Who are the chosen ones? The use of historical names in today’s Hungary

As soon as Viktor Orbán triumphantly returned as prime minister, this time with a two-thirds majority, the new administration began to obliterate those street names that honored people who could be associated with the Kádár regime or the Soviet Union. Actually, by this time not too many such street names had survived; most of the objectionable ones had been changed already in the early 1990s. They overlooked a few, though. For example, in 1993 I was surprised to see that in Pécs there was still a Zója utca, named after Zoya Kosmodemayanskaya, the famous partisan, who posthumously became a Hero of the Soviet Union. In fact, it is still called Zója utca. I don’t know how the watchful Fidesz municipal administration missed this short street. Moreover, even Fidesz initially overlooked Marx utca, a mistake that was remedied in 2012 when it was renamed Albert Wass utca after the man who was sentenced to death in absentia for war crimes by a Romanian court after World War II.

You may recall that the government eventually turned to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences for guidance about which street names could be tolerated and which could not. Confusion reigned in city halls as diligent officials pondered whether Béke (Peace), Alkotmány (Constitution), and Szabadság (Freedom) could be left alone or had to be changed.

Moszkva tér fell victim to a name change, as did Roosevelt tér. The idea of renaming Roosevelt Square, I’m almost certain, came from the highest echelons of Fidesz. If I had to guess, I would point to László Kövér as the man who was most bothered by having a square named after FDR, whom he most likely blamed, unjustly by the way, for Hungary’s ending up behind the iron curtain. The odium of starting the procedure fell to József Pálinkás, at the time president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, which happened to be located on Roosevelt Square. It’s outrageous, Pálinkás announced, that the square doesn’t bear the name of the Academy’s founder, István Széchenyi. Mind you, just to complicate matters, two streets north of the Academy there was already a Széchenyi utca.

The removal of Roosevelt’s name from one of the nicest spots in downtown Budapest was an unfriendly gesture toward the United States. It couldn’t be interpreted any other way. But it also carried a larger political message: the United States, which had been an ally of the Soviet Union, was not a friend of Hungary, just as the Soviet troops were not its liberators. Such an interpretation, however, left Hungary squarely on the side of Nazi Germany.

When we thought that at last the frenzy of street name changes had died down, the Christian Democrats, who don’t seem to have enough on their plate, realized that there are still some buildings that were named after the wrong people. After weeks of wrangling, it was decided that the famous Ságvári Gymnasium in Szeged must change its name. As a student, Endre Ságvári (1913-1944) became interested in Marxism. First he was a member of the Hungarian Social Democratic Party, and later, in 1940, he joined the illegal communist party. During the war he organized anti-war rallies, and after the German occupation he was one of the few who tried to organize a resistance movement against the Germans. He was tracked down by the authorities, and on July 27 he was surrounded by four gendarmes, on whom he pulled a gun. He wounded three of them. After throwing his gun away, he ran out of the building but was mortally wounded by one of the gendarmes. One of the four gendarmes also died later in the hospital.

Sagvar utca

In 1959 one of the gendarmes was condemned to death for Ságvári’s murder, but in 2006 the Supreme Court annulled the verdict, claiming that the gendarmes acted legally. The decision created a huge debate because, in this case, the Hungarian state, despite German occupation, must have functioned as a sovereign country, which today the Orbán government hotly disputes. Surely, one can’t have it both ways.

There were only two people in the whole of Hungary who, weapon in hand, turned against those who tried to arrest them: Endre Ságvári and Endre Bajcsy-Zsilinszky, a member of parliament, who waited with a pistol when members of the Gestapo came to arrest him. Scores of streets, hospitals, and schools are named after Bajcsy-Zsilinszky, but Ságvári has been deemed an ordinary criminal.

Fine, one could say, Ságvári’s case is debatable. But a dormitory named after Gyula Ortutay (1910-1978), a well-known ethnographer who was minister of religion and education between 1947 and 1950, must also be renamed. Ortutay’s political career after that date was minimal. He played some role in a politically insignificant Patriotic People’s Front and was a member of the so-called Presidential Council, a body whose members represented trade unions, various nationalities, and parties that had existed before the introduction of the one-party system. Ortutay was a member of the Smallholders’ Party before 1948. I really wonder how far this government’s zealous anti-communists are planning to go.

On the other hand, the regime has no problems with the dozens and dozens of Catholic schools named after Ottokár Prohászka (1858-1927), bishop of Székesfehérvár from 1905 until his death. He is known for his vicious anti-Semitism. In his book Zsidókérdés Magyarországon (The Jewish question in Hungary), János Gyurgyák described Prohászka’s influence as “tragic for Hungarian intellectual and political life.” Hungarian anti-Semitism in the twentieth century cannot be understood without referencing Prohászka. But, I guess, it is perfectly acceptable to use him as a model for future generations. I would be curious to know what these schools’ administrators and teachers tell their students about Ottokár Prohászka.

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György Lázár
Guest

Let me add one comment to the Roosevelt Square renaming case. The original idea came from Jobbik, they brought it up first at the Budapest City Council meeting. Mr. Pálinkás of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences volunteered to execute the renaming procedure.

William J. vanden Heuvel the Founder and Chair Emeritus of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute protested, and even the granddaughter of Roosevelt wrote a protest letter. I blame Ambassador Kounalakis who did not intervene claiming that it is an internal issue. I agree, it is, but the US Embassy should have at least expressed displeasure. This was an insult to those Americans (among them Hungarian Americans) who fought in Roosevelt’s army against fascism. The Embassy issued a shameful statement that the United States “understands” that the city of Budapest has decided to rename Roosevelt Square.

Old Education
Guest

President Millard Fillmore street has been better then Ságvári.

Webber
Guest

It’s probably worth mentioning that Ortutay’s work on Hungarian folk culture – the best of which was published before WWII – is still essential reading for Hungarian ethnographers (néprajzosok), and indeed all those who want to know what Hungarian peasant culture(s – properly) used to be like. Whatever one thinks about his political career, Ortutay’s academic work was brilliant.

exTor
Guest

http://www.gyakg.u-szeged.hu/magyar/oldalak/nyitolap

For some reason, Ságvári Gimnázium in Szeged has yet to change its name, at least per its website. Nice pic of its students spelling the school’s name somewhere (I presume) in Szeged.

Albert Wass is rather dubious. His use of ‘Zionist/Romanian’ (in describing the efforts to return him to Romania) is the language of the right and wouldn’t be out of place in the mouths of Jobbikers, who were the movers (with Fidesz) behind the renaming of a Budapest square in district XIV after him.

MAGYARKOZÓ

exTor
Guest

Somewhat offtopic. I tried to include a photo with my post, however it did not seem to want to work. Other attempts in the past have been similarly unsuccessful. What’s the trick? Thanx.

MAGYARKOZÓ

spectator
Guest

Just paste in the link of the image, presto!

Appears only after the comment loaded.

exTor
Guest

It was a partial success, spectator. I was able to link to a YouTube video okay, however my attempt to upload a fotofile was a nogo. Any idea what’s [not] going on?

MAGYARKOZÓ

Nelli
Guest

The Connie Mack – Rohrbacher – Századvég – money laundering story.

Crazy shit combined with idiocy combined with stealing billions of taxpayer’s money.

http://index.hu/kulfold/2015/05/19/ongolt_lott_orbanek_1_4_milliardos_washingtoni_pancserlobbistaja_connie_mack_dana_rohrabacher/

buddy
Guest

OT: Index says that today’s hearing on Hungary in the US Congress is going to be a disaster for the Hungarians government….

http://index.hu/kulfold/2015/05/19/ongolt_lott_orbanek_1_4_milliardos_washingtoni_pancserlobbistaja_connie_mack_dana_rohrabacher/

Webber
Guest

On the re-naming of Moszkva tér (Moscow square): the Hungarian press has reported repeatedly that the Mayor of Budapest, István Tarlós of Fidesz is looking for a prominent place to name after some Russian (or perhaps even name “Moscow”) as a way of saying “sorry” to the Russian government.

spectator
Guest

Seem somehow simpler to name on the city to Széllkálmángrád!

Sorry, I man Селлкалманград, that is!
Then we are back to “normal”, I guess…

Webber
Guest

OT – They are, according to reports, planning to close some of Corvinus university’s campus (the part in Buda), transfer faculties to other universities, and sell the property. If the reports are right, the proceeds of the sale will not be given to the university (legally, one would think the proceeds of the sale of university property would belong to the university) but will be used to build the government district in the castle, suggesting that they haven’t been able to find funding elsewhere, and don’t believe the EU will provide funding for it.
Thinking of earlier rumors, this could be the start of the end for Corvinus, which is (or recently was) rated Hungary’s best university.
Story here:
http://vs.hu/kozelet/osszes/feldaraboljak-a-corvinust-nagy-balhe-varhato-0519

ernő
Guest

Prohászka Ottokár Highschool in Budakeszi (a suburb of Budapest further out from the most conservative district of Budapest, the 12th) has been in operation for 25 years now. It’s a real community school and citizens of Budakeszi and Telki like the place very much.

Dolm
Guest

According to the reports I read about the hearing Republican Congressman Smith (N.J.) said that Andre Goodfriend was “clearly not neutral” but “luckily new ambassador Coleen Bell reported that everything is just fine in Hungary and Hungary is a reliable ally of the US”.

Reset (aka appeasement) with Hungary is apparently on track.

It turns out the Hollywood media industry is a indeed a good training ground for diplomats to be parachuted into Eastern European fiefdoms after all.

Realitycheck
Guest

Why do you believe Smith?

spectator
Guest

Well, according to the hearing itself not only roses what smelling there.

Otherwise i can not argue with that wether or not Hungary is on the right track – there is nothing wrong with the tracks I’m pretty sure about.
But the direction of those tracks, you see!
Now that is a totally different matter altogether.

buddy
Guest

appeasement – noun 1. the policy of acceding to the demands of a potentially hostile nation in the hope of maintaining peace

So appeasement is giving in to someone’s demands. What demands is Hungary making on the US?

Anyway, perhaps Bell is right from the perspective of US interests. For all we know, behind the scenes Fidesz is resolving the corruption issues regarding US companies in Hungary that the embassy has complained about for years.

In other words, perhaps it is Hungary that is appeasing the US! But of course, if it is happening it is all behind the scenes, not in public.

Guest

There’s something going on re corruption with VAT:
http://www.politics.hu/20150519/tax-office-clamps-down-on-3-billion-forint-vat-fraud-ring/
There might be a connection.

buddy
Guest

Thanks for pointing that out, wolfi.

Durst
Guest

@Buddy

Orban wants one thing from the US and one thing only: to be let alone so he could continue with his corrupt practices and rule Hungary without interference.

Of course I’m not sure the US would (or should) interfere, but the point is that as far as Orban is concerned if Orban achieves that (whether through appeasement or for other reasons Orban doesn’t feel that the Americans are too annoying then) he won. And since the US doesn’t seem to exert any pressure on Hungary or act in the world as though it had problems with Orban, Orban is clean and strong and happy.

Realitycheck
Guest

Dana Rohrabacher and others have obviously been “coached” by Hungarian lobbyists. Using the same arguments as Fidesz does to defend itself.

exTor
Guest

Roundup: The antiOrbán duo (Simonyi and Stahnke) did not succeed in convincing the Subcommittee on The Future of US/Hungary Relations that there is a bonafide problem with Viktor Orbán and Fidesz.

The Chairman (Rohrabacher) laid into the duo at the end in his summary. His proOrbán sympathies were clear at the end and they may well have existed from the getgo.

Stahnke, who was rather ineffective (especially against the clearly proOrbán Webber (from Texas)) acquitted himself reasonably well, all things considered, in his final two minutes’ worth.

Simonyi was more effective throughout than Stahnke.

Fidesz and Viktor Orbán got good talking points from this palaver.

MAGYARKOZÓ

Realitycheck
Guest
The way that the Republican members framed their comments and questions it was clear they had already made up their minds before the hearing. Their talking points were pure Fidesz. The points they made are the same as those by Fidesz officials and oft repeated by pro-Fidesz commentators on this site and others. They also managed to use the meeting to repeatedly attack the Obama administration and went as far as saying that what Obama is doing is far worse than anything in Hungary. In the end the chair made a very strong and clearly ready statement that the issues with Hungary were policy issues dealing with gay rights and abortion and that is what motivated the Obama administration’s criticisms and actions. It was a disgusting display of partisanship by the Republican members of the sub-committee. The Hungarian government’s lobbying efforts seem to have really payed-off with the Republican members of this sub-committee (almost every member who either was there or stayed was Republican). Shame on the Democratic members of the sub-committee for their absence (I believe only one showed up briefly). Stahnke and Simonyi knew the issues well. Stahnke appearance was unprofessional and disheveled. Volker might as well have… Read more »
buddy
Guest

I agree with you, that’s a pretty good summary of how it went down. Here’s what the live blogger covering the event on Index said: “The Representatives are shockingly aggressive and professionally manipulative.”

She also made the interesting observation that debating culture in the US is completely different from that in the Hungarian Parliament, where most of the time there is no real dialogue, and facts are also only heard rarely.

Istvan
Guest

This statement which was formally entered into to the hearing record is worth reading http://docs.house.gov/meetings/FA/FA14/20150519/103487/HHRG-114-FA14-Wstate-StahnkeT-20150519.pdf

Member

Rohrabacher is an anti-Semite pig. He went too far when he said the witnesses should be ashamed for crying anti-Semitism in Hungary. He should probably read a few posts on this blog. Well, if he’s interested in the details. Probably not.

Stahnke was eaten alive. And I agree, he looked scruffy.

I only can hope that the people who really responsible for policies don’t give a damn about these clowns when they bullshit for money on the behalf of a wannabe dictator. They are very well aware of the danger. That is the possibility that Hungary leaves the EU and the NATO and becomes a Russian satellite. But I think it’s understandable that they don’t meddle with the internal politics when the government was elected with 48% of the votes.

The whole thing was a humiliating experience.

Realitycheck
Guest

In fairness to Stahnke, he was repeatedly cut off, forced to answer ‘yes” or “no” questions, and had committee members attribute statements to him he didn’t make. He was clearly disgusted with them. He was the most liberal witness on the committee and the Republican members did not like him or what he represents (gay rights advocate).

And those same Republican’s will gladly meddle in another country’s internal affairs if it suites their goals. This has nothing to do with their supposed purity when it comes to that issue.

Member
The truth is………a good majority of the world is leaning too far right. If you take a look at both the US and Canada, policies are changing the borders are being more closed off, people are being manipulated into hatred and xenophobia, fear mongering all around. Countries are not working together properly anymore and it feels as though we are all sitting on the edge of something. The governments of the world are positioning themselves and I don’t think it is a good thing. As citizens of this world, we are the only ones that can actually do something about it. It is high time we stand up for ourselves and our fellow man and quit giving our governments so much power. Fidesz has been able to pay off almost everyone they have wanted, this is not a good thing for Hungarians. Hungary is smack in the middle of Europe, if any World War was to break out, it is the Hungarian people who will suffer the most in Europe and be punished the worst for the crimes, just as in the past. The illiberal democracy idea is being slowly accepted by some and we should all be afraid of… Read more »
Guest

Following on from László Krasznahorkai wonderful winning of the Man Booker International Prize, I wonder if we will see any streets named after him, or indeed after Nobel prize winning novelist Imre Kertész? So many fine contemporary Hungarian novelists to choose from! Surely there must be streets ready for a fine new name of a decent, internationally recognized Hungarian author? Sadly, we all know the answer to that rhetorical question.

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