The war is on. Each side has its favorite. On the right it is Miklós Horthy and on the left, János Kádár. The first life-size Horthy statue stood for only a few hours in Kereki, a village of 567 inhabitants, seven kilometers south of Lake Balaton. As for the bust of János Kádár, although it will be unveiled it will immediately be removed from public view. Those who wanted to honor the former secretary-general of MSZMP, Hungary’s communist party, didn’t receive permission to set up the sculpture in the famous Hungarian cemetery on Fiume (Rijeka) Street. So, as one newspaper remarked, it will be “a mobile statue.”
First, a few words about Kereki. The town council is made up exclusively of “independents,” as is customary in smaller towns and villages all over Hungary. Of course, they are not really independents, as is abundantly clear from newspaper stories documenting the five-member town council’s fascination with Miklós Horthy. The wooden statue was paid for by a businessman living in the village and the deputy mayor of Kereki. The mayor himself didn’t support the idea but accepted the decision of the majority. According to the mayor, the inhabitants of the village are divided on the issue, and only about 10% supported the erection of a Horthy statue. Someone in the village, however, is very keen on Horthy because already last year the town council named a square after him. So, came Sunday, May 13, and the Horthy statue was unveiled.
The organizers were hoping for 4,000-5,000 visitors but only about 400 people gathered, including the notorious Goy Bikers. The deputy mayor is ambitious. He eventually wants to have a number of statues of “the greats of Hungarian history.” That decision was already reached two years ago. I assume after the victory of Fidesz-KDNP in the spring of 2010.
The unveiling of the statue was not the end of the story. The leader of the Goy Bikers read a letter he had received from Péter Dániel, a lawyer known for his unusual ways of protesting the Orbán regime and the demonstrations of the Hungarian right radicals. Dániel became famous/infamous when he smeared deviled eggs on the Declaration of National Unity that every office had to display at the order of Viktor Orbán. Dániel told the Goy Bikers that he will pour red paint on the statue. “If that occurs, you can count on the Goy Bikers. We will certainly take care of the matter faster than the courts.” The audience applauded vigorously.
Dániel acted soon enough. In the dead of night he poured red paint all over the statue and hung a sign on Horthy’s neck: “Mass murderer, war criminal.”
Dániel didn’t try to hide his action. As soon as the deed was done he posted his “crime” on Facebook. He took a picture of the statue and gave an explanation of why he decided to act. He did it “in the name of all Hungarian and non-Hungarian victims and martyrs. In the name of every intelligent and decent man. In the name of the victims of Orgovány. In the name of Béla Bacsó and Miklós Radnóti. In the name of my maternal grandfather who managed to survive the war but spent years in Siberia. In the name of my fraternal great grandparents who were killed by the Arrow Cross men in Budapest and their bodies thrown into the Danube. In the name of thousands and thousands of innocent civilians. In the name of deported children and women who ended up in gas chambers. In the name of those massacred in Novi Sad.”
A few explanatory notes. At Orgovány hundreds of people were killed by members of the National Army under Horthy’s command in 1920. Béla Bacsó was a journalist of Népszava, the social democratic paper, who was killed by the white terrorists in early spring of the same year. Miklós Radnóti, the great poet, was killed by German and Arrow Cross soldiers. Novi Sad, a town in Serbia today, was the site of a massacre of about 2,000 Serbs and Jews by Hungarian officers.
Magyar Nemzet‘s article accused Dániel of cowardice. After all, said the journalist of the paper, Dániel bravely announced what he was going to do it and yet he didn’t dare do it in broad daylight. The president of the Miklós Horthy Society accused the mayor of not guarding the statue as he promised; he demanded the mayor’s resignation. The Goy Bikers said they would go to the police and accuse Dániel of “terrorism.” Jobbik also moved against Dániel by going to the chief prosecutor’s office. In addition, they demanded a psychiatric examination. They also called on the “Jewish organizations that are so loud at other times to condemn Dániel’s act.” If they did, I didn’t hear about it.
The national organization of anti-fascists also condemned Dániel’s night visit to Kereki. But he was defiant. He told ATV that even if they kill him or cripple him he proudly accepts responsibility for what happened. According to him, one mustn’t wait until “we have to wear the Star of David again.”
On Sunday, May 20, about 200 Jobbik supporters and Goy Bikers stood ready to beat Péter Dániel to a pulp. They also threatened his liberal friends who had gathered to discuss the events at Kereki. The police came to the rescue of the liberals and prevented bloodshed.
The liberal activists were very much divided on the issue and, if I had to guess, I would say that the overwhelming majority of the people who are against the government didn’t support Dániel’s actions. Yet they were faced with about 200 guys who were prepared for physical violence. I heard Dániel himself, who is burly man, recall the affair as frightening. They were not sure whether they could get out of the building alive. I also heard a woman who was present describe the scene in almost identical terms. Of course, there were many completely unacceptable words flying about: “traitor of the nation,” “filthy Jew,” “queer,” and “stooge of the Jews” (zsidóbérenc).
And now we can turn to János Kádár. As I just learned from the Hungarian media, it was 100 years ago that János Kádár was born in Fiume/Rijeka, then part of Hungary. He was the illegitimate son of a chambermaid working in one of the plush seaside hotels on the Adriatic.
The bust was ordered by the Friends of János Kádár (Kádár János Baráti Kör). It is made of limestone, and the sculptor is András Várhelyi. The idea was to set up the bust next to the grave of János Kádár and his wife. First they approached the director of the cemetery who wouldn’t take responsibility for the decision. Because the cemetery belongs to the Hungarian state the request went to the office handling state properties, but so far they haven’t received an answer. So, on May 26, after the bust is unveiled, it will immediately be removed and will be kept for the time being at least in the offices of the Workers’ Party of Hungary. The president of the Friends of János Kádár told the reporter of Index that even if permission had been granted by the Hungarian government, in the present political atmosphere it wouldn’t make any sense to display the statue outside.
If there are all sorts of misconceptions about Miklós Horthy, the admirers of János Kádár can also come up with interpretations of his political career that are not based on facts. Today I heard György Moldova, a prolific and popular writer of the Kádár period, who sang his praises and called him a great historical figure. By the way, Moldova will make the speech and do the unveiling on Sunday. Moldova even denies Kádár’s responsibility for Imre Nagy’s death.
There are always true believers, right and left.