Tag Archives: hungarian history

Hungary and gender equality: An abysmal record

Ignác Romsics, a historian best known for his work on the twentieth century, is a prolific writer who just published an ambitious book, a one-volume history of Hungary. Romsics has been making the rounds to publicize his book. During one of his interviews, he was asked about “the guiding principle of the Hungarian nation” in history. Is there some kind of “inevitability” to its fate? Romsics, without making any reference to politics or specifically mentioning Viktor Orbán’s name, had some harsh words to say about the romantic notion that the guiding principle of the Hungarian people is its “longing for freedom.” In Romsics’s view, “if there is such a thing as a guiding principle, Hungary in the last 1,000 years has been trying to follow the modernization efforts of Western Europe. Our gaze was always on the West; both our revolutionaries and our consolidators have followed European and not Asian models. Both Mihály Károlyi and István Bethlen were guided by this principle…. But despite continuous efforts, we have never managed to catch up with the advanced regions of Europe.” Here Romsics, who is considered to be a conservative historian, goes against everything the Orbán regime stands for. It seems that he, like other conservative thinkers, realize that their place is not on Viktor Orbán’s side.

I recalled this interview, which I read a few days ago, when I looked at another study by the European Commission, this time on gender equality. Two days ago I was decrying the fact that Hungary, in almost all comparative polls, ranks worst or close to worst among the 28 member states. It is depressing always to see Hungary among the same three or four East European countries, whether the issue is healthcare or the performance of 15-year-olds on PISA tests. Or, as we will find out, when it comes to the position of women and the societal attitude towards them.

A couple of years ago 444.hu got hold of a recording of an informal conversation between Viktor Orbán and university students at his old dormitory. A female student inquired why there weren’t more women in Hungarian politics. Orbán replied that, yes, some people claim that “women should be given more opportunity in political life,” but, according to him, Hungarian politics is built on “continual character assassination,” which creates the kinds of brutal situations that “women cannot endure.” Perhaps they could be used in diplomacy. An ambassadorship might be a safe place for a woman, but being a “mayor in a town that is a county seat is a soldier-like political task for a woman.” Of course, within Fidesz it is Viktor Orbán who decides which women are strong enough to be politicians since he approves all appointments within the party. Mighty few  qualify.

Gender Equality 2017 is a survey that was undertaken at the behest of the European Commission. It was published a few days ago. As everyone knows, the West is a great deal more progressive than the East. But even within Eastern Europe Hungary stands out as an extremely conservative country with societal outlooks stuck at the end of the nineteenth century. This is especially strange after forty years of socialism, when women were brought into every field of the working world. For instance, in the 1950s Hungary was way ahead of the United States, where women were largely excluded from such professions as medicine, law, and engineering.

The traditionalist, deeply conservative view of Hungarian society is  demonstrated by Hungarians’ answer to the following statement: “The most important role of a woman is to take care of her home and family.” Respondents had the option of either agreeing or disagreeing with this assertion. Bulgaria leads the way with 81% agreeing, but, don’t fear, Hungary is right behind at 79%. And 79% of Hungarians believe that “the most important role of a man is to earn money.” Given such an attitude, we shouldn’t be surprised that an overwhelming majority of Hungarians (87%) believe that “women are more likely than men to make decisions based on their emotions.” The EU average score is 69%.

The survey included two statements on women and politics. The first was about women’s interest in acquiring positions of responsibility in politics. The majority of Hungarians (57%) believe that women are simply not interested in politics. The EU average is 34%. The situation was even worse when Hungarians confronted the statement “Women do not have the necessary qualities and skills to fill positions of responsibility in politics.” Forty-one percent of Hungarians believe that women are simply unfit to fill political roles. Well, you could say, that’s not so bad. At least it’s better than 79% thinking that the most important role of a woman is taking care of the home and children. Yes, but Hungary, along with Romania, heads that list. Just to illustrate the seriousness of the situation,  only 20% of Poles and Slovenians are as backward as Hungarians. Sorry, but I consider that true backwardness.

Political analysts like to portray Viktor Orbán as the political genius who keeps his finger on the pulse of the nation. He knows “Kádár’s folks,” the saying goes, but I think it would be more accurate to say that he is one of them. It is unlikely that he keeps women away from power because he considers it to be politically advantageous. No, he does it instinctively because he truly believes that they are neither fit for nor interested in politics.

Strangely, when Hungarians were faced with the statement “Politics is dominated by men who do not have sufficient confidence in women,” 82% of them agreed, the highest score among all member states. Hungarians, when it comes to women and politics, seem to have a somewhat schizophrenic attitude to the whole question. On the one hand, women should stay at home and take care of the family and, on the other, the men who are in charge of their affairs don’t really represent their interests. The majority (61%) of Hungarians realize that “political gender equality has not been achieved” in their country.

With a political leadership that not only wouldn’t reflect and exploit present prejudices but would try to bring the country more in line with the West, toward which Hungary has allegedly been striving for a thousand years, the abysmal standing of Hungary on the issue of gender equality could be shaped over time to conform at least to the European Union average.

November 27, 2017

Jobbik’s program: A tragic future would await Hungary

The growth of Jobbik, considered by many to be a neo-Nazi party, has been quite successful at attracting disappointed Fidesz voters, a fact that at last frightened the government party to the point that it reconsidered its attitude toward Jobbik. Initially, Jobbik became a political factor for two reasons: its fierce anti-Roma attitude and its anti-Semitism. But the party leaders would now like to shed Jobbik’s well-deserved anti-Semitic label. The success of the party over the last six or seven years has emboldened the party leaders into thinking of a large party appealing to all segments of society. And such an ambition cannot be achieved as long as it spews racist messages against Gypsies and Jews.

Although Jobbik did well at the 2010 national election, receiving 16.67% of the votes, Fidesz didn’t seem to be concerned. The reason for the government party’s benevolent attitude toward the party to its right was that Fidesz and Jobbik shared several key ideological tenets and goals. Jobbik politicians proudly announce to this day that they, unlike the leaders of Fidesz, dare to say out loud what others only whisper. However, as time went by, especially once Jobbik started to shed its radical garb and began attracting former Fidesz voters, party strategists began to think about the most effective weapon to use against their rival on the right.

According to information received by Index, Fidesz is somewhat reluctant to turn against Jobbik with full force because its strategists worry about such a plan backfiring. Let’s say that both the democratic opposition and Fidesz attack Jobbik at the same time. It could easily happen that the party’s followers, especially the younger ones, might feel like soldiers trapped in a besieged fort, resulting in a strengthened Jobbik. Apparently, there is another consideration that makes the government party reluctant to criticize Jobbik with too much fervor. A media blitz against the neo-Nazis could prompt a comparison of the two right-wing parties, and this is something Fidesz wants to avoid. After all, they have many features in common. If the information coming from Fidesz strategists is correct, we will not see a Jobbik-Fidesz struggle anytime soon.

Given the widespread anti-Roma prejudice and anti-Semitism in Hungary, concentrating on these issues, however justified, might not be the most effective weapon against Jobbik. Foreign newspaper articles dealing with Jobbik normally concentrate on the party’s racism but domestically, I believe, another strategy should be employed. Critics should go back to the party’s official program and begin a serious discussion of its possible repercussions if it were implemented. Jobbik’s party program is 82 pages long. So it would deserve a more serious analysis than vs.hu provided a few days ago, but their article was certainly a good beginning.

Jobbik’s program is very detailed, though it omits two key ingredients: “how and more importantly from what” it can be accomplished. Let’s start with the latter. The Költségvetési Felelősség Intézet and Transparency International took a look at all of the 2014 party programs and estimated the cost of their proposals. Jobbik’s “dreams” would cost, just in 2015, 2,432 billion forints more than the current budget figures. By 2017 the projected deficit would be 11-12%. Ranked by cost of party promises Jobbik was followed–in descending order–by MSZP, LMP, Együtt-PM, and DK. Fidesz had no program.

The cost of the different programs presented by the opposition parties in 2014

The cost of the programs presented by the opposition parties in 2014

Let’s assume that Jobbik actually wins the election in 2018. What kind of a country would they create?

By the time a Jobbik government finished with its plans to make the country safer, Hungary would be a “police state.” They would introduce a gendarmerie in addition to the present police force; there would be a separate force of border guards; a guard for the government; a civic patrolling force; and the National Guard, now banned, would be resurrected. Ethnic identification of offenders would be reintroduced, and sex offenders would undergo “chemical castration.”

Social policy and healthcare don’t receive much attention, but as far as state support of families is concerned, there would be a distinction between “deserving” and “undeserving” citizens. Under the healthcare heading we read the following strange sentence: “The Hungarian nation is not sick, it was just made sick.” Otherwise, Jobbik demands that a lot more money be spent on healthcare, a desire many people share.

Then comes education. The party would completely rewrite history so “every child would learn the true history of our homeland.” They would expunge the teaching of the Finno-Ugric origins of the Hungarian language, a theory that, according to them, was “forced on the nation by the House of Habsburgs.” Instead, Hungarian children would learn about “the heritage of Hunor and Magor,” i.e. the bogus ethnic relationship between the Huns and the Hungarians. Roma children would attend “special classes” and would be forced into boarding schools where they could learn the meaning of work.

As for foreign policy, Jobbik doesn’t want to leave the European Union right now, but Vona doesn’t rule out the possibility in the long run. When it comes to NATO, however, they would lead Hungary out of the alliance immediately and would seek neutrality. A Jobbik government would take the “Eastern opening” more seriously. They would build especially close relationships with Arab countries, Iran, and Africa and would try to create a Polish-Hungarian-Croatian axis to counterbalance western political influence. These foreign policy plans are not very different from those of Fidesz. Viktor Orbán in 2009 and 2010 also imagined such an axis until it became clear that the countries he counted on were simply not interested. Since then, the formation of such an axis has become even more remote than it was five years ago. Naturally, Jobbik would spend more money on defense, but the party program wisely avoids talking about compulsory military service.

I can’t go into the details of Jobbik’s plans for the economy, which are described in the party program as the “seven fundamental principles.” The seven principles (hét vezérelv) are intended to call to mind the seven chieftains who led the Hungarians into the Carpathian basin. After reading these plans, Tamás Mellár, a conservative economist and head of the Central Statistical Office during the first Orbán government, described their most likely effect as “a tragic future.” Jobbik’s plans include refusing to repay Hungary’s national debt, which according to Mellár would mean that “we would have to lock up the country and Hungarians could visit Vienna only once every three years to buy smart phones and smart watches.”

In addition to making people understand that the Jobbik program leads nowhere except “even further to south and east than we are now,” as  Péter Ákos Bod, another conservative economist who was the head of the Hungarian National Bank under the administration of József Antall, said, those who would like to loosen Jobbik’s grip on certain segments of the population should also emphasize that beneath the new  “moderate” veneer the same racist, neo-Nazi party is alive and well. As one of the most radical Jobbik members of parliament, Előd Novák, said, “the content is still radical but the style is considerably more moderate.”

Viktor Orbán on freedom and independence

I just heard a law professor who specializes in international law say that he has given up trying to figure out what Viktor Orbán’s speeches are all about. A newspaperman who deals with foreign policy called Viktor Orbán’s earlier speech to Hungarian ambassadors “incoherent.” Therefore, at first I thought that I wouldn’t even attempt to decipher the speech he addressed to his followers yesterday on the steps of the National Museum to mark the 167th anniversary of the outbreak of the 1848 revolution. I changed my mind, however, after I decided not only to read the text but also to watch it on ATV.

Although it might be true that there were fewer people present than in earlier years, the reception was surprisingly enthusiastic. I couldn’t help but compare it to the muted reaction of the invited guests at Viktor Orbán’s “state of the nation” speech a month ago. The difference was so marked that I thought it would be worth taking a look at possible reasons for this difference. Of course, we are talking about two very different kinds of audiences. Invited upper-middle class guests versus the people who most likely go to all the Fidesz rallies. Yet I was not convinced that it was the audience alone that made the difference. So, I began taking note of when the applause was especially fervent. It was when Viktor Orbán talked about Hungarian exceptionalism and the greatness of the nation.

There were enough admirers in front of the National Museum

Admirers in front of the National Museum

Although even some commentators close to Fidesz expressed their hope that, after last year’s national election, the government would introduce a more tranquil period in the political life of the country, it looks as if the people in front of the National Museum enthusiastically support the kind of belligerence Viktor Orbán is known for. From their reaction I would say that Orbán is on the right track. The only question is how representative these few thousand people are of the core voters who are needed for Fidesz to remain in power even after 2018.

Viktor Orbán found the key to the heart of his followers: unbridled nationalism in defense of a country under threat from the outside.

Of course, national holidays, especially March 15th, are perfect venues for Orbán’s nationalist, historically inaccurate harangues. The theme of this speech was the country’s special relationship to “freedom and independence.” For Orbán these two concepts have been part and parcel of the country’s 1,100-year history. It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about Stephen I, István Széchenyi, or István Tisza. Never mind that Széchenyi considered the declaration of independence from Austria in 1849 suicidal or that Tisza, very wisely, would never have considered an independent Hungary an option since he knew only too well that independence and territorial integrity were mutually incompatible.

There are some dangerous ideas in this speech. What I found most frightening was that “everything, the constitution, the law codes, the parliament, the government, the national economy, serve only the goal of independence.” The emphasis is not on the rule of law and legal and economic structures, but on the nation. And, he added, “we should never forget that what is the most valuable in the Hungarians is what differentiates [them] from others.” If Hungarians were just like the others, “the world wouldn’t need us.” What an awful thought: the subordination of the individual to a national community. And, he added, if we were not different from others, “on what basis could we ask for the help of God against our enemies?”

With this introduction of the idea of external enemies, he moved on to the defense of the country situated among “nations larger than us.” The goal is the creation of a “free Hungarian world” which is “the basis of our existence.” According to Orbán, every Hungarian knows that “we cannot be free as individuals unless the whole nation is free.” Another dangerous idea and totally false. Individual freedom has nothing to do with the independence of the country. On the other hand, individual freedom can be curtailed by petty tyrants like Viktor Orbán himself. He and his coterie are the threats to individual freedom, not the external enemies he created out of thin air.

I will not spend time on his incoherent summary of Hungary’s 19th and 20th century history, but I would like to call attention to something I find politically important. The appropriate passage starts with the claim that although 167 years went by and the world has changed a lot–for example, democracy was introduced with its “complicated domestic and international rules,” as far as Hungary’s struggle for independence is concerned nothing has changed. Hungarians have always wanted “a place of their own.” Always wanted independence even “after the Compromise of 1867 when they built a country and a capital that the whole world admired. And this is what [they] wanted even after the loss of the country (országvesztés) and when they were looking for ways to regain it during the foggy grayness of socialism.”

Well, let’s parse these sentences. In reality, in 1848-1849 it became obvious that multinational Hungary could not be maintained without an understanding with the Habsburg ruler of the Austrian Empire. The rapid economic development that started already in the 1850s was achieved mainly by the influx of Austrian capital. The golden age of modern Hungary came at a time when Hungary had home rule but not total independence. The long dreamed-of independence came in 1918-1919, but for that independence Hungarians paid a high price. Yet, it looks as if Orbán would include the Horthy era in those years when the government fulfilled its true obligation of defending the independence of the nation. All in all, putting independence at the core of national existence cannot be supported by Hungarian history. In fact, if anything, the opposite was true during the golden age of modern Hungarian history between 1867 and 1914. Even today, if Hungary were not part of the European Union, its economic situation would most likely be even more dire than it is.

The audience was especially elated when Orbán explained to them that “Hungary was always the flagship of freedom and democracy in the western world” and, with a clear reference to the United States, said that “the people of Petőfi and Kossuth can only smile when somebody tries to instruct them about freedom and democracy.”

After exhibiting his ignorance of the country’s history and offering a hodgepodge of erroneous facts, Orbán announced: “if you want to know your future, thoroughly learn your past.” Well, I’m not sure how precisely the past is prologue, but let Orbán solve that problem. His claim, however, that “we Hungarians came to know the labyrinths of the past” is questionable. Most Hungarians are woefully ignorant of the country’s history, and what little they know has been distorted by nationalistic politicians, past and present.

Happy New Year to all the readers of Hungarian Spectrum

happy new year 2015

It was seven and a half years ago that I wrote my first post for Hungarian Spectrum. Since then I have recorded momentous, horrific, uplifting, and occasionally amusing events on these pages. The 2,600 posts that have appeared read like a timeline of recent Hungarian history.

From its modest beginnings the readership of Hungarian Spectrum had been increasing slowly but steadily until this past year when, with Hungary frequently in the headlines, it experienced a growth spurt. A year ago about 1,000 people subscribed. Today we have almost 3,000 subscribers and about the same number of daily non-subscriber visitors.

I want to thank all those people who with their valuable and learned comments have contributed to the reputation of Hungarian Spectrum as a reliable, civilized blog where serious political discussions take place.

And finally, I thank all of you who in recent days expressed your appreciation of my work. Your kind words mean a lot to me.

Goodbye to democracy: An interview with Gáspár Miklós Tamás about Viktor Orbán’s speech

Since there is a debate going on about the art of the translator, I am happy to publish a translation by George Szirtes, Hungarian-born British poet, writer, and translator. He has translated many important Hungarian literary works into English, including such classics as the nineteenth-century verse play of Imre Madách, The Tragedy of Man, and novels of  Gyula Krúdy, Ferenc Karinthy, and Sándor Márai. His last translation, Satantango [Sátántangó in Hungarian] by László Krasznahorkai, received the Best Translated Book Award in 2013.

So, enjoy both the translation and the thoughts of Gáspár Miklós Tamás or, as he signs his publications in English, G. M. Tamás. The interview took place on Egyenes beszéd [Straight talk] on the television station ATV on July 28. The original interview in Hungarian can be seen here. This dramatic interview should help foreign observers realize the seriousness of the situation in Hungary.

Only today two important editorials were published. The New York Times calls on Jean-Claude Juncker to act more forcefully because otherwise “the commission would diminish its credibility.” The Wall Street Journal wrote that the “West’s victory in the Cold War led to a complacency that the liberal idea was triumphant–that it was ‘the end of history,’ in the fashionable phrase of the day…. Western Europe needs to set a better example of what freedom can achieve by reviving economic growth, and the American President who ostensibly still leads the free world ought to break his pattern and speak up on behalf of the liberal idea.” 

I’m grateful to George Szirtes for allowing me to publish his transcription and translation. The text originally appeared on his blog.

* * *

GOODBYE TO DEMOCRACY

‘On Saturday Hungary officially, ceremonially, openly, publicly, said goodbye to democracy.’ 

[My transcript is very close but here and there I have cut a passage for brevity or shaped a phrase in what I believe is a faithful fashion.  In it TGM [TGM here since Hungarian puts the surname first] argues this is the beginning of a very dark chapter in Hungarian history.

I am somewhat amazed that the UK press hasn’t picked up more on the Orbán speech. It is, after all, quite something to declare the end of liberal democracy and to suggest that the prime minister should not be answerable to other state checks and balances. GSz]

one-to-one
Interviewer recounts views of other parties on Viktor Orbán’s speech then turns to Gáspár Tamás Miklós. She asks if there are any points in Orbán’s speech that the opposition and the press have left undiscussed.

TGM replies that this is a speech of extraordinary importance. He credits Orbán with being a highly  intelligent man, a significant historical figure and a charismatic politician, one whose place is assured in Hungarian history. This, he claims, is the proclamation of a new political system, the seeds of which had already been sown. The speech was clear and simple to summarise. 

TGM counts on his fingers and summarises.

TGM:
1. He is building an illiberal state. This is demonstrated by his rewriting of the constitution and by his ending of the separation of powers. He joked about this saying that if there were any attempt to impeach or obstruct him that would mean he wasn’t the leader of the country. In other words he knows what the game is, as do I.

2. His stated his doubts about democracy

3. He announced that the concept of human rights is out of date. That human rights are finished

4. He declared  the country must abandon any notion of social support (or welfare state)

5. He declared that his preferred state models were Singapore, Russia, Turkey and China.

6. He declared that all NGOs working in the cultural or social sphere were foreign agents, traitors paid by alien powers

Gáspár Miklós Tamás

Gáspár Miklós Tamás

Interviewer asks which of these six points was new.

TGM`: Every one of them.

Interviewer doubts that but TGM insists that they are completely new. Was it not just a matter of actually articulating them in a new way? asks the interviewer.  TGM repeats that it was utterly new, in every respect

TGM: Yes there was this kind breast-beating before but that’s not important.

He goes on to Orbán’s idea of the state founded on work, the ‘work state’, the ‘illiberal state’ the ‘populist state’ the ‘national state’ etc.

TGM: This is a complete break with the post-1945 consensus as espoused by what we call the free world, not only with 1945 but with the less-free post-1989 political, social and moral consensus. Its abandonment of social responsibility represents a break with the ideas of freedom, and equality. What does a ‘work-based state mean?  It means a non-social state, a non-welfare state, a state that offers no support or aid – it is a case of arbeit macht frei isn’t it? It means that work is what people do not because they want to but because they have to so that capitalists may prosper, the kind of work the unemployed would be forced to do against which, in a free country, there would be mass demonstrations….

Interviewer returns to her earlier question. ‘But what is new in all this?’ Again TGM replies: everything. The question is what is to come?

TGM: So what is to come? What is new is that this has become a political programme to be enacted by the state. On Saturday Hungary officially, ceremonially, openly, publicly, said goodbye to democracy. The prime minister, the autocratic leader of the country, has declared that he is opposed to civil society. Have you noticed we no longer have a governing party by the way? When was the last time we heard anything of Fidesz as a factor, a genuine player? – all we have recently been hearing is a state apparatus in which not a shred of democratic process remains and when we see the Secretary for Defence using a violent thug [a named army officer from Hungarian history] as a role model for new army recruits we may be certain what kind of violent, thuggish, and repressive state is being promised to us… a state that, since the prime minister’s speech was given in Romania, believes in provocation, [a speech] that did in fact elicit a storm of protest in the Romanian press and many declared that they had had quite enough of Hungary.

So here we have, in this truly terrifying speech, given to his friends and a highly enthusiastic audience, one of the darkest moments in Hungarian history, a moment of darkness provided by Viktor Orbán. Meanwhile everyone goes, ‘oh dear, there he goes again, isn’t that just the kind of thing he tends to say ‘ But that’s not what is happening here. It is time to take Viktor Orbán seriously so that we can take up arms against  him and save Hungary. I don’t despise him, I don’t look down to him. What we have here is an almost fully achieved dictatorship.

In any dictatorship the person of the dictator is important. Viktor Orbán is not going to let power slip from his hands now. All dictatorships depend on the dictator so now we have to concern ourselves with the kind of person Orbán is.

He told us that he will not be removed by elections. [That means] that those who are against him must be prepared for the grimmest struggle. Either that or he remains in office as long as his health permits, directing the affairs of the country by his own authority, while the country descends ever further into darkness in every possible respect in economic, political, cultural, social, or moral terms until we become a waste land, a wreck, a terrible place, a black hole in the map of Europe, a place more backward and more tyrannous than any of our Eastern European neighbours, and we will have to start envying the Bulgarians and Macedonians who will be in a far better condition, far freer, more cultured.

Interviewer asks what happens if Orbán refuses to be voted out through normal elections.

TGM: Blood and chaos. That’s the way it usually goes when elections don’t work. It’s what happens when people’s social plight becomes ever more desperate. Our social circumstances are bound to worsen and there will be people desperate and violent enough to bring down the country in the process.

We really can’t take this seriously enough. What was said in that speech is highly dangerous.

Interviewer asks whether people are in the mood to rise in defence of such high ideals.

TGM: Not at all, not at the moment. This is a browbeaten society that has utterly bought into [the Orbán persona?]. But it won’t always be so. Nothing lasts for ever. At the moment there is no ideology to confront this dark chauvinism, this cult of the state, this cult of force, full of anti-democratic sentiment.

Interviewer: Why isn’t there?

TGM: We are exhausted. We Hungarians are too tired to argue. You can’t expect people to sacrifice themselves without a hope of success. People are resigned. Like it or not, they accept they can’t change it.

Interviewer:  So what hope is there?

TGM: [Thinks] The one hope lies in continuing to uphold the ideals of freedom and equality as long as we can. The hope is that, despite everything, we don’t give up on the ideals of 1918, 1945 and 1989. Those  [ideals] belong to us. No one can take them from us. We might have to prepare for a long and very bad period. I myself might not live to see the end of it. Who knows? The fact remains that if we wish to live a moral life and to protect the culture of freedom we have to maintain a cool but obstinate resistance and to repeat our own commonplaces.

Interviewer: How can you maintain these high ideals when the prime minister offers hard facts? When he takes banks back into Hungarian control? When he forces banks to pay back what they owe. Has anyone ever made a bank pay us? So he doesn’t go on about ideals, about constitutional details.

TGM: I never said he was an unsuccessful politician. He is that, among other things. He is the only man who can give us hard facts because he is in charge of the government.

Interviewer: So there you are, hard facts. Isn’t it better to have hard facts than to be dreaming about ideals?

TGM: Are you talking about those four million people currently in desperate straits in this country? Do you think they like it? Do you think they don’t believe in ideals such as a better life? That too is an ideal: they believe their own children deserve as much as the better off, the middle class and the rich. That ideal is called equality.

It’s not the way they refer to it every day, of course. But that is the proper word for it. These things are connected. These ideals are not a matter for a few specialists divorced from reality. Equality means that the bottom four million have a right to food, electricity, to a heated home, to read, to enjoy their pleasures. That is an ideal but it’s not the reality.

This ideal concerns the poverty of four million people and the servitude of ten million,  and opposes the torrent of state funded lies with which Viktor Orbán and his underlings flood this small country. Yes, there are ideals in which people believe, that, for example, they should be able to live a decent honourable life. That ideal has roots in Christianity, in liberalism, and in socialism. That is not something they are obliged to know, but they know it. And Viktor Orbán is telling you directly, in your face while laughing at you that that is what you have to live without.

And if, dear fellow Hungarians, that is what you accept that is what you’ll get. There’s nothing anyone can do for now except to regard this terrible speech with hatred and contempt. Because society is weak but it is possible for it to know these things.

  * * *

[That is the end of the interview. It is a very dark vision of Hungary’s future and TGM is clearly angry.  It is fascinating – and liberating – to hear a man talk of socialism with such conviction. It is fascinating that he should include Christianity and liberalism in the struggle for freedom and equality.

What that shows is that TGM is not an old-system communist. He was part of the opposition to the pre-1989 order. He is part of the spectrum that any democratic society should be proud to represent. It is the spectrum Hungary is on the point of leaving. GSz]

 

Dissonant government voices on the Hungarian Holocaust

The Orbán government’s efforts to falsify history are proceeding full steam ahead. The “madness”–as Imre Mécs, one of the heroes of 1956, called it–continues. It looks as if Viktor Orbán refuses to listen to reason and insists on erecting a monument that depicts suffering Hungary as Archangel Gabriel at the mercy of the German imperial eagle. The originally stated purpose of the statue was to commemorate the German occupation of Hungary on March 19, 1944. After the first outburst of indignation, the monument’s rationale was changed to a commemoration of the victims, both Jewish and non-Jewish, of German aggression. There is only one problem with the whole concept. Hungary was an ally of Germany, and it was a legitimate Hungarian government that handled the deportation of about 600,000 Hungarian citizens of Jewish heritage. Not without reason, critics of the whole idea of the monument suspect that the Orbán government wants to shake off any responsibility for the Holocaust and to shift the blame entirely to Germany.

The protest around the foundation being built for the future monument has been going on for two weeks. Today about twenty people were removed and taken to police headquarters. The two best known demonstrators who were taken away are Imre Mécs, a former member of parliament who was sentenced to death as a result of his participation in the 1956 revolution, and his wife Fruzsina Magyar, a well-known dramaturgist.

It seems unlikely that the “madness” will end any time soon. Not only will the memorial stand but Sándor Szakály, a historian with far-right political views, will remain the director of the newly created historical institute,”Veritas.” As far I as can see, this new institute will be the government’s vehicle for a revisionist interpretation of modern Hungarian history. And we can only expect more historical madness. Just wait until young historians affected by the extremist ideology of Jobbik begin writing their own revisionist interpretations of historical events.

Mazsihisz, the umbrella organization of Jewish groups, objected to Szakály’s appointment, but considering that Sándor Szakály just signed a document ensuring long-term cooperation between the Veritas Institute and the Holocaust Documentation and Memorial Center, we can be sure that Szakály’s appointment is secure. How could it happen, one might ask, that the Holocaust Documentation Center would ever sign such a document? The answer is simple. One of the first acts of the Orbán government was a personnel change at the head of the Holocaust Documentation and Memorial Center. The old appointees were fired and the new guard arrived. At that point it was clear that the Orbán government had plans for the Center. Since the Memorial Center is financially dependent on the government, Viktor Orbán thinks he has every right to run the place the way he likes. In his world there is no such thing as an independent foundation. So, while Mazsihisz stands against Szakály’s appointment, the Orbán-appointed head of the Holocaust Memorial Center, György Haraszti, signs an agreement of long-term cooperation with the head of Veritas. On the face of it, it might seem that Orbán managed to split the Jewish community, but my feeling is that most Hungarian Jews applaud Mazsihisz and have a rather low opinion of the new head of the Holocaust Memorial Center.

Last Sunday’s March for Life, a yearly gathering in remembrance of the Holocaust, was the largest ever, definitely more than 30,000 people. The crowd filled the streets between the Danube and the Eastern Station. Quite a distance. The government was represented by President János Áder, who then joined the International March for Life on a pilgrimage to Auschwitz. This year the Hungarians led the procession from Auschwitz to Birkenau because of the 70th anniversary of the Hungarian Holocaust.

The Hungarian group in Auschwitz-Birkenau

The Hungarian group in Auschwitz-Birkenau

Áder made a speech there that was welcomed by all those who are critical of the Hungarian government’s attitude toward the Holocaust. Áder emphasized that the Hungarian state didn’t resist “the diabolical plan of the German occupiers”; in fact, it became its enablers. He called Auschwitz “the largest Hungarian cemetery.” He went as far as to say that “in order to understand the tragedy of 1944 we will have to take a look at ourselves.”  He added that there is no “forgiveness when a state turns against its own citizens.”

János Áder in Auschwitz-Birkenau / MTI

János Áder in Auschwitz-Birkenau / MTI

These are very strong words. The strongest I have ever heard from a member of the Orbán government. I can’t quite decide how to interpret them. I have the feeling that this was Áder’s first visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, and I understand that the place makes an incredible impression on visitors. Perhaps the president changed his speech in the last minute to place greater emphasis on Hungary’s guilt than he had originally planned. Perhaps he was simply saying what he thought the pilgrims expected to hear. Perhaps he really does believe that the Hungarian government was complicit. In any case, Áder’s admission of Hungarian guilt stands in stark contrast to what Viktor Orbán, László Kövér, and Zoltán Balog think of Hungary’s anti-Semitic past. Áder didn’t look for excuses, he didn’t try to bury uncomfortable truths. Was this an example of what we call the good cop, bad cop syndrome or was it genuine? I don’t know whether we will ever be able to answer this question properly given the tight-lipped Fidesz leaders.

As for whether the Germans were true occupiers or not, here is an amusing story. A few days ago neo-Nazi groups also decided to demonstrate on Szabadág tér. Great was the panic among the anti-monument demonstrators. They were afraid of physical attacks by these skin heads. To their surprise it turned out that, just like the Budapest liberals, the neo-Nazis came to demonstrate against the monument. Why? Because, as they explained, the Germans did not occupy Hungary. How could they? Hungarians and Germans were comrades-in-arms who fought together against Bolshevism. No comment.

Veritas Historical Research Institute: State ordered history

Today I’ll add a little more color to Viktor Orbán’s decision to establish a new institute whose associates will study history, specifically the history of the last 150 years.

As I wrote earlier, the new body will be known as the Veritas Historical Research Institute. The government decree (373/2013. (X. 25.) was signed by Viktor Orbán himself. Who knows who planted the idea of yet another historical institute into the prime minister’s head and who came up with the idea of calling it Veritas. I assume the party hacks, including the prime minister himself, believe in one “truthful” description of past events and hence the name. Unfortunately they are not alone in this holding this untenable view. Even a learned legal scholar, László Sólyom, was foolish enough to talk about the necessity of producing a “true” history of the October Revolution of 1956. A rather strange idea from some who comes from the world of legal research with its many conflicting opinions.

Clio, Goddess Muse of History

Clio, muse of history

History, just like law or any other social science, is not exact; it is not like mathematics where 2 + 2 is always 4. There are, of course, indisputable facts, the kinds we discussed at length in our debate over Miklós Horthy’s decision to halt the deportation of Budapest Jews on August 24, 1944. But his motivations are open to interpretation. So Viktor Orbán is looking in vain for absolute truth from the future associates of the Veritas Institute.

It is worth taking a look at the actual decree to see that the search for truth is not the principal goal of the Orbán government. In one of the first sentences we read that the government is establishing this institute “in the interest of national unity with special emphasis on the legal tradition.” The works born there will have “to strengthen national consciousness.”

Those historians who join the staff will have their goalposts set by none other than János Lázár, chief of staff of the prime minister’s office. As Csaba Fazekas mentions in an article on the subject in Galamus today, this government doesn’t worry about appearances because a research institute of this sort should fall under the aegis of the Ministry of Human Resources which is in charge, among other things, of education. It will be János Lázár who will appoint and/or dismiss the director of the institute, whose appointment will be for five years. There will be two deputy directors, also appointed  and/or dismissed by Lázár. Someone will be in charge of finances, and again it will be Lázár on whom his appointment depends. The remuneration of the staff will also be decided by Lázár. So, for all practical purposes it will be János Lázár who will head the Veritas Institute.

What does the Orbán government expect from this new historical institute? “To reveal  the formation of the system of parliamentary democracy.” If you think this mandate doesn’t make sense and perhaps it is only a bad translation, you are wrong. This is what the decree says. In addition, the historians who work there will have to study “the survival of the centuries-old parliamentary tradition, a unique feature of the Hungarian legal system,  in the last one hundred and fifty years.” A questionable statement.

But that’s not all. They will have to work on a “portrait gallery” which, I assume, means, writing biographies of important politicians. Since this government is madly looking for forebears, I assume the emphasis will be on politicians of a conservative bent.  The publications should also concentrate on “the successful efforts of successive governments worthy of emulation.” Parties and their ideologies should be studied with special emphasis on unique national characteristics and traditions. The researchers should pay attention to the whole Carpathian Basin, but naturally the focal point of that attention should be Hungary. In addition, the historians working at Veritas must fulfill any tasks János Lázár deems necessary for them to perform.

After reading this “to do” list, someone unfamiliar with Hungarian historiography might think that the history of the last 150 years is uncharted territory. Of course, this is not the case. There are thousands and thousands of books and articles on all of the subjects mentioned in this decree. So it is not a dearth of historical literature that prompted the Orbán government to establish a research institute under its direct supervision. Moreover, if they simply wanted to encourage more historical research they could have given additional money to universities and to the existing research institutes. No, the Orbán government wants to have their “own version of modern Hungarian history.” The kind that serves their political agenda. They want an “alternative” history, separate from the normal historical intercourse.

If the government’s plans for Veritas bear fruit, we can predict the ideology that will motivate the historians working there. But Veritas cannot function in a bubble, and the monographs produced within its walls will have to stand the test of time and the criticism of colleagues. Unless, of course, Viktor Orbán plans to introduce a totalitarian dictatorship where there is only one official history. But that kind of forcible uniformity of historical thought couldn’t even survive for long during the socialist period. By the late 1960s different schools of historical thought and different interpretations surfaced. Csaba Fazekas points out that during the socialist period MSZMP established an institute called Párttörténeti Intézet (Institute of Party History), but even within that body by the 1970s and 1980s the party line was not always followed.

With a little luck the Veritas Institute will be short lived. We don’t need history that is merely propaganda in academic disguise.