Imre Makowecz is a well known architect whose creations some people admire greatly. I’m not among them. He is a fierce nationalist, an anti-communist, and an anti-Semite who has been much favored by the right-wing regime of Viktor Orbán.
As is often the case with anti-communists, Makowecz had a highly successful career during the Kádár regime. There was hardly a year between 1960 and 1989 when there was no new Makowecz building. His current style is “national,” which I find strangely out of place in our globalized world. Here is one of his creations:
Or here is one of his many churches:
After the change of regime he exhibited his independent ways by establishing the Hungarian Academy of Arts, of which he is the founder and “eternal and executive president.” He was the architect of the Ferenc Puskás Academy of Soccer at Felcsút, Orbán’s hometown, and thus the two men know each other intimately. Lately he became somewhat notorious when in the new Hungarian constitution his right-wing Academy of Arts was specifically mentioned alongside of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Perhaps because of this rather surprising development he was interviewed in Hetek (Weeks), the magazine of the Assembly of God (Hitgyülekezet), on May 6. The contents of this interview shocked the more liberal Hungarian intellectuals, and the interview was discussed on the program A tét (The stake) on ATV last Wednesday. The program, moderated by András Bánó, calls on a panel of four political scientists or commentators.
Some of Makowecz’s assertions were indeed shocking. My first reaction was the Hungarian saying “the shoemaker should stick with his shoelast,” meaning that one ought not to expound on subjects he knows nothing about. Well, this is what happened to Makowecz and history. Even his facts were wrong and therefore it was inevitable that his conclusions were also wrong.
History entered the conversation when Makowecz claimed that “Heller and her gang,” just because they are of Jewish descent, cannot possibly be concerned with all the Hungarian national tragedies that took place in the twentieth century. “They don’t care that we lost a country in 1914 where 70% of the population was Hungarian.” Two mistakes in one sentence. Naturally, Hungary didn’t lose the country in 1914 but officially only in 1920, although by the early months of 1919 it was becoming evident that the loss of territories would be substantial once the peace treaty is signed. The second problem is that in Greater Hungary only about half of the population was Hungarian-speaking, not 70%. Makowecz further claimed that after the loss of territories, Hungary received 2 million Hungarian refugees. In reality their number was about 100,000.
Makowecz’s Miklós Horthy was a great statesman who managed to reoccupy “the annexed territories as the result of the Vienna Award.” First of all, during the interwar period Horthy was not personally involved in policy-making and therefore had little to do with foreign policy directly. And the second problem is that there was not just one Vienna Award but two. Finally, Makowecz asserted that the returned territories were wholly inhabited by Hungarians. This was not the case, especially with the Second Vienna Award where the region of northern Transylvania allotted to Hungary had an ethnic makeup that was practically equally divided between Hungarians and Romanians.
He talked disparagingly about Ágnes Heller and György Konrád. Makowecz, if I understand his rather primitive thoughts properly, doesn’t divide the world into right and left but into Christians and non-Christians. For him the Christian/non-Christian distinction is much more important than political divisions. According to him “Heller and the whole gang” stand on the liberal side for economic and political gains. When the reporter asked him whether his opinion of “Heller and company” had anything to do with their Jewishness, his answer was: “I can’t leave it out, even if I stand on my head. They always have something to criticize the Hungarian nation for; they have a superiority complex; they live with the idea of being the chosen people.”
Finally he expressed his sorrow over the disappearance of the Hungarian aristocracy, nobility, and the middle class.
Makowecz himself exhibits a good dose of a superiority complex–a Hungarian superiority complex. According to him “Hungarian folk art carries such world-wide and ancient content which makes it universal.” The implication being that first there was Hungarian folk art, which then in some strange way was disseminated throughout the world. The reporter felt compelled to ask whether this doesn’t mean a similar message of the “chosen people syndrome” which Makowecz levels against Ágnes Heller and others. Makowecz’s answer was rather primitive: “No, because the Hungarians didn’t come up with the idea that they were the chosen people of God.”
When the reporter mentioned Jesus’s Jewishness, Makowecz’s patience was running out: “I don’t play such games, especially since no Jews lived in Galilee when this man talked about the connection between heaven and earth, and in any case he was always talking about a universal God present in everything and everybody.” Another typical anti-Semitic, old Nazi contention about Jesus’s ancestry.
While the participants of A tét last Wednesday tore Makowecz’s historical knowledge into bits, András Gerő, a historian who apparently likes Makowecz’s work, expressed his hope that one day he could sit down and exchange ideas with the architect. He would explain to Makowecz that his knowledge of history leaves a great deal to be desired and surely Makowecz is an intelligent man who will understand reason. I’m afraid Gerő is naive. Makowecz wouldn’t care a bit about his historical explanations and he certainly wouldn’t be able to change this man’s notions of history, human relations, or his political views.
What I find worrisome is that people close to Viktor Orbán are often those who entertain far-right, ultra-nationalistic, anti-Semitic views. What does that say about Hungary’s current prime minister?