Tag Archives: Ferenc Szálasi

The true story of Béla Király, the hero of the 1956 revolution. Part I

The other day a friend from Hungary sent me a brief e-mail with a link: “What do you think? For me this is too bizarre, especially because of Berkesi.” The link was to a Pesti Srácok article written by a certain Gábor Mező, who is apparently an associate of the Hamvas Institute, whose website is singularly short on any information about the institute’s activities. Mező claims that while doing research on an unrelated topic, he happened upon copies of documents that prove that Béla Király, the hero of the 1956 revolution, was an agent of the so-called Military Political Department (Katonai politikai osztály/KPO) of the Ministry of Defense. It was there that he found a statement by András Berkesi attesting to the fact that Király was his recruit and that Király dutifully reported to him on his fellow officers. András Berkesi did work for the KPO between 1945 and 1950, when he was arrested and sentenced. Yet he remained a loyal communist and fought, defending the regime, during the 1956 revolution. He became famous in the sixties as a celebrated author of crime novels.

According to these documents, former high-ranking officers, by that time in emigration, approached Király, who dutifully reported all the information he received from abroad and subsequently cooperated with KPO. As a result of his activities a fellow officer, Jenő Czebe, was uncovered. While trying to escape, he was shot. According to the document, Czebe’s fate was sealed by Király’s work as an agent.

Although I knew Béla Király quite well when we both belonged to a small association of Hungarian historians in the United States, by the mid-80s we lost touch. Of course, I knew that Béla returned to Hungary in 1990, where he ran for parliament as a candidate from the district of his hometown, Kaposvár. Occasionally I read short news items about his activities, which indicated a rather complicated series of political moves. At first he was an independent, but soon enough he moved over to the ruling, right-of-center MDF. It didn’t take long for him to become a member of the liberal SZDSZ. Király’s political career ended with him serving as a military adviser to Viktor Orbán (1998-2002).

Béla Király at the time of the 1956 revolution

Our fellow historian, Peter Pastor of Montclair University, was much closer to Béla than I was, and I decided to forward the e-mail with the link to him. Perhaps, I thought, he can shed light on that story. And indeed, Peter immediately answered and with only slight modifications authenticated the story. At the same time he promised me several articles that he had published on Béla Király, who died in 2009 and was buried with full military honors. Peter expressed his sorrow that the true story of Béla Király so far has been told by people on the right. It would be time, he said, for the left to face the fact that Béla Király was a fake who served every regime he ever encountered, including those of Ferenc Szálasi and Mátyás Rákosi.

I could hardly put down the material Peter sent me. Perhaps the most comprehensive summary of Király’s career, including a short description of his involvement in the events of the 1956 revolution, was Peter’s article “Béla Király in the light of his autobiographies,” which appeared in Memoirs and History (2012). I was mesmerized–and dismayed–by what I read. How could I have been so misled by this man? Both Peter and I had considered him a friend. But what is more important, how could he mislead a whole country?

The material I received covers Király’s career from 1912, when he was born, to 1956. During this period Hungary had a turbulent history. It seems that Király was the epitome of the survivor. His career was studded with betrayal and deceit. And yet, it is difficult to be a successful liar, especially if you live your life in the limelight and feel compelled to write and rewrite your life story. What Peter Pastor did was to compare his many published autobiographical writings and interviews and test them against what we know to be verifiable historical facts.

One must admire Király’s miraculously smooth move, within a few months, from being a faithful follower of the Hungarist/Nazi Ferenc Szálasi to being a secret communist party member in the military political department of the ministry of defense. When I call him a Szálasi loyalist I don’t use the term lightly. In January 1945 he received the high decoration of the military cross of the order of merit (Magyar Érdemrend Tiszti Keresztje). By that time Szálasi and his fellow Nazis, including Király, had moved to Kőszeg on the Austro-Hungarian border. Two months later, in March 1945, he was inducted into the Vitézi Rend, which became infamous recently because of Sebastian Gorka’s membership in the order. Keep in mind that by March 1945 Budapest was occupied by Soviet troops and that the war in Europe was rapidly coming to an end.

It was during his time in Kőszeg that Király began plotting his political survival; it was there that he decided to desert and go over to the Soviets. Of course, in his several descriptions, he greatly embellished his role in the events that took place there. Almost everything he wrote about the taking of Kőszeg by the Soviets was an outright lie. He was not the leader of the brigade defending the city, and he didn’t save Kőszeg from bombardment. Moreover, what he neglected to tell was that he stole the military vehicle of his superior officer and drove over to the Soviets, taking with him the documents of the military command.

Anyone who is familiar with the history of the post-war years cannot help but wonder how it was possible for Király to become a full-fledged member of the communist party. My very first thought was: “But there were the ‘denazification commissions.’ How did he manage to pass?” Well, there is an explanation. At this time the so-called people’s courts were investigating cases of war crimes, and one of the many hundreds of people under investigation was Károly Beregfy, minister of defense in the Szálasi government. The prosecution needed more evidence against Beregfy when “unexpected help came.” As Pál Kornis, former party secretary of the military political department of the ministry of defense at the time, reports in a book titled I appear as a witness, published in 1988, “a civilian showed up from Kaposvár who was a direct subordinate of Beregfy and was ready to give information on Beregfy’s activities as minister of defense. Béla Király was an impressive, good-looking and a very well-prepared officer. It was with his assistance that we managed to close the case of Károly Beregfy.” Beregfy was condemned to death in March 1946. As Kornis puts it, Király “managed this way to get a transfer ticket to the new army.”

Király in his memoirs written in 1981 and 1986, i.e. before the appearance of Kornis’s book, maintained that it was Beregfy’s defense that called him as a witness. However, after 1988 he had to have an explanation for Kornis’s allegations. In the 2004 version of his life he admitted that he had been interrogated by Kornis on October 23, 1945 but adds that the information he provided was not substantial enough to call him to the witness stand. A little more than a month later, on December 2, 1945, Király sailed through the investigation by the ministry’s denazification commission.

To be continued

August 27, 2017

Russian military intelligence and the Hungarian National Front

I’d wager to say that not too many people are familiar with a far-right paramilitary organization called Magyar Nemzeti Arcvonal (Hungarian National Front or MNA), although it is perhaps the most important group of its kind today. It espouses the tenets of Hungarism, the brainchild of Ferenc Szálasi, leader of the Arrowcross party which, in the late 1930s, had, for a short while, one million followers. The current leader of MNA, István Györkös, who just killed a Hungarian policeman, is the anointed successor of Szálasi.

Szálasi was captured in Germany by the Americans and was sent back to Hungary, where he was executed in 1946. While still in Germany, he passed his mantle to Árpád Henney, a military officer who was a member of his cabinet. Henney served as head of the Hungarist movement abroad until his death in 1980, when he appointed Imre Tatár, a former member of the Koronatanács (Crown Council). Tatár was singularly unsuccessful in holding together the warring Hungarists. He went to Hungary in 1989, hoping to revive the movement on Hungarian soil. It was here that he found István Györkös.

Despite the fact that a whole institute was created to study extremist organizations in Hungary, we still know relatively little about the 76-year-old Györkös. It seems that he was arrested and jailed after the 1956 revolution. In jail he became acquainted with the Hungarist movement through former leaders of the Arrowcross party who were serving time. Until about ten years ago he lived in Győr. He then moved to Bőny, a small village about 20 km from the city. This is where he killed one of the two policemen who came looking for illegal weapons. In the shoot-out he was injured.

Györkös had to be well known to the Hungarian authorities. He was arrested several times in the last 25 years. At one point he even received a suspended jail sentence. The Hungarian police force and the national security establishment had to know that every year Györkös and his group hold a military camp for youngsters in a secluded area, apparently owned by Györkös himself. It is enough to look at a list of their activities between January 2012 and June 2014 compiled by the now defunct Athena Institute. They also had to know that the man might be dangerous. To send two lightly armed policemen against somebody who, as it turned out, was waiting for them with a machine gun shows recklessness on the part of the Hungarian national security forces.

István Györkös in his usual attire

István Györkös in his usual attire

Several small extremist groups are active in Hungary, but MNA is unique in that it has extensive ties with Russian military intelligence. I dealt with this extremist group only once, in September 2014. It was in connection with a lesser-known right-wing portal called Hídfő (Bridgehead), which broke the story that Hungary was secretly supplying tanks to the Ukrainian army. Soon enough the Russian foreign ministry published an official statement stating that “weapons supplied to Ukraine by the EU-member countries … violate legally binding obligations—the Arms Trade Treaty.” The Russian foreign ministry was well-informed on the details: “Hungary’s Defense Ministry is supplying Ukraine with armored vehicles, including T-72 tanks, through a ‘proxy agency.’” It turned out that Hídfő was the official website of Magyar Nemzeti Arcvonal. For some time it has served as a vehicle of Russian disinformation, a growing concern in Europe and elsewhere. In fact, by now, at least according to national security officials, Hídfő is entirely under Russian direction, either directly or indirectly. The best summary of the history of MNA and its activities can be found in an investigative piece written by András Dezső and Veronika Munk of Index.

The news site also published an article by András Dezső and Szabolcs Panyi which claims that officials of the Russian military intelligence, Glavnoe Razvedivatelnoe Upravlenie or GRU, established contact with MNA and other right-wing groups in the last few years. Apparently Russian diplomats often come in contact with these extremists at shows of military relics. According to information received by Index, the youngsters recruited by Györkös often play airsoft, which is similar to paintball. The weapons they use look and feel real, so real that they are used for military training. Apparently Russian diplomats have been attending some of these games. As for Hídfő, by now it carries practically no news on MNA but only serves Russian political interests.

Index also reported back in February 2015 that the reason for a split between the Hungarist groups was Györkös’s overly friendly relations with Gyula Thürmer’s Munkáspárt (Labor party; actually the tiny Hungarian Communist party), something that Thürmer didn’t want to talk about. But at least one photo exists showing that already in 2012 the Communist party and Györkös were on a common platform. I may add here that Gyula Thürmer’s son, who calls himself Gyula T. Máthé, is one of the important columnists at Magyar Hírlap. Here is his latest. What grows together belongs together, as the Hungarian saying goes.

And let’s return to the village of Bőny. HVG’s reporter visited the village and asked inhabitants their opinion of Györkös and what was going on in their village. They didn’t know the head of MNA well because he wasn’t the outgoing type, they said, but he looked “normal and respectful.” The military camps he organized for youngsters didn’t bother them. Since it was forbidden to drink in the camp, there were no signs of drunken marching militarists. According to one woman, “they were 20-25 years old and behaved very well. They looked like young commandos.”

A reporter from the pro-government Magyar Idők also paid a visit to Bőny. He gained an entirely different impression of the mood of the inhabitants, who are “relieved” because they have been “living in dread.” His informants agreed that Györkös was unsociable, so “everybody thought he was strange and many were afraid of him.” Everybody knew that he had guns. Apparently one could occasionally hear gunshots coming from his place. Magyar Ik’s reporter learned from a woman living in the village that several times a year Györkös organized military camps, which on occasion several hundred extremists attended. Their presence raised fear in the locals. But if that was the case, how is it possible that no one went to the police to report that Györkös had illegal weapons and that the youngsters carried flags with forbidden symbols?

Origo, which in the last few months has become just another mouthpiece of the government, published an article about MNA with the title: “Magyar Nemzeti Arcvonal: Several ties to Jobbik.” The title is misleading. There is no question that Jobbik had connections to some of the extremist groups, but MNA was not among them. I guess Fidesz wants to drown out all the information that is coming from independent sources about the connection between Putin’s Russia and István Györkös’s MNA.

October 27, 2016

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

The Hungarian far right today and in the 1930s

Not much of any political relevance happens over weekends in general but on a long weekend, as Easter is in Hungary, politics takes a real holiday. Today’s highlight was the resurrection of Hungarian football and the “great game” at Felcsút, with 4,500 fans in attendance. Ferenc Puskás Academy went up against Real Madrid’s football academy; both teams were made up of seventeen-year-olds. The final score was Real Madrid 1, Puskás Academy 0. At least it wasn’t a rout. Earlier Real Madrid beat Melbourne 10-1.

I’m taking advantage of the holiday to take a historical trip back to Hungary in the 1930s. Not that these were happier times. On the contrary, then just as now the Hungarian extreme right made considerable gains. One often hears from Horthy apologists that the governor and his conservative governments were just as hard on the extreme right as they were on the extreme left, i.e. the communists. This wasn’t the case. Politicians of the Horthy era were much more zealous when it came to the few hundred illegal communist party members than they were with representatives of the extreme right. Horthy and his friends had a blind spot when it came to the extreme right even though by all measures they were the ones who posed  a much greater threat to the regime than the weak and ineffectual communists did. Yet men like Mátyás Rákosi or Zoltán Vas received very long prison sentences while extremists on the right were rarely jailed. The longest sentence ever handed down for a right-wing extremist was three years, in the case of Ferenc Szálasi. Zoltán Vas, on the other hand, spent sixteen years in the infamous jail of Szeged.

Why did the interwar regime wage a half-hearted battle against the extreme right? Certainly not because government politicians found their racist ideas abhorrent. After all, more often than not they shared these people’s anti-Semitism. They found nothing wrong with nationalism; on the contrary, they pursued an openly revisionist foreign policy. What they found unacceptable was the socialism in “national socialism.” Official Hungary considered these men “revolutionaries” who wanted to turn the existing order upside down. Mátyás Matolcsy, a talented economist of extreme right views who died in jail after the war, didn’t mince words: “we must give up the idea of the sanctity of private property,” and “everybody can dispose of their property only so long as it does not infringe upon the universal interest of the nation.”  The Arrow Cross party program called for the introduction of  the Soviet system of a centrally organized planned economy. Their program also included total state control of the banking system. While Matolcsy wanted to expropriate only Jewish property, the Arrow Cross party was more  “egalitarian.” They would have taken away, for example, all agricultural lands from large landowners, including lands owned by the Hungarian Catholic Church. In 1938 the Arrow Cross party published a pamphlet on the fundamental principles and beliefs of the movement, which was intended to serve the needs of the swelling numbers of followers. In it the author explained that the party wants to exchange the liberal capitalist regime for a “collective economy.” So, it’s no wonder that contemporaries labeled the Arrow Cross leaders Bolshevik revolutionaries who presented a danger to the existing order.

Krisztián Ungváry in his latest book, A Horthy-rendszer mérlege: Diszkrimináció, szociálpolitika és antiszemitizmus  (The Balance Sheet of the Horthy Regime: Discrimination, Social Policy and Anti-Semitism in Hungary), quotes from a speech by the legitimist (opposition) Hugó Payr who visited a slum area full of unemployed workers. One of them said to him, “Sir, we are all Bolsheviks here.” When Payr inquired whether they were followers of  the Arrow Cross movement, the answer was in the affirmative. Payr warned his fellow members of parliament that the middle classes who had been stirred up to embrace anti-Semitic passions didn’t realize that they were in fact helping to establish a new proletarian dictatorship. He invited them to accompany him to working class neighborhoods where “people already talk about which apartments they will requisition or rob.”

I think that while we are grappling with the growing influence of the neo-Nazis in today’s Hungary we should keep in mind what transpired in Hungary in the 1930s. There the result of the economic crisis was not the growth of the Hungarian Social Democratic Party but the incredible spread of the ideas of national socialism’s local version, the Hungarism of Ferenc Szálasi.

Jobbik zaszlo

One has to assume that Viktor Orbán is unhappy about the growth of Jobbik because it may become a threat to his own party’s position, as was already seen at the election. If he has any sense, he will turn his attention to the poorest segments of Hungarian society and offer them tangible economic incentives. Until now he competed with Jobbik in the domain of nationalistic humbug, but surely that will not be enough.

The socialists have also neglected the poor and frustrated masses, whose numbers are growing. People talk about four million people under or very close to the poverty line. If one of the two major parties doesn’t take the initiative, Jobbik may triumph.

Moreover, until now the socialists and liberals refused to engage in a dialogue with Jobbik. After all, they are a racist and neo-Nazi group with whom the “better half” of society should refuse to conduct business. But this also meant that there was no public forum in which the ill-conceived ideas of Jobbik politicians could be confronted.

The socialists must pay more attention to Hungary’s poor as well as to the Hungarian extreme right. Those who voted for Jobbik must be convinced that Jobbik’s remedies are no remedies at all. On the contrary, they would mean a total collapse of the Hungarian economy and society. But at the same time the socialists have to offer about half of the citizenry a way out of their present misery.

Viktor Orbán is the real danger, not the Hungarian far right

While commentators in the western media were not at all surprised about Fidesz’s electoral sweep, they were shocked at the substantial growth of the neo-Nazi racist party Jobbik. The original name of the organization was Jobb Magyarországért Mozgalom (Movement for a Better Hungary), which eventually was shortened to Jobbik, meaning “Better.”

Almost all the articles dealing with the election mention that “every fifth Hungarian” voted for an extremist party. Of course, this is not quite accurate because only 62% of the eligible voters actually bothered to vote, and it is a well-known fact that Jobbik followers turn out in high numbers. They even surpass Fidesz sympathizers. Nonetheless, this result must be a disappointment to Viktor Orbán, who has been trying for years to convince the West that his party is the guarantee that Hungary will not fall prey to extremists. After all, he argues, Fidesz is a party of the moderate right-of-center. On the far right are the neo-Nazis and on the left the “communists.” Naturally, with the exception of a very small communist party that hasn’t managed to get into parliament in the last twenty-four years, there are no communists in Hungary, a detail that doesn’t seem to bother the propagandists of Fidesz.

Now Orbán has to face the fact that all his efforts at weakening Jobbik’s base have failed. He thought that if he moved his own party farther and farther to the right he would be able “to steal” the Jobbik sympathizers. He showed Jobbik voters that his own government could satisfy all their demands. In his last termViktor Orbán gave numerous unexpected gifts to Jobbik. This was especially true when it came to media policy and questions of unifying the nation across borders. The rehabilitation of the Horthy regime was also originally a Jobbik demand. Moreover, it is possible that Orbán’s pro-Russian stance was inspired by Jobbik.

Despite Orbán’s best efforts, the 10% growth in Jobbik’s voting base came largely from the ranks of former Fidesz voters. On the last day of the campaign in Debrecen Orbán warned his audience that splitting their votes between Fidesz and some other party would weaken the Fidesz cause. Although he didn’t mention the party by name, it is clear that he was thinking of Jobbik. And indeed, once we have all the numbers I suspect we will find that a fairly large number of Fidesz voters split their votes between Fidesz and Jobbik. They voted for a Fidesz candidate locally but chose to use their second vote for the Jobbik list. In the final tally 100,000 more people voted for Jobbik than four years ago.

Jan-Werner Mueller in his article in The Guardian sees a correlation between the growth of Jobbik and Viktor Orbán’s pro-Russian policy. In order to understand the connection between Jobbik and Orbán’s pro-Russian policy we have to go back a bit. The first time I learned of Jobbik’s infatuation with Putin’s Russia was in 2009 when I read a study on “Russia’s Far-Right Friends.” According to this study, Jobbik’s attachment to Russia became evident for the first time during the Russian-Georgian border dispute. It also turned out that Gábor Vona, Jobbik party chairman, made at least two trips to Moscow even before 2009. Jobbik wanted “to open Hungary to eastern markets and to sell Hungarian products to Russia, China or even Iran instead of the European Union.” Jobbik also wanted to expand Hungary’s nuclear capacity and even then, the authors of the study believe, Jobbik had the Russian Rosatom in mind when it came to the Paks power plant’s expansion. Keep in mind that at this point Viktor Orbán had very different ideas about Russia, which he considered to be a danger to Europe and Hungary. It seems that Jobbik managed to convince him otherwise. He saw the light and more or less copied Jobbik’s ideas on Russo-Hungarian relations.

These moves didn’t slow the growth of Jobbik, just as government policies didn’t help the position of the conservatives vis-à-vis the extreme right in interwar Hungary. Orbán followed a policy of appeasement in dealing with MIÉP, the precursor of Jobbik, during his first government (1998-2002) just as he did in handling Jobbik. Give them what they want and perhaps they will be satisfied with Fidesz rule. That strategy didn’t work in the Horthy era as it doesn’t work now.

Viktor Orbán at the victory celebration, April 7, 2014 /Photo picture alliance/dpa

Viktor Orbán at the victory celebration, April 7, 2014 /Photo dpa

To be fair to Horthy, there’s appeasement (at a distance) and appeasement (embracing). I think we can safely say that Orbán’s ideas are closer to the extreme right today than were those of any of Horthy’s governments. After all, Orbán is a populist while Horthy and his ministers were hard-core conservatives. The leaders of the extreme right in the 1930s held some “revolutionary ideas” when it came to social policy. Many of the party’s ideologues were outright admirers of the Soviet experiment with its planned economy and egalitarian ideology. Szálasi, for example, was well versed in Marxism. For Horthy all that was anathema. It would have been unimaginable for Horthy to allow his government to conduct a pro-Russian/Soviet policy or to get too cozy with Ferenc Szálasi and his friends. On the other hand, Orbán seems quite willing to take over Jobbik’s ideas–their pro-Russian foreign policy as well as their views on modern Hungarian history–and pass them off as his own.

There is a paper thin line between Jobbik and Fidesz. I know that the western media is preoccupied with the growth of Jobbik, but I think everybody would be better off realizing that the real problem is Fidesz and the system Viktor Orbán created. Jobbik will be in opposition, but Viktor Orbán, who often carries the Jobbik banner, has practically unlimited power. He is the much greater danger, not Gábor Vona.

A new name has surfaced in connection with the Roma serial murder case

A startling piece of news appeared yesterday in Népszabadság. A young man with close ties to Fidesz might have been involved in one way or another in the murders of several Roma families which occurred between July 21, 2008 and August 3, 2009. After three years of police investigation and 186 days in court, the case was closed on August 6, 2013, when three men received life imprisonment without parole and a fourth thirteen years without the possibility of early release. No one else was ever charged.

It would take far too long to catalog all the mistakes the police and the medical authorities made during the investigation that resulted in less than complete discovery. It is very possible that in addition to the four sentenced in August others might have been involved. We don’t even know all the pertinent information about the men who were convicted. For instance, one of the culprits had apparently worked for the Katonai Biztonsági Hivatal (Office of Military Security), but the details of his employment were never completely unearthed.

The authorities never managed to discover the source of all the weapons used in these murders. Some were stolen from the collection of a hunter by three of the accused. It was known that there was another person involved in the theft, but the police investigation failed to identify him. In addition to the stolen weapons there were other guns in the three men’s possession whose origin remained a mystery. The investigators knew that the Kiss brothers, István and Árpád, tried to purchase guns in Budapest. It was in connection with this part of the investigation that the name of Omar Ádám Sayfo surfaced.

A document recently found its way to the newsroom of Népszabadság which indicates that Sayfo was, even if not a potential suspect himself, a source of information about one of the men, István Kiss. In his testimony Sayfo told investigators that he had known Kiss for at least ten years and that they had been good friends. Sayfo knew about Kiss’s extremist political views, yet he found him surprisingly open-minded, a man who regretted the swastikas tattooed on his hand and leg. Nonetheless, Kiss was a member of an organization called Véres kard (Bloody Sword), which is a Hungarist organization, i.e. its members are followers of Ferenc Szálasi.

During Sayfo’s interrogation the investigators inquired about his views on firearms. He answered that, like all men, he is interested in them. At the time of his questioning he was thinking about signing up for a course for future hunters. Later Sayfo also testified in court and, when asked whether István Kiss had ever talked to him about acquiring weapons, he answered in the negative.

A parliamentary subcommittee comprised of three politicians, Károly Tóth (MSZP), József Gulyás (SZDSZ, today Együtt14-MP), and Ervin Demeter (Fidesz, former minister in charge of national security in the first Orbán government), had access to the testimony of “O.S.,” but they allegedly paid no attention to the man. Népszava asked Ervin Demeter about Omar Sayfo, since Demeter was a contributor to Magyar Demokrata when Sayfo was one of the paper’s editors. Demeter claims not to have known him. Magyar Demokrata, by the way, is full of anti-Semitic articles, many of them written by Omar Sayfo. The paper’s editor-in-chief is András Bencsik, one of the organizers of the Peace Marches.

Sayfo wore many hats in those days. In addition to being an editor of Magyar Demokrata, he was a Ph.D. candidate at the Péter Pázmány Catholic University, specializing in Arabic literature, culture, and politics. He was also active in Fidelitas, the youth organization of Fidesz. And he often showed up as a “political scientist” on Hír TV. Lately one can see him more often on the truly extremist Echo TV. Not long ago he welcomed Iran’s nuclear capability as a means of “keeping Israel in line.”

The delegation of Fidelitas in Passau, 2009 Omar Sayfo is the first on the left

The delegation of Fidelitas in Passau.
Omar Sayfo is the first on the left

Népszabadság found that in 2009, about the time the investigation of the Roma serial murder case uncovered Sayfo’s connection to István Kiss, he was a member of a Fidelitas delegation to Passau to attend the yearly regional congress of Bavarian parties. After Fidesz won the election, he became a civil servant for a while. He was attached to the foreign economics unit of the Ministry of National Economy in 2011. His stay there was short. Within a year the ministry no longer needed his services. The cause of his dismissal, if it was a dismissal, is not known.

One should spend time analyzing Sayfo’s articles in order to paint a richer portrait of the man, but Népszabadság came up with one rather telling quotation. “Those who belong to the dregs of society (literally “mass of lumpen proletarians,” coming from the German Lumpen meaning rags) with free beer and frankfurters in their stomach will take revenge on the government of law and order at election time. No government has dared to touch this issue. In the  last twenty years the democratic institutions have become in part the dictatorship of the parasitic masses in which the lumpen, criminal strata of society will punish not only the decision makers but also the majority of society that would like to live in a country of law and order. One must put an end to this in the interest of both parties.” Perhaps it would have been wise to investigate Sayfo’s background and his close friendship with István Kiss, after all.

I think that an article from 2010 that appeared in 168 Óra and to which “Mutt” called attention on Facebook might have some relevance here. It is a description of a speech by László Kövér, currently the president of the Hungarian parliament, delivered in Jászszentandrás on January 27, 2010. Here is what Kövér had to say. “Of course, in a democracy everybody has voting rights…. In a democracy unfortunately or not, depending on one’s inclination, this is the case. … Of course, everybody should have the right to vote, but they should be able to sell their vote to the state.” According to him, the state could purchase votes for the amount of the prevailing minimum wage. Everybody would do well: the dregs would get money and “we would get rid of those who vote differently.” Crazy yes, but Kövér’s and Sayfo’s ideas are practically identical.

But what about the exclusion of these lumpen elements? Surely, depriving certain people of voting rights is out of the question. Kövér’s idea is outright bizarre, but what about buying these people’s votes in a different way? Viktor Orbán tried to deter them from voting by introducing a system of registration. When that caused alarm both inside and outside of the country, he abandoned the idea. But purchasing votes is not far from the Fidesz leaders’ mind. Sure, they cannot do it officially, but as the Baja by-election demonstrated, it can be done unofficially and with the desired result.

It is unlikely that the investigation into the Roma serial murders will be reopened. For one thing, I don’t think the current government would be interested in the prospect of finding more people with Fidesz ties too close to the case. Because, as is clear from the career of Omar Sayfo, it is almost impossible to say where Fidesz ends and Jobbik begins.

P.S. After the release of the article, Omar Sayfo sued Népszabadság for false statement of facts, misrepresentation of facts, and violation of reputation. On the 7th of April 2016, the final judgment of the Budapest-Capital Regional Court ruled that Népszabadság violated Omar Sayfo’s reputation by a series of false claims, including connecting him to the acquisition of weapons by the secondary defendant. According to the ruling, Népszabadság had to remove the harmful articles and pay a compensation to Omar Sayfo. The decision of the Court was based on a review of the classified national security report Népszabadság claimed to use as a source of its article. Furthermore, Népszabadság was not able to present its case to the Court, that any articles written by Omar Sayfo could be regarded as anti-Semitic.

Jobbik is not a neo-Nazi party. At least not according to a Hungarian judge

First, before I recount the encounter of László Karsai with Jobbik, I should perhaps refresh your memory of the man. He is best  known as a historian of the Hungarian Holocaust, but his field of competence is much broader. He even wrote a book about the nationality question in France and another on the Flemish and the Walloons in Belgium. He studied the question of the Hungarian Gypsies between 1919 and 1945. If  readers of Hungarian Spectrum know his name it may be because I wrote about a controversy that erupted as a result of his refusal to attend a conference in Norway on Raoul Wallenberg. Karsai was one of the invited guests, but he backed out after he learned that Géza Jeszenszky, Hungarian ambassador to Norway, was one of the sponsors. Géza Jeszenszky wrote a university textbook on national minorities in East-Central Europe, and his chapter on the Gypsies was full of inaccuracies and reeked of prejudice.

Karsai can be controversial. For example, at the moment he is working on a biography of Ferenc Szálasi, the founder of the extreme right-wing Arrow Cross party. He discovered a number of new documents that prove that the generally accepted scholarly opinion of Szálasi might not be accurate. Especially with respect to Szálasi’s views on the Hungarian Jewry. On the other hand, he is convinced that Miklós Horthy knew more about the death camps than he later claimed. So, he does what a good historian should do: he tries to seek the truth even if it might not please some people.

As I noted earlier (more or less in passing), László Karsai is once again in the limelight. This time Jobbik sued him because in December 2011 Karsai called it a neo-Nazi party. He made the statement in the course of an interview on ATV’s early morning program called “Start.”

Jobbik’s leadership took its sweet time before deciding to make a court case out of the “incident.” It took Jobbik half a year to discover that its good reputation had been damaged by Karsai, but then they demanded satisfaction. One reason for the delay may have been that Karsai uttered his half a sentence on Jobbik’s ideological makeup in the course of discussing the emerging Horthy cult. The discussion wasn’t so much about Jobbik as about Jobbik’s attitude toward the Horthy regime.

Jobbik sought a verdict that would find that the party’s reputation had been impinged upon by Karsai; moreover, they demanded an apology from the historian. Karsai’s lawyer, on the other hand, argued that the nature of a party’s ideology is not a question that can be decided by court proceedings. It belongs to the free flow of scholarly debate within the historical community.

Jobbik tuntetok

Jobbik categorically denies that it is a Nazi or neo-Nazi party although there is extensive proof that the leading members of the party made no effort to hide their racism and anti-Semitism. Some of the organizations Jobbik has strategic alliances with proudly call themselves national socialists. Kuruc.info, which may be Jobbik’s publication, often talks about Adolf Hitler in laudatory terms.

The real question, however, is not whether Jobbik is a neo-Nazi party but whether this historical question can be debated publicly and whether judges are the ones who should decide this issue.

The historical community itself is divided on the question. Rudolf Paksa, a historian who wrote a book on the history of the Hungarian extreme right, claims that “Jobbik is definitely not a neo-Nazi party in the scientific sense. It is anti-Semitic, racist, homophobic and chauvinistic, but all these together still do not make it a neo-Nazi party. After all, there are no indications that Jobbik wants to establish a totalitarian dictatorship, which is an absolutely essential characteristic of national socialism.” At the same time Paksa found it outrageous that Jobbik wanted to decide the issue in a court of law. Paksa testified back in January that he hoped the judge would respect the freedom of expression and opinion.

After hearing the arguments, the judge decided to postpone the decision. It wasn’t until March 22, 2013 that the verdict was handed down by Péter Attila Takács, the presiding judge. According to Takács, Karsai besmirched the good name and reputation of Jobbik by calling it a neo-Nazi party. Karsai will have to pay 66,000 forints in court costs and within fifteen days he will have to apologize in writing, an apology that Jobbik may make public.

Why did Takács rule this way? The rationale for the verdict is, to my mind, peculiar to say the least. The problem, Takács wrote, is that the characterization of the party by Karsai didn’t take place as part of a scholarly discussion about the ideological makeup of Jobbik but in the context of the developing rehabilitation of the Horthy regime. Therefore it cannot be considered part of a scientific exchange.

Since then the verdict has become available in Beszélő (March 26, 2013) and I read with some interest that the judge, among other things, forbids László Karsai “from further infringement of the law.” How can one interpret this? Does it mean that in the future he cannot call Jobbik a neo-Nazi party if the conversation is not about Jobbik itself? Or that in certain circumstances he can label it as such without breaking the law? It’s hard to tell.

The important thing is that the judge found Jobbik’s arguments well founded and cited two paragraphs of the 1989 Constitution that was in force at the time of the incident. Paragraph 59(1) stipulates that “in the Republic of Hungary everyone is entitled to the protection of his or her reputation and to privacy, including the privacy of the home, of personal effects, particulars, papers, records and data, and to the privacy of personal affairs and secrets.” In addition, the judge cited paragraph 61(1)  that states that “in the Republic of Hungary everyone has the right to the free declaration of his views and opinions, and has the right of access to information of public interest, and also the freedom to disseminate such information.” I find the second line of reasoning truly outrageous. Jobbik has the right to the free declaration of its views and opinions but not László Karsai. Absolutely brilliant.

Naturally, László Karsai is appealing the verdict. Reading it, I had the feeling that Judge Takács might not have been the most impartial judge. Here are a couple of telling details from the verdict. Jobbik’s history is described in the most benign terms as a youth movement whose goal was “to unite young people committed to the national ideal.” “Well known people supported them: Mária Wittner, Gergely P0ngrácz, Gy. László Tóth, István Lovas, Mátyás Usztics.”  The judge forgot to mention that these well known personalities all belong to the extreme right. Jobbik wanted to offer “an alternative for radical right-wing voters.” Jobbik’s parliamentary caucus is the second largest after Fidesz-KDNP, and they have representation in the European Parliament. So, there is nothing wrong with it, I guess. This decision is a boost to Jobbik and the extreme right.

I might also mention that unfortunately Hungarian courts do not subscribe to the tenets of case law. If the judge had followed precedent, Karsai should have been exonerated because in 2010 Gábor Vona sued László Bartus, editor-in-chief of the Amerikai-Magyar Népszava published in New York. Bartus called Jobbik “a rotten, fascist, Nazi” party. The court dropped the case against Bartus, claiming that the editor simply exercised his right to free expression. The vagaries of Hungarian jurisprudence. It will always remain a mystery to me.