János Lázár, who seems to enjoy the utmost trust of Viktor Orbán, occasionally flies off the handle. In fact, he is often described as a loose cannon who in the long run may cause political damage to his party and his boss.
Lázár was born in 1975 and thus was only 14 years old when democracy arrived in Hungary. As a result, his first-hand knowledge of the communist dictatorship he talks so much about is meager. And this lack of experience hasn’t been supplemented by any reading to understand the Kádár regime better.
His ignorance of recent Hungarian history became evident again when he attacked András Schiffer, one of the leading politicians of LMP, on account on Schiffer’s grandfather. I already mentioned Schiffer’s great grandfather, Árpád Szakasits, a social democrat who belonged to the group within the party that opted for cooperation with the Magyar Kommunista Párt (MKP) of Mátyás Rákosi. He was not exactly rewarded for his decision and in 1950 was condemned to life imprisonment. After his release in March 1956 he held minor positions in the Kádár regime. At one point he was head of the World Federation of Hungarians that was as much a joke then as it is now.
Lázár finds other ancestors of Schiffer objectionable as well. Szakasits’s daughter, Klára, got married to a social democratic activist, Pál Schiffer, who also ended up in jail. Rákosi must have especially disliked him because of all his social democratic victims, Schiffer received the worst treatment. He was first condemned to death and it was only three years after the verdict was handed down that his sentence was commuted to life. Meanwhile his wife and five children were deported from Budapest to the Hortobágy region. Some of the children were forcibly put into orphanages as attested to by one of the sons, János Schiffer. According to András Schiffer, his grandfather decided after his release that he would never again get mixed up in party politics. So, he was second-in-charge of the State Insurance Company and later served as ambassador to Oslo.
Lázár calls the people who held any position more important than some lowly clerkship “operators of the regime.” Schiffer’s father was the CEO of a bank and therefore to Lázár’s mind he was an operator of the regime. According to him, these people should have been punished in some way after the regime change. He put it this way: “After 1990 these grandfathers and fathers could live their lives undisturbed and for their children and grandchildren the road was paved.”
If one takes Lázár’s words at face value not only high-level party apparatchik should have been removed from their positions but practically anyone who was in a higher position anywhere. The CEO of a bank in the Kádár regime should definitely have been removed from his job and his children’s careers blocked. That sounds frighteningly similar to the situation in the early 1950s when managers lost their jobs and the children of the intelligentsia were barred from entering even high school. Rákosi, Gerő and Co. wanted to have a brand new set of people running the country.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of the young Turks of Fidesz think similarly to Lázár. After all, if all the people who achieved status in the old regime had been removed, the opportunities for the new crew would have been much greater. And perhaps this also explains the Fidesz boys’ resentment of those who, simply by virtue of being older, were higher up on the social ladder in 1990. I really wonder how much envy is mixed up with this new fanatical anti-communism.
But, as Endre Aczél rightly pointed out, life in general is more complicated than the picture painted by Lázár. Aczél reminded his readers that while “the regime operator” Schiffer was waiting to be executed, the father of future Prime Minister József Antall (1990-1993) was serving as a member of parliament during the worst dictatorship Hungary has ever experienced.
Lázár’s attack was followed by a counterattack by Schiffer in an interview he gave to Népszabadság. Then yesterday Anna Schiffer, the aunt of András and daughter of Pál, wrote an open letter to János Lázár in Galamus which was to the point: “You should be ashamed of yourself!”
Well, Lázár is not the kind of man who leaves such a letter unanswered. A few hours after the appearance of Anna Schiffer’s letter he wrote a scathing and very unfair letter to her. At the beginning of the letter he quoted Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s opinion of the communist psyche. I couldn’t easily find either the original or the English translation, and I don’t want to translate it from Hungarian. The upshot of the passage is that “there is no more noxious and dangerous” creature than a communist. Communists are cynical, power-hungry, unscrupulous; they only destroy, they are against culture; they have no idea about Christian ethics. And they lie if it is useful for the “movement” or it is good for the personal careers of the comrades.
To tell the truth, this description reminded me of some other people, like the leadership of Fidesz. But, I guess Lázár doesn’t see the similarities. In any case, given the nature of the communist, “a decent man cannot be a communist.” Especially not after November 4, 1956. After citing some figures that might not be at all accurate, he seems to make Szakasits and Pál Schiffer practically responsible for the 200,000 civilians deported, the 70,000 interned men, the 60,000 who were incarcerated, and 700 executed–all while Pál Schiffer was happily living in Oslo and his son running a bank.
I must confess I heartily dislike András Schiffer and I have the lowest of the lowest opinion of János Lázár. But I consider punishing children for their fathers’ sins or alleged sins unacceptable. I don’t like András Schiffer not because he is the great grandson of Árpád Szakasits and grandson of Pál Schiffer but because I don’t respect him and because I suspect his political motives.
Exchanges like the one between Lázár and Schiffer are distasteful, but I’m glad that this particular one took place because I think I managed to detect something hidden in the Fidesz anti-communist rhetoric that I didn’t notice before. A huge frustration with all the remnants of the intellectual and managerial elite of the old regime. Twenty some years later they even turn against the descendants. How do they dare to say anything? The children and grandchildren of regime operators should simply disappear and hand over their positions to the up and coming Fidesz supporters. I think this is how their minds work.