Before the 2010 elections Viktor Orbán promised that if Fidesz attained a two-thirds majority in parliament the changes would be substantial. If he did not receive the much desired two-thirds he would have to remain more or less within the existing democratic boundaries. But if the Hungarian people were careless enough to allow Fidesz-KDNP to have practically unlimited power in the legislature, the consequences might be unforeseeable.
Even the most pessimistic opponents of Viktor Orbán, however, didn’t imagine the extent to which he was prepared to go to remake the country according to his vision. And this vision is a frightening one. He has been rapidly moving away from the fragile achievements of Hungarian democracy over the last twenty years. In the last two years he managed to turn the country upside down politically as well as economically. The Constitutional Court is packed with his lackeys, the judicial system was reorganized in such a way that through his underlings he can have direct influence over at least the prosecution. The older judges were fired, and it doesn’t seem to matter what the European Union thinks of all this. He views himself not only, and perhaps not even primarily, as the democratically elected and internationally constrained prime minister of Hungary. He is “the leader of the Hungarians.” At least this is how he defined himself in a speech delivered during his trip to Vilnius, Lithuania.
The changes introduced in the last two years have been so fundamental and so undemocratic that when six associates of the Eötvös Károly Intézet, a legal think-tank, sat down to analyze the task of a government that might be formed after Viktor Orbán’s departure, they were astonished at the enormity of the task. I will summarize their observations in the near future because it is an important document. They made eight points about “the sins” of the Orbán regime. Here I would like to concentrate on #6 which talks about “a state that makes a certain ideology and a certain view of history compulsory.” In their view such an attitude precludes the equality of all citizens because it distinguishes between people with different worldviews. In a modern democratic state the constitution cannot represent a single given ideology or set of beliefs. But the current Hungarian regime does.
Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more obvious that the Orbán regime and its constitution represents only that segment of society that is ideologically committed to the set of principles of the Hungarian right. And this ideology is not the kind espoused by moderate right-of center parties found in Western Europe but rather that of the militant far right that existed in Central and Eastern Europe in the 1930s.
Orbán’s eclectic ideology has been steadily moving in the direction of the far right, and his underlings are following him without hesitation. Orbán, who knows that his voter base is shrinking, keeps appealing to the neo-Nazis of Jobbik. Orbán’s latest speech at Ópusztaszer could have been delivered by Adolf Hitler or Ferenc Szálasi.
The Horthy cult that was set in motion by Jobbik has been embraced by Fidesz. It started with the restoration of Kossuth Square in front of the Hungarian parliament to the way it looked before March 1944. Getting rid of FDR’s name from another square in Budapest followed. Jobbik demanded the removal of Mihály Károlyi’s statue. Mission accomplished. Getting rid of the word “republic” from the official name of the country? Done. Rename “Republic Square” to Pope John Paul II Square? Done.
Then there is the latest demand of the Christian Democrats. All names “associated” with the working class movement, the communists, or the communist past should be banned. The amendment they are proposing is so vague that perhaps the oldest Hungarian newspaper still in existence, Népszava, might have to change its name because after all it was the official newspaper of the Hungarian Social Democratic Party. Népszava, by the way, is the mirror translation of the Austrian communist newspaper, Volkstimme.
Leó Frankel (1844-1896) was just banned in Pécs. After all, he was a Lassalist communist in Germany and Switzerland and fought in the Paris Commune. After 1876 he returned to Hungary where he edited a German-language socialist paper called Arbeiter Wochen-Chronik and founded the Hungarian General Labor Party in 1880. So, he was an important figure in the Hungarian Social Democratic movement in the second half of the nineteenth century. He has a commemorating obelisk in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, but in Pécs he cannot have a street named after him. There is still a Frankel Street in Budapest, probably not for long.
The overzealous right-wingers in parliament want to ban the word “liberation” because in their view the Soviet troops that fought the German and Hungarian troops were no more than occupiers. They don’t distinguish between the actual liberation from foreign occupation and the subjugation that occurred a couple of years later. By denying the state of liberation in 1945 the Hungarian right-wingers side with Nazi Germany. Moreover, what can one say about a regime that denies people a choice in interpreting a historical event? It cannot be called a democracy. I can think only of communist Hungary between 1948 and 1989. Mind control with a nationalist overlay.
Mayor István Tarlós of Budapest is determined to “cleanse the city of former communists.” Street names are the easiest targets. The Budapest City Council voted today to change fourteen street names. Among the banned is a street named for one of the greatest Hungarian prose writers of the twentieth century: Józsi Jenő Tersánszky (1888-1969). According to literary historians he can be compared only to Zsigmond Móricz and Gyula Krúdy. People simply don’t understand what is wrong with Tersánszky. As someone said today on György Bolgár’s call-in show, “He wasn’t even Jewish! Or perhaps the problem is that he managed to get false papers to escaping Jews in 1944.” Moreover, Tersánszky wasn’t exactly the favorite of the communists. According to people who knew him, he was a brave, often fearless, opponent of the Rákosi regime. One example of his fearlessness was the story that he wrote for a volume celebrating Mátyás Rákosi’s 60th birthday and that, like so many things he wrote during that period, never saw the light of day. The title was “Suspenders.” Rákosi was very short and and did in fact wear suspenders. The servile editors of the volume considered the piece a mockery of Rákosi which, knowing Tersánszky, it most likely was.
So, what’s wrong with Józsi Jenő Tersánszky? Who knows, but it really doesn’t matter. Endre Aczél, a well-known journalist and an admirer of Tersánszky, phoned György Bolgár today in response to the desecration of his favorite writer’s memory. Aczél was so upset that he could barely talk. He finished his tirade by saying that as far as he is concerned the people who are responsible for these atrocities can go straight to hell. Actually, the Hungarian wording was quite a bit stronger.
The street that used to bear Tersánszky’s name will now be named after László Somogyi, a parish priest I’ll bet few people ever heard of. These people must be stopped before they ruin the country, its people, and its cultural heritage.