The other day I watched a political round table discussion where one of the topics was the growth of the extreme right in Hungary. One of the participants noted that Hungary is not unique in having a fairly sizable extreme right electorate. After all, it is enough to look around anywhere in Europe to see the growth of these groups.
Another participant, Péter Róna, an economist who spent the larger part of his life in the United States, called attention to a basic difference between the extreme right elsewhere and in Hungary. The significant difference is that Jobbik is the only extremist movement in Europe that is also irredentist.
Yes, Jobbik is not only a racist party but also an irredentist one. Gábor Vona, chairman of Jobbik, in one of his speeches in parliament called Miklós Horthy “the greatest Hungarian statesman of the twentieth century.” And what was Horthy’s most laudable achievement? “The addition of Hungarian-populated areas to the mutilated country.”
Bence Rétvári (KDNP), undersecretary in the Ministry of Administration and Justice, decided to chime in and agreed with Vona that “there were some fundamental facts that were portrayed untruthfully in the textbooks and in historical monographs in the last forty years and we certainly have to correct that.” According to Rétvári, Horthy doesn’t need to be “rehabilitated” because he was not accused of any war crimes. Moreover, Horthy should be praised for shielding Hungarian Jewry until the Germans occupied Hungary on March 19, 1944. He refused to take part in an offensive against Poland and helped many Polish refugees to safety. “He deserves credit for these deeds.”
You may notice that a number of less meritorious acts of Horthy was left out of this list, starting with the White Terror and the Jewish laws and ending with the declaration of war against the Soviet Union unsolicited by Germany. Naturally, not a word was uttered by Rétvári about the deportation of the Jewish population from the entire country with the exception of Budapest. All this happened while Horthy was still the head of the state. Mind you, Fidesz-KDNP politicians are not noted for their historical knowledge. Only three days ago Lajos Kósa, vice chairman of Fidesz and mayor of Debrecen, with full conviction argued that during the governorship of Horthy no Jew was deported from Hungary. Only Ferenc Szálasi did such a terrible thing. Outlandish ignorance!
Tamás Bauer (DK) wrote an opinion piece a couple of weeks ago in which he recalled a conversation with a young journalist of a well-known Internet newspaper. Bauer doesn’t mention the name of the paper, but if I guess correctly the site referred to by Bauer is not considered to be a far-right publication. On the contrary. Yet when this young man was asked by Bauer why anyone would name a square after Horthy, he answered: “He managed to get Transylvania back.” With whose help Horthy’s Hungary managed to get these territories back and the price of this territorial expansion don’t seem to interest the Hungarian right.
Bauer claims–and there are many signs that he may be on the right track–that “Horthy’s irredentism is not alien to Orbán.” Because of this simmering irredentism Hungary’s role in World War II is being transformed by the Orbán government into a “war of defense.” His government’s emphasis on “the national unification across borders is the guiding principle of his regime.” Orbán knows that in the twenty-first century there is no way to follow in the footsteps of the Horthy period’s revisionism, so he is trying new methods. For example, the dual citizenship scheme that is also supposed to help Fidesz win the next elections.
The results of the Romanian municipal elections demonstrate that Fidesz plans in the neighboring countries may not be successful. Fidesz-assisted extremist parties received practically no support among Hungarians in Romania. Fidesz’s favorite party in Slovakia also did less well than the party that is ready to cooperate with the Slovak majority.
The “creeping Horthy cult,” as Der Spiegel called the phenomenon, doesn’t seem to help in the “unification” process of the nation, and its only “fruit” seems to be growing suspicion abroad about the Hungarian government’s plans.
A couple of days ago a fairly lengthy article appeared in Bloomberg that was subsequently reprinted in major U.S. newspapers. I happened to see it the San Francisco Chronicle. The article itself is a detailed description of the events of the last few weeks. The title of the article is “Hungary has a new hero.” According to the author nationalists are gaining ground everywhere, but Orbán himself is accused of “including parts of the radical agenda in his own policies.” And, unfortunately, there are signs that Orbán’s government is complicit in the revival. Not that the pro-Horthy propaganda is centrally organized but that local Fidesz politicians feel that it is not against the wishes of the government to name a street or two after Miklós Horthy or to erect a bust or a statue in his honor.
Jobbik, realizing that it has a willing accomplice in the Orbán government, is getting bolder and bolder in its pro-Horthy propaganda. By now the party even demands that part of Kossuth Square be named after Miklós Horthy, although I doubt that Viktor Orbán would dare to go so far. But I suspect that the creeping Horthy cult will proceed undisturbed. People with rightist political leanings suddenly have an urge to learn more about the man whom Jobbik considers the greatest Hungarian statesman of his century. Fidesz towns like Eger invited a literary historian and a Jobbik supporter, Mihály Takaró, to give a lecture on the accomplishments of Miklós Horthy. Considering that it was the same Takaró who managed to convince Undersecretary Rózsa Hoffmann to include a number of mediocre writers with Nazi sympathies in the basic curriculum, I can well imagine what kind of information the good people of Eger will receive from him on the historical role of Miklós Horthy.
But the world is watching. Yesterday the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum released a statement on the Horthy cult in Hungary. According to the press release “the Hungarian government’s rehabilitation of fascist ideologues and leaders from World War II is of great concern” to the museum. Museum Director Sara J. Bloomfield called “the recent trends in Hungary … alarming” and the museum called on “the leaders of Hungary to unequivocally renounce all forms of antisemitism and racism and to reject every effort to honor individuals responsible for the genocide of Europe’s Jews.”
Unequivocally? Orbán and Fidesz never announce or renounce anything unequivocally. Meanwhile, local Fidesz-KDNP leaders will go ahead rewriting Hungarian history in the name of the “unification of the nation.”