Today’s Hungary and the Weimar Republic

It was only a few weeks ago that I complained about the difficulties I have been encountering with the Hungarian adjective “polgári” (bourgeois), and as a result a lively discussion on the subject developed among the readers of Hungarian Spectrum. Shortly thereafter Ferenc Kőszeg, one of the very few Hungarians who as a member of the democratic opposition of the 1980s fought against the one-party system, wrote an opinion piece titled “A polgár szó jelentéséhez” (To the meaning of the word ‘polgár’). The article was prompted by Sándor Révész’s article in Népszabadság, “A polgári hazugság” (The bourgeois lie). We should recall that in 1995 the party leadership decided to add “Magyar Polgári Párt” to the original name “Fidesz,” and thus the official name of the party became Fidesz Magyar Polgári Párt.

Kőszeg claims that the origins of the adjective “polgári” can be found in the vocabulary of German communists during the Weimar Republic. They were the ones who labelled parties other than themselves and the left-wing social democrats (who formed their own party in 1917) “bürgerliche Parteien.” The term meant that these parties “behind their liberal, conservative or christian democratic disguises” wanted to maintain a bourgeois class rule. By calling itself a “polgári párt,” Fidesz expropriated a communist term to distinguish itself from the socialists and liberals. Kőszeg rightly remarks in the article that “besides German and Hungarian, this expression makes no sense in any other foreign language.”

As so often happens, I read something one day and the next day in another book on an entirely different topic I discover a common thread. This is what happened when I picked up a book of essays by András Nyerges published recently. Nyerges is a fountain of knowledge about Hungarian intellectual history in the Horthy era. He combed all the important newspapers and came up with a wealth of material on the political attitudes of important intellectuals. Some politically quite embarrassing for later greats of Hungarian literature.

This particular book of essays has the intriguing title “Makó szomszédja Jeruzsálem” (Makó is the neighbor of Jerusalem). There is a very old saying in Hungarian that something is as far as “Makó from Jerusalem,” meaning very far. So, Nyerges’s title indicates that, despite the common belief that two entities are so remote from one another that they cannot be compared, there are sometimes many similarities that make them less distant than most of us believe. In one of the essays that inspired the title for the book, Nyerges writes about the Weimar Republic in the early 1930s, just before Hitler’s rise to power. He finds striking similarities between the politics of the German national socialists and the politics of Fidesz. This essay, it should be noted, was written in 2009–that is, before the national election that gave practically unlimited power to Viktor Orbán’s party.

Nyerges briefly discusses the birth of the labels “bürgerliche Demokratie” and “bürgerliche Parteien,” but he doesn’t linger over this point. His main focus is the Weimar Republic’s bad reputation as the harbinger of Hitler’s rise to power. Most Hungarian intellectuals called him an alarmist when he drew parallels between the Weimar Republic and the Hungarian political scene in 2009. Here, in this essay, Nyerges brings up examples of the behavior of the German national socialists in the Reichstag from 1931-1932 and compares it to the Fidesz strategy in 2008 and 2009.

Nyerges is dealing with two periods that resemble each other insofar as both followed a worldwide economic crisis. In the early 1930s the German chancellor, Heinrich Brünning, rightly or wrongly introduced an austerity program that made his government exceedingly unpopular. Hitler’s national socialists took advantage of the situation and introduced new, unorthodox parliamentary politics, including marching out of the parliament if the vote went against them. When they were asked to submit amendments, they refused to cooperate in any way and instead demanded the dissolution of parliament. Hitler denied that the world economic crisis had anything to do with the economic plight of Germany. It was, he maintained, due solely to “the incompetent political leaders who don’t care about the interests of the people.” At one point Hermann Göring announced in parliament that “Brünning is a traitor because he formed a coalition with the socialists.” Hitler in 1932 declared that “not only people of Jewish ancestry cannot be considered German but also those who are not national socialists.” Reading these lines, one is reminded of Fidesz’s policies while in opposition.

Populism

Nyerges quotes a letter of Hitler to Brünning in which he wrote: “when we legally take over the reins of government, then we will decide what is legal.” This is exactly what has happened in Hungary since 2010. The Hungarian parliament in which until recently Fidesz had a two-thirds majority rewrote all the laws they found not to their liking.

There are many other similarities between the two populist parties. The German national socialists had their men placed in important positions, including the judiciary. They claimed that half of the judges were either party members or sympathizers. When in October 1931 some incriminating documents were discovered from which the public learned that “in the event of Brünning’s fall, the SS troops would have been activated,” the prosecutor’s office delayed investigation. Meanwhile, Hitler talked about “socialist provocation” when it was clear that the authors of the documents were members of the party who received high positions after the takeover in 1933. Sounds all too familiar.

Although Nyerges is right in calling attention to the similar strategies and behavior of Hitler’s national socialists and Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz, most people would counter that the Hungarian situation is very different from the circumstances that existed in the Weimar Republic. Of course, this is true, but at the same time we can’t forget that Viktor Orbán managed to achieve almost total political control without the aid of any external catalyst. He had no Reichstag fire.

The Hungarian people are just lucky that Viktor Orbán turned out to be a less successful prime minister than he was a scheming, unscrupulous opposition leader. It is possible that his “reign” will be over soon and that the “shaman,” as Lajos Kósa called Orbán at one point in 2006 after the second lost election, will disappear forever except in history books as an example of a misguided and undemocratic politician who did not serve his country well.

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Ambator
Guest

Let us not rush far ahead so hastily!

I should like to see the accounts first: the wealth accumulated, the underhanded deals forged, and a few years of restful jail time, before he fades into the twilight.

buddy
Guest

Speaking of the Reichstag fire, János Áder specifically mentioned it as a parallel when an Israeli flag was burned in front of the Tilos Rádió building in 2004.

Áder said that it couldn’t have been Fidesz supporters who burned the flag, oh no, but provocateurs from the left-wing government at the time who wanted to discredit the right wing, just like the Nazis who burned down the Reichstag but blamed it on the Communists.

(“‘Ez által sikerült elterelni a figyelmet olyan kérdésekről, amik ennél sokkal fontosabbak’ – mondta az ellenzéki politikus, párhuzamot vonva a Reichstag felgyújtói és a kormányzó párt között: ‘jó 70 évvel ezelőtt a Reischtagot sem azok gyújtották fel, akik utána bíróság elé álltak’.”)

It’s interesting that Áder picked this particular event as an analogy…

http://index.hu/belfold/0112tilos/

Chip
Guest
The term polgár was an extremely successful trick. SZDSZ never had that kind of imagination and neither does the current left wing. The term had no fixed meaning, people thought whatever they wanted and most people interpreted it as a code for getting wealthier. Just as in the US people know instinctively that, say, the term welfare refers to blacks, polgár means (also) richer, middle class. In a way Orban promised more wealth without actually promising something. MSZP had to promise actual figures like 50% salary increase and whatnot because it cannot handle symbols and symbolic speech. The current left-wing is too rational and technocratic and lacking messages to be able to effectively communicate and influence the non-rational part of people’s minds. Jobbik can, however, as people project their hopes on Jobbik’s as yet white canvas. Dictatorships work along the same logic everywhere, Orban’s system is just one of many thoroughly corrupt dictatorships, which by now evolved to the point where unlike Hitler or Stalin these modern dictators don’t see murder as necessary any more to maintain power (although in some suspicious instances one cannot exclude the very real possibility that the current Hungarian leadership ordered political killings). All of… Read more »
Kmetty Geza
Guest

Eva,

“The Hungarian people are just lucky that Viktor Orbán turned out to be a less successful prime minister than he was a scheming, unscrupulous opposition leader. It is possible that his “reign” will be over soon and that the “shaman,” as Lajos Kósa called Orbán at one point in 2006 after the second lost election, will disappear forever except in history books as an example of a misguided and undemocratic politician who did not serve his country well.”

I agree with youn100%. The question I would like to raise, is: What can we in the “free world” can do to “make a difference” in Hungary? We have a responsibility, because some of us know more than the average Hungarian in Hungary, about Democracy and Lawful Governance. Many of us are dual citizens and we do or should vote in the Hungarian elections if we can. We are not just a “Gitt Egylet” or a group “Singing to the Quire”. We should identify, promote and support deserving Hungarian Leaders in Hungary, with our ideas, and our moneys as well. We should try to make a difference! What do you think?

Geza, a “Pesti Srac”

Thomas Palme
Guest

A small comment och the word “polgár” or “bürgerlich”. In Sweden the corresponding word “borgerlig” is widely used to denote the political parties in the centre or to the right, presentlyg the Centre Party, the Moderates, the Christian Democrats och the Liberal party. Then we also nowadays have a nationalistic conservative party, the Sweden democrats, similar to FIDESZ or Jobbik. That party is not included in the term “borgerlig”.

Thomas Palme

googly
Guest

Did everybody go on vacation at once?

petofi
Guest

Back on the Questor topic…

Why is Hungarian reporting so useless? Couldn’t anyone, including the renowned ‘Olga’, ask whether investments placed at Questor are in line for some %? Is that too tough a question?
Because, there seems to be a whole unanswered field as to why the government paper
was deposited with a private firm rather than a government outlet…

LwiiH
Guest

@petofi, Agreed, Hungarian reporting is quite useless. My guess is that this is a result of there being very little competition so you don’t have to be very good to get the job. It’s always make me squeamish to see Hungarian politicians get hit by questions from real reporters.. they always go away with a bloodied nose!!

spectator
Guest

During the last decade there isn’t any doubt in my mind that Orbán’s Fidesz mostly is a NAtional-soZIalist party, usually abbreviated as ‘NAZI’.

Lately they’re appearing more and more “National Bolshevists”, but its only the ‘normal’ evolutionary course of the matter rather than abandoning the ‘core values’ of the Nazism.
Apparently they manage to synthesise the ‘best parts’ of those lovely ideologies, topped with Orbán’s ‘very own’ provincial idiocy…

Otherwise it’s somewhat funny, that those who advocating the “bourgeoise values” in Hungary who originally never had anything to do with them, – mostly coming from ..hmm.. well, rather different origins. Nevertheless, now is time build up the imaginary cast of the “fundamentalist bourgeois”, what later on can be referred to as “the real thing.”
(Where you don’t need to learn to handle the cutlery, clad- or behave yourself properly, have manners in general, at all, and so on.)

“It’s an orange! Little smaller, little more sour, but ours!” – as we learned of the first Hungarian orange. Couldn’t really argue at this point.

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