs declare, that the library should not be named after a “Marxist”.
Sometimes it is impossible to see a difference between the “conservative” Fidesz and its stepchild Jobbik.

Member

Just curious … Who “owns” the Szabo Ervin library? In other words who has the right to change the name? I think it belongs to Budapest (as the name suggests). It doesn’t seem to be a big thing to me that a couple of “wing nuts” are lobbying to change the name (they are everywhere). I’m rather worrying about the process how it can happen.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

The city “ownes” the library. Our Transylvanian poet and writer is totally ignorant and doesn’t realize that the central government has no jurisdiction in this case. Or perhaps he just expressed his private opinion because even the conservative historians only suggested that the city council should take up the question sometime after the elections. They are hoping that Fidesz will have the majority in the council then. Sandor is right: storm in a teapot.

Alias3T
Guest

These people – Szakacs, Vincze, even Novak or Vona or Duro – are all young. Most are in their 20s and early 30s. That means they’ll be staples of the political scene for many years to come.
What happens to them as they grow older? Are there instructive examples from radical movements in other countries?
I suppose you’ve got Joschka Fischer or Daniel Cohn-Bendit – essentially radical anarchists in the 60s, who didn’t shy away from verbal or political violence, who both grew up into Green statesmen. Now, JF and DCB would, I suspect, have been more appealing to me even in their radical 60s incarnation than the Jobbik crowd. But could Jobbik undergo this kind of transition?
What happens to successful radicals as they grow old, and what role will they be plaing in 2030, when Orban and Gyurcsany have long departed the scene?

Alias3T
Guest

Or rather – the movement may not last for decades. But some of the people involved will be around for a long time to come.

Passing Stranger
Guest

Well, it could go both ways, depending on the circumstances. They might go the way of Haider, and turn into more or less respectable if big mouthed populist politicians of the centre right. Or they might turn into dictators and murderers. Jobbik certainly have a core following of thugs that could fulfill such a role. You could take the 1960s analogue further: part might get stuck in the institutions, part might turn to violence, such as the RAF. I assume though that, as long as Europe remains civilised and intact in the coming years, most brutality will be contained. If not, then all bets are off.

Odins lost eye
Guest
A possible horror scenario for Hungary (and Europe) is that Jobbik will be around long enough for it to do more damage to Hungary by their attempt to re-write history. It is fortunate that repositories of the works and knowledge of those they seek to ‘write out of history’ lie well beyond their control. As Mark rightly says “On the other hand, it is reassuring that the Thought Police is hard at work, just a few more months and the whole national conscious will be totally cleansed of any thought and any memory. No wonder they (the Hungarians) are so easily lead by their noses”. I fear that the Hungarian psyche all too often falls for this sort of stuff. It may be because they are amongst the loneliest people in Europe. The unfortunate upshot of the teachings of Árpád Szakács and Géza Szőcs (et al) will be that the Hungarians become more and more out of touch with reality and the outside world.. They may become a sort of Fascist ‘North Korea’. Like most Hungarians, Jobbik still have not yet understood ‘You start a war. You lose the war. The result is that the victors dictate the terms (not… Read more »
Passing Stranger
Guest

Yes, I meant the Red Army Faction. That could be seen as the violent arm of the 1960s protest generation. I have heard far right radicals saying they would like to make a ‘northern Ireland’ ion Vojvodina or Transylvania. Though most of it is bluster, the gypsy killings show there is potential for far right violence in Hungary.

Budaphil
Guest

What next, year zero and re-education camps?

Member

I read somewhere that the Red Army Faction/Fraction deliberately chose a name that would have RAF is its initials for shock value as back in the late 60s and early 70s most Germans could remember the RAF bombing their cities.

Paul Haynes
Guest

I suspect it’s not the politicians and movements we have to worry about, it’s the people.
For instance, Hitler found a ready audience for his nationalistic and anti-Semitic policies in the Germany of the 30s and 40s (remember he was initially democratically elected), whereas no extreme right-wing party has ever got very far in the UK. Even the ‘harmless nutter’ wing of the far right (UKIP) has failed to make any long-term headway.
And in the USA, a sizeable chunk of the population seem to be only too ready to believe any extreme right-wing loonies who come along.
So, what about the people of Hungary? Well, if my experience is anything to go by, we should be very worried. Not only have so many been taken in by the plainly absurd policies and promises of Fidesz, but most of the Orbán supporters I know, especially in the East, wouldn’t find talking themselves into voting Jobbik too difficult.
Maybe we get the politicians we deserve?

Mark
Guest
Alias 3T: “What happens to successful radicals as they grow old, and what role will they be plaing in 2030, when Orban and Gyurcsany have long departed the scene?” I rather like the old joke that while Hungarian liberals weren’t clear about which country they were living with, the right weren’t too sure about which era they are living in. The right’s problem – which much of it doesn’t realize or accept – is that it is rooted ideologically in the pre-1945 era. On a very important level its belief that the period between 1945 and 1990 represented an utter abberation, and that Hungary needs to return to a “natural” course is its weakness, because it simply finds it difficult to accept Hungarian society as it actually is. Whatever our opinion of Communism as a political system, people forget that society was modernized in a way that was comparable, if not entirely the same as that whch took place under capitalist conditions in western Europe. Hungary became an urban society; agriculture was mechanized; the tertiary sector expanded; secularization reduced the influence of traditional religion; and – as a consequence of the introduction of mass media – Hungary became a modern… Read more »
Paul Haynes
Guest

Mark – there’s a lovely line in that paper you pointed me to:
“As with all ideologically committed
parties, the failure of reality to conform to idelology was not a problem.”

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

There is a big difference between Austria and Hungary. Nobody in Austrian Parliament would propose a day in memory of the peace of St.Germain.
The Austrian elite understood after Kurt Waldheim became president and Haider the leader of FPÖ that antisemitism is not improving the image of Austria. Even Haider understood it and employed a Jewish secretary general of his party.
In Hungary a raving antisemite likw Lóránr Hegedüs jun. can be pastor. In Austria this would be impossible.
Of course we had never a communist system and that is also a very big difference.

Passing Stranger
Guest

@Karl Pfeiffer. Does the Austrian far right make a fuss about Otto Bauer and Karl Renner? In theory, of course, both Germans and Austrians could find enough to be resentful about concerning communism if they wanted to, considering Red Army misbehaviour and post war occupation.
The resentment against ‘communists’ does not come from any ideological opposition to communism. Most Hungarians were comfortably off under Kadar. Attitudes of party members and ordinary Hungarians did not differ greatly. When most Hungarians curse communists, what they are really angry about are profiteering careerists, who did well under the old system and the new. This is about social resentment, not about ideology. I don’t think most Hungarians care either way about Szabo Ervin. In the end this debate is a war of words between elites.

Attila
Guest

Ha valakit érdekel Trianonnak a Globalizmus szemszögéből való tárgyalása és Kárpát Régióként való kezelése, annak ajánlom a Pozitív Visszacsatolás Stratégiáját :
http://pozitivvisszacsatolas.blogspot.com/

Odins lost eye
Guest
I am not a sociologist. I will however put in a few comments. I am retired so my life has become more isolated and secretive than when I was at work. I think my only real public activity is beer. There seem to be two models of society. The open society which can be changed by popular vote and the closed society which cannot. All forms of society are imposed by the armed might controlled by its leaders. As Chairman Moa said “Power stems from the muzzle of a gun”. The problem is just how conformist any society will become. I started to think about ‘Freedom’ and the stumbling block was the idea of ‘offence’. I took a ridiculous precept that of ‘nudism’. Some people are offended by the sight of naked people. Others are offended by the idea that people could be naked. It was this latter which gave me the problem could a person have the right to prevent an act the idea which of which offends them? If so who takes precedence the nudist or the person who is offended by the idea that someone else should be allowed to be a nudist. The difference between Communism… Read more »
Paul Haynes
Guest
My Hungarian isn’t good enough to be exactly sure of what Attila posted, but the link makes it fairly clear! Much as I share the pain and injustice of Trianon, surely no one can still harbour the illusion that the borders, no matter how injust, are ever going to be redrawn? But here’s an idea – now most of the surrounding countries are in the EU, Orbán could follow the ‘logic’ of his move to grant all external Hungarians citizenship by aboloshing all borders between Hungary and other EU countries. Not just remove checks, etc at border crossings, but open the whole border to free passage. That way Hungarians on the other side of the (ex) border would be free to come and go as they want (especially if he could get the other counties to agree to do the same). A win-win idea – Orbán demonstrates that Hungary (and Fidesz) is not as isolated, and inward looking as people might think with a fantastically bold internationalist gesture, the Trianon border redrawers have the rug pulled from under them, and Hungarians beyond the borders get Hungarian citizenship AND free travel to and from Hungary – almost like being ‘real’ Hungarians… Read more »
Pásztor Szilárd
Guest
@Paul: “it seems the whole of Europe is going mad.” Nice to see some kind of recognition where you sense that something is not right here. But the solution is not where you suppose. It’s not “all those other idiots” coming up on the highway, it’s you going in the wrong direction. All the matter about here is about eliminating as much as possible the heritage of Communism and its tendentious falsifying of history. I’m not distressed by the name “Ervin Szabó” but I’m not particularly against changing it either. That’s not a big deal. But to depict the endeavour of many respectable historians to overcome the harmful barriers of the past as a damaging rewrite of Hungarian history is a prime example why blog is a left-wing extremist. It’s the highly-praised Marx who spread the idea of one possible interpretation of the world while labelling everything else an enemy. The fact that a historian maybe supports nationalist ideology (which I very much respect in its original form, that is, nationalism to support your own homeland, but not to fuel hatred against others) doesn’t mean that such historians will be influenced by their ideology in their scholarly work. Denying facts… Read more »
Karl Pfeifer
Guest
@Passing Stranger@ No; our far right FPÖ is not for changing names of streets. Certainly they have nothing against Renner. As early as August 1945, at a time when Austria’s infrastructure was partly destroyed, and the country was struggling to cope with thousands of displaced persons, the first president of the Second Republic, the Social Democrat (SPÖ) Karl Renner, was preoccupied with the fate of former National Socialists, few of whom were subjected to either hard labor or internment. Thus he declared in a speech that “all those little Nazis, those little businessmen, those little employees” did not want to have a war, “to the utmost they wanted to do something to the Jews.” [1] Thus did he play down violent antisemitism. Renner’s attitude is also to be understood in the context of the fact that he was not only in favor of the “Anschluss” in 1938, but volunteered to write a brochure for the annexation of the Sudetenland to Germany. [2] [1] “Ich bin dafür, die Sache in die Länge zu ziehen” Wortprotokolle der österreichischen Bundesregierung von 1945-52 über die Entschädigung der Juden, Hgb. Robert Knight, 1988, page 114 [2] Wiener Zeitung, the official daily of Austria: Karl Renner… Read more »
Paul Haynes
Guest

Angry as ever, Szilárd? I imagine you spitting bile as you type!
As for Roma, our Hungarian home is in Debrecen and we have relatives in Nyíregyháza, Mátészalka and Ungvár, so, yes, I have seen plenty of Roma, both good and bad.
And I do understand the ‘problem’ very well – both theirs and yours. I am no bleeding heart liberal. It’s about time you read the posts on here properly and stopped jumping to totally inaccurate knee-jerk conclusions about the posters.
And as for ‘Victator’, it was just too good not to use. I’ve used ‘Orbánista’ as well, you must have missed that one. A viewpoint that can’t take gentle mockery needs to look at itself long and hard. If you were really comfortable with your beliefs, a little wordplay wouldn’r get you so upset.
Take a calm pill, Szil.
And while you’re at it, have a gander at this:
http://www.budapesttimes.hu/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=15289&Itemid=27

Pásztor Szilárd
Guest

@Paul: I don’t know if it is bad news for you or not, but your imagination about me is cheating you again (as always).
As you have written that France is deporting the Roma just because they are Roma, you either don’t understand the problem or you lie. I simply went for the more respectable option, maybe I was wrong.
The term “Victator” is used by left-wing extremists, and is on about the same intellectual standard as the “worldwide Jewish conspiracy”. It is simply a mock word for idiots who cannot tolerate that Orbán is one of the last democrats who remained standing since the regime change in 1990, as he was beaten up by MSZMP’s police in 1988 for political reasons (when Peter Medgyessy was in the government, who later became prime minister – talk about this MSZP being “different” – blah), then participted at the Round Table negotiations, claimed the withdraval of Soviet forces who were called in by MSZMP. And the same persons who were often members of MSZMP and are now members of MSZP, together with their supporters, are calling this man they had beaten up “Victator”. Sickens me.

Pásztor Szilárd
Guest

@Paul: the link you gave me is about Jobbik’s parody of the law punishing Holocaust denial.
And, I must say, a very witty and smart parody.
I suppose you agree with the law that punishes if anyone denies the Holocaust or depicts it in a way that is aimed at reducing its significance.
(I couldn’t disagree more with this law, as with ANY law that forces any opinion – it’s pure dictatorship, nothing else than Orwell’s “thought police”.)
And, if you agree with the Holocaust law, shouldn’t you agree with Jobbik’s law too, on an equal basis?

John T
Guest

Szilárd – I’ve hardly seen the term Victator used here – most of the time it is on more trival sites. I can only judge Orban on what I’ve seen and on that basis, I don’t think much of him at all. Just as I’ve not thought much of any of the leaders since 1989. They just aren’t up to the standards I would expect of someone who is leader of a country of 10 million. Maybe I just have higher standards than you.

GW
Guest
Paul Haynes, Both Hungary and Slovakia are members of the Schengen agreement, thus the border between the two countries is essentially open. As to granting citizenship, since 1989, it has not been difficult for ethnic Hungarians to move to Hungary and naturalize (naturalization of a non-ethnic Hungarian, on the other hand, is almost impossible, even when born in the country and speaking the language competently), a point which cannot be emphasized enough in sorting out what, precisely, has been achieved by the recent change in laws and to what extent the campaign has strictly been for show. Given the demographic developments of Hungary, particularly the age structure, the boost which could be given by a large migration of younger ethnic Hungarians into Hungary would be significant. A real innovation in naturalization would include a program of incentives to encourage such a migration. Yet no party is making a serious proposal in this direction. Instead, the present program seeks to bind ethnic Hungarians abroad to the Hungarian state, and to FIDESZ in particular, and to influence policy in the neighboring countries (much as Erdogan is attempting to influence the political participation of ethnic Turks with German citizenship). This does, of course,… Read more »
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