Tag Archives: Bálint Hóman

Miklós Horthy will not have a statue in Perkáta after all

In December 2015 Viktor Orbán, under American pressure, declared that no Hungarian politician who remained in office after Hungary’s occupation by German troops on March 19, 1944 could have a memorial. Prompting this declaration was the controversy over the decision of the City of Székesfehérvár to erect a statue of Bálint Homan, the anti-Semitic minister of education in the 1930s. The idea to honor Hóman with a statue ostensibly began as a local initiative, but Viktor Orbán was the real promoter of the project. The government provided a sizable amount of money to fashion a life-size statue of the corpulent education minister. The statue became a flash point in the already strained relations between Hungary and the United States, and Orbán retreated. As he explained in parliament, the reason the City of Székesfehérvár couldn’t erect a statue of Hóman was that Hóman remained a member of the Hungarian Parliament after German troops occupied Hungary. As Orbán put it, “the constitution forbids honoring anyone who collaborated with the oppressors.” He added that “for that reason, he wouldn’t support a statue for Governor Miklós Horthy either.”

One would have thought that the issue had been put to rest once and for all. So I was surprised to hear that a Horthy bust will be unveiled in Perkáta, a village situated between Székesfehérvár and Dunaújváros. There are already three Horthy busts or statues in existence: in Csókakő (2012), in Hencida (2013), and in Budapest (2013). Despite Orbán’s claim that the Hungarian constitution forbids the existence of such statues, they have not been removed. At the very least one would have hoped that no other municipality would embark on erecting an “unconstitutional” monument. But this is exactly what happened.

As opposed to the Hóman case, which turned out to be a clandestine government project, I suspect that the Perkáta affair is a genuine local blunder. Balázs Somogyi (Fidesz) has been mayor of Perkáta, a town of 4,000 inhabitants, for the last eleven years. The citizens of Perkáta are not enthralled with his performance because on the question “How satisfied are you with the work of the mayor?” he received a D+. It’s hard to fathom why they keep reelecting him. One thing is sure: he is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. He accepted the offer of a free bust of Horthy from three citizens of Perkáta, who turned out to be members of the New Hungarian Guard, a far-right organization that came into being after the original Hungarian Guard was declared to be illegal. The three men assured Somogyi that the erection and unveiling of the bust would not cost the village a penny. The mayor jumped at the offer and at the earliest opportunity presented the project for approval to the town council. On April 20 the town council, without ever informing the local citizens of their decision, approved the project. The unveiling was scheduled to take place on May 20, with leaders of far-right groups in attendance.

All set and ready

After the opposition media got hold of the story, several organizations and parties raised objections, but the mayor confidently announced that “the erection of a memorial is a completely local issue. It is up to the people who live there.” The problem was that the people of Perkáta were never asked or even informed about the arrival of a Horthy statue. And Somogyi either was or pretended to be ignorant of Viktor Orbán’s verdict on Horthy’s veneration as an unconstitutional act.

This time, unlike in the Hóman case, a reversal took place in record time. A few hours after this confident announcement, the town council of Perkáta suddenly withdrew its permission for the erection of the bust. So, what happened? The locals learned about the unveiling of the bust from TV reports. Some of the more enterprising citizens began an anti-bust drive, which gathered several hundred signatures in no time. They didn’t want Perkáta to become like the nearby Csókakő, which is a common destination for far-right pilgrimages as a result of the statue of Horthy placed there 15 years ago.

One could say all this was nothing more than a storm in a tea pot. But the Hungarian right—and I include Fidesz here—is outraged. An incredible editorial appeared in Magyar Hírlap by Pál Dippold, a writer and journalist who is not considered to be extremist by Hungarian standards. He is just a good old Fidesz supporter whose articles appear at regular intervals. As far as he is concerned, Perkáta’s rights were violated by journalists who descended on the village and talked about Horthy’s controversial historical role. Dippold describes them as “green sharks tattooed with five-pointed stars that attacked a Hungarian carp.” The shark is of course a “liberal shark” which can easily move from a salt- to a fresh-water environment. The carp is helpless against it. If the shark metaphor weren’t graphic enough, at one point he calls independent journalists “imported pigs” who consider themselves members of the fourth estate. These imported liberal pigs/sharks attacked true democracy by going against a local decision. They managed to force their will on Perkáta. The poor Fidesz mayor’s statement about the reasons for his retreat is “poignant” when he talks about defending his people from “these strangers bent on creating a scandal.” What follows is a defense of Miklós Horthy, who was “a decent Hungarian politician who did everything he could to preserve the remnants of the country that remained after Trianon.” He was a good Hungarian, like “the inhabitants of Perkáta and its well-meaning mayor.”

As we know, at least since December 2015 erecting a statue of anyone who collaborated with the Germans, as Horthy certainly did, is not a local affair. What would Dippold say if, as a friend of mine suggested, György Moldova, a prodigious writer known for his detailed sociological nonfiction, were to offer a bust of János Kádár to be erected on a public square anywhere in the country? (Moldova is known to be a great admirer of János Kádár, whom he considers a genius and the greatest statesman of modern Hungarian history.) If some town or village took Moldova up on his offer, I would wager to say that local opinion, which Dippold finds such an important part of democracy, would no longer be the deciding factor. The locals would need to be “educated” by right-wing–well, pick your favorite cuddly animal.

May 19, 2017

Orbán’s Veritas Institute looks at anti-Semitism in the Horthy era

It’s time to take a break from Hungarian party politics and the mess the Brexit referendum has created and talk about history. Specifically I would like say something about the recent activities of two historians working for the generously endowed Veritas Institute established by the Orbán government. The absurdity of an “Institute of Truth” serving a government doesn’t need to be spelled out, and I do hope that one day, in the not too distant future, the Institute of Truth will be thrown onto the garbage heap with the other debris Fidesz left behind.

The Veritas Institute is a large organization with 26 historians and administrative personnel who are doing research in three different areas: (1) the era of the dual monarchy (1867-1918); (2) the Miklós Horthy era (1919-1944); and (3) the post-1945 era. The two historians whom we meet most often in the pages of the daily press are Sándor Szakály, director, and Gábor Ujváry, senior research fellow.

Gábor Ujváry’s goal in life seems to be the rehabilitation of Bálint Hóman, the controversial minister of education in the 1930s. I had hoped that the Hóman case was finally closed when, in December 2015, Viktor Orbán gave up the fight for a statue of Hóman, caving under international pressure. Reluctantly he announced that no one who collaborated with the German occupying forces after March 19, 1944 can have a statue in Hungary. But, as I pointed out in my post of December 16, 2015, the idea of having a Hóman statue initially came from Viktor Orbán himself. Thus, his parliamentary announcement was a personal defeat.

Has he given up the plan to completely rehabilitate Bálint Hóman? I’m not at all sure. Ujváry’s efforts at whitewashing Hóman’s role indicate that Hóman may yet be portrayed as a hero. Ujváry is writing a book on Hóman’s life and political career, a project for which he as a member of the Miklós Horthy Era Team needed the approval of Director Sándor Szakály. The director of the Institute, as we learned recently, also finds Hóman innocent of most of the charges leveled against him.

Ujváry is a man with a mission. Instead of quietly toiling in libraries and archives, he grabs every opportunity to publicize his interpretation of Hóman’s political career–in popular magazines, in interviews, and at conferences. One of his latest salvos was a short article in the popular historical magazine Rubicon, in which he argued against the interpretations of those historians who “attack Bálint Hóman.” Among other things, he tried to justify the introduction of the numerus clausus of 1920. Since Ujváry’s targets were Mária M. Kovács and Krisztián Ungváry, the two historians answered him in Mozgó Világ in a joint article titled “Bálint Hóman in the captivity of the Truth Institute.” But Ujváry will press on, explaining to the Hungarian people what a great guy the former minister of education was. The Orbán regime’s efforts to rehabilitate Hóman unfortunately seem to be continuing with full force.

The other politically active historian of the Veritas Institute is the director himself, Sándor Szakály. About two years ago I wrote a post titled “Sándor Szakály: portrait of a historian” when Szakály in an interview called the deportation of approximately 23,000 Jews in July 1941 to German-held Soviet territories, most of whom were subsequently killed by the Germans, merely “a police action against aliens.”

Szakály burned himself pretty badly with that interview, but he is persistent. He wants to debunk mainstream historical thinking about the Horthy era and replace it with a more sympathetic interpretation. And so he decided to give another interview, this time to The Budapest Beacon. The interview is very long and covers a range of topics. I will look at only two issues, which are also part of the Hóman narrative of Gábor Ujváry. One is the assessment of Hóman as a historical figure and the second is the meaning of the numerus clausus of 1920, which restricted the number of Jews who could enter Hungarian universities.

Sándor Szakály at a conference on Bálint Hóman organized by the Veritas Institute

Sándor Szakály at a conference on Bálint Hóman organized by the Veritas Institute

Szakály’s limitations as a historian once again became evident when the reporter asked him about Hóman’s role as a historical figure. He either can’t or doesn’t want to go beyond a strict interpretation of the written word. Here is an example of what I mean. Historians point out that Hóman, along with many far-right politicians, remained a member of parliament even after the Szálasi takeover on October 15, 1944. Here is Szakály’s rebuttal. Hóman was not a member of the Arrow Cross parliament “because such a parliament simply didn’t exist.” It is true, he continued, that “after the Arrow Cross takeover a truncated national assembly (országgyűlés) remained in session and Hóman was a member of that body, but that doesn’t mean that he was a member of the Arrow Cross party.” Or another example of his inability to think either contextually or causally. When asked about Hóman’s attitude toward Germany and his views on the German-Hungarian alliance, Szakály announced that he doesn’t think that Hóman was in any way “a harbinger” of the German occupation because “at the time he had no political role to play.” So, the possibility that Hóman’s actions influenced events leading up to the German occupation simply doesn’t enter his mind.

The director of the Institute of Truth further manifested his astute historical thinking in responding to questions on the meaning of the numerus clausus law of 1920, which most Hungarian historians consider to be the first anti-Jewish law, not just in Hungary but in the western world. Admittedly, the law didn’t contain the words “Jew” or “Jewish,” but it was clear to everybody which group was being targeted. No other “nationality” or “ethnic group” was over-represented in Hungarian higher education. The aim of the government was to restrict the number of Jewish students to 6%, the same as the percentage of Jews in the population at large.

Szakály said that he doesn’t consider the law to be discriminatory. And why not? “Because the law stated that only those will be admitted to the universities who are absolutely dependable as far as their national loyalty and morality are concerned.” In addition to morality and patriotism, “intellectual abilities” were also considered, as well as ethnic quotas. As to whether the law was designed to restrict the number of Jews in universities, Szakály responded that “not only was the word ‘Jew’ not mentioned in the law, but at that time [Hungarian law] didn’t yet stipulate exactly  what ‘Jewish’ meant.” Perhaps, he added, they meant “people who belonged to the Mosaic denomination.” It is beyond me to make sense of this gibberish.

In Szakály’s estimate, the introduction of the numerus clausus was in hindsight “unfortunate” because it violated the concept of equality before the law, but from another point of view it was “a case of positive discrimination in favor of those youngsters who had less of a chance when it came to entering an institution of higher education.” So, said the reporter, “on the one hand and on the other?” Yes, in Szakály’s mind it is that simple and thus justified.

June 26, 2016

Another attempt to erect a statue honoring an anti-Semitic racist

Here we go again–another statue, another controversy. The figure being honored this time is György Donáth, whose name is not exactly a household word in Hungary. Although high school textbooks may have included a few sentences about Bálint Hóman, in vain would you look for Donáth, who was a minor figure in Hungarian far-right circles between 1938 and 1945.

History buffs interested in the 1945-1948 period might have encountered his name in connection with a series of trials that eventually led to the annihilation of the Smallholders’ Party, which at the first free elections after the war won an absolute majority but was nonetheless forced to form a coalition government in which the Magyar Kommunista Párt (MKP) held three portfolios. The first of these trials, inspired by the Communist Party, was the so-called Donáth trial. It resulted in a death sentence for Donáth and long prison terms for others.

At least two books deal with the political climate that led to the usurpation of political power by the Muscovite Communists who arrived with the Soviet troops. The 1956 Institute published a book of documents preceded by a lengthy study of the background of the trials by István Csicsery-Rónay and Géza Cserenyey, both former members of the group known as “Magyar Közösség” (Hungarian Community) whose leadership, among them György Donáth, was named in the trials. Mária Palasik’s book on the 1944-1945 period, published in 2000, includes a fairly long chapter on the Magyar Közösség. And Nóra Szekér wrote a Ph.D. dissertation, “A Magyar Közösség története,” in 2009.

We have a fair idea of the political views of this group since most of its members had earlier belonged to a secret organization called “Magyar Testvéri Közösség” (Hungarian Brotherly Community), established in 1925. Its original members came from Transylvania, and some of them were Hungary’s first national socialists. There was no question about the racist nature of the group. To be eligible to join one had to have a father and grandfather of pure Hungarian blood. No Germans or Croats need apply. Jews naturally couldn’t join, but even having a Jewish wife meant disqualification.

Donáth joined the group in 1939 at roughly the same time as he joined Béla Imrédy’s Magyar Élet Mozgalom (Movement of Hungarian Life). During 1943-44 he was editor of the far-right magazine Egyedül vagyunk (We are alone). Although his political career is not well documented, most likely he was unjustly condemned to death in 1947. Nonetheless, his activities between 1938 and 1945 are such as to preclude a statue ever being erected in his memory anywhere in Hungary, especially not only a few steps from the Holocaust Memorial Center.

It was the Politikai Elítéltek Közössége (Community of Political Prisoners) that came up with the idea of honoring Donáth. But just as it turned out that the planned Hóman statue was actually financed by the government, we cannot rule out the possibility that the former political prisoners received some financial help from the Orbán government. One thing is sure: Fidesz and its friends were heavily involved in the unveiling that was supposed to take place on February 24. Gergely Gulyás, deputy chairman of Fidesz, was supposed to deliver the eulogy, and Péter Boross, who has lately been behind the rehabilitation efforts of certain officials from the Horthy period, was also on hand.

At the end nothing came of the unveiling because some of the people who came to honor Donáth attacked the demonstrators against the statue. After a brief scuffle Gergely Gulyás called for a retreat. The incident was duly reported by Reuters. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency also published an article in which the reporter not only told the story of the present controversy but also reminded readers of the Hóman case and “another controversial commemorative project—a statue dealing with Hungary under the rule of Nazi Germany and its pro-Nazi collaborators.”

Donath

One must ask why the Orbán government insists on provoking the Hungarian and international Jewish community with its repeated attempts to whitewash historical characters with dubious pasts. Is it simple ignorance or is it a deliberate attempt to rewrite history? Perhaps sometime in the future we will have a clearer idea of what motivates Viktor Orbán.

My knowledge of the Magyar Közösség and its predecessor is limited, but I found some of the comments by István Csicsery-Rónay about Donáth intriguing. Although most of the people involved in the affair of 1947 didn’t want to restore the Horthy regime, as the prosecutors claimed, “such an outcome could be imagined by certain members of the group.” As he writes, “everybody could see the difference” between the more upstanding members of the group and the more radical faction, which included Donáth. Among the latter was István Szent-Miklósy, who drafted a general military order for the day when the Russian troops leave the country. This order included the takeover of the Hungarian army by members of the Magyar Közösség. In addition, the general order included the restoration of the legal continuity that was broken on March 19, 1944. At this point Csicsery-Rónay remarks that everybody was stunned with the exception of Donáth, because this doctrine was his hobbyhorse. Donáth’s “naïve theory about legal continuity” was one of the justifications for his death sentence because the judges interpreted it as a non-recognition of the existing order which must be overthrown by military means. Csicsery-Rónay’s book was written in 1998, and therefore he couldn’t have known that this “naïve theory about legal continuity” would one day find its way into Viktor Orbán’s new constitution.

Among the numerous documents related to the trials, Csicsery-Rónay published a couple of pages from Donáth’s last plea before the court, which apparently lasted five hours. In this brief section we can see that Donáth’s racism and anti-Semitism were as strong after the Holocaust as before. He defended his involvement with the program of the “race defense movement” (fajvédelem) because it was “the defense of a degraded people.” Later in his plea Donáth lectured the court, saying that “I am talking about Marxism which is of German origin because after all Marx lived in Germany. The fact that Marx was of Jewish origin is irrelevant in the opinion of the prosecution because we make no distinction between races.” Unlike, I assume, he did.

Surely this man, even if he was put to death for a crime he didn’t commit, doesn’t deserve a statue.

February 25, 2016

Neo-Nazis remember the “Day of Honor,” but why in Székesfehérvár?

The city of Székesfehérvár is in the news again. On Saturday, February 6, a few hundred neo-Nazis gathered at the Magyar Király (Hungarian King) Hotel, marched along Fő utca (Main Street), and ended their demonstration at the Church of Saint Stephen, one of the most important landmarks of the city. It is the oldest Christian church in Hungary, established in the 970s by Prince Géza, father of Saint Stephen, who was most likely crowned in this church in the year 1000.

I’m not going to waste much time on the demonstration itself. It was organized by the far-right Nazi groups we encounter most often: the Outlaws, the New Hungarian Guard, and the Youth Movement of Sixty-four Counties. The occasion for this memorial walk was the 71st anniversary of the breakout of German and Hungarian soldiers from Budapest, which had been surrounded by Soviet troops on December 24, 1944. Although Hitler specifically forbade his troops to try to escape from the city, on February 11 they decided to engage the Soviets. Of about 40,000 men only 500 managed to escape. The casualties were enormous. For details, I recommend Krisztián Ungváry’s The Siege of Budapest: One Hundred Days in World War II (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006). People who sympathize with the Nazi ideology call this event “Tag der Ehre” or “Day of Honor,” and for a number of years far-right groups, including Jobbik, organized events around this time of the year. Many make a pilgrimage, a walking tour of sixty kilometers, retracing the steps of the soldiers who took part in the escape.

In the past Jobbik took part in these memorial events, and last year at a similar gathering Előd Novák, one of the most radical members of the Jobbik leadership, delivered a speech. This year, however, he changed his mind at the last minute. The reason for his decision may have been that one of the scheduled speakers was a former member of the Waffen SS. Although at the end the German visitor didn’t show, the leaders of the Hungarian neo-Nazi groups made up for his absence, delivering full-fledged Nazi speeches. One claimed that with the destruction of the Third Reich “darkness fell on Europe.” Another ended his speech with “Glory to Waffen SS!” and “Glory to Szálasi!”

These kinds of far-right groups can be found everywhere in the world, and they usually don’t pose a great danger for society as long as they aren’t protected (beyond their basic human rights) by the government. What worries me in this case are the following:

(1) Why did these groups select Székesfehérvár as their gathering place, far away from the event that took place in February 1945? Could it have something to do with the controversy over the erection of a statue of Bálint Hóman, minister of education and culture between 1932 and 1942, also in Székesfehérvár? Did these extremist groups think that the Fidesz leadership of the city that for months had defended its decision to go ahead with the project of memorializing a rabidly anti-Semitic minister who had a hand in the Horthy regime’s anti-Jewish laws would protect them and thus their demonstration would proceed undisturbed?

(2) Why did Imre Horváth, the parish priest of the Church of St. Stephen, agree to offer a mass for these Waffen SS soldiers and their Hungarian companions? I assume that for a certain amount of money anyone can order a mass for a person or a group. One of the Budapest Catholic churches offers a mass for Viktor Orbán every year, for example. But the conversation between Imre Horváth and the journalist of The Budapest Beacon aroused my suspicion. Horváth was outright antagonistic, making it clear that neither the journalist’s nor anyone else’s opinion interested him. He added: “I’m a Hungarian, a veteran, who served his country.” Horváth is 86 years old and so most likely served his country during the Rákosi period, but I guess for a nationalist it doesn’t matter that this military service was to the Stalinist People’s Republic of Hungary. His brusque manner—he eventually hung up the telephone—may well have reflected his sympathetic feelings toward these far-right groups.

But let’s return briefly to the Hóman controversy. Since we last discussed the topic two new items of interest have become public. One was something that certainly didn’t please the Orbán government. On January 27 President Barack Obama delivered a speech at a ceremony in the Israeli Embassy in Washington, marking the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Obama emphasized that he has made fighting global anti-Semitism a priority, and in this context he brought up Hungary as a case where the United States took a stand. “It’s why, when a statue of an anti-Semitic leader from World War II was planned in Hungary, we led the charge to convince their government to reverse course,” Obama said. “This was not a side note to our relations with Hungary, this was central to maintaining a good relationship with the United States, and we let them know.”

Of course, to those who followed the Hóman affair closely this didn’t come as a surprise. Readers of Hungarian Spectrum knew about the pressure that was put on the Orbán government when three high-ranking U.S. diplomats descended on Budapest and conducted negotiations with members of the Hungarian government. However reluctantly, Viktor Orbán eventually announced that the planned statue would not be erected in Székesfehérvár because in his opinion no public figure who collaborated with the German occupiers after March 19, 1944 can possibly have a statue in a public place or a street named after him. Without U.S. pressure the Hóman statue would undoubtedly be standing in its designated place today. But, of course, the revelation by the U.S. president was embarrassing, and the Orbán government immediately denied it. In fact, the spokesman of Viktor Orbán said, the American pressure was counterproductive. The Americans would have fared better if they had remained quiet. This is just another of the brazen lies the Orbán government specializes in.

The idea for a statue of Bálint Hóman, as I pointed out earlier, did not originate with the local Bálint Hóman Society. I called attention to a speech that Orbán delivered in Székesfehérvár in May, shortly after the legal rehabilitation of  Hóman. Since then, however, we have learned that Viktor Orbán’s involvement in the Hóman case goes back even further. The man who is behind the effort to whitewash Hóman’s career is István Varga, a lawyer. After Fidesz won the election in 2010 and the party had a two-thirds majority in parliament, Varga, who was a Fidesz MP at the time, wanted to call attention to Bálint Hóman’s rehabilitation in an interpellation. Tibor Navracsics, today European commissioner of education and sports, was the leader of the Fidesz delegation at the time. He chose to ignore Varga’s suggestion, most likely because he knew that the issue was a hot potato. Varga, who had been trying to get “justice” for Hóman in the previous twenty years, was devastated. At a subsequent delegation meeting, where Orbán was also present, he brought up the topic again. The idea appealed to Viktor Orbán, who told him: “Go ahead!” So, Orbán was behind both the legal rehabilitation of Bálint Hóman and the erection of the statue honoring him. Since he is the prime minister of the country, one must conclude that the Hungarian government itself supports the veneration of politicians who had a hand in the anti-Jewish laws that eventually led to the Hungarian Holocaust. I know this is a serious charge, but the facts that have emerged of late point to this conclusion.

And now let’s go back for a moment to András Cser-Palkovics, mayor of Székesfehérvár. He started his political career in Fidelitas, Fidesz’s youth movement, where for eight years he was the organization’s chairman. From 2002 on he was a Fidesz member of the Székesfehérvár city council. He was a Fidesz member of parliament between 2002 and 2014 and has been mayor of Székesfehérvár since 2010. At one point he was even the spokesman of the party. So, he is Fidesz through and through.

How did he react to the news that neo-Nazi groups were planning a demonstration in the city? He asked people not to attend the rally, adding that legally he has no right to forbid it from taking place. But then he added: “At the end of last year I asked all people to safeguard the peace in our city. Then people on the left were the ones who imported tension and conflict from Budapest. Now it is the far right that is planning to do the same thing over a historical event that has nothing to do with Székesfehérvár.” This is an incredible statement. Can the people who gathered to protest the erection of the Hóman statue be compared to the neo-Nazis who gathered two days ago to praise Szálasi and the Waffen SS? Yes, according to Cser-Palkovics, one of important members of Fidesz.

There is no question in my mind that the Orbán government’s views on anti-Semitism and the Holocaust are two-faced and insincere. Just as Mark Weitzman of the Wiesenthal Center remarked, the Hungarian authorities’ failure to condemn the event, considering that Hungary is currently chairing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, was “an exercise in political and historical hypocrisy.” It is hard not to agree with him.

February 8, 2016

Viktor Orbán, the man responsible for the statue honoring the anti-Semitic Bálint Hóman

After several false starts, perhaps today I will finally be able to write the real story behind the ill-fated Hóman statue intended to adorn a relatively small square in downtown Székesfehérvár. I wrote at least three times about the controversy over erecting a statue of a politician who had a major role to play in drafting the anti-Jewish laws of the late 1930s even if, in another capacity, he was a well-respected historian. But I didn’t have a full cast of characters, and I didn’t know who was really responsible for coming up with the idea for the statue.

Why do I only now have the opportunity to set the record straight? Because Prime Minister Viktor Orbán did his very best to keep the real story hidden. While foreign papers are reporting the Hungarian prime minister’s categorical stand against erecting a statue honoring a man who collaborated with “Hungary’s oppressors,” the Germans, it was actually Viktor Orbán who masterminded the grandiose plan of erecting three statues in Székesfehérvár, where he went to high school, one of which would depict the anti-Semitic Bálint Hóman. Once the scandal over the statue spread, Orbán tried to cover his tracks. He passed the buck to the locals, who in fact had nothing to do with the project except, at the behest of the central government, lending their names to it.

How did all this come to light? Of course, someone spilled the beans. Gyula Fülöp, the retired director of Fehérvár’s Saint Stephen Museum, was incensed when he read an article in Népszabadság from which he learned that the government was denying any connection to the Hóman statue. It was all a local initiative, János Lázár claimed last Thursday. So, Fülöp decided to speak up. First, he talked to Gábor Czene of Népszabadság and today to György Bolgár of Klubrádió. His revelations are critical in piecing together the story of the Hóman statue.

When did Viktor Orbán decide that he wanted to see a group of three statues on one small square in front of the Cistercian Gymnasium? We don’t know exactly, but the first statue, of Kunó Klebelsberg, the legendary minister of education in the 1920s, was unveiled on November 13, 2013. At that point László L. Simon, undersecretary in charge of cultural affairs in the prime minister’s office, approached Fülöp with the idea of adding two more statues, one of Gyula Kornis, a priest who was a close associate of Klebelsberg, and the second of Bálint Hóman. Fülöp, who is an archaeologist, was unaware of Hóman’s political activities and therefore agreed to “sponsor” the project under the aegis of the Arnold Marosi Alapítvány, named after the first director of the St. Stephen Museum. L. Simon assured Fülöp that there was money for the project. Indeed, soon enough he received a letter from the ministry of justice assuring him of the financing necessary for the two statues. Fülöp still has the letter, but in his conversation with Bolgár he couldn’t recall who signed the letter, although he was pretty certain that it was not Tibor Navracsics, the minister. “Maybe an undersecretary or perhaps a department head,” he said.

A year later, on August 22, 2014, Gyula Kornis’s statue was erected, but Hóman’s had to wait until a Hungarian court decided on his rehabilitation as a war criminal. On March 7, 2015, the court found Hóman not guilty, and the road was thereby open to erect the last statue.

Viktor Orbán immediately moved into action. He had been touring Hungary’s 23 largest cities where he signed “documents of cooperation” in which he pledged all sorts of infrastructure improvements, naturally on EU money. On May 26, 2015 he appeared in Székesfehérvár. Following the signing of the precious document, Orbán delivered a speech in which he said:

The first thing we must remember is that Bálint Hóman, who represented this city in Parliament, was recently fully rehabilitated in legal terms. This also means the rehabilitation of our city, and therefore we hail this decision. I’m glad that Bálint Hóman’s memory will not disappear in the city of Székesfehérvár, and we hope that his scientific as well as his public rehabilitation will also take place.

Indeed, Hóman’s legacy in Fehérvár would be especially vivid if he had a statue to memorialize it.

By that time, the statue was most likely ready, waiting for the day when it could be unveiled. But then came a snag. Gyula Fülöp learned about Hóman’s past and decided that he didn’t want to get involved in this project. He therefore withdrew the Arnold Marosi Alapítvány’s sponsorship. It was at that point that L. Simon, the middleman between Viktor Orbán and the locals, approached the Bálint Hóman Alapítvány to act as a sponsor.

Orban pinocchio

It was most likely during Orbán’s visit to Székesfehérvár that the mayor, András Cser-Palkovics, was told to get the permission of the city council to erect the statue. Cser-Palkovics dutifully delivered.

However, mostly because of pressure coming from the United States, the strategy had to be changed. Again, it was Cser-Palkovics who had to bear the burden and deliver a carefully drafted speech in which he passed responsibility for the project to the Bálint Hóman Alapítvány, with the proviso that if this foundation insists on erecting the statue they are free to do so. This is democracy, he claimed.

This response didn’t satisfy the U.S. officials who had gathered in the Hungarian capital. Robert Berschinski (deputy assistant undersecretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor), Ira Forman (special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism), and Nicholas Dean (special envoy for Holocaust issues) asked the Hungarian government to block the erection of the Hóman statue. These big guns from the U.S. State Department were not satisfied with Cser-Palkovics’s ambiguous statements. They wanted a straight answer from Viktor Orbán himself.

Yesterday Orbán had to say something because he received a question on the Hóman statue from Ágnes Kunhalmi (MSZP) in parliament. She wanted to know whether, if the civic foundation in Székesfehérvár decides to go through with the project, he would support it or not. Initially he refused to answer the question, but a few minutes later he decided to respond. He said that he couldn’t support the erection of the Hóman statue because the constitution doesn’t allow anyone to be honored who held political office after March 19, 1944, because any political activity after that date meant collaboration with the oppressors, i.e. the Germans. For that reason, he wouldn’t support a statue for Governor Miklós Horthy either. For those who know Hungarian, a video of the exchange is provided.

Just to clarify the historical record, Hóman didn’t really collaborate with the Germans. In fact, he was apparently the only Hungarian politician who paid a visit to Edmund Veesenmayer, the Reich’s plenipotentiary in Hungary, to express his outrage at the occupation. Admittedly, he remained a member of parliament after Ferenc Szálasi became the leader of the country and left Hungary with the retreating German army. His real crime, however, was the role he played in drafting the anti-Jewish laws and his discriminatory legislative activities against Jewish-Hungarians in educational facilities under his care.

As for Viktor Orbán’s role in this affair, foreign papers may hail the fact that at last Viktor Orbán spoke out and distanced himself from the project. Alas, not too many people outside of Hungary will ever know that the real culprit of this sickening story was Viktor Orbán himself.

The Norway Funds and the statue of Bálint Hóman: two defeats for the Hungarian government?

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?

Anti-statue forces put up their own memorial

Anti-statue forces put up their own memorial

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.

The case of the Bálint Hóman statue from a different angle

You may find it strange that I am starting a post about the controversial statue of an anti-Semitic minister of education and culture, Bálint Hóman, with a quotation from an opinion piece on Viktor Orbán in a recent issue of politico.hu, but I hope that by the end of this article I will be able to justify this choice. Here are the crucial sentences in which the author, Luke Walker, explains why the European Union tolerates Viktor Orbán’s behavior:

Once a critic of most things Russian, Orbán embraces Putin and seeks to secure Russian energy supplies for Hungary, even as he signs off on EU sanctions against Moscow. Many Hungarians say, in hushed tones, that Orbán is better than the alternative: Jobbik, the openly anti-Semitic far-right party that has a fifth of the vote [sic]. One imagines that Brussels agrees.

Those Hungarians who whispered their opinions into Walker’s ears are sadly mistaken in their belief that supporting Viktor Orbán will stave off the ascent of the worse alternative, Jobbik. And if the politicians of the European Union fall for this Fidesz propaganda they deserve what they get. Because as this Bálint Hóman statue controversy clearly indicates, Jobbik and Fidesz work hand in hand. To support Fidesz is to support the main tenets of Jobbik’s platform.

I’ve already written two posts on Bálint Hóman, one in May and another in August. The first one was published when a Hungarian court rehabilitated Hóman, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment in 1946 for taking part in the cabinet meeting that gave its blessing to the declaration of war on the Soviet Union. The second was written when it became known that the city of Székesfehérvár was planning to erect a statue of Hóman in Hungarian gala-dress (díszmagyar) in front of a gymnasium on, of all places, Béla Bartók tér.  The anti-German Bartók left Hungary in 1940 when the strongly pro-German Hóman was still minister of education. In both posts it was Hóman’s anti-Semitism that was the center of attention, as it still is.

Ever since domestic and international Jewish organizations got wind of the impending erection of the statue protest followed protest. Just lately Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, “called on Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to intervene in this matter and to ensure that this statue is not built with public funds.” A couple of days later the co-chairs of the U.S. House Bipartisan Taskforce for Combatting Anti-Semitism sent a letter to Viktor Orbán protesting the monument. In Hungary, conferences were organized where historians explained yet again why Hóman doesn’t deserve a statue, and last night a small group of people gathered in Székesfehérvár to protest. Meanwhile, work has begun on the pedestal. The statue is supposed to be erected by the 130th anniversary of Hóman’s birthday, which is December 29.

I don’t think I can add anything new to the subject of Hóman’s anti-Semitism. I have already covered what historians know to date about his political career. Instead, today I would like to take a couple of steps back and look at the issue from a different perspective.

Who came up with the idea of a Hóman statue in the first place?  In 2011 a local Jobbik politician, Gábor Kováts, obviously a great admirer of Bálint Hóman, decided to establish the Bálint Hóman Cultural Foundation. On the board of the foundation was Mrs. Marth, née Krisztina Vida, who in 2010 was Jobbik’s parliamentary candidate in Székesfehérvár. According to an article that appeared on kettosmerce.blog.hu, Kováts’s Facebook profile includes the number 88, the normal code for Heil Hitler. By now, gone with the wind.

From the beginning, the Hóman Cultural Foundation was supported by such Fidesz organizations as the Hungarian Academy of Arts led by György Fekete which, thanks to Viktor Orbán’s special favor, was given equal standing with the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in the new constitution of Hungary.  In 2012 the foundation received 1.5 million forints for a conference and a poetry competition. In 2013 it received, also from the Hungarian Academy of Arts, 2 million forints to organize a “poetry camp” in Szekler country in Romania. Kettősmérce has been unable to discover where the roughly 5 million forints came from in 2013 and 2014. It is also a mystery how many employees the foundation has, whose “personal expenses” last year were over 2.5 million forints.

András Cser-Palkovics, mayor of Székesfehérvár

András Cser-Palkovics, mayor of Székesfehérvár

In 2013 another conference was held on Bálint Hóman, which was opened by András Cser-Palkovics, Fidesz mayor of Székesfehérvár. According to him, during the years of socialism “they concealed the real history of the city,” a bizarre claim because the authorities didn’t prevent historians from writing local histories during the Kádár regime.

Obviously, the far-right Hóman Foundation and the Fidesz leadership of the city get along splendidly. In fact, it was the foundation that came up with the idea of a statue for Hóman back in 2011. At that time, however, Hóman was still considered to be a war criminal, and thus Cser-Palkovics couldn’t possibly embark on such a project. But then came May 2015 when Hóman was rehabilitated. The doors were opened for the foundation to realize its cherished dream, and the Fidesz majority with the one Jobbik member of the city council happily voted for the statue.

Normally one cannot extrapolate from local politics, where party affiliations are often not so sharply delineated as on the national level. But the Hóman case highlights the close ties between Jobbik and Fidesz on the national level. Otherwise, it couldn’t have happened that the Hóman Foundation received 15 million forints for the statue from the Ministry of Justice in addition to the 2 million that was given to them by the city.

There is a puzzling aspect to the grant from the Ministry of Justice. Although the rehabilitation of Hóman didn’t take place until May of 2015, the grant had already been awarded to the Bálint Hóman Cultural Foundation sometime prior to June 6, 2014 because, according to the current minister of justice, László Trócsányi, the foundation received the money for the statue during Tibor Navracsics’s tenure. This is the same Navracisics who was allegedly “exiled” to Brussels for his moderate political views. Indeed, in Brussels he tried his very best to convince members of the European Parliament that he agreed with practically nothing the Orbán government had done between 2010 and 2014. And yet this “moderate” man gave 15 million forints to Gábor Kováts’s Hóman Foundation. Surely, even if most people in Székesfehérvár have no idea of who Hóman was, Navracsics certainly does.

Tibor Navracsics, sweating it in Brussels at his hearing

Tibor Navracsics, sweating it in Brussels at his hearing

Currently three cabinet members–János Lázár, Zoltán Balog, and László Trócsányi–are against the erection of the statue, but surely it will go up. This hideous statue is in the corner of some studio, waiting to be installed in late December. But if these three important members of the cabinet are against the statue, who is insisting on it? It can be only one person, Viktor Orbán, who seems to follow in the footsteps of Jobbik in practically everything. And his strategy is working. Fidesz’s popularity is growing and Jobbik’s is the lowest it has been since 2010. Yielding to domestic and foreign pressure and nixing the statue would show him to be weak, which might result in some Jobbik sympathizers leaving the fold.

Let me repeat: there is no appreciable difference between the two parties, and Fidesz is the more dangerous because it is the party in power. The real enemy is not Jobbik but Fidesz. The dangerous man is not Gábor Vona but Viktor Orbán. Dangerous for his own people and dangerous for Europe.