A critique of a political analysis on Hungary by Stratfor’s George Friedman

In the last few months I have been getting a daily newsletter from Stratfor, a private intelligence and forecasting company. No, I’m not a subscriber, and I doubt that Stratfor has many individual subscribers. Its clients are mostly institutions that feel the need for economic, military, or political analyses and forecasting.

Stratfor’s daily newsletter offers one free analysis chosen by the company. Most of the topics lie outside my field of interest, but today’s “special” aroused my curiosity: “Borderlands: Hungary Maneuvers.” The article was written by George Friedman, founder and chairman of Stratfor. Friedman received his B.A. from the City College of New York and his Ph.D. from Cornell University. For almost twenty years he was a professor of political science at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. Then in 1996 he decided to quit academe and become a strategic analyst.

Friedman was born in Budapest to Holocaust survivors, but his parents left the country when he was a small child. What he learned from his parents sitting around the kitchen table was that “except for the Germans, the vastness of evil could not have existed.” In his parents’ lessons Miklós Horthy, the Hungarian regent between 1920 and 1944, pretty much got a pass. Friedman continues to believe the history his parents taught him. To his mind, Horthy was a wily geopolitical strategist who maneuvered between Germany and the Soviet Union for quite a while. Only brute German force, blackmail, and threats against Horthy himself opened the door to mass destruction of the Hungarian Jewry.

The first half of the article tries to convince the reader that his vision of Horthy is the correct one while the second draws parallels between the Hungary of today and the times of Horthy. As he says, Horthy’s “experience is the one that Hungary’s current leadership appears to have studied.”

I will not be able to cover the whole article in this post and therefore will concentrate on Friedman’s account of the Horthy era. The appearance of this “revisionist” appraisal of Horthy is especially ill-timed because it was only a few days ago that historians of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences unanimously declared at a conference that the monument Orbán is erecting, which is supposed to make Germany alone responsible for the destruction of Hungarian Jewry, is a falsification of history. Nothing like lending a helping hand to Viktor Orbán’s project.

Friedman’s Hungary was a small, weak country that helplessly floundered between the Soviet Union and Germany, all the while trying to remain independent. “Horthy’s goal was to preserve its sovereignty in the face of the rising power of Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin.” Friedman seems to think that Horthy viewed both great powers with equal contempt. But that was not the case. In fact, until the very last moment he refused to turn to the Soviets to declare his willingness to negotiate a separate peace, whereas he was indebted to the Germans for helping Hungary regain sizable territories in Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia between November 1938 and April 1941. (These territories are shown in the Wikipedia map below.)

"Hungary's

As for the Jewish issue, Friedman claims that “Horthy was no more anti-Semitic than any member of his class had to be.” First of all, I’m not sure why Friedman believes there was a social imperative to be anti-Semitic. Members of Horthy’s social class may have been anti-Semitic, but they didn’t have to be anti-Semitic.

Horthy as well as the majority of Hungarian politicians and high officials wanted to rid the country of its Jewish population. Horthy didn’t want an immediate “cleansing” because without Jewish capital and know-how the Hungarian economy would have collapsed. But eventually the Hungarian anti-Semites stripped the Jews of all their worldly possessions and deported them. These Hungarians, including high officials, didn’t particularly care what happened to the Jews once they were deported. There simply had to be “a changing of the guard” (őrségváltás). Non-Jews were to take over positions held by Jews in the professions, business, and manufacturing. None of this seems to have penetrated Friedman’s consciousness.

It is at this point that we reach the crucial date of March 19, 1944, which is described this way: “Horthy fell from his tightrope on March 19, 1944. Realizing that Germany was losing the war, Horthy made overtures to the Soviets.” Let me state right here that Horthy did not make overtures to the Soviets. A small delegation talked to American and British officials in Turkey. They were told to talk to the Russians, something Horthy was reluctant to do.

Friedman’s inadequate knowledge of history is evident in practically all the sentences he writes in this article. According to him, “Hitler forced the Hungarian leader to form a new government consisting of Hungary’s homegrown Nazis, the Arrow Cross Party.” Or, a few sentences later, he writes: “He [Horthy] did not crush the Hungarian Nazis, but he kept them at bay. He did not turn on Hitler, but he kept him at bay. What Horthy did was the dirty work of decency. He made deals with devils to keep the worst things from happening. By March 1944, Horthy could no longer play the game. Hitler had ended it. His choice was between dead sons and the horror of the following year, or living sons and that same horror.” Friedman’s “parents believed that Horthy’s critics were unable to comprehend the choices he had.”

We who are more familiar with the real story realize that the account Friedman heard from his parents in addition to bits and pieces he remembers from Horthy’s memoirs have nothing to do with reality. But Friedman cannot be deterred from his preconceived notions of German-Hungarian relations and the Hungarian Holocaust. He keeps going: “Once the Wehrmacht, the SS and Adolf Eichmann, the chief organizer of the Holocaust, were in Budapest, they found the Arrow Cross Party to be populated by eager collaborators.” Of course, this isn’t true either. The eager collaborators were in fact members of the Hungarian government appointed by Horthy.

The point of this hopelessly inaccurate history is to reframe the present debate about Viktor Orbán’s governance. On the one hand are people like his parents, who blamed the Germans “for unleashing the brutishness in the Hungarians.” On the other hand are nameless people who were harsher on Horthy. This debate, he writes, “has re-entered history through Hungarian politics. Some have accused Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of trying to emulate … Miklós Horthy…. This is meant as an indictment. If so, at the university of our kitchen table, the lesson of Horthy is more complex and may have some bearing on present-day Hungary.”

I suggest that George Friedman take a refresher course.

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steve397
Guest

George Friedman is not alone in his views, but that does not make his views correct. What I cannot understand how some who would have been persecuted in 1920/44 can excuse and take a similar false attitude to the monument / stadium builders of 2014.

Member
Maybe Friedman should talk to some of the Hungarian survivors of the holocaust. There are still a few around. I am hoping that he will be directed to this blog and in the memory of his parents he will take the small effort to visit websites like http://menetrend.postr.hu I have mentioned that Blog before, and allow me to re-post what I wrote before “There is a new blog only in Hungarian (unfortunately) on the Internet. The blog is run by historian, Andras Mink. ‘Menetrend’ (Timetable) is the title of the blog, and for 57 days it will feature the name of a village or town in Hungary where people were deported from to Germany (in wwii). They will also feature stories, the number of people deported and from where on the given day. The Germans wanted daily 1-2 cattle cars, while the Hungarians involved were eager to send 4-5 (and even 6) a day. Today is Nyiregyhaza’s turn: “Then the gendarme colonel shouted: – All aboard! The smaller batches added: – Get in the mother f***ers, can you hear me, Jews ” (Béla Zsolt: Nine suitcases (memories) (Magvető Kiadó, 1980, Bp. 243. l.) In each car thre were 75 people,… Read more »
Zolt
Guest

This is a great reminder that “nobody knows anything”.

Imagine that Mr. Friedman or his employees give advice on say China, Syria, Russia or Ukraine.

I’m sure from time to time they write about something that is not public, which I guess is their added value, but can they really understand the countries, regions they write about?

I have my doubts. Of course, his business is about getting a fee for a service (getting more subscribers) and not about trying to understand what they write about.

Rev. Albert W. Kovacs - UCC
Guest
Rev. Albert W. Kovacs - UCC

Some 1 – The deportations you mention, according to my map, were not in Hungary but in Czechoslovakia and Romania. … Hungary Got It Right! – Horthy got it right! – Friedman got it right! – I got it right! . . . But you out of the loop Socialists/Communists got it wrong! That’s why the voters threw you out in the last election, and an even worse showing in this election. Seems to me the posterity of Bela Kun and Joseph Stalin are no more welcome than Hitler’s Nazis! . . . Hungary almost saved a million Jews – and miraculously did keep alive a quarter million. No one else saved so many with so little and with a remarkable manifestation of Hungarian EXCEPTIONALISM! . . . Read U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, Holocaust survivor, in the “Congressional Record,” May 26, 1964, on Hungarian courage in saving then Jews still in Budapest before the Nazi final takeover. . . . Nem, nem, soha!. . . Keep watching your Russian Communist partners. Like in Ukraine & Crimea – the barb
arians come with tanks!

Jónás
Guest
I wonder if Mr. Friedman met with Orban himself for this article. Anyway, some of Friedman’s points about the present are fair, though. That said, many points are just off. “Orban’s strategy is to create an economy with maximum distance from Europe without breaking with it, and one in which the state exerts its power.” Hungary’s ties to the EU have probably never been stronger, it’s not only that Orban cannot create a ‘maximum’ distance, any distance there was did in fact decrease. In other words, Hungary’s economy is very much integrated into the EU. The opening towards the East (China, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Gulf-states et.c) has been a total failure. It is only enough to read the list of Hungarian businessmen and the companies they represent who accompanied Orban on his last Chinese visit (perhaps origo.hu published it) to realize there is nothing really they, well, Hungary, can offer to China. But these visits were mostly for show anyway, exactly to persuade observers like Friedman (and Hungarian voters) that we don’t just rely on the dreaded EU. The fundamental problem is that Hungary has little indigenous industries which it can offer to the world on a competitive basis. Geography is… Read more »
Eliezer Rabinovich
Guest
George Friedman is one of the most knowledgeable and respected American analysts, still this site always blames the opponents in absence of elementary knowledge, and is ready to dispense an arrogant advice like this: “I suggest that George Friedman take a refresher course.” During 4-5 months that I am reading this newsletter, I have received a similar advice many times as well as everybody who dares to object. The problem with this site is that it revises the history. The major revision is your statement that Hungary did not lose its sovereignty on March 19, 1944, though she definitely did. About the 3-years’ period preceding this date, Ms. Balogh writes: “Horthy as well as the majority of Hungarian politicians and high officials wanted to rid the country of its Jewish population. Horthy didn’t want an immediate “cleansing” because without Jewish capital and know-how the Hungarian economy would have collapsed.” What did Regent mean under word “immediate”? 2-3 months? 2-3 years? In his famous “anti-Semitic” letter to Pal Teleki Horthy wrote that the Jews would be needed “a generation at least” – that means 20 years. Do you really think Horthy had expected the contemporary situation to last for 20 years?… Read more »
Dan
Guest

Excellent analysis by George Friedman, the famous scholar and thinker. Friedman’s work is very important in understanding the historical role of Admiral Horthy. To me the most important sentence by George Freidman is:

“My parents were grateful to Horthy. For them, without him, the Holocaust would have come to Hungary years earlier. “

Curly
Guest

“Some 1 – The deportations you mention, according to my map, were not in Hungary but in Czechoslovakia and Romania. … Hungary Got It Right! – Horthy got it right! – Friedman got it right! – I got it right! . . . But you out of the loop Socialists/Communists got it wrong!”

Nyiregyhaza is in Czecholslovakia? Nagyvarad is in Romania today, by a few kilometers, but it was under Hungarian control again at that time, thanks to Horthy’s policies. I think you might need a new map.

And anyone who disagrees with your interpretation (and map-reading) is a communist? A black and white vision of the world is comforting, but it is almost never accurate.

buddy
Guest

I don’t think bringing in your parents’ opinions is a good way to objectively analyse anything. Why would anyone be convinced by that? Didn’t you people learn critical thinking in school?

admirális
Guest

Like it was written about here, Orban is heading towards the Sandor Palace (the office of the president, which originally Orban renovated for himself but had to give up when he lost the 2002 elections).

If Orban is elected by the Parliament as president in 2017 (with an increased scope of powers, of course), he can remain the top dog for years to come even his party loses some places in the Parliament. He will be second Horthy, who never stood for any election but held ultimate power even though his prime ministers kept changing.

Orban is getting a bit tired, like Erdogan is, but he will never give up power, only responsibility.

http://nol.hu/belfold/orban-feljebb-lephet-1463211

Guest

Why are some people so anxious to defend Horthy against all criticism?

Those Hungarian soldiers and the Jews and others who died in WW2 probably didn’t care much who was responsible: Horthy, Szalasi or some unnamed Hungarian officer/gendarme/whoever.

Hungarians did all the dirty work – not those Germans!

It’s like some of our Germans used to defend themselves: Hitler was an Austrian – so it wasn’t us! At least most of my compatriots know that we were responsible – even if you did nothing yourself.

The whole defence rests on the idea “We have to get back what we lost in Trianon” and we will do whatever is necessary – even if it’s a pact with the devil!

Again I invite everyone to read Steve Colman’s book about his days in Budapest as an eyewitness – thanks again, steve397!

Tóni
Guest

@Dan

Yep, Friedman must be a great analyst. After all he and his Stratfor pals correctly predicted the Arab spring or the annexation of Crimea or the fall of communism etc.

He surely is a great businessman and obviously is very good at collecting diplomatic rumors which newspapers don’t dare to or want to publish and combining them with traditional journalism and selling the product for good money, but does he understand Orban or Hungary?

Only a tad better than your average clueless American or European politician, I am afraid.

Csaba
Guest

Stratfor is a consultancy business, emphasis is on the business part. You can deal with them as you can deal with any business. Knowing Orban, I would not be surprised if he, as part of his efforts to get a better publicity abroad, besides enlisting lobbying firms, country branding advisors and suchlike, would be trying to be friendly with Stratfor too. He or his minions would talk to Startfor, give it non-public info, purchase subscriptions etc. and surprise-surprise Orban could get a favorable treatment. I mean which company would be critical of its clients? Some of Friedman’s points are useful and do ring true or at least plausible, but is this article profoundly better than any analysis you read in Foreign Affairs, The New Republic, Der Spiegel, project-syndicate etc.?

Judith
Guest

I was truly appalled at Friedman’s analysis, which was based mainly on heresay and bits and pieces of information he received from his parents. More importantly, the admiration of Horthy by some of the Jewish population did not stand the test of time.

Karl Pfeifer
Guest

I guess Csaba is right. The Hungarian government could be very well paying Mr. Friedman for his services as a token Jew. If subject matter were history, I would rather trust Eva Balogh, Krisztián Ungváry, and László Karsai than a consultant businessperson.
Even when Horthy was ruling and mainstream ideology of Hungary was “national-christian” (a code word for revisionist and anti-Semitic) they used token Jews in order to justify their anti-Semitism. I found such articles in the “Györi Nemzeti Hirlap” (1936-45)
Therefore, Mr. Friedman says what Orbán and his ilk want to hear. It has no relevance. Even if Ferenc Kumin is complaining, Los Angeles Times did not publish Mr. Friedman’s letter to the editor. Probably it was a rabbi Friedman and not the consultant Friedman. All the same, if we want to be operated we will go to a Doctor med and not to a Dr. of philosophy or of History. So let us learn from Historians about History and not from somebody who is peddling hearsay.

Davis
Guest

Totally OT, although not that much if we think about it:

“Once a truck carrying a load of nuts crashed into a tree. A family of squirrels living in the tree discovered this new resource and began to live the high life on the nuts they had just found. But as their population grew, so did their demand for nuts.

But that truck crash was a one-time event, and the squirrels were depleting their nut windfall as their population grew, and they were making a mess by leaving their discarded nut shells everywhere. The squirrels failed to adequately plan for the day that there were no longer enough nuts to feed everyone. Recently, they were able to frack open a hidden compartment in the truck to find a few more nuts, but being squirrels they failed to use this brief reprieve to plan for a future without as many available nuts.”

steve397
Guest

Is it not interesting that two of the contributors in this discussion and taking a differing view to the majority are people who were not experiencing the benevolence of Horthy, Szalasi and others (such as Keresztes Fisher under whose direction the 1941 deportations took place, or Miklos Kallay who arranged the last anti-Jewish law before the deportation of 437,000 Jews, both of whom were both anti Nazi and anti Semite) who might not have been outright murderers, but have nevertheless done their part in (a) ruining a nation by supporting the anti Communist war on the side of Germany and (b) by their anti-Semitic stance have enabled the Hungarian Holocaust.

It seems to me that the more removed one is from what happened in the 1940’s in Hungary, the more you believe yourself entitled to form an opinion and to hell with those who experienced those days or who are professional and acclaimed historians of the period.

Guest
I just remembered where I had stumbled upon Stratfor re Orbán. There was a report discussed last year here: http://www.politics.hu/20131014/u-s-institute-says-orban-is-a-good-geopolitical-strategist/ “Modern Hungary is often puzzling to the international observer. The unorthodox policies of firebrand Prime Minister Viktor Orban have elicited hope, outrage and ridicule ever since he was elected to a second term in 2010. But as his speech at London’s Chatham House on Wednesday shows, Orban is a very serious thinker faced with very serious problems. The six theses he argued contain a fair amount of political whitewash, but ultimately they are the clearest explanation of the morally troubling but geopolitically consistent logic that drives his Fidesz party’s controversial policies. The weight of history remains a heavy burden for Hungary, a country situated in the heart of Central Europe that has been torn between the great powers of the West and the East for much of its history. In these kinds of disputed borderlands, radical change rarely brings good news, and the countries in these areas are particularly attuned to geopolitical dynamics. In its current form, Hungary sits right on the edge of a declining European Union and a resurgent Russia. Of course, this description oversimplifies the situation; Russia… Read more »
Guest

OT re the new theme:

When I decide to get a larger text on the screen by pushing “CTRL +” two or three times then the whole right hand sidebar with the list of latest comments and the blog roll moves below the comment section – that was my irritation at first.

googly
Guest
The Horthy apologists were well rebutted by others, but I would like to add a couple of small notes: just because the Hungarian government did things in areas that are not currently part of Hungary is irrelevant – what is important is that it was the government committing the acts in what it considered to be Hungarian territory, regardless of who controls that territory now. The Horthy government was expelling Jews into Poland to their deaths long before the Germans occupied the country, and some of those Jews had lived in Hungary for many generations. That is historically accepted fact, but people ignore it when they want to absolve Horthy of blame. Also, since when is a 20-year reprieve for ethnic cleansing meant to be a sign of humanitarianism? If I declared that all ethnic Hungarians should be expelled from Romania next week or 20 years from now (which of course I would never declare), would the reaction be much different? Somehow, many people seem to think that anti-Semitism is perfectly allowable, as long as it’s not too extreme, yet those same people will call for war to be declared the moment one Hungarian is attacked in Vojvodina for speaking… Read more »
geo
Guest

I am saddened by the amount of hate, radicalism, extremism implied in some of these comments. It shows not only lack of respect, but lack of intelligence if someone cannot tell George Friedman the scholar and Andrew Friedman the rabbi apart. Is it really that confusing? And why would anyone say they are the same without checking?

And then the insane crazy accusations. There is a scholar and famous expert who is not agreeing with some of you, so let the mudslinging and discrediting attempts start immediately. He must have been paid!! These Friedmans, they are very suspicious… By the way do you think the company founder thinks what internet people think of him, because he dared to have a different opinion? And then bringing up the old antisemitic sterotype, about “greedy jews” about him getting paid. Not having his own thoughts, only motivated by Money. Well that must have been the cause here. Because he was not frothing at the mouth and expressing pure hatred against Hungarians, he must have been paid. Brilliant logic.

googly
Guest
Geo, you seem to be saying that accusing someone of being greedy, if that person happens to be Jewish, is tantamount to “hate, radicalism, extremism” and anti-Semitism? What if the person just happens to be greedy? What if the accuser is Jewish as well? The criticism here is directed at a Horthy apologist who happens to be Jewish. If anything, people are upset with him because he’s ignoring (or ignorant of) history while fervently defending the same person that the likes of Jobbik feel should be exalted to hero status. The fact that he is Jewish exacerbates the mistake, because his actions are supporting those who seek to do harm to Jewish people. One very likely reason for this is money, and there are greedy people of every ethnicity and religion, just like there are reasonable, fair, and incorruptible people of every ethnicity and religion. I reserve the right to criticise people for being greedy, even if they are Jewish, without being labeled an anti-Semite for doing so, just as I reserve the right to criticise the actions of the hateful, radical, extremist, genocidal settler movement in occupied Palestine known as “Price Tag”. I should be able to say that… Read more »
Curious About Decency
Guest
Curious About Decency

After reading Steve937, and Karl Pfeifer, it is clear that Stratfor was paid for this PR article.

“Karl Pfeifer
May 21, 2014 at 3:58 am
I guess Csaba is right. The Hungarian government could be very well paying Mr. Friedman for his services as a token Jew. If subject matter were history, I would rather trust Eva Balogh, Krisztián Ungváry, and László Karsai than a consultant businessperson.
Even when Horthy was ruling and mainstream ideology of Hungary was “national-christian” (a code word for revisionist and anti-Semitic) they used token Jews in order to justify their anti-Semitism. I found such articles in the “Györi Nemzeti Hirlap” (1936-45)”

Has Stratfor quoted the works of Ungvary and Karsay?

Was his work based on the Szakaly’s input?

Most probably the work was fostered out to a young Hungarian, with mediocre education from Orban’s Hungary.

Guest

Re predicting the future:

Does anyone remember Herman Kahn: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herman_Kahn

His predictions also were far off sometimes …

tappanch
Guest

Klubradio had to close down its Gyöngyös broadcast yesterday.
(I admit I did not know they were still allowed to broadcast there)

http://www.klubradio.hu/cikk.php?id=16&cid=174009

Klubradio network in 2009:
comment image

Timeline of the closure of the frequencies of the only opposition radio station in Hungary:

2011.10.14: Ajka, Balatonfüred, Keszthely, Pápa and Veszprém
2012.11.27: Esztergom & Tatabánya
2014.05.21: Gyöngyös

The only remaining town outside Budapest where Klubradio can still be heard is Debrecen,
(Earwitnesses :-), please tell me whether Klubradio still broadcasts in Kecskemét)

petofi
Guest

I don’t know where Jonas and Googly have come from but they’re welcome additions…

As for Friedman, I certainly wouldn’t put it past Orban to have met with him and romanced him to a good opinion. Hungary (Orban) seems to be particularly successful with english-speakers like the Brits to foster good opinion (whether it’s paid for or not, who’s to know?).

Although, I have noticed a depressing tendency lately that Hungarians of foreign lands have are
buying into Orban’s visions and suspect that, in return, efforts are being made to treat these
people as ‘special’ by those in power in Hungary. This probably takes the form of invitations
to Budapest and special treatment on arrival.

Member

@ Curly: Just to clarify I did not write what you quoted as my text! It was a reply to me from the Rev. for my link
““There is a new blog only in Hungarian (unfortunately) on the Internet. The blog is run by historian, Andras Mink. ‘Menetrend’ (Timetable) is the title of the blog, and for 57 days it will feature the name of a village or town in Hungary where people were deported from to Germany (in wwii). They will also feature stories, the number of people deported and from where on the given day.”

The Rev. Albert W. Kovacs – UCC
May 20, 2014 at 9:39 pm
“The deportations you mention, according to my map, were not in Hungary but in Czechoslovakia and Romania. … Hungary Got It Right! – Horthy got it right! – Friedman got it right! – I got it right! . . . But you out of the loop Socialists/Communists got it wrong!”

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