This is the title Népszabadság gave to an article in today’s edition that describes a demonstration that took place this afternoon in front of the statue of Count Mihály Károlyi, the sole president of Hungary’s First Republic. The background of today’s demonstration is an earlier one organized by Jobbik to “celebrate” the ninety-first anniversary of the arrival of Miklós Horthy and his National Army in Budapest. Between August 3 and November 16, 1919, the Hungarian capital was under Romanian military occupation which came about as a result of Béla Kun’s decision to attack the Romanian army which at this point stood at the River Tisza. The Hungarian forces collapsed and the Romanians proceeded westward until they reached Budapest and occupied half the country, east of the Danube River.
Jobbik has been enamored with Miklós Horthy and his regime ever since it became a party in 2006. These neo-fascists especially like the early Horthy period when white terror was introduced by the officers of the National Army. According to fairly reliable estimates about 1,200 victims were killed on the spot. They were often dragged out of local jails and were either shot or hanged. Between August and November the activities of these “counterrevolutionary” officers were restricted to Transdanubia, but after the National Army occupied Budapest the atrocities began there as well. Perhaps the best known of these officers’ crimes is the summary execution of Béla Somogyi and Béla Bacsó, two journalists of Népszava, the newspaper of the Hungarian Social Democratic Party. Not long ago I wrote an article about this murder in Galamus and quoted at length one of the worst perpetrators of these crimes, Pál Prónay, who described the events and Horthy’s role in them in detail.
Last year, Jobbik’s demonstration included someone riding a white horse–just as Horthy did in 1919–to the Hotel Gellért and reciting the speech Horthy delivered there about Budapest “the sinful city.” This year they decided to expand their horizons and couple their admiration of Miklós Horthy with their hatred of Mihály Károlyi. So, the demonstration was organized in front of the rather stunning statue of Károlyi by Imre Varga, unveiled in 1975.
The extreme right and even some Fidesz leaders are convinced that Mihály Károlyi is responsible for the Treaty of Trianon. The Hungarian right between the two world wars also blamed him for everything from Trianon to the rise of the Hungarian Soviet Republic. But at least in the 20s and 30s historians hadn’t yet had the opportunity to examine the archives, which make it eminently clear that the claims of the successor states had been accepted long before Károlyi became prime minister in October 1918. The same people also claimed that the severity of the treaty was due to the establishment of the Hungarian Soviet Republic. It was a punishment of sorts. That is also wrong. The borders, down to their smallest details, were fixed before March 21, 1919, when Béla Kun and his fellow communists declared the Commune.
Well, one could say that these young men in their 20s and 30s just don’t know enough history. We often hear that in high school the teachers run out of time and modern Hungarian history is shortchanged. Oh, but no, many of the Jobbik leaders are history majors. Mind you, the kind of history they are learning from their professors at the Gáspár Károli Calvinist University is most likely heavily biased and professionally questionable. In any case, a few months ago Jobbik officially demanded the removal of Károlyi’s statue. Until that time, they argued, it should be covered with a black veil.
Okay, this is Jobbik. What else can we expect from them? But when I heard that László Kövér, today the speaker of the house and the second most important man in Fidesz, supports the idea of removing Károlyi’s statue I was really shocked. After all, Kövér spent seven years in law school because his real interest lay in history and he combined the study of the law with the study of history. That was in the 1980s. Surely, he couldn’t have learned from his professors at ELTE that Károlyi was responsible for the Treaty of Trianon and the establishment of the Hungarian Soviet Republic.
Kövér actually wanted to be “generous” toward the Hungarian socialists. He suggested that in place of Károlyi, a statue of Anna Kéthly, a social democratic leader, should be erected. Jobbik wasn’t that accommodating. They wanted back the statue of István Tisza who in fact had a great deal more to do with Trianon than Károlyi.
The Jobbik demonstration started to be really ugly. Előd Novák, a Jobbik member of parliament, put a sign around Károlyi’s neck that read “I am responsible for Trianon.” Someone put a yarmulke on his head and finally came a rope around his neck. Some members of this neo-nazi party were even ready to pull down the statue. The few policemen nearby did nothing; only one woman tried to interfere. She turned out to be a policewoman off duty. On the picture below one can see Előd Novák proudly standing by.
It was today that those people who are worried about the rise of nazism in Hungary organized a demonstration in defense of Mihály Károlyi, against the rising anti-semitism, and against the falsification of history. What the yarmulke has to do with the aristocratic Károlyi is hard to figure. But the Jobbik European parliamentary member Csanád Szegedi had an antisemitic outburst on MTV’s Ma Reggel in which he somehow managed to connect Károlyi to Israel and Jobbik’s very negative feelings toward the Jewish state.
One of the speakers today was László Márton who for years was the editor-in-chief of the famous émigré weekly Irodalmi Újság, published in Paris. He said that his speech could have been entitled “History Lesson to Ignorant Boys,” but he rightly pointed out that this whole attack on Károlyi has nothing to do with history. Important historians keep emphasizing that Károlyi was not the cause of the Treaty of Trianon, he just happened to be the prime minister and later president of a country that lost the war. But “our historians can say whatever they want, our nazis are not interested.” True believers’ minds cannot be changed. I know it from experience.