Miklós Horthy: It is time to set things straight (I)

Miklós Horthy (1868-1957) was not a politician and thus he couldn't have been a statesman either. His education certainly didn't prepare him for a political career. At the age of fourteen he entered the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy's naval academy in Fiume (today Rijeka). It was a fairly unusual career choice for the son of a Calvinist family because Hungarian Calvinists usually voted for the Party of Independence and were no friends of the dual monarchy as it emerged in 1867, just a year before he was born. The official language of the academy was naturally German as was that of the entire Austro-Hungarian army. As a result Horthy spoke with a slight but distinct German accent all his life.

Horthy was good looking and personable but he didn't excel at the academy except in horseback riding and fencing. On the other hand, he was good in languages and thus served for many years at various Austro-Hungarian embassies as military attaché. At one point he was aide-de-camp of Emperor-King Franz Joseph whom he greatly admired.

How did he end up in politics? That is one of the mysteries of his life. After the war ended and there was no longer either a dual monarchy or an Austro-Hungarian navy, he retired to his modest family estate in Kenderes where he was born. However, after the Hungarian Soviet Republic was declared on March 21, 1919, he left Kenderes and went first to Arad (today in Romania) and later to Szeged where a counterrevolutionary government in exile had been formed under reluctant French tutelage. Since he was the only military man in the group he was made minister of defense.

Horthy is usually described as "a conservative who was distinctly inclined toward the right of the political spectrum." But the real problem was that he was a man who could be easily influenced. As a Hungarian diplomat observed, Horthy's political views could change within hours. It depended on who talked to him last. His other weakness was his great attachment to military men who especially after 1918 were steadily drifting toward the extreme right. Right-wing army officers left the Hungarian Republic in droves and gathered in Vienna or later in Szeged. The so-called National Army was made up exclusively of officers. These officers, unlike Horthy, were savvy when it came to politics and they decided that if they wanted to have a say in the politics of the future they should promote Horthy, who could represent their views against the politicians whom they detested.

Their job was made easy by the total lack of political understanding among the counterrevolutionary politicians after the fall of the Soviet Republic in August 1919. The Entente Powers demanded a "coalition government" that represented all segments of society. That included the Social Democrats. But the Social Democrats, who held all the cards, demanded a major share in the government which the politicians on the right were unwilling to grant. Almost five months went by and there was still no government that the Great Powers would recognize. And as long as there was no officially recognized government, no peace treaty could be signed.

As it turned out, in this chaos the only man who had any power behind him was Miklós Horthy. He had the National Army, and at one point the officers were ready to arrest all the politicians and establish a military dictatorship. Eventually a representative of the Great Powers was sent to Budapest to assess the situation and assist the Hungarians in the formation of a viable coalition government. The representative, Sir George Clerk, recognized that Horthy was the man who was capable of keeping order because he was the only one with an army behind him. Clerk therefore suggested him as the man the Entente could trust. From there on, with Clerk's and the officer detachments' help, Horthy marched toward eventually being "governor" of the country.

Hungary was declared to be a republic in 1918, a status the counterrevolutionaries who came to the fore after the fall of the Hungarian Soviet Republic couldn't imagine. But the Habsburg king in exile couldn't occupy the Hungarian throne because neither the neighbors nor the Great Powers would allow Charles IV's return. Moreover, the Hungarian ruling class was split on the person of the king. Not everybody was a fan of the Habsburg connection. One could actually say that the "loyalists" were in the minority and the majority (the free electors) would have opted for a national king. The best thing was to postpone the whole issue by appointing a governor who would rule while there was no king on the Hungarian throne. Thus Hungary again became a kingdom but without a king.

Because Horthy was the only man who had power there was no question that the new parliament that came into being after elections in the western part of the country (the eastern part was still under Romanian occupation) would vote for Miklós Horthy, the darling of the National Army and the far-right. The parliament itself was mostly made up of men of fairly extreme views. Before the actual vote long and difficult negotiations took place between Horthy and the new Hungarian government. As one of the politicians openly admitted, they had to agree to Horthy's demands because otherwise Horthy's army would have taken over power forcibly.

Horthy was advised by men such as Gyula Gömbös who later as prime minister was hard at work trying to introduce a fascist type regime in Hungary. Only his sudden death prevented him from doing so. I wrote about Gömbös several times in the last couple of years since upon studying Gömbös's politics, historians find more and more resemblances between Gömbös and Viktor Orbán.

One more thing about this early Horthy. Horthy has never been found to have personally engaged in White Terror atrocities, but  he "tacitly supported the right wing officer detachments" who carried out the terror. Horthy himself declined to apologize for the savagery of his officer detachments, writing later: "I have no reason to gloss over deeds of injustice and atrocities committed when an iron broom alone could sweep the country clean." And he endorsed Edgar von Schmidt-Pauli's poetic justification of the White reprisals ("Hell let loose on earth cannot be subdued by the beating of angels' wings") remarking, "the Communists in Hungary, willing disciples of the Russian Bolshvists, had indeed let hell loose."

Tomorrow I will show that the Horthy of White Terror notoriety was tamed by 1922, in large part by Prime Minister István Bethlen (1921-1931). The statesman was not Horthy, whose duties were mostly ceremonial, but Bethlen, who managed to achieve considerable economic progress and succeeded in convincing Europe and the United States that Hungary's murky past was no more. 

 

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Sandor
Guest

I beg to differ. As far as I know, Horthy settled his head Quarters in Siofok at first and has actively directed and participated in the retributions for the Commune. A quick survey reveals that between 2-300 people were murdered in the Siofok local jail. Approximately 10% were Jews, the rest, herded up from the surrounding counties Somogy and Zala, were the participants of the Commune.

HappyINbudaToday
Guest

Time to teach Hungarian history without the lost battles and the past corrupt leaders.
Besides Ferenc Deak and King Matyas there is nothing to teach.
Hungary is beautiful, and the people deserve a decent leadership, but the sticky politicians will not vacate their seats out of their free will.
The Catholic Church will try to hold to power though the current alliance with the Orban clique. Life will remain tough.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Sandor: “I beg to differ. As far as I know, Horthy settled his head Quarters in Siofok at first and has actively directed and participated in the retributions for the Commune.”
No one among his associates ever said that Horthy himself ordered the killings. He just looked the other way. That’s all.

Kirsten
Guest
HappyINbudaToday: The problem is that the “people who deserve a decent leadership” should find out what their own history can teach them on why “life will remain tough”. It is not an unfortunate accident that there were just democratic episodes in the 20th century. I have limited knowledge on that but the period of 1918-1920 seems to be rather important in that it revealed many weaknesses in the functioning of the Hungarian state. A country dominated by an aristocracy which insisted on Greater Hungary but was unwilling to finance the military needed to support it, in 1918 a relatively small group of democratic-minded aristocrats who failed in finding support in the nation for a liberal programme, a communist party that then started a first episode of oppressive rule followed by further terror now called White. One could call that a very weak state and society; programmes without much practical ideas how to achieve it. (Eva and others, I hope you forgive this broad-brush interpretation.) The solution in the form of an authoritarian regime with the support of the Army (and of the Allies in guaranteeing the borders) at least calms the lives a bit. But it is still authoritarian and… Read more »
Odin's lost eye
Guest
Kirsten in most ways Horthy’s early years were somewhat similar to mine. Persons with that background generally are very self-disciplined. Horthy was a senior naval officer and would have preferred the company of his fellow officers to that of civilians. He would be steeped in the comradeship of his service, ‘Mess Mates’ first, then ‘Ship Mates’, then ‘Service Mates’ then ‘Other Military’ people and above all service to the country which paid you. Civilians were outside his knowledge except as trades’ people. Horthy would have been taught to avoid ’Politico’s’ like the plague’ they might advance your career for a while but would have dumped you in the ‘do-do’ whenever it suited them. Kirsten you write * “A country dominated by an aristocracy which insisted on Greater Hungary but was unwilling to finance the military needed to support it.” * Horthy probably knew and disliked such folk (as in the main do I). As to autocratic governments Horthy was steeped in the idea of the ‘Chain of Command’ and was well used to it. He was ‘at home with it. He married into the ‘Landed Gentry’ who seemed to be ‘well to do’. Magdolna Purgly his wife seemed to be… Read more »
Kirsten
Guest

Odin, I am not a politician either and do not consider politics the most attractive business but there are preconditions for viable democracies that one should be aware of. And one is that democratic systems will not be stable if people expect that simply by stating “we want democracy” this will (somehow) obtain. Certainly most people will prefer some kind of order to anarchy so autocracies can be justified in some circumstances if order cannot be organised otherwise. And this is what I understood was the case in Hungary between 1918 and 1920, and Horthy and his men were able to deliver some kind of order and some kind of relations with the Allies. That is why I think that this period is very interesting. There were more countries at that time that did not manage to establish viable democracies, even with more interest in such a system than what appears to have been the case in Hungary. But as I said I am really such an amateur in this area that I am not sure whether I should venture into such hypotheses at all.

Member

It is very hard to find credible numbers for the victims of the red/white terrors. Some say during the white 300-1000 people were killed. The most “popular” number for the red seems to be 600.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Mutt: “It is very hard to find credible numbers for the victims of the red/white terrors”
Correct. Especially for the White Terror. In the first years of the Horthy regime there was a committee that gathered information on the numbers of victims of the Red Terror. I remember that this figure was around 300.
For years, during the Kádár regime, historians of the period simply took the number 2,000 for victims of the White Terror. The source was rather dubious. A wild guess by Volkstimme, the paper of the Austrian social democratic party. Not long time ago I heard Ignác Romsics saying that according to the latest estimates, the number was close to 1,000.

Sandor
Guest

Eva: “No one among his associates ever said that Horthy himself ordered the killings. He just looked the other way. That’s all.”
Bit of a flimm-flammery as it is stated.
No one of his associates have ever owned up to their own blood-letting, so why should they have implicated the boss?
Nobody came forward “boasting” about the Orgovany massacre, nobody volunteered responsibility for the Nepszava murders and one of his henchmen, Francia Kiss, has successfully evaded capture and trial until 1958! Sure, nobody said anything.
But surelly, Eva, not being said is just not the same as not being done.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Sándor: “He just looked the other way. That’s all.” Bit of a flimm-flammery as it is stated.”
The first problem is that there were no 200 people killed in the Siófok jail. I don’t know where you get that information but I who studied every hour of these detachments’ activities know nothing about it. One doesn’t have to come up with horror stories like that because it was pretty terrible without them.

Member

Eva: “The first problem is that there were no 200 people killed in the Siófok jail.” Maybe Sandor meant that in the Siofok area, there were hundreds of people killed. According to eyewitnesses , there were ten people hang in room, some were sawed in half alive, 43 dead body were lifted out from the Sio alone, in the “Csicsali-turn” next to the train trucks, they exhumed 40 bodies.
http://tab.rajtmester.hu/?p=1244
Siofok is not a big city even now, so not knowing what went on is impossible, and although Horthy did not do the killing or specifically asked for it, he very much authorized it.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

someone: “Horthy did not do the killing or specifically asked for it, he very much authorized it.”
Very difficult to pin it on him. Believe me, historians in the last fifty or so years have tried. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m sure of his complicity, but I think that Sakmyster’s description (that he looked the other way) is the best description of his attitude.
Of course, he knew what was going on and most likely even approved of it. Knowing something about the man I venture to say that he occasionally shook his head and told his soldier friends that they shouldn’t be too obvious because of the Entente’s disapproval and the possible consequences.
I think that the best manifestation of Horthy’s attitude–and that can be documented–was his comments after the Somogyi-Bacsó murders. His underlings who committed the murder asked him why he is so upset, after all, he often talked about that these two journalists should be eliminated, his answer was: “But not this way!”

Member

Eva, I see. You are right, I am not aware of anything where he directly gave orders. Unfortunately that is the problem with most of the war criminal tribunals, that after all those brave leaders were not so brave after all. and made sure that will nothing can be tied directly to them. THe “wink, wink” attitude is well known but cannot serve as a proof. Of course those people who would love to see the same measures implemented, rally behind these criminals and try to find every single backdoor for proving that his beloved mass murderer was actually a hero. The funny thing about Horthy, that if Horthy would half of been what the rightists portray him, he would of been outcasted by the right. If Horthy truly would of try to end the bloodshed, if he truly wanted to save the Jews, and so forth, the Jobbik would of wanted by now to scatter his ashes in hell.

Member

The “best” dictators were always the masters of the “plausible deniability”. What is this called? Negative leadership? When you surround yourself with thugs but you never give direct orders to affirm. Yue lead by occasional stopping. It’s like driving with gas pedal nailed down and pushing and releasing the breaks. But the thing is you are still driving. What matters is what you know.
This “Horthyculture” In Planet Hungary popped up right after the end of the commi-era in the beginning of the 90s. I think it stems from some kind of inferiority complex. Longing for an era when the country wasn’t an underdog. And the dude on white horse is an excellent visual to hold on to.
The real problem is now the intolerance. I mean, ok, Kenny picks his hero, but it turns out the guy has checkered past and that upsets hundreds of thousands. Then why not to let it go? What’s more important? A Horthy memorial or your country?

John T
Guest
When you look back at the history after the end of WWI, there is much to be horrified about, whether it be the barbarity of the red/white terror or the disasterous / discriminatory policies that Hungary followed and took into WWII. But clearly, we have the benefit of hindsight. However, if you look at what happened in the context of the time, I’m not surprised that much of what took place actually happened. The red/white terrors were the communists/Horthy looking to reassert control at a time when the country was in a catastrophic mess, so both sides wanted to prove they were strong and had people in their ranks who were enthusiastic killers. Equally, the country felt humiliated following its dismemberment and sought to try and reverse the situation, not thinking at all about what the underlying issues were that actually led to the break up of the country in the first place. For us, its easy to see what a narrow minded course this was. And when you look at the situation in Europe as a whole, it was pretty clear that WWII was going to happen anyway. What wasn’t so clear, up to the mid 30’s was that… Read more »
Member

John T, I agree with you on the red/white issue. THe problem is always with the extremists who take an idea on pushing as far as they legally can, then further. It is like teenagers who try to push the boundaries, when you tell them what time they have to be home, and they arrive juts ten minutes late, and they do not understand what is the big fuss about. If you do not give them the big fuss, next time it will be twenty minutes later.
There are some great films (and of course novels and dramas) that try to show both sides of the coin. Dr Zhivago is one my favourites with The Bridge Over River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia (how timely). (Can you tell that I love visual storytelling? (nobody can set up a scene like David Lean could…)

Sandor
Guest

It is hard to stick it to him, you say?
Well, look up this, towards the bottom:
http://sites.google.com/site/zsidoksiofokon/Home/tartalom—contents/hetkoznapok-unnepnapok
It quotes a Nepszava article:
“Az antiszemitizmussal nehezen vádolható Vas Zoltán Horthy-életrajzában (Bp., 1975) arról olvashatunk, hogy a fővezér tiszti különítményei 1919 augusztusában-szeptemberében “több, mint kétszáz embert végeztek ki” Siófokon (352. old.). Mindezt a siófoki fogda foglára, Hayden István törzsőrmester állítja a Népszava újságírójának, aki feljegyzi a kegyetlenkedéseket. (A siófoki fehérterroristák foglára. Népszava, 1919. október 4.)”

Member

Oh, well … hard to admit, but watching Omar Sharif’s teary eyes 46 years later is still a guilty pleasure.

latefor
Guest

“Mutt Damon” –
“Oh, well … hard to admit, but watching Omar Sharif’s teary eyes 46 years later is still a guilty pleasure.”
Ha….ha..ha… (I love it)….What warms our heart is called good art, I guess.

peter litvanyi
Guest

Dear participants of this debate:
Eva is right. There is no way /judicially and so many years past/ to pin down Horthy.
Is he a “war criminal” /two counts: civil and WWII/?
Yes of course. We the sons and daughters still remember…for a while. History / and the science of it/ is subject to “laughter and forgetting”. Perhaps for the better. Sorry.
There is no reason to mix Mr. Bela Kun in. Did he commit human rights violations? Bet he did. One wrong doesn’t make another right.
CAN WE NOW BE DIFFERENT? ON THIS SITE, IN THE WORLD AND STARTING NOW!
Otherwise: “So it goes.” /Kurt Vonneguth/
Peter Litvanyi

Odin's lost eye
Guest

Kirsten you write * “But as I said I am really such an amateur in this area that I am not sure whether I should venture into such hypotheses at all.” *
No Kirsten it is the amateur, unlearned (in the sense of University educated) and not the intellectuals, the ‘egg heads’, the ‘political theorists’, the ‘Great Leaders’ and the like who are the bed-rock of democracy.
It is the ‘Kirsten’s’ of the world who when they see something nasty will shout “Stinking Fish”!

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Sandor: “”Az antiszemitizmussal nehezen vádolható Vas Zoltán Horthy-életrajzában (Bp., 1975)”
I have the book, I read it, but unfortunately Vas’s biography is not a reliable source.

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