The Hungarian Holocaust Memorial Year: One step forward, two steps backward

It was exactly a week ago that I wrote about the Hungarian Holocaust Memorial Year, which is still very much a topic of debate in Hungary. The core of the problem is the effort on the part of the Orbán government to rewrite the modern history of Hungary.

The problem started with the adoption of a new constitution that has a fairly lengthy preamble in which  the emphasis is on the concept of “nation.” The preamble is actually called “national avowal” and its first sentence reads “we, the members of the Hungarian nation.” For the sake of comparison the United States Constitution refers to the “people of the United States” and the modern constitution of Germany to “the German people.” As we will see a little later, this preoccupation with the idea of “nation” may have far-reaching consequences as far as the current controversy is concerned.

At the time of the release of the text of the preamble to the new Hungarian constitution a lot of legal scholars, historians, and commentators severely criticized it for being a hodgepodge of disconnected, unhistorical nonsense. But what must be an absolutely unique feature of this preamble is that the framers decided to eliminate 46 years, 2 months, and 5 days from Hungary’s history because the decision was made to “date the restoration of our country’s self-determination, lost on the nineteenth day of March 1944, from the second day of May 1990, when the first freely elected organ of popular representation was formed. We shall consider this date to be the beginning of our country’s new democracy and constitutional order.” In plain language, Hungarians are not responsible for anything that happened during this “lost” period. It was immediately noted that the first Hungarian transports headed for Auschwitz and other death camps occurred after March 19, 1944. A lot of people suspected that this government was thinking of shifting the entire responsibility for the Holocaust on the Germans who, with the permission of Miklós Horthy, moved their troops into Hungary. Regardless of how often officials of the current Hungarian government repeat that they accept responsibility for the Holocaust, the new constitution claims otherwise. And that is the basic law of the land at the moment.

Sorry about these repetitive prefatory remarks, but in order to fully understand the thinking of Viktor Orbán, János Lázár, and other high officials of the government we must keep in mind the emphasis both on the “Hungarian nation” and on the alleged lack of sovereignty of Hungary. Giving up the idea of erecting a monument that depicts Hungary as the innocent and long-suffering Archangel Gabriel would go against the very core of this view of history. And when we find more and more references to “Hungarians and Jews” in government parlance, we must also keep in mind the nation-centric views that found their way into the new constitution. I maintain that as long as this constitution is in force there can be no meaningful discussion between Viktor Orbán and those who don’t subscribe to this warped view of history. Viktor Orbán may suggest to the leadership of Mazsihisz that “the dialogue should be continued after the Easter holidays,” but there can be no common ground between the two views.

Still, one ought to appreciate the fact that he made the gesture at all. Viktor Orbán rarely retreats. As his critics say, “he goes all the way to the wall.” It seems that this time he bumped into that wall, a wall of condemnation by a civilized Europe that doesn’t take Holocaust denial lightly. Let me quote here from a speech Ilan Mor, Israeli Ambassador to Hungary, delivered at the gathering to honor the recipients of Yad Vashem’s Righteous Among the Nations awards. He said that “any attempts to rewrite or to reinterpret the history of the Shoa, in this country or elsewhere, for any reason, politically and/or ideologically, are part of the deplorable attempt to deny the Holocaust, the Shoa.” This is the kind of criticism the Hungarian government is facing when it tries to falsify history.

Just when we thought that, at least until April, we could have a little respite and prepare ourselves for the next round, János Lázár decided to upset the apple cart. He happened to be in Gyula, a city near the Romanian border, when he gave an interview to the local television station. During the interview the reporter asked him about Mazsihisz’s opposition to the government’s plans for the Holocaust Memorial Year. Lázár lashed out at the leaders of Mazsihisz, accusing them of wrecking the government’s plans for the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust. He charged them with fomenting discord between Hungarians and Jews who have lived in unity and symbiosis for centuries. According to him, the story of that common past was a real success. He predicted that Mazsihisz’s “ultimatum” will have a negative influence on the cohabitation of Jews and Hungarians. He added that he hopes “the local Jewish communities in conjunction with the officials of the municipalities will find a way to remember together.” Lázár expressed his belief “in the wisdom of the local Jewish leaders and even more so in the wisdom of the municipal leaders,” and he said he hoped that “this ultimatum was only part of a political move that will not be able to fracture that unity and symbiosis in which we have lived together with our Jewish compatriots in Gyula or for that matter in Hódmezővásárhely,” his hometown where he served as mayor until recently.

"Cohabitiation: Minority and majority in the Carpathian Basin Source: Amerikai Nepszava Online

“Cohabitation: Minority and majority in the Carpathian Basin”
Source: Amerikai Népszava Online

It was at this point that all hell broke loose and for good reason. First of all, Mazsihisz didn’t issue an ultimatum. Second, Lázár practically accused Mazsihisz of fomenting anti-Semitism in Hungary by not meekly accepting the falsification of history promulgated by the Orbán government. Third, it was especially tasteless to talk about Jewish/non-Jewish symbiosis and cohabitation in a provincial town. As is well known, there are practically no Jews left in Hungary outside of Budapest. The vast majority perished because Miklós Horthy wanted to start the deportations with those whom he considered to be the great unwashed. And fourth, what caused real furor was that Lázár excluded Hungarians of Jewish origin from the Hungarian nation. Commentators noted that this view comes straight from the Nuremberg laws and the anti-Jewish laws of Hungary. People are truly outraged.

Commentators are trying to figure out what motivated János Lázár to make a frontal attack on Mazsihisz. Some think that he was just careless and didn’t weigh his words. Perhaps in a more formal setting, they claim, he wouldn’t have said what he did. Others think that he is just outright stupid and/or crass.

I see it differently. Lázár is the messenger boy of Viktor Orbán. It is enough to recall the meeting between him and members of different Jewish communities. The participants were hoping for some solution to the impasse. It turned out that Lázár had no authority whatsoever to talk about anything substantive. He could only tell those present that he would relay the points they made to Viktor Orbán, who would answer them in writing. Therefore, I suspect that Lázár, when questioned in Gyula, simply repeated what he knew to be Viktor Orbán’s position. And I don’t think that I’m too far off when I predict that Viktor Orbán will not be any more malleable after Easter. Lázár’s words are only a forewarning of what lies ahead.

——

P.S. I would like to correct an earlier mistake of mine. I attributed a statement to Ambassador Mor that turned out to be erroneous. In his interview with Heti Válasz he did not speak critically of Mazsihisz as I assumed.

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balatoni
Guest

The attack also means that Orban has full support of enough “Jews”.

They may be Chabad, they my be Israeli Jews who told Orban that they will be there supporting him anyway.

The point is Orban is sure that he no longer needs Mazsihisz for anything at all.

Since he owns the treasury (and Mazsihisz receives a lot of subsidies) now he can as tough as he wants.

tappanch
Guest

In English, the word “nation” does not carry the burden of class warfare.

In Hungarian history, “natio Hungarica” meant the members of the ruling “noble” class in the Middle Ages of any origin, at most 5% of the population.

[In Transylvania, two additional groups were also recognized as “natio”: The Saxon burghers and the Szekelys.]

Mr. Paul
Guest

“In plain language, Hungarians are not responsible for anything that happened during this “lost” period.”

Éva your interpretation I think is not clear enough here to the reader. What does it mean “Hungarians are not responsible”? It is very hard to understand because this period 1944-1990 is mostly (95%) the time of the Rákosi and then the Kádár regime. In your interpretation Fidesz aims to clear responsibility for all crimes committed and absolve the perpetrators of all responsibility during this time? Why would they want that if you are right about their intentions? What are they gaining from painting the Rákosi and Kádár eras in a positive light?

tappanch
Guest

@balatoni

The money MaZsiHiSz receives is not subsidies. I do not think Orban dares to single out the Jewish faith but continue paying the much more generous sums to the Catholic and Calvinist Churches.

Let me also remind you that about 1/4 of the wealth of Hungary was owned by Jewish people before 1939. Legal questions could be raised about the debt the Hungarian State still owes for stealing this wealth.

Mr. Paul
Guest

re on the sovereignty 1944-1990
“the alleged lack of sovereignty of Hungary. ”

I don’t know what is the legal definition or anything like that but to my mind the people cannot be sovereign if they have no say in what happens. And for a lot of this period there were no elections (at all or with more than 1 candidate) so for me it seems clear that the people had no sovereignity in most of this period in question.

Mr. Paul
Guest

Sorry, I didn’t mean to send the previous comment.

Kavé
Guest
Mazsihisz represents the “Neolog” tradition, religiously progressive and self defined as ‘Hungarians of Mosaic Belief”, roughly analogous to the Conservative movement in the USA. It may be the largest of several representative Jewish community organizations in Hungary, but it is also at odds with several other Jewish community organizations, particularly younger, alternative ones. When FIDESZ came to power they broke the MAZSIHISZ monopoly on receiving funding from the Hungarian government, allowing other communities to take a piece of the pie. Almost all of the traditionally recognized Jewish communities of Hungary were upset when a large portion was granted to Chabad / Lubavitch, which claimed that they represented the traditionally non-aligned and (barely surviving) Hungarian “Status Quo Ante” Jewish community. a pretty barefaced lie, given that Lubavitch is a Hasidic tradition originating in Russia (Yekaterinburg, today’s Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, and subsequently, deeply ensconced in in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.) Lazar’s surprising statements are much more than the offhand rantings of a young piss ant who doesn’t have the good sense that the Good Lord gave geese. He is picking specifically at the issue of identity of Hungarian Jews – who tend towards identifying as “Hungarians who have Jewish religion.” In other words: non-Christian… Read more »
steve397
Guest

Eva: I assume that Orban and his regime thinks that all what happened between 1944 and 1990 has nought to do with the “real” Hungarians, since the sins that beset the Nation were either the nasty Germans or the nasty Communists (who in any case were led by the Muscovite Jews). Thanks to the new democratic Nation, such as those from Fidesz and Jobbik, Hungary is once again a Hungary with a brilliant past and an even more wonderful future.

Mr. Paul
Guest

It would have been part of a longer comment but I sent it early by mistake as I indicated it. It was exactly what I wanted to avoid by saying it so people don’t respond to half an argument.

Mr. Paul
Guest

In recent days there is severe unrest in the eastern parts of Ukraine especially in Crimea. Insurgents of this region took control of the local Parliament and started to put up Russian flags everywhere. Russian troops are also sighted in this area as it is the home base of the Russian Black See Fleet. The situation seems very volatile.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

@Kavé

I agree. Lázár’s sentence about “the coexistence of Hungarians and Jews for several hundred years in the Carpathian basin” simply conveys his party’s vision of the Hungarian nation, a vision according to which 1848 and 1867 are only secondary.

PS: ‘Napoleonic’ seems a bit awkward though. The first revolutionary National Assembly voted the full emancipation of French Jews in 1791 and the abolition of slavery in 1792. Napoleon cancelled the latter in 1802, and restricted the former in 1808.

sunyilo12
Member

Eva,

You probably need to shunt Mr. Paul for good. He is a slug who, I’m convinced, is paid to discredit this blog with his off-topic remarks and to water down meaningful discussions by bringing up irrelevant topics. He reminds me of the subject of Swiss-people jokes. Just like, you are telling a joke to a Swiss guy, like: “Two people meet on the train, one fat, one lean…” you would start the joke, when the Swiss guy interrupts: “where does the train go?”
With the difference that Mr. Paul does this on purpose to get under the skin of commenters who really care for insightful discussions on this forum.

WUL
Guest

Kavé #8 – gave a good review.

Continuing the subject, we can look at the quality of the current and past Jewish leadership?

Who was the last effective, decent, intelligent Hungarian Jewish leader?

Just like among the major Hungarian politicians, it would be hard to name such a person in the recent history.

I would go back the Mor Wahrmann, who was really good. His figure was an almost perfect copy of Ferenc Deak.

Kavé
Guest

Marcel: Yes, but the Lubavitchers to this day still sing a religious “nigun” song based on the Marseillaise to celebrate Napoleon’s enfranchisement of the French Jews. Check this out at 4′ 69″ : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJtIRbZL78M

Mr. Paul
Guest

@Sunyilo12 complaints about off-topic
since I’v never seen your name here before, you may be not a very active commenter, so let me tell you that in my observation it is quite common here to bring up news items about different topics. In case readers find them interesting. You might also be unaware that the situation in Ukraine is one of the topics that was already discussed on this blog. So there is no reason for you to get hysterical about it.

For example see this blog posting about The Balatonöszod speech and the fight of Orban and Gyurcsany

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2014/02/25/viktor-orbans-temporary-retreat-in-his-battle-with-ferenc-gyurcsany/comment-page-1/#comments

see some of the topics discussed below it in the comments:

Hungarian employment statistics, Chairman of Mazsihisz remarks, Mr. Maroth an academic, a commenter calls “the arch-Fidesznik”, whether the EU Commission was notified about Paks, Ukraine disbands riot police (!), missing pigs (yes really), polling data

Should I continue or you are starting to see my point?

In light of the above I don’t find it a big problem that I shared a (very short and recent) news item about Ukraine.

balatoni
Guest
tappanch: I disagree. Firstly, at present all four main “historical religions/churches” (Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist and Jewish) receive state subsidies, aka taxpayer’s money in Hungary. In fact most of their income comes from the central budget. (Even the salaries of rural pastors are paid from the central budget.). I do not think that individual donations contribute more than 1-2% to their annual budgets of these churches. That is how the system works. Probably because in any other system not involving state-compelled taxation (via the central budget), no member of these religions would at their own initiative pay any comparable amounts. The biggest loser would be the Catholic Church and since it is a nation-wide organization and an extremely important pillar of the conservative political constituency, this is politically unthinkable. I suspect the Jews are included because of political correctness reasons, not because Fidesz would want to pay them anything (although if you pay them you can always control them somehow, so it may worth the money in the long term). With their inclusion into this select group of four churches the question of legitimacy of the special treatment of the Catholic church is even less of an issue. These churches also… Read more »
balatoni
Guest
I would change the title. “One step forward” is the first part and it implies a progress. Readers naturally concentrate on that. So eventually a positive message comes through as the second part of this ‘complicated’ term is ignored. I would say “Two steps back, one step forward.” The same, but sound more negative which corresponds to the situation. Fidesz systematically set out to destroy every constituency, organization or community which it deems might disagree with it. The speed varies but the strategy is clear. It is now Mazsihisz’ turn. That is all. And like all who dared to resist, Mazsihisz will be demolished, though perhaps slowly. It will be made irrelevant and a butt of jokes. There is no need to rush. It is a democratic organization which means that the chaos of bázis demokrácia will soon emerge (the usual voting games, in-fighting and the like, they will do the work themselves). Authoritarian organizations have advantages after all. Fidesz and people around him are bullies. They love to torment the little kid. They also like to play the cat and mouse game. The cat plays with the mouse for a while, it’s much fun, although the mouse’s fate is… Read more »
tappanch
Guest

@balatoni

“this issue will not emerge in 2018, because by that time Mazsihisz will have fallen apart and gotten irrelevant.”

It is also possible that Fidesz will have fallen apart by 2018, and Orban is a fugitive in Azerbaijan.

Do not underestimate the surprising turns of history.

balatoni
Guest

tappanch:

well, sure, this may indeed happen, but I personally would not count on such deus ex machina or black swan events. More likely is that Orban gets sick and then Fidesz falls apart, although Robert Mugabe is just turning 90, so Orban may still have a long way to go. (And his kids Rachel and Gaspar are meanwhile groomed by “The Family” to continue the dynasty, which is not surprising).

Mr. Paul and his pals will ensure that such freak accidents will not disturb the nation’s march towards the Fidesznik people’s paradise.

Kiddo
Guest

classic Finkelstein:

“God, Gyurcsany would allow the adoption of kids by gay people”. “The left comes and gays will force straights to have gay sex”.

http://hvg.hu/itthon/20140228_Magyar_Nemzet_Gyurcsany_engedelyezne_az_o

Note that gay marriage is not really an issue any more, Fidesz does not dare to raise it in itself. But adoption is still very controversial so Fidesz will use it just like the Republicans did against Kerry. It worked.

Fidesz again takes the initiative to set the discourse. They are good, the Left cannot do anything, only get defensive, but the damage is done. Which straight person would want to “be forced to have gay sex and allow pedophilia”? No way. The last thing we want is fanatical liberals. Especially not in the rural areas, where the real campaign is going on, under the new election system.

andy - hellllooooo
Guest
On some of the aforementioned issues, my take is that the massive shipping of Jews to the concentration camps was first done from the provincial towns of Hungary because Horthy deemed it would cause less public outcry and upheaval. Also because, as he expressed in his correspondence, he felt he needed the Jewish professionals who had pivotal professional functions in Budapest. As regards János Lázár’s offensive verbal expressions separating Jews from Hungarians – this is currently a concept symptomatic of 80 % of the Hungarian population. It indicates that Hungary is very far from a nation like the USA which is welcoming to the idea of integrating people of other ethnicities even generations after their families settle in this country. Merely a handful of the Fidesz elite are capable of or taking the trouble to understand the concepts of “We” as a larger group including all Hungarian citizens, instead using the very narrow definition which limits genuine mebership to a “We” defined by religion and a few undefinable qualities. It is these undefinable and volatile elements of the membership of the “We” group that has fed the continual internal political and poser and influence warfare within Hungary. The criteria of… Read more »
Mr. Paul
Guest

Kiddo, Gyurcsany said that gays should adopt and you prove this with a link to a HVG article. So far so good, but what I don’t see is the conspiracy by Finkelstein. Did he force Gyurcsany to say it or HVG to print it so you can read about it. Or did Finkelstein pay you to put the link in heere and call attention to the fact that Gyurcsany wants gays to adopt? Because if not I don’t see how you manged to prove his involvement and unmask this conspiracy.

macher
Guest

Mr. Paul, the HVG article directly refers to Magyar Nemzet, the mouthpiece daily of Fidesz.

Magyar Nemzet says that, gasp, it has even a recording of Gyurcsany’s speech/conversation with students at Bibo College.

It all sounds like it was a secret, conspirational thing, but now – yet again after Öszöd – Gy. revealed his true self. And this time he wants to spread gay sex and expose kids to gay sex.

Finkelstein advised Fidesz to use the gay issue, because it works. He should know it does, and never mind the fact that Finkelstein himself is gay.

If you have some “secret” recording, it is even better. This is a standard anti-liberal campaign move, Mr. Paul, people with even a cursory knowledge of the US election campaigns of the post 2000-years know that.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

Kavé :
Marcel: Yes, but the Lubavitchers to this day still sing a religious “nigun” song based on the Marseillaise to celebrate Napoleon’s enfranchisement of the French Jews. Check this out at 4′ 69″ :

Not “to this day”, only since the 1973 Yom Kippur War and a visit from French Lubavitchers to Brooklyn. It had nothing to to with the Revolution, even less with Napoleon – Shneur Zalman supported the Tsar… No wonder some Ukrainian Chabad leader vocally supported Yanukovich last week, and Kövés supports OV. 😉

Mr. Paul
Guest

I am really glad that Finkelstein’s involvment in planting this latest story was proven 100%, beyond the shadow of a doubt.

Because if there was no evidence for his involvement at all, then it might have looked like something else was at play in singling him out.

qaz
Guest

@Marcel Dé
And let’s not forget Napoléon’s “Décrets Infâmes.”

tappanch
Guest

Fidesz won 2/3 seats in Parliament in the 2010 elections by convincing people that the previous Socialist governments were the most corrupt in Hungarian history.

For sure, there were no governments as scrutinized as the Socialists’ after their fall.

But it turns out Fidesz was not able to convict [almost?] ANYBODY in the last 4 years for corruption.

Here is another innocent verdict:

http://hvg.hu/itthon/20140228_felmentettek_juhaszt_es_fapalt

During the rule of the Socialists, there were still checks in the system and Fidesz in opposition was quite a vocal counterbalance.

It is possible that there were, say 20 million HUF payments to friends occasionally in 2002-2010.

Under Orban, these payments became of the magnitude of 2 billion and regular.

Since all checks and balances are eliminated by now, the current government is, say 100 times more corrupt, in my humble opinion.