The European Union should learn something from Norway. Although it took a year and a half of furious attacks on Norway and the NGOs that receive grants from the Norway Funds, the Orbán government surrendered. It capitulated because Viktor Orbán, János Lázár, and Nándor Csepreghy finally realized that Norway was unmovable. As long as the Hungarian government insisted on controlling the grants awarded to NGOs, the Norway Funds refused to release any money to Hungary. Norway froze 1533.3 million euros worth of assets on May 7, 2014. At the end, Orbán & Co. realized that further fighting was useless and they were running out of time. If they continued their useless battle, they wouldn’t get the money originally allocated to Hungary. “Money talks,” or as the Hungarian proverb says, “money talks, the dog barks.”
This was a total defeat. Csepreghy’s insistence that “the Hungarian government still believes that some of the funds have been used illegally” did nothing to blunt its edge.
A day after the statement acknowledging the “agreement” on the Norway Fund, the mayor of Székesfehérvár, András Cser-Palkovics, made an announcement. He indicated that he was prepared to retreat, at least partially, on the controversial issue of erecting a statue of Bálint Hóman, a historian who served as minister of education between 1932 and 1942. I wrote at least three or perhaps even four posts on Hóman, and therefore I’m sure that most of my readers are thoroughly familiar with his career. He was one of the most zealous promoters of the German-Hungarian alliance in addition to having had a hand in the drafting of the so-called Jewish laws. He was declared a war criminal in 1946 and died in prison in 1951.
In my last post on the Hóman case I explained that although it was a so-called independent foundation that came up with the idea of erecting a statue of Hóman, this foundation had received grants from the Orbán government, directly or indirectly, from its very inception. The foundation’s initiative was supported by the mayor and the Fidesz-majority city council, which was most likely also responsible for securing a 15 million forint grant from the ministry of justice specifically allocated for the statue. It had to be known, if not in Székesfehérvár certainly in Budapest, that such a move would be contentious. Yet the Orbán government decided to fund the project.
It was only today that I discovered that the reburial of Hóman’s remains took place in October 2001, during the tenure of the first Orbán government, and that several important government officials attended this event, including Ibolya Dávid, then minister of justice, Zoltán Rockenbauer, minister of culture, and József Pálinkás, minister of education. The Fidesz political leadership has obviously been toying with the idea of rehabilitating Hóman for some time. Perhaps they decided that among the many dubious political figures of the Horthy era Hóman might be acceptable because of his stature as a historian.
Although the initial media reaction hailed Cser-Palkovics’s announcement as a great triumph for those organizations at home and abroad that opposed the erection of a statue, I would suggest a somewhat more cautious reaction to his words. He simply asked the Hóman Foundation to think over the erection of the statue, “keeping in mind the interests of the country and the city.” The initiative came from a civic organization and therefore the fate of the statue is in their hands. “If the Bálint Hóman Foundation still decides to erect the planned work, which in a democracy it has the right to do, then in the name of Székesfehérvár we will ask the foundation to repay the public money it has received from the Hungarian government and the city, to the extent it is able, in order to acquit the city and the country of unjust attacks.”
There’s a lot packed into these sentences. First of all, although we can be certain that the decision on the Hóman statue was reached at the highest political level, no top official of the Orbán government had to stand up and admit defeat. The mayor of Székesfehérvár did the job. Second, the statue is most likely already cast in bronze and waiting to be installed on December 29, Hóman’s birthday. The artist was already paid or will have to be paid soon. The Hóman Foundation has no money over and above the 15-17 million forints it received from the ministry of justice and the city. So, as far as I can see, they would not be able to pay back anything. Third, it might be possible to erect the statue on public property. This would not be the first time that such a thing happened in Hungary. Just think of the Horthy statue in Csókakő. And fourth, what does Cser-Palkovics mean by “unjust” attacks? Does he mean that Hóman was not a viciously pro-German anti-Semite who was responsible, along with his fellow politicians, for the Jewish laws?
As for Viktor Orbán’s role in this affair, let me quote from Ildikó Lendvai’s op/ed piece in today’s Népszava. “The government is in trouble. On the one hand, it doesn’t want to get to be known as a Nazi sympathizer, especially now when Orbán is eyeing a leading position in Europe. On the other hand, it doesn’t want to be at loggerheads with those who want to see a Hóman statue erected. Therefore, it pretends that it has nothing to do with this ‘local’ affair even though in the past the foundation received millions from the government….The cult of Hóman seemed like an excellent fly catcher to attract the extreme right. But the scandal has become far too big and those who protest seem to be winning…. Perhaps they have given up on this statue, but the historical brainwashing continues.”
I would go even further. There is a good likelihood that this statue will stand somewhere, even if not on Béla Bartók tér in Székesfehérvár. I would also wager to say that no money will ever be paid back to the ministry of justice and the city of Székesfehérvár. And then who really won? Alas, once again, Viktor Orbán and his friends.