Sándor Szakály, the new head of the Veritas Historical Institute, is embarking on rewriting Hungarian history

One outrage after the other. Here is the enlargement of the Paks power plant that sounds more and more like a very bad and costly investment. I’m sure that in the future we will be forced to return to the topic because there are so many question marks surrounding this “deal of the century” that it is bound to be discussed for a long time to come.

Another recent outrage stemmed from an interview with Sándor Szakály, the newly appointed director of the Veritas Történetkutató Intézet. You may recall that a few months ago the decision was made to establish yet another historical institute which would be directly subordinated to the prime minister’s office. It was designed to be an institute that will “set right” the hitherto falsified history of modern Hungary. I wrote about this proposed institute in November 2013 when its establishment was announced in the official government gazette.

Szakály, a military historian, is 59 years old. After graduating from college in 1980 he got a job in the Archives of Military History. There he slowly moved up until he became director of the Archives during the first Orbán administration. His historical views destined him to be an important figure in molding public opinion. In 2001 he joined the staff of Duna Television, the channel that has the function of influencing members of the Hungarian diaspora in the neighboring countries. Initially he was in charge of cultural matters but soon enough he became vice president of the station. After the lost Fidesz election in 2002 Szakály had to start his career practically anew. For a while he did  historical research without having a full-time job but eventually he landed a professorship at the university that grants degrees to gym teachers. Former president Pál Schmidt received his “doctorate” based on a plagiarized dissertation from that institution.

When Viktor Orbán returned to power in 2010 Szakály’s “exile” ended. He became a full professor at the Gáspár Károli Calvinist University in 2010 and by 2011 was a department head. (Mind you, this university in my opinion wouldn’t even receive accreditation in the United States.) Last year Szakály moved on to become vice president of the newly created Nemzeti Közszolgálati Egyetem (National Civil Service University), which also includes the former Hungarian military academy.

Szakály is not a conservative historian; I think we can safely call him a hard-core right-winger. Only a couple of months ago he gave a lecture on Gyula Gömbös, prime minister between 1932 and 1936, in Szekszárd as part of a series organized by a local Jobbik leader. So, Szakály is obviously a welcome guest in Jobbik circles. I don’t think too many people were aware of this lecture, which was reported only by Népszabadság‘s stringer, but from the description one gets the impression that Szakály’s assessment of Gömbös is a great deal more positive than the accepted view that his plans included the introduction of a fascist-like regime, something similar to Mussolini’s system in Italy.

This speech may have passed unnoticed, but when he shared his plans for the new institute with MTI he made waves. His initial bullet points were that Veritas will have 25 employees, historians who will study the history of Hungary between 1867 and 1990. He is planning a conference entitled “From Occupation to Occupation.” They plan to rewrite the history of the regime change of 1989-1990. They will organize programs in 2016 for the 60th anniversary of the 1956 October Revolution.

After stating that historians mustn’t be biased and that Veritas will be free of political pressure, he immediately explained that Veritas “must represent a little different ethos” from the one that has dominated Hungarian historical institutes. For example, “it is not considered to be correct nowadays to say that there was something that preceded the White Terror.” (A baldfaced lie.)  He went on to explain the Horthy regime’s attitude toward the members of the illegal communist party. According to him, “one mustn’t forget that the local communist party was part of the Communist International, which meant that its members were considered to be spies for a foreign power and therefore the authorities handled them accordingly.” He also thinks that the case of Endre Ságvári must be reconsidered. (Endre Ságvári was a member of the illegal communist party who, while four gendarmes were trying to arrest him, shot and wounded three of them. In turn he was shot and died shortly after. That happened on July 27, 1944, after Hungary allegedly lost its sovereignty on March 19, 1944.)

Sándor Szakály in his study. Note the bust of a gendarme on his desk

Sándor Szakály in his study. Note the bust of a gendarme on his desk.

Szakály is planning to rewrite the history of the bombing of Kassa/Košice. No one knows who actually bombed the city on June 26, 1941, an act that prompted the Hungarian government to declare war on the Soviet Union. There are guesses but no solid evidence. Some historians thought that the Hungarian High Command, whose members were pro-German, in cahoots with the German military planned the bombing in order to force the Hungarian government to join Germany’s war effort. Others were certain that the planes came from Slovakia. Still others tried to argue that it was the Soviets who bombed the city by mistake. As far as I know, no evidence has emerged in the last few years that would decide the issue. But I assume that a lack of evidence will not deter Szakály.

The most outrageous comment Szakály made concerned the fate of those Jews who couldn’t properly demonstrate to the authorities their Hungarian citizenship. Several thousand of them were actually Hungarians; others came from Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Austria. Shortly after the declaration of war, in July 1941, the Hungarian authorities deported approximately 14,000 of these people to territories that are part of Ukraine today, which were then occupied by the Germans. Once in German hands they were massacred in a place called Kamenets-Podolsk together with the local Jewish population. According to the Holocaust Encyclopedia altogether 23,600 Jews were massacred in this action.

The “reinterpretation” of this event is obviously on the table at the Veritas Historical Institute. According to Szakály, “some historians consider this event to be the first deportation of Jews from Hungary” but in his opinion it can more properly be considered “a police action against aliens” (idegenrendészeti eljárás). He also claimed that when the Hungarian authorities discovered that these people had been killed, the minister of interior immediately stopped the deportations.

It was this description of the deportation that hit a nerve in Hungary. Even the young conservatives of Mandiner are outraged. Demokratikus Koalíció immediately demanded Szakály’s prompt dismissal. Of course, Szakály will not be recalled and everything will continue on its merry way with the rewriting of Hungarian history, including that of the Holocaust.

Tomorrow I’m planning to give a brief summary of what actually happened in July-August 1941 in the northeastern corner of Hungary, from where these poor people were deported and sent to German-occupied territories. But I can say one thing right now. Szakály is not telling the truth the whole truth. The Hungarian government didn’t put an end to the deportations alone, it was also urged by the German authorities.

48 comments

  1. We should distinguish between

    gendarmes (1849-1881) – zsandárok and

    silence keepers (1881-1945) – csendőrök

    Szakály’s entire scholarly life is directed towards whitewashing the “silence keepers”.

    See an early article of his about their activities between 1891 and 1914. They suppressed 105 demonstrations in the countryside and only killed 61 and injured 868 demonstrators.

    http://www.kodolanyi.hu/images/tartalom/File/szaks.pdf

    The 1942 massacres in Serbia were committed by the Hungarian army and not by the silence keepers – according to Szakály

    tortenelemportal. hu/2012/01/delvideki-razzia-a-kivegzesek-nem-a-csendorseghez-kotodtek/

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  2. Stevan Harnad :

    Historical reality :
    Finno-Ugrian lnguages are more european than I-E languages.
    In the Eurasian supercontinent: 2/3 part of IE speaking people live in ASIA (remember the huge population of India Pakistan and Iran) and only 1/3 part of IE speaking people live in Europe.
    However 99% of finno-ugric speaking population lives in Europe, and only 1% live in Asia.
    The closest relatives of the old ancient aryan languages (like sanskrit) are the gypsy languages.

    Nostratic Wise-cracks?
    I’m not sure the above post was meant seriously! The Finno-Ugric Language group is a subgroup of the Uro-Altaic language group, just as the Helleno-Romance-Germanic-Slavic group is a subgroup of the Indo-European group. Both groups migrated, and if you calculate current proportions from site of origin, neither is of “European” origin (and all are probably of African origin) and so what?
    The “monogenetists” think all languages evolved from one original proto-human language at one place, the “polygenetists” think it evolved independently in multiple places.
    All agree that the linguistic distance between the Uro-Altaic Group and the Indo-European group is considerable…

    Ural-Altaic language group is not supported by academic linguists. Only Jobbik support that old pseudo science…, and Hungarian neo-nazi groups support Turanism.

    Turanism and altaic languages are typical Jobbik tales.

    Read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungarian_Turanism

    Do not support Jobbik and his Turanist pseudo-science.

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  3. Historical reality :
    Ural-Altaic language group is not supported by academic linguists. Only Jobbik support that old pseudo science…, and Hungarian neo-nazi groups support Turanism.
    Turanism and altaic languages are typical Jobbik tales.
    Read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungarian_Turanism
    Do not support Jobbik and his Turanist pseudo-science.

    I certainly don’t mean to support the abominations of Jobbik or quackery of Turanism in any way! So forget the Altaic in Uro-Altaic.

    But even Uralic languages originate from the Urals, which is not Europe, but the frontier between Europe and Asia… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uralic_languages

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  4. Stevan Harnad :

    Historical reality :
    Ural-Altaic language group is not supported by academic linguists. Only Jobbik support that old pseudo science…, and Hungarian neo-nazi groups support Turanism.
    Turanism and altaic languages are typical Jobbik tales.
    Read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungarian_Turanism
    Do not support Jobbik and his Turanist pseudo-science.

    I certainly don’t mean to support the abominations of Jobbik or quackery of Turanism in any way! So forget the Altaic in Uro-Altaic.
    But even Uralic languages originate from the Urals, which is not Europe, but the frontier between Europe and Asia… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uralic_languages

    Uralic and altaic languages are not related. AGAIN: There are no contemporary academic linguists on this planet (real scholars university professors) who support the relation of uralic and altaic languages. Only turanist support it (and jobbik)
    Please do not spread pseudo science of Jobbik (the Ural-Altaic tales)

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  5. Stevan Harnad :

    Historical reality :
    Ural-Altaic language group is not supported by academic linguists. Only Jobbik support that old pseudo science…, and Hungarian neo-nazi groups support Turanism.
    Turanism and altaic languages are typical Jobbik tales.
    Read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungarian_Turanism
    Do not support Jobbik and his Turanist pseudo-science.

    I certainly don’t mean to support the abominations of Jobbik or quackery of Turanism in any way! So forget the Altaic in Uro-Altaic.
    But even Uralic languages originate from the Urals, which is not Europe, but the frontier between Europe and Asia… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uralic_languages

    There were an ugric (uralic) turkic war among linguist in the late 19th century. The turanist Altaic (Turkic) supporters lost their credibility in Hungarian and European scientific circles, and the Uralic language family won in every European linguistic circles. Than Turanists tried to building up the fantastic ural-altaic míth to compensate their lost…..

    Ural-Altaic tales (pseudo science) are part of turanism, which is a central part of the foreign policy of Jobbik. (see the foreign policy of Jobbik)

    So the propagation of Ural-altaic tales are not only pseudo – science, but it is a type of support of Jobbik’s agenda.

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    1. Oh dear, all this is very far from my question as to whether there is a linguistic connection between the Sanskrit “sat”, the German “Sache” and the Hungarian “-ness” suffix “-ság”. Please don’t worry too much about it.

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  6. I’m not a linguist, but “-ság” and “-ség” should have the same root, shouldn’t they? And from there a connection to “Sache” looks implausibel.

    A bit OT:

    In a way it’s like the German -heit and -keit on which there is a very nice description here: http://www.canoo.net/services/WordformationRules/Derivation/To-N/Suffixe/Var-heit-keit.html

    I don’t know if the rules of the Hungarian grammar (like those ság/ség etc) are described somewhere as succinct? I’ve always had problems with this stuff …

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  7. Let us worry about our many willing fellows, who want to serve in any uber-patriotic dictatorship.

    These same people give a universal free pass to the dear current chief regarding all economical and foreign policies on the way to a new national suicide.

    The rest is unimportant.

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  8. Rather sad commentary on the knowledge of students of economics if they don’t realize that the utilities cut is not a positive step.

    If these students love the tuition fees I don’t know why MSZP wants to have entirely free college education. These guys seem to be real fools.

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  9. Whilst I was reading this, my Fidesz supporting wife was catching up with Hungarian news and events on her laptop.

    In a moment of almost painful irony, she interrupted my reading to tell me that it was now “proven” that there was no relationship between the Finns and the Hungarians.

    I said that was no real surprise, if she meant a genetic relationship, as it is the origin of their languages that connects them together, not their genes. No, she replied, the languages aren’t connected either – “they’ve discovered that there are hardly any Finnish words in Hungarian (or Hungarian words in Finnish), but there are lots of Turkish words” (I assume she meant Turkic).

    I pointed out that on that basis, you could make out a much better case for Hungarian being related to the Slavic languages, or even to German – or these days, probably English!

    But I think I was talking to myself.

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  10. Partial list of languages contributing to the most basic 3459 word roots of Hungarian:

    1. Extinct & completely unknown languages 25.7% [no, not Sumer :-)]
    2. Finno-Ugric 17.8%
    3. Slavic 16.4%
    4. German 9.5%
    5. Turkic 8.1%
    6. Latin & Greek 5.2%
    7. All other known languages combined 2.9%

    Internal development 14.4%

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  11. Paul :
    Whilst I was reading this, my Fidesz supporting wife was catching up with Hungarian news and events on her laptop.
    In a moment of almost painful irony, she interrupted my reading to tell me that it was now “proven” that there was no relationship between the Finns and the Hungarians.
    I said that was no real surprise, if she meant a genetic relationship, as it is the origin of their languages that connects them together, not their genes. No, she replied, the languages aren’t connected either – “they’ve discovered that there are hardly any Finnish words in Hungarian (or Hungarian words in Finnish), but there are lots of Turkish words” (I assume she meant Turkic).
    I pointed out that on that basis, you could make out a much better case for Hungarian being related to the Slavic languages, or even to German – or these days, probably English!
    But I think I was talking to myself.

    Does she support pseudo science?
    Jobbik and turanists have many many self-appointed so called “shaman scholars”, whose highest qualification is a secondary schools. Most of them are proletarians.

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  12. The Corvinus polls asked first year students who have zero economics education, depending on the timing of the polling maybe one semester.

    The answers are more representative of their social backgrounds. Most of the students at Corvinus are from more well to do, middle class families from Buda and major provincial towns, where all educated middle class support Fidesz (e.g. local entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers), and lower class educated people support Jobbik (given the failings of education in Hungary, one can safely exclude the possibility that kids from families without education go to Corvinus.)

    I am not sure what the category Others means, as the list of parties covers all potential parties. Bokros or KDNP may fall under Others, but they are very unlikely to be popular. More likely is that kids who did not want to reveal their preferences chose that category.

    The answers indicate to me that the freshmen are about 50-50 divided between left and right, which underscores the importance of the union of the leftist parties.

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  13. tappanch :
    We should distinguish between
    gendarmes (1849-1881) – zsandárok and

    silence keepers (1881-1945) – csendőrök
    Szakály’s entire scholarly life is directed towards whitewashing the “silence keepers”.
    See an early article of his about their activities between 1891 and 1914. They suppressed 105 demonstrations in the countryside and only killed 61 and injured 868 demonstrators.
    http://www.kodolanyi.hu/images/tartalom/File/szaks.pdf
    The 1942 massacres in Serbia were committed by the Hungarian army and not by the silence keepers – according to Szakály
    tortenelemportal. hu/2012/01/delvideki-razzia-a-kivegzesek-nem-a-csendorseghez-kotodtek/

    The crimes during Novi Sad Raid were committed by all three types of patrols and there was no rule.

    Aleksandar Tišma, writer : “When we moved from Nikolajevska street to Njegoševa, a Hungarian barber had a flat in the yard of our building. His name was Terek Pal ( Török Pál). The patrols would barge into houses, ask for identification papers and decide who goes to meet their death. There was even some sorts of a commission made of ten people that presided over destinies, and three types of patrols during the raid : gendarmes, soldiers and policemen.

    Miletićeva street was raided by gendarmes, and all of the Jews and Serbs on that street were killed. Our street was raided by the soldiers. They broke into our apartment, searched everything, looked at our documents and told us to wait while they go and have a word with our neighbour Terek. We were not killed. Obviously our Hungarian neighbour vouched for us. Had he said a single bad word we would have ended up differently. He was a kind-hearted man, someone not interested in politics, and he liked to drink.

    After the raid was over he told my father how ashamed he was because of it. He saved our lives.”

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