Tag Archives: Kálmán Darányi

György Matolcsy, a headache for Viktor Orbán

In the last few weeks György Matolcsy, chairman of Hungary’s central bank, appeared before parliament twice, and his performances there have been the butt of jokes.

The Hungarian National Bank is supposed to be an independent entity in the sense that its chairman cannot be instructed either by the government or by parliament as far as its monetary policy is concerned. Parliament can, however, exercise a supervisory function over the bank’s activities. Given the recent scandals surrounding the Hungarian National Bank, Matolcsy was required to answer questions from the floor.

On both May 17 and June 13 Matolcsy was asked about the details of the bank’s foundations and the billions these foundations either lent or gave away to Matolcsy’s friends and family members. On both occasions, MSZP’s Gergely Bárándy posed the questions, questions that Matolcsy either couldn’t answer or refused to answer. He simply brushed them aside and repeated three times: “Sham! Sham! Sham!” He declared that anyone who attacks him and the National Bank is doing great harm to the Hungarian currency. In return, Bárándy called him a liar. A few days later the Hungarian National Bank’s press department announced that Chairman Matolcsy is suing Bárándy for slander.

György Matolcsy at his appearance in the parliament on May 17 / MTI / Photo: Tibor Illyés

György Matolcsy at his appearance in parliament on May 17 / MTI / Photo: Tibor Illyés

This first performance was followed by a second, when again the opposition pressed Matolcsy regarding the money that was passed to the small bank of Tamás Szemerey, who happens to be Matolcsy’s first cousin. MSZP members of parliament also wanted to know what Szemerey’s wife was doing on the board of one the central bank’s foundations.

Matolcsy’s answer was curious to say the least. He has many cousins who have not received any money from the Hungarian National Bank. For example, László Trócsányi, the current minister of justice, is also a cousin through the Darányi and Héjjas families. Moreover, Márton Kasnyik, a journalist at 444.hu who is very critical of him, is also a cousin. Trócsányi, “although he greatly admires the bank chairman,” rushed to correct the record. He is in no way related to Matolcsy, he said, although Matolcsy had earlier claimed that the information about the family ties came from Trócsányi himself. As for Kasnyik, Matolcsy’s claim is far-fetched. Their last common ancestor lived sometime in the eighteenth century.

Bárándy didn’t stop at family ties. He also asked the bank chairman about numerology. He wanted to know whether it is true that Matolcsy has something against the number 8, and whether it is true that he banished the offending number both inside and outside of the bank. No more Room 8 inside. And the official address of the bank was changed from Szabadság tér 8-9 to Szabadság tér 9. Also, Bárándy wanted to know whether it is true that only people who were born on August 20, 1984 can work in the secretariat of the bank. Matolcsy’s reaction was one of great indignation. But instead of denying the rumors, he simply insisted that his antagonists are concocting conspiracy theories against him.

It was at this point that people began to question the mental competence of the bank chairman, including Gergely Bárándy himself who expressed his doubts about Matolcsy’s mental state on ATV’s Egyenes beszéd (Straight Talk).

Before I return to Matolcsy’s more serious problems, let me insert a bit of family history here. The Matolcsy genealogy was thoroughly researched by a relative, and the almost 100-page family tree is quite impressive. Students of history know the Matolcsy name mainly because of Mátyás Matolcsy (1905-1953), apparently a brilliant economist who ended up as a far-right politician in the 1930s and 1940s. He became a member of the Arrow Cross party and in 1946 received a ten-year jail sentence. He died in jail. Mátyás is only a distant relative of György.

It is a mystery why Matolcsy felt compelled to bring up the Darányi and Héjjas families. Kálmán Darányi, prime minister of Hungary between 1936 and 1938, is associated with the radical right in Hungarian politics, especially during the second half of his premiership when he appointed Germanophile politicians to his cabinet and had a hand in the preparation of the First Anti-Jewish Law. As for the Héjjas family, Iván Héjjas is synonymous with the White Terror. While Pál Prónay was in charge of the summary executions in Transdanubia, Héjjas was at the helm in the territories between the Danube and the Tisza rivers. Search me why a sane man would brag about such a lineage in connection with an alleged relative who turned out not to be a relative at all.

Turning back to the pressure being brought to bear on Matolcsy. After two years of wrangling in court, the Hungarian National Bank was ordered to release a study Századvég did for the bank for the modest sum of 1.8 billion forints. It turned out that the study the bank received had nothing whatsoever to do with the topic Századvég was supposed to analyze. It was, it seems, just another instance of money being laundered through Századvég with the assistance, in this case, of the National Bank.

Yesterday Matolcsy received a letter from Mario Draghi, chairman of the European Central Bank, who explained again that “Article 123 TFEU prohibits the ECB and national central banks from purchasing public debt instruments directly on the primary market.” In brief, the Hungarian central bank cannot invest in government bonds even if they are purchased on the primary market by its foundations.

And one final note. There are people of some importance in the Fidesz ranks who have reservations about Matolcsy’s activities. One is Gergely Gulyás, one of Orbán’s deputies, who is usually an eloquent defender of everything the Orbán government does. So when he says that “there have been some questionable financial decisions by the foundations,” it must mean that not all the Fidesz bigwigs support Matolcsy, that they are worried about the troubles his activities have brought to the party. Further proof that Gulyás must have reservations about the increasingly shady affairs of the government and other Fidesz-controlled institutions like the prosecutor’s office or the National Bank is that in a recent interview he admitted that several times he had toyed with the idea of leaving politics altogether. Indeed, this articulate, smart, always impeccably dressed “young gentleman,” coming from the upper middle class of the Buda bourgeoisie (budai úri fiú), simply doesn’t fit in with the likes of the brutish Szilárd Németh, his fellow deputy chairman of Fidesz. He comes across as someone who, in a different setting, would be a traditional conservative, and a conservative could never feel entirely at home in Fidesz.

June 16, 2016

Fidesz and the Horthy regime: Statue for the anti-Semite Bálint Hóman?

On March 6, 2015, the Budapest municipal court rehabilitated Bálint Hóman, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment by the post-war People’s Court in 1946. The charge was that he, as a member of the Bárdossy government, voted for Hungary’s entry into the war on the side of Germany against the Soviet Union. Hóman died five years later in prison.

It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that the verdict would be reversed. First of all, Miklós Horthy had already decided on military engagement before the cabinet meeting and, second, a vote in favor of war is not a war crime, just (perhaps) a bad decision. So the court’s decision by itself was not controversial. If the story had stopped there, we wouldn’t be having a debate on the role and personality of Bálint Hóman more than five months after the verdict was announced.

Hóman (1885-1951) is best known as the co-author of a well-known, well-respected eight-volume history of Hungary published between 1938 and 1941. Hóman covered the Middle Ages. Gyula Szekfű, another great of Hungarian historiography, took over with the Hungarian Renaissance and continued all the way to the First World War.

Here I cannot give even a short description of Hóman’s political career. After all, he served as minister of education in all five Hungarian governments between 1931 and 1942. Moreover, even after he decided to leave the Kállay government, he remained a member of parliament until the bitter end. He was throughout his career a zealous supporter of a pro-German foreign policy and a steadfast and uncompromising anti-Semite who had a hand in the preparation of the so-called Jewish laws.

So, why are we still discussing the Hóman case? For two reasons. First, right after the verdict the man who was the moving force behind the retrial, a distant relative of Hóman and a former Fidesz member of parliament, announced that his next move will be to fight for the restoration of Bálint Hóman’s membership in the academy, which was taken away from him even before the sentence of the People’s Court was announced. Second, the city council of Székesfehérvár decided sometime in June that the city will erect a statue of Hóman in front of one of the local high schools. The reason for their decision was that Hóman was a member of parliament representing Székesfehérvár. The ministry of justice has already offered 15 million toward the cost, and the city plans to kick in another two million.  The city council of Székesfehérvár has a large Fidesz majority. Out of the 20-member body there are only two MSZP, one DK, one Jobbik, and three independent members. The Jobbik member voted with Fidesz on the statue issue. The council maintains that its decision to pay homage to Hóman is based on his special care for the city which elected him to represent it.

Proposed statue of Bálint Hóman Another hideous statue for a Horthy era poliician

Proposed statue of Bálint Hóman
Another hideous statue for a Horthy era politician

Although many articles have appeared debating whether Hóman’s membership in the academy should be restored and whether he should have a statue in Székesfehérvár or anywhere else, here I will talk about two historians’ reactions: Gábor Ujváry, who is an enthusiastic defender of Hóman, and Mária M. Kovács, who thinks that Hóman doesn’t deserve either to be included on the list of academy members or to have a statue anywhere in Hungary.

Ujváry is an associate of the “Institute of Truth” (Veritas Institute), a creation of the Fidesz government. Therefore it is not at all surprising, given the Orbán government’s predilection for defending the Horthy regime, that in his eyes Hóman is an innocent victim. For good measure, Ujváry wrote two articles, one in Magyar Nemzet and another a few days later in Napi Gazdaság. Since he mentioned Mária M. Kovács by name, she was given the opportunity to answer him in today’s Magyar Nemzet.

So, let’s see what Ujváry’s points are in defense of Hóman. First, he argues that Hóman shouldn’t be judged by today’s standards. Moreover, his critics are unfamiliar with the facts. For example, Hóman had nothing to do with the 1938 first Jewish law. People accuse him of pro-Nazi sentiments when, in fact, he was a critic of national socialism. Ujváry admits that in foreign policy matters Hóman was pro-German, but this was because he believed that only through cooperation with Germany could Hungary safeguard her independence. He may have been an anti-Semite but in 1944, after the German occupation, he saved some of his Jewish friends.

As far as Hóman’s anti-Semitism is concerned, his was not anti-Semitism in the modern sense. Moreover, his anti-Semitism wasn’t a “defining” or “determining” feature of his activities. In any case, he wasn’t a hard-core anti-Semite. On the contrary, “his anti-Semitism never exceeded the limits of ‘moderate anti-Semitism.'” Moreover, he knew nothing about the horrors of Auschwitz, and not in his wildest dreams could he have imagined what would happen to the Hungarian Jewry in 1944-45.

Until 1938 Hóman kept away from party politics and concentrated only on improving the country’s educational facilities. That year, however, he came to the conclusion that Hungary, because of its geopolitical position, could choose only between two bad alternatives, and he viewed Germany as a better choice than the Soviet Union.

Ujváry supports the erection of a statue for Hóman in Székesfehérvár as a special case because of Hóman’s close relations with the city.

Mária M. Kovács concentrates on the historical facts and supports them with facsimiles of original documents. According to these documents, Hóman had an important role to play in the preparation of both Jewish laws. Interestingly enough, Ujváry a few years ago admitted that “unfortunately” Hóman had a hand in the creation of both laws, but by now, it seems, he has changed his mind.

On February 1, 1938, Hóman passed on to Prime Minister Kálmán Darányi his plans for a new law restricting the rights of the Hungarian Jews. A month later Darányi announced that a Jewish law was in the works. The next day Hóman gave some of its details in a speech. The Jews, he said, have a “disproportionate influence and share” in the spheres of the economy, industry, commerce, banking, in cultural life and the media. “We have the legal means to remedy this situation.”

After the introduction of the first Jewish law Hóman became a member of the so-called “Jewish Committee,” whose job it was to draft a second Jewish law. But by 1940 he found some of the provisions of this second law inadequate. During a parliamentary debate he expressed his agreement with an Arrow Cross member of parliament that the 6% Jewish quota in universities and high schools was not stringent enough; Jews should be completely barred from these educational institutions.

In a memo to Prime Minister Pál Teleki, Hóman stated that all Jews as well as people associated with Jews are enemies of the Hungarian government, which means that no Jew should be tolerated in the civil service, in the judiciary, or in the schools, and they should be deprived of their leading role in economic life. “The present law is bad and therefore we must create another law that is based on race.” In 1941 he came up with another anti-Jewish proposal. This time he suggested depriving the Jewish religious community of its equal status with the other accepted religions like Catholicism, Hungarian Reformed, etc. It took a while, but by the spring of 1942 Hóman’s proposal became law. Hóman resigned in July 1942, but not before he had made sure that Jews were not allowed to join sports clubs.

After 1942 he was no longer a member of the cabinet, but he retained his seat in parliament. On February 29, 1944, he sent a memorandum to Prime Minister Miklós Kállay in which he demanded the deportation of the Jews because the Soviet troops were getting closer to the borders of Hungary. Keep in mind that this was almost a month before the arrival of the German troops on March 19. After the occupation, he joined a parliamentary group created to prevent Hungary’s possible break with the Germans, a move that Horthy and some of the men around him were contemplating.

According to Mária M. Kovács, “statues are customarily erected for people who can count on the respect of posterity. Bálint Hóman is not one of them.”

Ujváry’s arguments are not convincing, and they are unsupported by documentary evidence. Kovács sticks to the facts. A biography of Hóman might be a worthwhile undertaking (though preferably not by anyone in the Institute of Truth), but before that the Hungarian government should abort the Székesfehérvár city council’s ill-conceived idea of erecting a statue of Bálint Hóman. It could effectively do that by rescinding the ministry of justice’s offer of 15 million forints for the statue. Mazsihisz, the umbrella organization of several Jewish groups, greatly objects to the project, and now that Mazsihisz’s relations with the government have been on the mend, I don’t think it is wise to start another fight over memorializing Bálint Hóman.