We left off yesterday when parliament chose Horthy as regent on March 1, 1920. I also mentioned that his soldier friends gave him plenty of advice as far as the desirable extent of his powers was concerned. The politicians who came up with the idea of a regency tried to adhere as closely as possible to the constitutional setup of the dual monarchy, but there were certain royal privileges a regent or governor couldn't exercise. For example, he couldn't bestow nobility on individuals. Before 1918 the emperor-king was in charge of foreign policy which now, after the dissolution of the dual monarchy, no longer made sense. So foreign policy was conducted by the government and declarations of war, treaties with foreign powers, etc., had to be approved by parliament. But Horthy insisted on all the powers the emperor-king had over the armed forces. He was the Supreme War Lord (Legfelsőbb Hadúr) to whom the troops swore loyalty. This almost unlimited power over the army turned out to be illusory. When Horthy in August 1944 needed the army, his beloved army chiefs abandoned him.
His powers in connection with actual legislation were relatively limited. He did not until 1937, when it was conferred upon him, enjoy the prerogative of the "preliminary sanction," i.e. the right to have a draft bill submitted to him for his personal approval before it was introduced in parliament. (I might add here that the current Hungarian government is planning to introduce this "preliminary sanction," but not by the president but by the constitutional court.) Horthy's power to influence legislation was limited to a suspensory veto. If he disapproved of a measure, he could return it to parliament for reconsideration. If parliament persisted, he had to promulgate the measure.
He took an oath to govern "in the sense of the Constitution and in agreement with parliament, through the prime minister." However, he had the right to appoint and dismiss the prime minister. Neither by law nor by custom was he obliged to choose the prime minister from the party forming the parliamentary majority.
But Horthy, especially in the 1920s, didn't exercise some of the authority he enjoyed by law. And he was very careful not to exceed his constitutional authority. He never once exercised his power of suspensory veto. In brief, he signed everything put in front of him, similar to Pál Schmitt. He simply did not wish to intervene in details of policy except as "Supreme War Lord"–a position he took extremely seriously. For more than a decade he confined his role in politics to appointing the prime minister, and in the early years of his regency he limited himself to acting in conformity with the general will of the leading politicians.
Unfortunately after Bethlen's departure in 1931 he began to exercise his will in many important respects. He started to intervene in political matters, usually showing little political sense. The last five prime ministers were his personal choices and not one of them was, when appointed, a member of the majority party. He also freely dismissed prime ministers although they had votes of confidence in the House. According to a sympathetic historian, C. A. Macartney, "it was through no growth in his own spirit of dictatorial ambition that he had arrived at this position …; he had been pushed into it, gradually and almost imperceptibly by developments and circumstances which were none of his making: the international position, and at home, in large, the moral vacuum which Bethlen had created."
Whether he was pushed into the position or whether he found the post-Bethlen political vacuum to his liking is debatable. The problem was that he was ill suited for the job in which he found himself. He was easily misled by so-called advisors. He especially had a weak spot for his military advisors who more often than not led him astray. He could easily be influenced. He made a decision on the advice of X but could be talked out of the same a few days later by Y. As the same C. A. Macartney remarked, "at the best, the method of suggestion and counter-suggestion did not make for stability of policy." He was also totally irresponsible when it came to keeping secrets. Not a very good thing when the person is privy to very important pieces of information that ought to remain private. It is unlikely that he was stupid because after all his career prior to 1918 was quite spectacular despite his lower gentry origin and his Calvinist upbringing. But he certainly wasn't well educated. He was unread in literature, even more so in history, political science, and economics. Which is rather unfortunate for a man eventually responsible for the future of his country.
His worldview got stuck somewhere in the late nineteenth century. He wanted to recreate Greater Hungary, including an outlet to the sea. Ethnic frontiers seemed to him simply perverse. He had deep-seated prejudices against people in the region. Apparently he considered the Czechs puffed-up frogs, he believed Slovaks were misled Hungarians, and he called the Romanians "a race of pimps and cocottes." His views on domestic problems were also simplistic. The country should be ruled by the traditional ruling class. There should be rulers and the ruled. Democracy, meaning government of the people by the people, was a concept alien to him. Socialism was a Jewish heresy. Communism was an evil power and it was a moral duty to root it out at all cost, including shedding blood for its elimination.
In brief, he was ill-suited for the job. As long as he was under István Bethlen's thumb he couldn't cause a lot of trouble, but when he was on his own surrounded by far-right army officers with German sympathies he was a disaster.
A few days ago an article appeared in HVG addressing the question of why Horthy was not brought to trial after the war. In it the author repeats the old explanation that it was Stalin who intervened on his behalf because after all Horthy did try to end the war between the Soviet Union and Hungary in August 1944. This was the opinion of Ferenc Nagy, prime minister of Hungary, who detailed all this in his memoirs. I would like to add another consideration: it was Tito who demanded Horthy's release to the Yugoslav authorities in 1945-46. Perhaps the Stalin-Tito rift also had something to do with Stalin's benevolence.
Finally, I would like to straighten out people like Johnny Boy who talk about the interwar years as some kind of paradise that was destroyed by the events of 1945 and after. Not only was it not a democracy, but the majority of the population lived in abject poverty. Just the other day I saw a few old pictures of Moszkva tér, renamed Széll Kálmán tér. At some point in the 1930s it seems that there was a tennis court there. In this particular picture four well dressed young men and women were standing, rackets in hand, and next to them were three ball chasers. All three boys were barefoot. So much for the good old days under the great statesman (sic) Miklós Horthy.