Gyula Horn’s reminiscences of his role in the 1956 Hungarian Revolution

I indicated in one of my comments to the discussion on Gyula Horn that I would touch on his controversial role after the failure of the Hungarian Uprising of  1956 when for five or six months he served in the militia that was set up to keep order.

But first I would like to call attention to an obituary written by the director of the House of Terror and a friend of Viktor Orbán, Mária Schmidt. It is a most positive assessment of of Gyula Horn’s career. Schmidt thinks that Horn was a great statesman and a patriot “who did what the homeland asked him to do.” Most of us are familiar with Mária Schmidt’s political views. She is a fierce anti-communist. If I wrote something that glowing about Horn I would be called a Bolshevik by some of the right-wing readers of this blog. I highly recommend that they read her words.

In addition to Horn’s autobiography I discovered in my library a book, Here we are, Europe!, that is “a portrait of Gyula Horn.” It was published in 1990 with an introduction by Hans-Dietrich Genscher. In it I found a Hungarian translation of a very long article by Georg Paul Hefty from the February 1990 issue of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung which is as eulogistic as the obituary of Schmidt. I might also mention that  Hefty is a true conservative who to this day is a fierce supporter of Viktor Orbán.

Before I move on to Horn’s controversial role in 1956, I think I should say something about his family background. Horn’s father joined the Red Army in 1919 and spent four years in jail after the fall of the Hungarian Soviet Republic.  He got married shortly thereafter and sired one child after the other. As Horn says, one every three years.  Altogether Horn’s mother gave birth to eight boys, out of whom seven survived. The family lived in extreme poverty.

Throughout the interwar years Horn’s father was in and out of jail although he didn’t seem to have especially close relations with the illegal communist party. Perhaps he just had a big  mouth. After the German occupation of Hungary (March 19, 1944), he was taken prisoner and killed near Sopron. Horn’s oldest brother Géza lost his eyesight in one eye as a teenager because two policemen beat him so brutally, apparently for no good reason. As Horn remembers, the two policemen didn’t like “prolis,” an abbreviation of “proletarians” and a derogatory term. He himself was beaten badly by a traffic cop because, while carrying two or three boxes for delivery, he wasn’t crossing the street fast enough.

Géza Horn joined the illegal communist party early on. It was he who served as a kind of teacher to Gyula, supplying him with Marxist-Leninist literature. After the war, during the coalition period, the Hungarian Communist Party immediately began recruiting adherents and party workers and the Horn family, given their association with the party even before 1945, was much favored.

The mother was sent to party school while Géza and Gyula were sent to a quickie course that gave them a high school diploma in one year. Both of them were then sent to university in the Soviet Union. Gyula studied finance and received a “red diploma” for earning straight As.

After returning to Hungary he got a job at the ministry of finance. His job involved checking VAT payments, which meant a lot of traveling all over the country. He saw the misery the Rákosi regime had inflicted on the country and the Hungarian people. He also sensed the growing dissatisfaction of the populace. Even his oldest brother Géza, who was truly committed to the cause, kept saying “this is not what we were fighting for.”

On the day the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 broke out Horn happened to be in Szeged. He had a rather hard time getting back to Óbuda where his wife was in the late stages of pregnancy with their first child. A sidenote, just to give you an idea of the fluidity of the political situation during the revolution, one of Horn’s younger brothers joined the revolutionaries and eventually became one of those 200,000 refugees who fled and settled in the West.

Horn himself was a member of the National Guard created by the Imre Nagy government. He patrolled the streets with an ID in hand bearing the signature of General Béla Király. I read somewhere that Horn and some of his friends briefly contemplated leaving the country. They even had a truck ready for the journey.

On the other hand, Géza, though not totally satisfied with the Rákosi regime, kept worrying about the future of the socialist state. After the failure of the revolution he helped organize the new communist party, Kádár’s MSZMP.

The Hungarian militia / mult-kor.hu

 Hungarian militia men / mult-kor.hu

Once it was all over, on December 12, Horn and six of his colleagues in the ministry of finance–among them all those who had studied in the Soviet Union–were asked to join a new battalion that was set up by the Budapest Police Captaincy. They were supposed to guard the bridges across the Danube because there were rumors that the revolutionaries wanted to blow them up.

The next day a terrible tragedy befell the Horn family. Géza, by then a film director and always Gyula’s favorite brother, was bicycling to work when a truck purposely struck him and he was subsequently beaten to death. They never found the perpetrators.

After about a month of guarding bridges at night Horn’s team was given a new job. The police recreated the “R Group,” originally used after 1945 to check the growing lawlessness during the very hard times. Horn and his colleagues were sent to this group not so much to apprehend criminals as to act as guards at pubs, railroad stations, and other public places.

Eventually, however, they ended up in investigative work. It turned out that one of these investigations also included beating the suspects.  Horn and his best friend in this group tried to intervene, but they were accused of betraying the cause. Soon enough came an investigation of the case by a high-ranking police officer.  Horn allegedly told him that “we didn’t sign up for this kind of work.” The police officer promised an investigation, but as Horn laconically remarks, “it is not known what happened to the promise, but it is a fact that we were no longer ordered to take part in this type of work.” He was demobilized in July 1957.

In the 1990 publication he told the reporter, Sára Pogány, whose interviews make up the bulk of the slim volume, that “we never used force against anyone.” When Pogány asked him whether he had any appetite for revenge, Horn categorically denied it. One can believe him or not. Mária Schmidt rightly points out that during the Kádár regime it was in his best interest to exaggerate his role in 1956-57 while after 1989 it was in his best interest to belittle it. But, as she notes, we don’t have historical evidence one way or the other. It is possible that Gyula Horn wasn’t important enough to leave behind much of a footprint. So, for the time being we will have to be satisfied with what he himself told us.

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Dan
Guest

Some on the right wing like Horn becuase he kept OTP Bank out of the hands of international investors, notably George Soros. I was in attendance in 2007 when OTP head Sandor Csanyi awarded Horn a prize. Here’s the press release in Hungarian. There’s probably an English version somewhere: https://www.otpbank.hu/static/portal/sw/file/070706horn_097.pdf

An
Guest

@Dan: Horn “kept OTP Bank out of the hands of international investors”….And, by limiting foreign ownership in OTP, he created a Hungarian oligarch (Csanyi, who btw was not even able to run the bank without employing foreign consulting companies). No wonder Csanyi was so grateful.

An
Guest

I think there is something really fishy about this right-wingers lauding Horn this much, when all other MSzP members, who had a lot less prominent role in the old regime get to be called dirty communist all the time (not to mention Horn’s very murky role in 1956). Of course, his role in the German unification is very respectable and I think he deserves all the praise he gets for that but I find it hard to believe that this episode has softened Fidesz’s heart that much that they actually spare him of the “communist” name calling.

I think there is more to this story.. perhaps related but if I remember correctly, it was Horn who struck a deal with the historical churches in the 90s, compromising on some issues like church properties and such (in retrospect, I think that was a mistake).

Dan
Guest

@An That may or may not be the case, but it’s one reason why many on the right like him. Personally I think his role in backing Hungarian control of OTP was far more momentous than taking a decision to back the inevitable opening of the Hungarian borders. It really is the only international hungarian-controlled business of any note. But Horn’s role is something few people know or think about.

By the way, why is refering to Horn as a communist “name calling”. He was a communist – and a fairly staunch one at that. That’s just a historical fact. Whether he took part in beatings of 56ers or was just present when it happened we shall probably never know for sure.

But an interesting character nonetheless and one you have to engage for a deeper insight into Hungarian affairs.

dvhr
Guest

Let me recall the interesting fatc that Laszlo Solyom, then president of HUngary, refused to give the highest award to Horn, giving the reason that Horn had not changed his views of ’56. e.g., http://www.jogiforum.hu/hirek/16221

petofi
Guest

@ Dan

“…OTP…is the only international hungarian-controlled business…”

I’m not quite sure what this means–is it that OTP has offices in Russia and garners its profits from there (rather than Hungary) ? This little anomaly should raise eyebrows when we consider that two of Russia\s largest banks opened offices in Budapest in the last year.

So, then, Russians can make money in Hungary and Hungarians make money in Russia..
Huh?

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

Mária Schmidt’s Horn obituary is quite interesting… A praise of dirigism, of enlightened leaders doing-what’s-best-for-the-country. Hint, hint!

Ewok85888
Guest

Horn is liked by the far right simply because Horn hated SZDSZ and tried to humiliate them often (when he was the prime minister) and because he was always open to a deal with the right.

Of course Horn, like all leftists since him, was played and duped by the right (Vatican treaty, saving of Magyar Nemzet, etc.), but it’s the left’s problem that they have no vision whatsoever and cannot plan for decades.

In addition, Fidesz won first against Horn (who was stupid enough to sit down with the then-youthful Orbán even after Fidesz killed MSZP with Tocsik and MSZP’s idiotic plans to build Bős-Nagymaros, nota bene Jobbik is now very much for this building bonanza), so I guess Fideszniks have very fond memoires about him.

Orbán will not make similar mistakes, but the right loves MSZP as their adversary exactly becaue of this visionlessness and the ability to get them into any bad situation which will always avour the right.

Member
Horn’s “achievements” are as questionable to me as Orban’s. I never really liked chameleon like behaviours. I understand that I do not have anything to back me up, and I am not basing this on any known facts, I just have this gut feeling, and a puzzle that I am putting together. I feel very strongly about the changes of 1989 and on. I firmly believe that the politicians at the time were barely an instrument or chess pieces in the negotiations between the West and the East. the negotiations started way before 1989 and went on even after. I yet to find any indication that either Horn or Orban had any significance in what unfolded and what seems more like negotiations between Regan, Thatcher, Gorbachev Thatcher for that matter was not so hot to unify Germany, and it was more Gorbachev who thought of it as a good idea. THis proves that there was no threat coming from the East if the curtains will be open. I am for that matter convinced that some support came to Hungary to “overthrow” the system. The whole Eastern Block cost way to much money for the Soviets, money that they did not… Read more »
petofi
Guest

@Ewok8588

“..but the right loves MSZP…”

Specifically, Orban loves MSZP. And why shouldn’t they have a mutual love affair? After all, 20% of 500%
(ie. the increase in the looting of the public treasury)
is much greater than who knows what kind of fall in MSZP looting if Gyurcsany had had his way?

I’m afraid Bajnai has been led down the garden path: there is no good to be had from the MSZP, and he’ll be led into a cul de sac eventually.

Why couldn’t Bajnai have taken a page from Luther’s book: “Here I stand!” and let those politicians, of whatever stripe, come to join him (in whatever party he would’ve created) to save the country. A new party with a mandatory probity clause, that’s what was needed; to show that politicians were willing to be at risk, too…to be worthy of leading a country where the political culture had gone so far wrong.

It’s no wonder that the electorate has come to trust no one: at least, Fidesz tells what they want to hear–that Hungary is great and that Hungarians are the greatest.

spectator
Guest

@Dan
“Some on the right wing like Horn” – Well, the Germans like him, definitely, no doubt.
And since the Hungarian economy depends a great deal from the German, Orbán & Co treads very carefully, not to upset the hen with the golden egg, – otherwise they should kiss goodbye to the newfound “independence”, falling back again – they rather go with the German line. Small price for a kingdom, after all.

spectator
Guest

@Some1
There is a significant difference between their “chameleon like behaviours”, believe me.

While Orbán changing his pattern according to the means he can reach his personal fulfilment easier, Horn’s changes much more resemble to a natural development of a person who’s growing older and wiser, learning to adapt new values, while working for the country’s interest.
Not to mention the difference between their way to handle their physical features.
While they were about the same size, one never noticed the desperate compensation attempt with Horn, neither the yearning for grandeur, what we experiencing on a daily basis in Orban’s case.
Anyway, that’s how I see them.

spectator
Guest
petofi : @Ewok8588 “..but the right loves MSZP…” Specifically, Orban loves MSZP. And why shouldn’t they have a mutual love affair? After all, 20% of 500% (ie. the increase in the looting of the public treasury) is much greater than who knows what kind of fall in MSZP looting if Gyurcsany had had his way? I’m afraid Bajnai has been led down the garden path: there is no good to be had from the MSZP, and he’ll be led into a cul de sac eventually. Why couldn’t Bajnai have taken a page from Luther’s book: “Here I stand!” and let those politicians, of whatever stripe, come to join him (in whatever party he would’ve created) to save the country. A new party with a mandatory probity clause, that’s what was needed; to show that politicians were willing to be at risk, too…to be worthy of leading a country where the political culture had gone so far wrong. It’s no wonder that the electorate has come to trust no one: at least, Fidesz tells what they want to hear–that Hungary is great and that Hungarians are the greatest. I guess, the problem is, that Bajnai most of all a technocrat, not… Read more »
petofi
Guest

@Spectator

The people have ‘understanding’? Surely you jest: what they have is a gob of confusion.

This must be cleared up. A campaign of public education–pamphleteering, I daresay, since the print media is mostly in Fidesz hands–must be begun to show people the proper workings of a parliamentary democracy; and a table of comparison between that, and what Fidesz has done…

Member

For me the “Horn phenomenon” is a bit like Orban. 4 years after the fall of the communism a big time ex-commie raises to the prime ministership. One hat trick with the East-Germans, actually being in the right place at the right time was enough. The nation just didn’t care. No values, moral standards, to hold on to. Hold on! Capitalism is a lot of work. Let’s get the MSZMP back.

Of course unlike Orban, Horn turned out to be OK, at least as OK as all the other guys were since 1990.

Today a large portion of the Hungarians do not care that their leader is incompetent, a common thief and a liar. It’s good.

spectator
Guest

@petofi
“This must be cleared up.”

Exactly!
Otherwise I wrote : I hope, that the people has more patience and understanding than I do… – since I highly dissatisfied with the performance so far, being rather the ‘too little too late’ kind of thing…

Member

Meanwhile on Planet Hungary …

A little unorthodox banking. It’s about the new higher transactional tax.

Say, you’ve got 100,000 HUF cash. You don’t want to keep in the mattress so let’s take it to the bank.

You can’t tie it down for long so you put it into an account that pays 4.5% interest, the base rate by the Hungarian National Bank.

You keep your forints there for 2 month + 1 day.

You earn 752 HUF interest.

Minus

Interest tax (16%) = 120,33 HUF
EHO (social secuity) (6%) = 45.12 HUF

Now you have 100,586.55 HUF

Now you decide to take the cash.

Transactional tax is 0.6% = 603.52 HUF

You get 99,983 HUF after 2 month!

Courtesy of the DK: http://fejer1.dkp.hu/480/

tappanch
Guest

Latest poll, taken June 12-21, sample size= 1000

Fidesz 26%
Jobbik 7%

Democratic opposition 21%
don’t say 46%

http://www.tarki.hu/hu/news/2013/kitekint/20130626_valasztas.html

spectator
Guest

“Today a large portion of the Hungarians do not care that their leader is incompetent, a common thief and a liar. It’s good.”

– I fear, that many of them even get inspired by the fact, that their great leader just as illiterate redneck with just as low moral standards than themselves, so, let’s follow him…
It used to work, as we know…
Just like in the ‘Rattenfänger von Hameln’ – or the ‘Pied Piper of Hamelin’ – this way, please!

Ron
Guest

Meanwhile on Planet Hungary … (Mutt ©)

Non-direct relatives staying over in your house are considered tourist, and therefore are subject to tourist tax of HUF 390 per person per night. Hospitality Hungarian way.

http://www.blikk.hu/blikk_rovidhir/fizess-adot-barataid-utan-2196931
http://www.blikk.hu/blikk_aktualis/adot-fizethet-aki-vendegul-latja-barataitnyaralojaban-2197111

szomszéd
Guest
Mutt : Meanwhile on Planet Hungary … A little unorthodox banking. It’s about the new higher transactional tax. Say, you’ve got 100,000 HUF cash. You don’t want to keep in the mattress so let’s take it to the bank. You can’t tie it down for long so you put it into an account that pays 4.5% interest, the base rate by the Hungarian National Bank. You keep your forints there for 2 month + 1 day. You earn 752 HUF interest. Minus Interest tax (16%) = 120,33 HUF EHO (social secuity) (6%) = 45.12 HUF Now you have 100,586.55 HUF Now you decide to take the cash. Transactional tax is 0.6% = 603.52 HUF You get 99,983 HUF after 2 month! Courtesy of the DK: http://fejer1.dkp.hu/480/ Mutt, your calcullation is not complete, you would pay additional money inside the bank account. One side of this unorthodox banking is the Orban´s transactional tax. The other side is the behaviour of banks. Please, have a look at this link: http://www.erstebank.hu/static/internet/download/LBBH_m3_3_angol_20120102.pdf. There is an example of a bank charges which standard ´western´ bank exercises in Eastern Europe. It is about what a person must pay for keeping her/his own money in a bank… Read more »
Guest

London Calling!

The whole point of Horn’s wire-cutting escapade – is that he was a high-ranking politician who went out on a limb to send a message.

A political act which could have backfired – as he well knew.

And one of Churchillian proportions.

It is entirely irrelevant that the border was leaking like a sieve – or that a section was reconstructed for the photo call – as one of the trolls triumphantly advised.

It was also telling the East Germans that they would not be shot – a very real concern.

Horn’s actions turned out to be hugely significant – a significance that he could not have guessed – except it was one in the eye for the repulsive Honecker.

I hope he will be posthumously honoured. But I fear this unscrupulous government would rather move statues and honour nasty ante-Semites than real heroes.

And protect informers.

Regards

Charlie

Regards

Tyrker
Guest

“Horn himself was a member of the National Guard created by the Imre Nagy government.”

Yes – this is indeed what he said. More precisely, that he enrolled on 26th October. However, this is apparently a lie as the National Guard was only established on the 31st. It’s much more likely that he joined some kind of a party militia that fought against the revolutionaries – if he joined anything in October, that is. What we do know is that eventually he joined the infamous Hunyadi János Battalion – though the exact date of the start of his service remains unclear. Before 1989, he would say he had joined the karhatalom on 15th November 1956, whereas after the transition, he insisted that he only started his service on 12th December. At any rate, he did a voluntary service in a battalion infamous for its cruelty against suspected revolutionaries (whom they would of course call counter-revolutionaries), and was decorated for his “accomplishments” in 1957.

For those that read Hungarian, this three-part article by the historian Pál Germuska will be an eye-opener:

http://hvg.hu/itthon/20070706_horn_gyula_karhatalmista_hunyadi_germuska
http://hvg.hu/itthon/20070706_horn_gyula_karhatalmista_hunyadi_germuska/2
http://hvg.hu/itthon/20070706_horn_gyula_karhatalmista_hunyadi_germuska/3

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