Tag Archives: 1956 revolution

MSZP’s self-inflicted wounds, with some outside help

Mistaking the date of the publication, I started reading a report by József Nagy of 24.hu from June 2017. The report was based on conversations with ten high-level MSZP politicians about the prospects of their party. Most of them were so optimistic about the bright future for MSZP led by István Botka that Nagy’s article bore the title “Botka eats the grandmother.” One of them described the situation as follows: the party now has 20% of the votes among the determined voters and perhaps by October MSZP will have 27%. If not, they will have to come to terms with the Demokratikus Koalíció.

The polls published in May and June did show a slight bump in MSZP’s popularity, but that didn’t last for long. The party began losing supporters at a fairly rapid rate. Instead of reaching 27% support by October, Medián reported at the beginning of November that MSZP has only 9% support among those voters who are 100% sure that they will vote. DK has 7%. So, it’s no wonder that an article appeared in HVG today that talked about “shrinkage of the declining MSZP.” MSZP is in such a sorry state, claimed the article, that by now its leaders are ready to invent agreements with DK in order to boost the waning trust of the voters in MSZP. This description of the state of affairs is not quite accurate, but it is true that some observers talk about the party’s “death struggle.” It is just a question of time before the socialist party meets its maker.

Party preferences in October 2017 / blue: population as a whole; green: eligible voters; red: committed voters

Many of MSZP’s problems are self-inflicted. Let’s start with Tibor Szanyi, who for years has been a problematic character. Every few months he comes out with something outrageous, but he seems to have enough clout within the party that he never gets into serious trouble with the leadership. It’s possible that his latest job as a member of the European Parliament was an attempt to remove him from center stage, but unfortunately Facebook is always at his disposal. And he is a diligent contributor. Moreover, he is still a frequent guest on radio and television programs.

In order to “appreciate” Szanyi’s lack of common sense, here is an early example. A few months after Szanyi occupied his office in Brussels, he invited the far-right Goy Bikers for a visit to get acquainted with the workings of the European Parliament. Their airfare was paid from a special fund that could be tapped by members of parliament for such invitations but, naturally, whoever came up with the idea didn’t have the Goy Bikers in mind.

This time Szanyi decided to commemorate the anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution by posting a photo of the only major blemish on the face of a revolution, which was renowned for its incredibly humane treatment of those on the other side. Anyone who tried to use force was told that these people should be dealt with in a court of law. But a mob attacked and lynched several people after the occupation of the party headquarters. The Kádár regime used this event as proof of the counterrevolutionary nature of the revolution. Szanyi decided to remember the revolution with this photo, which he posted on Facebook. By now the photo and Szanyi’s comment are no longer available. Everybody, not just Fidesz-KDNP and its media, was outraged. Gyula Molnár felt compelled to distance himself and his party from Szanyi’s outrageous “remembrance of the revolution.”

But that’s not all. Szanyi’s latest is that he shared his opinion, again on Facebook, of László Marton’s sexual dalliances, saying that he finds “the public calibration of Marton’s penis a disgusting thing. It is worth recalling who is running around on stage stark naked,” obviously referring to the women who were allegedly the victims of Marton’s sexual interest. Well, that wasn’t well received in the party either. Kata Tüttő, a member of the board, sent Szanyi straight to hell. István Ujhelyi, his colleague in the European Parliament, wrote “Tibor, this is shameful. Stop it!” Szanyi’s post elicited an incredible number of comments, practically all negative.

One could write Szanyi off as an aberration. But when a letter to the party chairman, written by an important party leader, accusing him of incompetence, reaches the public, the situation is more serious. And that is what happened yesterday. HírTV got hold of a letter that Árpád Velez, a former “party director,” wrote to Gyula Molnár. In it he describes at length how Molnár ruined the party. From a “leading party of the left [Molnár] created a vulnerable political community which is unmotivated, dejected, trailing after the others.” In this weakened state MSZP is at the mercy of DK, which has been building a strong structure while “our own party is in ruins.” Apparently one reason for Velez’s distraught state of mind is that the district he was supposed to run in was allegedly given to DK.

The impression is that MSZP is in total chaos. Gyula Molnár stated already on Friday that MSZP and DK had reached an agreement. The announcement was made in an interview with György Bolgár, the moderator of Klubrádió’s call-in program “Let’s Talk It Over.” Molnár said that the two parties had agreed on a 60-40 split of the 106 electoral districts. DK’s press office immediately released a correction: “Contrary to a series of news items and statements, so far no agreement has been reached concerning the coordinated candidacy of electoral districts between MSZP and DK. Negotiations are still ongoing. Our aim is to reach an agreement within weeks.” It turned out, however, that Molnár had told the truth. An agreement about the ratio had been reached, but there was no final decision yet on the particulars. For example, MSZP and DK must talk to the other smaller parties about the allocation of districts.

The way I see it, DK has tried to undermine MSZP’s credibility by choosing to interpret what constitutes an “understanding.” As a result of DK’s denial, the alleged chaos within MSZP has been magnified, and the public perception of the incompetence of the MSZP leadership has been strengthened. DK is counting on the further weakening of MSZP and the growth of DK as a result of a promising signature drive against the voting rights of dual citizens. Apparently, in the first five days DK collected 70,000 signatures. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if these negotiations drag on until the end of November, when new opinion polls are available. Perhaps, if DK closes the gap with MSZP, even the 60-40 split will have to be renegotiated. Of course, with Fidesz support among committed voters standing at 61%, these negotiations will have at best only a marginal effect on the outcome of next year’s election.

November 7, 2017

The dangers of being a historian in Orbán’s Hungary

Something extraordinary happened yesterday. László Tüske, director of Hungary’s National Library, launched disciplinary action against János M. Rainer, head of the Institute for the History of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution (’56 Institute), and three of his colleagues. Two were charged with making their views public on the factually inaccurate billboards used to advertise the sixtieth anniversary extravaganza staged by Viktor Orbán’s court historian, Mária Schmidt. This was the by now infamous case in which a fourteen-year-old boy who was one of the “pesti srácok” (urchins of Pest) was misidentified. A third was charged with complaining about photoshopped images used in the anniversary celebration. The fourth was charged with behaving improperly during Viktor Orbán’s speech on October 23.

Before I return to the story of this boy, let me say a few words about the ’56 Institute. It was officially established in June 1989 as a private foundation with very limited resources. In the mid-1990s the institute’s financial problems were seemingly solved when it became a publicly supported institution. Its financial security, however, was dependent on the whims of governments. As soon as Fidesz and the Smallholders won the election in 1998, the promised 60 million forints for the coming year was reduced to 6 million, largely because the right-wing government’s views on the events of 1956 differed radically from those of the majority of historians inside and outside the ’56 Institute. The Institute survived the four lean years and kept publishing literally hundreds of first-rate books on the revolution and related subjects. After the change of government in 2002 the Institute again received proper funding. But then Viktor Orbán returned, and this time he was ready to abolish the Institute altogether. At the last minute a compromise was reached, and the Institute was placed under the supervision of the National Library. Its historians became employees of the library.

Last November I wrote a post titled “An inveterate liar: Mária Schmidt’s celebrated freedom fighter.” You may recall that the Orbán government’s new “take” on the 1956 Revolution is that the only heroes of the revolution were those urchins and adults who actually fought against the Soviet troops on the streets. All others, including disillusioned party functionaries, journalists, intellectuals, and students, played a minimal role. Their presence didn’t make a substantial difference in the course of the events. So, for the sixtieth anniversary, new heroes had to be found from the groups of street urchins.

An actor with unlimited imagination came forth who created a hero of himself. He even found proof: a photo that appeared in Time Magazine at the time. Mária Schmidt, the organizer of the ’56 Memorial Year, was delighted. Giant billboards covered the country with this photo, and the boy depicted was identified as László Dózsa, an actor of modest talents. There was only one problem: the boy on the photo was not Dózsa but Pál Pruck, whose family came forth and proved, at least to my satisfaction, with family photos that it was indeed their father plastered and falsely identified all over the country. Both Dózsa and Mária Schmidt insisted that they were right and the Prucks were lying. Schmidt was especially adamant.

Since Schmidt didn’t let go, the “controversy” went on for weeks. During the debate contemporary pictures of both Pruck and Dózsa were displayed, and it was obvious that the boy in the Time Magazine photo was Pál Pruck. I suspect that Dózsa himself also knew that the boy in the photo was someone else. It is pretty difficult to mistake oneself for someone else regardless of the number of years that have gone by. For example, I found a picture of myself in the company of three of my classmates on Fortepan.hu, a fabulous collection of old photographs turned in by volunteers. I was unaware of the existence of this photograph, taken by someone without our knowledge. I had no difficulty identifying myself and my classmates. I was 16 at the time, Dózsa was 14 in 1956. Yet Schmidt in her usual shrill manner kept insisting and insisting, even when the facts were staring her in the face. As far as I’m concerned, she made a fool of herself. And now she’s making an even greater fool of herself by instructing the director of the Hungarian National Library to discipline the historians who “dared” question her judgment.

From left to right: László Eörsi, János M. Rainer, Réka Sárközy, and Krisztián Ungváry

While I could care less that Mária Schmidt is making a fool of herself, I do mind very much that Hungary has by now become a country where historians are “disciplined” for making their views public. This is another low in the history of Viktor Orbán’s “illiberal state.”

János M. Rainer’s sin was that he placed an interview on his Facebook page in which he explained that no one from Schmidt’s committee had asked the opinion of the historians of the Institute about the decorations Dózsa received in recognition of his role in the revolutionary events. Dózsa did receive all sorts of state decorations for his alleged heroism, but according to László Eörsi, the second disciplined historian, none of his stories could be verified. Eörsi was in fact quite diplomatic when he called Dózsa’s stories unverifiable. I, who went through the events, find them figments of his imagination. His stories are simply not believable. A third historian who was disciplined is Réka Sárközy, whose specialty is film history. She talked to 168.hu about her reservations over how the committee in charge of the memorial year was falsifying original photos. Obviously, expressing her opinions on “photoshopping” was also forbidden. Krisztián Ungváry’s specialty is not the revolutionary events of 1956, and his case is not connected to Dózsa. He was punished because on October 23, 2016 he whistled during Viktor Orbán’s speech. As he said, “I went there as a historian to demonstrate against the falsification of history.”

According to the Index article on this disgraceful case, the director of the National Library did what he did because he felt it was the only way to defend the historians against Schmidt’s wrath. Schmidt’s original idea was to put an end to the very existence of the Institute by subordinating it to one of the institutes Schmidt herself runs. It even occurred to her that the Institute should be merged in some form or other with the Veritas Historical Institute, where the “truth,” according to Orbán, is being sought by mostly right-wing historians.

György Gábor, a philosopher and a former classmate of László Tüske, finds the director’s decision to work hand in hand with the powers that be “disgusting and unacceptable.” It reminds him of the years of the one-party system. I would go even further. In the last ten years of the Kádár regime such blatant interference in matters of history was uncommon. This “disciplinary action” reminds me more of the Rákosi regime’s favorite way of handling such cases. In less serious matters, party functionaries from the top of the pyramid all the way down to the lowly Pioneer leader demanded a public “self-criticism” for one’s perceived misdeeds. I guess if these four historians had humbled themselves and apologized to Mária Schmidt perhaps they could have saved themselves from disciplinary action. Instead, I understand, Krisztián Ungváry has already turned in a formal complaint against the ruling.

March 24, 2017