As the controversy over the historical interpretation of the Hungarian Holocaust rages on, we should not forget that Hungary is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Hungary is a signatory to the Stockholm Declaration of January 2000 in which the Hungarian government pledged “to strengthen … efforts to promote education, remembrance and research about the Holocaust” and “to share a commitment to throw light on the still obscured shadows of the Holocaust.”
The idea of setting up a forum of governments interested in discussing Holocaust education came from former Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson. In January 2000 23 heads of state or prime ministers and 23 deputy prime ministers or ministers from 46 countries attended the forum. Those present signed the Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust. Hungary was one of these countries.
Keep the date in mind. In 2000 the prime minister of Hungary was Viktor Orbán. I suspect my readers will not be surprised to hear that the Hungarian prime minister was not present at the gathering. Hungary was represented only by a minister, István Stumpf, who was running the prime minister’s office in those days. According to Randolph L. Braham, Stumpf “misled the audience of the Forum when he talked about the Hungarian government’s role in those events. For example, he did not mention any of the anti-Jewish laws enacted between 1938 and 1945.” Not a very good beginning.
Hungary became a full-fledged member of the organization in 2002. Currently there are 31 member countries. Each country sends a delegation, comprised of both government representatives and national experts, to meetings. The IHRA has an annually rotating chairmanship, and the appointed chair is responsible for the overall activities of the organization.
Between 2002 and 2006 the Hungarian delegation to IHRA was headed by Bálint Magyar, minister of education, a high-level and appropriate choice. After all, one of the aims of the organization is the education of children and young people about the Holocaust. Hungary was voted to be chair of IHRA in 2006.
Today the Hungarian delegation is headed by an assistant undersecretary of foreign affairs, Gergely Prőhle. Quite a change from the 2000-2006 period. Since the delegation is not led by the minister responsible for education, the connection between the Hungarian government and IHRA is most likely more pro forma than in the days of Bálint Magyar’s chairmanship. I don’t know what kinds of “national experts” are sent to the meetings nowadays. I hope not those who support Viktor Orbán’s confused views on Hungary’s role in the events of 1944.
I understand that Hungary was chosen to take the rotating chairmanship for 2015. I think it would be ironic if the current Hungarian government were to lead the international effort of educating future generations and the public in general on the true history of the Holocaust given the current battle being waged in Budapest between the Hungarian government and the Jewish community over the role of the Hungarian state in the Holocaust. Entrusting the rotating chairmanship to Hungary, under the present circumstances, would be a travesty.
As for Gergely Prőhle, the head of the current Hungarian delegation to IHRA. He has the reputation of being a moderate member of the Orbán government. Prőhle has certain qualities that make him an ideal spokesman. He speaks German and English very well and in general makes a good impression. He is very good at explaining away some of the worrisome features of his populist and autocratic prime minister. Here and there, however, he gives himself away. For example, when a few months ago in an op/ed piece he argued the government’s case in the following manner: “It doesn’t matter who says what, the government didn’t declare 2014 to be the Holocaust Memorial Year because it wants to sweep Hungary’s responsibility under the rug. Given the amount of money allocated to the events, to talk about a ‘falsification of history’ and declare ‘a boycott’ is an overreaction.” So, it seems that in Prőhle’s head, because the Hungarian government gave a sizable amount of money to establish a new Holocaust center and to organize a Holocaust Memorial Year no falsification of history could possibly take place.
Having seen the new movie about Hannah Arendt, he added something about the Eichmann trial in the same article. It “becomes clear from the film,” he wrote, “how risky it is to show certain elements of historical truth that don’t fit the concepts contrived ahead of time.” If I understand Prőhle right, he claims that Eichmann was the victim of a show trial.
And while he was at it, he accused Mazsihisz, an umbrella organization of Jewish communities, of criticizing the government of historical falsification for material gain. This is how he argued: “Regardless of how legitimate Mazsihisz’s misgivings are, it seems that its main aim is to mobilize and gather the Jewish community around it in order to receive more of the 1% offerings of taxpayers to Mazsihisz.” (Taxpayers can designate that 1% of their taxes go to their favorite cause.) This is Prőhle, the moderate who might lead an international effort “to promote education, remembrance and research about the Holocaust.”