Tag Archives: Miklós Horthy

Sándor Lezsák: “A quiet prayer for Miklós Horthy”

I must say I was shocked when I read the text of Sándor Lezsák’s speech that he could not deliver because the “memorial mass” for Miklós Horthy, the regent of Hungary between the two world wars, was cancelled. Sándor Lezsák, the deputy speaker of parliament, is well-known for his unusually strong attachment to the whole Horthy family. He is also a proponent of Turanism and an avowed admirer of Russian culture. As a devotee of Turanism, this fervently Catholic man invited shamans from Central Asia to perform their pagan rituals in the Hungarian parliament. As far as his attachment to Russia is concerned, he is the honorary president of the Tolsztoj Társaság (Tolstoy Association), which might be considered admirable. Alas, the board of the association includes people like T. Gyula Máté, the son of Gyula Thürmer, chairman of Hungary’s minuscule communist party, and Gábor Stier, the pro-Russian foreign affairs editor of Magyar Nemzet.

As for his infatuation with Miklós Horthy, in 2013 he began advocating for a “scientific institution” whose sole task would be the study of Hungary’s interwar period. Lezsák’s efforts were interpreted by mainstream historians as “an attempt at strengthening a positive Horthy portrait” by “conservative circles.” Lezsák’s idea was taken up by the Orbán government when parliament established the Veritas Research Institute in late 2013.

In 2015 Lezsák delivered a speech at a conference on “Society and culture in Hungary between the two world wars.” Here is one telling sentence from this speech. “Those historians, teachers, politicians, and journalists who have been singing the old international songs about the white terror or Horthy’s fascism read from the scores of communism, socialism, or liberalism.”

Sándor Lezsák delivers a lecture on the Miklós Horthy in 2015

I have written about Lezsák’s Horthy fetish in the past, but I was still shocked at the speech he published today in Magyar Hírlap titled “Quiet prayer in the Downtown Parish.” In my opinion, in no other writings or speeches that I know of did Lezsák go as far as he did in this one.

Before I get to the essence of this speech, I would like to point out two anomalies Lezsák inadvertently revealed. First, if you recall, Zoltán Osztie insisted that the speeches would be delivered separately from the “memorial mass.” But Lezsák, at the very beginning of his speech, says, “My Lord, I was asked to speak about the Horthy family, the governor, his wife, sons and daughter-in-law Ilona in your Holy Tabernacle.” His “quiet prayer” is heard “in the presence of the relics of our King Saint László, Saint Elizabeth, and Saint Gellért, the martyr bishop.” No question, the speeches were to be heard inside of the church, presumably as part of the memorial mass. Second, Zoltán Osztie insisted that the unfortunate choice of date was inadvertent. Among all the possible days for the “memorial mass” swirling around in their heads, it skipped their minds that January 27 is the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. But from Lezsák’s “quiet prayer” it becomes clear that the Association of Christian Professionals purposely picked this day because the organizers considered it an appropriate time to remember the man who did so much for Hungary’s Jewish population.

These petty lies, which Lezsák doesn’t even bother to cover up, pale in comparison to Lezsák’s notions about modern Hungarian history. Let’s start with the justification of the Horthy regime’s revisionist foreign policy as “a historical necessity.” Granted, Hungarian public opinion was solidly behind such a foreign policy, but wiser political leaders would have moderated the strong desire to regain some of the lost territories. Unfortunately, all Hungarian governments between the two world wars used irredentist propaganda, which can be compared in intensity to Viktor Orbán’s anti-refugee campaign. And we know from modern polling techniques how effective such concentrated propaganda can be, especially if it falls on fertile soil.

Nothing in history is preordained, although Hungary’s geopolitical position and, of course, being on the losing side in both World War I and World War II made its situation difficult when borders were redrawn — and redrawn again. From the beginning, however, Great Britain wasn’t happy about the large Hungarian minority in southern Slovakia and later had second thoughts about the viability of Czechoslovakia period. And the Soviet Union indicated to the Hungarian government in 1941 that, if Hungary sat out the war against the Soviet Union, it could count on the Soviet Union in its border dispute with Romania. Both opportunities were missed.

In Lezsák’s eyes, Miklós Horthy is a real hero who was the driving force of Hungary’s “resurrection” after “the brutal communist terror” and war. This was indeed the Horthy propaganda, but in fact, with the exception of Horthy’s first two years in office, he mercifully retired from active politics and let Prime Minister István Bethlen carry on the day-to-day affairs of governing. When Horthy returned to active political participation, it became patently obvious that he was not up to the task. But Sándor Lezsák doesn’t like to hear the opinion of professional historians when it comes to assessing Horthy’s political talents. In this speech, as well as in his earlier remarks, he instructs them to correct the current image of Horthy. As he puts it, Horthy is “a victim of historical and political character assassination whose character and career were besmirched and disfigured…. It is the challenge and responsibility of historians” to set aright Horthy’s true role in Hungarian history. And, more critically, “it is the job of politicians and public figures to courageously honor and commit themselves to the Horthy era and to the statesman-like characteristics of the governor despite all attacks.” Thus Lezsák wants the Orbán government to openly admit that it is a successor to the Horthy era.

Finally, we should concentrate on a crucial sentence in which Lezsák basically accuses “our Jewish compatriots” of being among those who distort the historical figure of Miklós Horthy. They “should follow the example of those Jewish compatriots who appreciated the courageous decisions of Governor Miklós Horthy and expressed their gratefulness in numerous ways. They should not be asked for more than fairness in their judgment.” This admittedly rather confused passage needs some interpretation because it is difficult to identify the two kinds of Jewish compatriots. In simple English, there are Jewish historians, current leaders of the Jewish community, and ordinary folks of Jewish heritage who are responsible for the bad image of Horthy today. But Jews who survived the Horthy era appreciated the fact that the governor saved them and expressed their gratefulness in various ways. The Jewish compatriots of today should be at least as fair as those Jews of yesteryear.

The “grateful Jews” story is based on two alleged facts. One is that Horthy and family were apparently supported financially by extremely wealthy Jewish Hungarian families who survived the Holocaust. The other is that someone saw a wreath at Horthy’s reburial in 1993 that said “From the grateful Jewish community.” The former story I found on a far-right site while the second one, in a seemingly more reliable version, appears on the Jobbik site “Szebb Jövő” (Better Future). Here we learn that it wasn’t the grateful Jewish community that placed a wreath on Horthy’s grave but a single man — János Blumgrund, born in Pozsony/Bratislava, who at the time of the reburial lived in Vienna. Under the influence of his Catholic wife, Blumgrund converted to Catholicism, and “he was among the rare and lucky people whose godfather was none other than His Holiness Pope John Paul II.” So much for the grateful Jewish community who should be emulated by today’s ungrateful Jewish Hungarians.

This story indicates the superficiality and the half-truths perpetuated by those who instruct historians to rewrite history so as to celebrate the glory of the Horthy era. And to enlist God’s help in this mission.

January 30, 2018

“Memorial mass” for Miklós Horthy cancelled

Governor Miklós Horthy, Hungary’s regent between 1920 and 1944, is in the news again thanks to the Keresztény Értelmiségiek Szövetsége/KÉSZ (Association of Christian Professionals), whose Budapest downtown chapter decided to hold a “memorial mass” in honor of the governor and his daughter-in-law, Countess Ilona Edelsheim-Gyulai, “who were born 150 and 100 years ago respectively.” The connection between the leaders of KÉSZ and the Orbán government is very close. For instance, KÉSZ held its most recent conference in the former chamber of the Hungarian Upper House in the parliament building. Viktor Orbán was the keynote speaker with a ringing speech about the dangers threatening Christian Europe.

This “memorial mass” is an annual affair, normally held at this time of the year. The idea for it most likely came from the long-standing president of the organization Zoltán Osztie, a Catholic priest of decidedly reactionary views. He is known for his hatred of liberalism, which he calls the result of “the devil’s destructive fury.” He is a great admirer of the Horthy regime because, under Horthy, the relationship between church and state was the closest in Hungary’s modern history. He finds the anti-Semitic Prime Minister Pál Teleki, the extreme right-wing Bálint Hóman, and Ottokár Prohászka, the spiritual father of Hungarism, “wonderful people who with the help of God resurrected the dead, mutilated country.” His church in District V has been the scene of several memorial masses for Horthy, not just by KÉSZ but, for example, by an organization called Nobilitas Carpathiae, which is maintained by the noble families of Upper Hungary — that is, Slovakia. You get the idea.

Not every year, but on occasion, the media has picked up on Osztie’s penchant for holding masses for Horthy despite Orbán’s most recent word on the subject: Horthy should not be honored because he remained in his post after the German occupation of the country on March 19, 1944. This obviously hasn’t deterred Osztie, who is fond of celebrating masses to honor former and present politicians. In 2013, for example, he sent out invitations to a mass of thanksgiving in honor of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s fiftieth birthday. Here and there the Hungarian media semi-jokingly reported on his activities.

Zoltán Osztie celebrating mass

But no one found this year’s announcement of the “memorial mass” that was supposed to take place on January 27 amusing. Since 2005 January 27 has been recognized as Holocaust Memorial Day. It was on that day in 1945 that the Red Army liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau. That a priest would celebrate a mass in remembrance of Horthy on Holocaust Memorial Day was jarring enough. But when the public found out that Sándor Lezsák, one of the vice-presidents of parliament, Péter Boross, former prime minister, and Sándor Szakály, director of the Veritas Institute, the Orbán regime’s very own historical research group, would be delivering speeches, presumably in praise of Horthy, a well-deserved storm of protest broke out.

András Heisler, president of Mazsihisz, the umbrella organization of Jewish groups, wrote a letter to Sándor Lezsák in which he expressed his serious misgivings about the Hungarian government’s involvement in the affair. Heisler pointed out that “everybody deserves prayers for their salvation and every religious community has the right to offer them. But doing that on Holocaust Memorial Day requires a falsification of history.” Miklós Horthy was complicit in the deaths of the overwhelming majority of Hungarian Jewry.

Heisler’s letter didn’t change the minds of the invited guests or the organizer, who presumably would have been officiating at the mass. Osztie claimed that they were unaware of the day’s significance, but he announced that the “memorial mass” will also be celebrated for the victims of the Holocaust. In fact, according to the organizers, “the goal of our mass is to prove that there is no contradiction between honoring the governor and remembering the victims.” But as an editorial in Szombat, a Jewish periodical, pointed out, how can one honor a man who assisted in the deportation of all Hungarian Jews living outside of Budapest?

In any case, Sándor Lezsák was not moved by Heisler’s letter. He announced that, in accordance with plans, he will attend and deliver his speech. Péter Boross was a bit more circumspect, although he also planned to attend. In his interpretation, the scheduling of the “memorial mass” was a mistake, but, as he said, he “hates cowardice” and is ready to take the consequences of that decision. He was planning to talk about the German occupation, the deportation of Hungarian Jews, and the victims of the Holocaust. And he would talk about Horthy, “who alone was brave enough to stop the deportation of Jews.” Without going into the historical details, let me simply say that this assertion by Boross is without foundation.

But then something happened behind the scenes. In short order, Zoltán Osztie announced that neither the mass nor a remembrance will be held in his church. Of course, he blamed those “who are full of hate and divide the country and create hysteria” for the upheaval when nothing extraordinary happened. The event has been part of a yearly routine.

This sudden change of heart looked suspicious, and questions were raised about the person or persons behind the decision to cancel the event. Given the centralized nature of Orbán’s political system, in which almost everything originates with the prime minister, people suspected that Orbán, who is very sensitive about his regime being labeled anti-Semitic, felt that it was time to intervene. Perhaps his decision was expedited by Rabbi Slomó Köves’s condemnation of the memorial mass. Köves is the “executive” rabbi of the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation, which is an affiliate of Chabad Lubavitch. He is certainly Viktor Orbán’s favorite Jewish religious leader. Orbán might not be moved by Mazsihisz, but Köves’s community is something else.

The other possibility is that Viktor Orbán was helped along in coming to the conclusion that this memorial mass must be cancelled by Ronald S. Lauder, head of the World Jewish Congress, who, according to the Israel National News, “urged Orbán to personally intervene” because he found it “truly disturbing that the event is being given legitimacy through the participation of a high dignitary of Hungary,” meaning Sándor Lezsák. Then today, Népszava learned that Cardinal Péter Erdő, archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest and primate of Hungary, personally asked Zoltán Osztie to cancel the event. Apparently, Osztie confirmed that he acted at Erdő’s request. That may be so, but I suspect that Erdő received, if not an order, strong prodding from Viktor Orbán himself.

Finally, a question and observation about the aborted memorial mass. Zsuzsanna Toronyi, director of the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives, asked an obvious question in a television interview. Why would Horthy, who came from a long line of devoted Protestants with roots in the Hungarian Reformed Church, be honored by a Catholic mass? He married a deeply religious Catholic, but his sons were baptized in a Hungarian Reformed Church. His son, István, who also married a Catholic, insisted on a Protestant wedding.

The observation comes from someone well versed in Catholic affairs. According to János Dobszay, in Catholic liturgy there is no such thing as a “memorial mass,” although one can celebrate mass for the salvation of the soul of a deceased person. Moreover, given the fact that politicians were invited, the event became a political affair. As a result, Osztie acted against the rules and regulations of the Catholic Church. John Paul II, in his Redemptionis Sacramentum, clearly states that “It is not permissible to link the celebration of Mass to political or secular events, nor to situations that are not fully consistent with the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. Furthermore, it is altogether to be avoided that the celebration of Mass should be carried out merely out of a desire for show, or in the manner of other ceremonies including profane ones, lest the Eucharist should be emptied of its authentic meaning.”

Finally, I would like to call attention to a short opinion piece by Tamás Bauer, one of my favorite Hungarian commentators, which appeared today in HVG. Fine, so “there is no mass, there will be no demonstration. Can we be relieved? Of course not,” starts Bauer. Would it be all right if Osztie and friends set another date for their “memorial mass”? Of course it wouldn’t be. By focusing on the date of the gathering, the discussion dealt only with Horthy’s responsibility for the Jewish victims when he was guilty of so many other things as well: anti-Semitism throughout the years between 1920 and 1944, anti-Jewish laws, revisionist foreign policy, entering the war against the Soviet Union, sending poorly equipped soldiers to the front, and herding Jews into labor battalions. All people who find Orbán’s regime abhorrent should stand fast against the Horthy cult that has been cultivated by Fidesz politicians, including Viktor Orbán.

January 26, 2018

The Hungarian Jewish community feels abandoned by Netanyahu’s Israel

Viktor Orbán did his best to make his meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu in Budapest a failure. First, quite unnecessarily he wove into one of his speeches a laudatory reference to Admiral Miklós Horthy, whose government played an active role in the Hungarian Holocaust. He called him “an exceptional statesman.” And then, two weeks before the arrival of the Israeli prime minister, he launched a vicious hate campaign against George Soros, which prompted anti-Semitic reactions in certain segments of Hungarian society.

Orbán apparently is in the habit of adding his own final touches to prepared speeches, and this superfluous and harmful addition about Horthy was one of these impromptu additions. The remark created an uproar at home as well as abroad, especially in Israel. Given the three-day visit by the Israeli prime minister to Budapest this week, one really wonders what was going on in the Hungarian prime minister’s head. Israel’s leading English-language paper, Haaretz, interpreted this remark “as part of an extremist nationalist and racist campaign [Orbán] is conducting ahead of elections in 2018.” Moreover, Orbán’s remarks “placed Israel in an embarrassing position” given Netanyahu’s impending meeting with Viktor Orbán and the Visegrád 4 countries in Budapest.

The Israeli government demanded an explanation. Four days after the delivery of the speech Yossi Armani, the Israeli ambassador, was instructed not only to issue a public statement but to make clear to the Hungarian government that Israel hoped for a statement from Viktor Orbán. He also warned that tension over the issue could hurt the summit between the two prime ministers. Eventually, a telephone call came from Péter Szijjártó, but, as Haaretz explains, he “did not clarify Orbán’s remarks, apologize or express regret for them, [but] the Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, with an eye on the upcoming summit, decided to act with restraint and end the affair.”

Foreign Minister Péter Szjjártó in Jerusalem preparing Netanyahu’s visit to Budapest

Barely a week after this gaffe, the Orbán government embarked on a massive anti-Soros poster campaign which, if George Soros weren’t Jewish, would have been just fine with the Israeli prime minister, who dislikes Soros as much as Viktor Orbán does. But as András Heisler, president of Mazsihisz and spokesman for the Jewish religious community, pointed out, although the poster is “not openly anti-Semitic, nevertheless it is capable of inducing anti-Semitic sentiments.” He asked for the removal of the thousands of posters plastered all over the country. This call was then followed by the Israeli ambassador’s statement that “the campaign not only evokes sad memories but also shows hatred and fear.” But at this point Netanyahu, who is also the foreign minister of Israel, interfered. The foreign ministry issued the following statement: “Israel deplores any expression of anti-Semitism in any country and stands with Jewish communities everywhere in confronting this hatred. This was the sole purpose of the statement issued by Israel’s ambassador to Hungary,” he said. “In no way was the statement meant to delegitimize criticism of George Soros.” The Hungarian Jewish community, which witnessed the anti-Semitic reactions to the poster campaign, was stunned and felt abandoned by the government of Israel.

András Heisler told the Associated Press today that “the Israeli foreign ministry’s clarification … in part surprised us and in part was hugely disappointing…. The Hungarian Jewish community felt that we were left in the lurch.” Most political observers are convinced that “Netanyahu’s visit provides [Orbán] a kind of acquittal regarding anti-Semitism and the stamp of being far-right.” Later in the day Heisler talked to Agnes Bohm of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency where he explained the Hungarian Jewish community’s position more fully. “It is most important for the Hungarian Jewish community that the Israeli prime minister condemns strongly any kind of hate campaign or hate speech during his visit to Hungary, and it is also very important that Netanyahu should stress the importance of the Diaspora, including the Hungarian Jewish Diaspora,” he said. Heisler also explained that “Soros’s name has a different meaning in Hungary and in Israel.” In Hungary “Soros is the symbol of the Jewish capitalist.” He added that “it was unacceptable for us that the Jews were afraid due to the hate campaign and to the hate speech. No leader of any Jewish community can tolerate when Jews fear the consequences of the hate campaign of the government.”

Mazsihisz is the representative of the Jewish religious communities, but secular Jews are just as unhappy about Netanyahu’s approach to what they consider to be a problem in Hungary and what the Israeli prime minister blithely ignores for political gains at home and abroad. According to Válasz, Mária M. Kovács, Péter Zentai, and Péter Bokor–a historian, a journalist, and an architect–delivered a 28-page document to Israeli Ambassador Yossi Armani containing letters to Netanyahu by 17 signatories. Among them are such well-known personalities as Ágnes Heller and György Konrád. At the same time Sándor Révész, a journalist and writer formerly of Népszabadság, wrote an opinion piece in HVG titled: “First? Worst!” It is a hard-hitting piece against the Israel Netanyahu has built. The message is that “to the Jewish state the Hungarian government is more important than the Hungarian Jews.” In Révész’s opinion, Netanyahu is a politician with whom few democratic politicians want to develop close relations. Orbán is one of the few who is not choosy. He is ready to be friends with the leaders of Russia, Egypt, and Turkey, or Netanyahu’s Israel. They are kindred souls. Such harsh criticism of Netanyahu’s regime cannot be heard too often in Hungary.

But Mairav Zonszein, a journalist and translator residing in Israel, feels very much the same way about this ugly episode. She wrote an opinion piece in today’s New York Times in which she expresses her admiration for George Soros who “has failed the litmus test that seems to count for Israel’s current leadership: unconditional support for the government, despite its policies of occupation, discrimination and disregard for civil and human rights. … Mr. Soros’s humanitarianism and universalism represent an expression of post-Holocaust Jewish identity that is anathema to the hard-line nationalism of Mr. Netanyahu’s governing coalition,” which necessarily leads to close relations with such autocratic states as Russia, Turkey, Egypt, and Hungary. She finds the Orbán-Netanyahu alliance unacceptable and immoral.

By contrast, the right-wing Hungarian media is outright ecstatic. Pro-government journalists look upon Netanyahu’s disregard of Mazsihisz’s worries about the anti-Semitic overtones of the anti-Soros campaign as an “official Israeli affirmation of the fact that neither Hungary nor the anti-Soros poster campaign is anti-Semitic.” For decades the Hungarian left has called “the political right Nazi and anti-Semitic.” But now, after the Israeli government’s statement, it is at last clear that this was a baseless accusation.

Benjamin Netanyahu arrived this evening in Budapest from Paris, where he attended a memorial gathering to mark the 75th anniversary of the infamous Vel’ d’Hiv Holocaust roundup. The post-war French government remained silent for a very long time about the fact that the French administration at the time was in charge of the roundup and deportation of about 13,000 Jews, including about 4,000 children, most of whom were killed. Although President Jacques Chirac acknowledged the country’s complicity in 1995, Emmanuel Macron used the occasion to reiterate his declaration that the French state bore responsibility for what happened in 1942 in Paris. I wonder whether Viktor Orbán will be ready to publicly declare the Hungarian government’s complicity in the death of over 500,000 Hungarian Jews. I wouldn’t wager too much money on it.

July 17, 2017

In Orbán’s opinion Miklós Horthy was an exceptional statesman

Another day, another speech. Yes, Viktor Orbán delivered another speech which, with the exception of one short passage, was nothing more than his usual collection of clichés about “those people whose aim is the transformation of Europe’s cultural subsoil, which will lead to the atrophy of its root system.”

The occasion was the opening of the newly renovated, sumptuous house of Kuno Klebelsberg, minister of education between 1922 and 1931, in Pesthidegkút, today part of District XII of Budapest. Along with István Bethlen, prime minister between 1921 and 1931, Klebelsberg was his favorite politician of the interwar period. Neither of them was a champion of democracy, but they stood far above the average Hungarian politicians of the period. I devoted a post to Klebelsberg in 2011 when the government decided that the new centralized public school system would be overseen by a monstrous organization called Klebelsberg Intézményfenntartó Központ (KLIK).

As I said, there was only one passage in the whole speech that will not easily be forgotten. After describing the 1920s and 1930s as “a grave touchstone” of Hungarian history, Orbán said that the nation was able to survive thanks to “some exceptional statesmen like Governor Miklós Horthy, Prime Minister István Bethlen, and Kuno Klebelsberg.” Thanks to them, “history didn’t bury us under the weight of the lost war, the 133 days of red terror, and the Diktat of Trianon. Without the governor there is no prime minister, and without the prime minister there is no minister. Even Hungary’s dismal role in World War II cannot call into question this fact.” Jaws dropped even at the conservative Válasz, which called Horthy’s description as an exceptional statesman “a historical hornet’s nest” which will be followed by a long, far-reaching, and most likely acrimonious debate.

Source: Miniszterelnöki Kabinet / Károly Árvai

Maybe we could quibble over whether István Bethlen was a statesman, but that Miklós Horthy was not is certain, and not just because of his dismal political career. When we think of a statesman we think of a highly respected, influential politician who exhibits great ability, wisdom, and integrity. None of these fits Miklós Horthy. He was a narrow-minded man without any political experience. Why did Orbán feel it necessary to join Horthy to Bethlen and Klebelsberg as great statesmen of the interwar period, especially by employing such twisted logic? One cannot think of anything else but that he has some political reason for his “re-evaluation” of Horthy.

This interpretation is new because it wasn’t a terribly long time ago when, in the wake of the Bálint Hóman statue controversy in Székesfehérvár in December 2015, Orbán said in parliament that he couldn’t support the erection of the Hóman statue because the constitution doesn’t allow anyone to be honored who held political office after March 19, 1944, because any political activity after that date meant collaboration with the oppressors, i.e. the Germans. For that reason, he wouldn’t support a statue for Governor Miklós Horthy either. So, this is quite a leap, which may have even international consequences. Although Horthy was not officially declared to be a war criminal, historical memory has not been kind to him. I am certain that the news that Viktor Orbán embraced Miklós Horthy as one of the great Hungarian statesmen of the twentieth century will be all over the international media.

The Hungarian reaction in anti-Fidesz circles was that Orbán’s change of heart as far as Horthy is concerned has something to do with his desire to weaken Jobbik, a party which has been most fervent in its rehabilitation efforts on behalf of Miklós Horthy. Orbán has been waging a war against Jobbik for some time, and Jobbik’s very effective billboards infuriated him. He wants to destroy Vona and his party. He is vying for Jobbik votes by courting far-right Jobbik supporters who might be dissatisfied with Vona’s new, more moderate policies. Perhaps Horthy will do the trick.

As far as Horthy’s political abilities are concerned, his best years were the first ten years of his governorship when he had the good sense to let Bethlen run the affairs of state. Every time he was active in politics he made grievous mistakes or worse, be it in the years 1919 and 1920 or in the second half of the 1930s and early 1940s.

You may have noticed that Orbán talked about the red terror but didn’t mention the white terror that was conducted by Horthy’s so-called officer detachments (különítmények). They roamed the countryside and exercised summary justice against people they suspected of support for or participation in the Hungarian Soviet Republic. Horthy knew about their activities and most likely even encouraged them. The number of victims of white terror was about three times the number of those who were killed by the so-called Lenin Boys.

Horthy’s election to the position of governor was mostly due to the fact that the only military force that existed in the country in late 1919 and early 1920 was his detachments. Politicians were worried about the possibility of a military coup. Horthy expressed his impatience with the politicians several times as they tried to hammer out a coalition government the allies would accept. And his officers made it clear that it is Horthy or else. His political views at that time were identical to those of his far-right officers who later claimed that they were the first national socialists in Europe.

Horthy’s real inability as a politician came to light when the world was edging toward a new world war. Perhaps his greatest sin was Hungary’s declaration of war against the Soviet Union. He volunteered Hungary’s military assistance when Germany didn’t even press for it. He also bears an immense responsibility for the Hungarian Holocaust when, after the German occupation on March 19, 1944, the government he appointed sent half a million Hungarian Jewish citizens to their death while he himself did nothing. And we know that he could have prevented it, as he was able to stop the transports later, mind you only after 450,000 Jewish citizens had already been sent to die in Auschwitz and other extermination camps.

Orbán’s decision to declare Horthy a national hero shows the true nature of his regime.

June 21, 2017

The Metamorphosis of Sebastian Gorka

Perhaps today is the best time to republish my second article on Sebastian Gorka, which originally appeared in LobeLog on March 31. Gorka just had quite a row with Chris Cuomo on CNN’s “New Day,” which made a splash on the internet. The topic of the dispute was Donald Trump’s latest tweets announcing that the courts can call his immigration executive order “whatever they want,” but it’s definitely a “TRAVEL BAN!” You can decide whether Cuomo cornered Sebastian Gorka, as The Week claimed, by watching the video at the end of this post.

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As for my article, I would like to express my gratitude to Steve N., a long-time reader of Hungarian Spectrum, without whom I wouldn’t have been able to discover the curious omission of three paragraphs from the Hungarian translation of Pál Gorka’s memoirs, which were originally published in English. These are the only texts in the whole book that deal with the attitude of Gorka’s father toward Jewish Hungarians in 1944. Sebastian Gorka refers to these encounters in his interviews as proof of the Gorka family’s long-standing sympathy for Jews and Jewish causes. So, getting hold of the book was important, but I couldn’t locate it anywhere in the larger libraries in the United States. Eventually it became evident that the book is available only in Budapest. So, I asked Steve for help. He got hold of the Hungarian version and told me that there was not a word about Jews in the book. I was suspicious and asked him to do me a second favor and go to another library where the English version was located. It was Steve who discovered the curious omission and uploaded the appropriate pages in both the English and the Hungarian versions. They can be found here. I’m grateful for his selfless assistance.

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The recent efforts to transform Sebastian Gorka from a far-right Hungarian politician into an anti-Nazi liberal fighting against anti-Semitism can be added to the growing catalogue of alternative facts brought to us by the Trump administration and its supporters. Gorka, deputy assistant to President Trump, spent almost half of his adult life in Hungary. He became a U.S. citizen only five years ago.

After Gorka announced his White House appointment on Twitter on January 30, a number of articles appeared online, including some of my own, which focused primarily on Gorka’s career in Hungary. I was especially interested in his political activities in 2006-2007 and his failure to receive national security clearance from the Hungarian authorities in 2002. But it was Eli Clifton’s widely circulated Lobelog article, “Why Is Trump Adviser Wearing Medal of Nazi Collaborators?,” that prompted journalists to start digging further into Gorka’s years in Hungary.

Clifton’s piece centered on a medallion Gorka wore at one of President Trump’s inaugural balls. The medallion is the symbol of membership in an order, Vitézi Rend, established by Miklós Horthy, governor of Hungary in the interwar period, for decorated World War I veterans. Although Jewish soldiers were not officially banned from membership, in practice, as Horthy later explained, “even the bravest and most decorated Jew [was] excluded” from the Vitézi Rend. Horthy went on to proudly announce that he had been “an anti-Semite throughout [his] life.”

Clifton ascertained that during and immediately after the war years the Vitézi Rend was on the State Department’s list of organizations under Nazi influence. This classification shouldn’t have surprised anyone: Hungary was an ally of Nazi Germany and thus on enemy footing with the United States. In a subsequent article, which also appeared in Lobelog, I shed more light on the history and political profile of the order. Neither Eli Clifton nor I, it should be stressed, ever called Gorka an anti-Semite.

Gorka and the Hungarian Far Right

Another series of articles on Gorka appeared in The Forward. The first, written by Lili Bayer, provided a detailed description of Gorka’s involvement with the far right during the turbulent days in the fall of 2006 when some far-right groups tried to topple the socialist-liberal government of Ferenc Gyurcsány (2004-2009). Her summary of the events is well documented. The second, by Bayer and Larry Cohler-Esses, offered credible testimony by two high officials of the Vitézi Rend that Sebastian Gorka, contrary to his denial, was a full-fledged member of the Order and that he wears its emblem not as a memento of his deceased father but in his own right. Neither the authors nor their sources accused Sebastian Gorka himself of anti-Semitism.

During his years in Hungary, Gorka’s political connections were all on the far-right fringe of the political spectrum. For instance, his problem in 2006 with Viktor Orbán, today the nationalist and proudly illiberal prime minister of Hungary, was that Orbán had shown himself incapable of bringing down the socialist-liberal government, a government that Gorka considered to be a continuation of communist rule and therefore illegitimate. During the disturbances that erupted in September 2006, he worked with the Hungarian National Committee, whose leaders called for an uprising against the socialist-liberal government. In fact, the man who announced the group’s intentions was Tamás Molnár, who, only a few months later in February 2007, joined Gorka in founding a new political party. Their party was intended to be “truly conservative” and to stand in opposition to Orbán’s Fidesz, which, the co-founders believed, had been corrupted by the world of politics. It is this man whom his friends and defenders are now transforming into a champion of liberal democracy and a steadfast soldier against anti-Semitism.

Before looking at the arguments of his defenders, let’s see what Sebastian Gorka himself had to say over time about his involvement with the Vitézi Order and far-right groups in Hungary. It was two days after the appearance of Eli Clifton’s article that Breitbart published a video interview with Gorka. In it, he explained that his father “was awarded a decoration for his resistance to a dictatorship,” which he now wears “in remembrance” of what his family went through. Note that in this early interview Gorka avoided any mention of his father’s membership in the Vitézi Rend. He did, however, make a claim that recurs in later accounts by others: Gorka’s family was a victim of the “takeover [of Hungary] by the Nazis” as well as of the communist dictatorship. It is true that German troops occupied Hungary on March 19, 1944. But it is most unlikely the Gorka family’s life changed in any significant way as a result of this troop movement. The occupation was a generally peaceful affair. The real victims were the Jews who were herded into boxcars and shipped to Auschwitz by two efficient, viciously anti-Semitic bureaucrats of the ministry of interior who both happened to be members of the Vitézi Rend.

The Rehabilitation of Sebastian Gorka

Shortly after the Breitbart video was aired, articles appeared on Gorka’s behalf by friends and acquaintances, like David Reaboi, who portrayed Gorka as a man who “has a decades-long record as an opponent of anti-Semitism, xenophobia and anti-American sentiment in Hungary and who fought to undermine elements on the political right—even going as far as helping launch a political party to push conservative voters away from anti-Semitic parties.” From the available material, which is abundant, there are no signs of such activities and intentions. On the contrary, as I pointed out earlier, Gorka’s abortive party, Új Demokrata Koalíció (New Democratic Coalition), was an attempt to challenge Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party, not an effort to undermine anti-Semitic elements on the political right. Moreover, if Gorka was so preoccupied with the growing anti-Semitism in Hungary, which he allegedly tried to stop, why did he publish a series of 12 articles in the well-known anti-Semitic weekly, Magyar Demokrata? If he was such a democrat, why did he take part in the Magyar Nemzeti Bizottság (Hungarian National Committee), which wanted to foment an uprising in order to topple the legitimate government of the country? Why did he choose one of the leaders of this group as co-founder of his political party? Things don’t add up, I’m afraid.

It looks as if Gorka managed to convince not only his friends and acquaintances here of his family’s anti-fascist past and his own struggle against Hungarian anti-Semitism but also the staff of the White House. They came to believe that Gorka’s “family literally bears the scars of anti-fascist fights” and that it is therefore inconceivable that he could possibly be “a secret Nazi cultist.” His supporters ignore credible evidence that challenges their preconceived ideas about their hero. Testimony about Gorka’s own membership in the order is ignored, while his explanation for sporting the insignia of the order and using its honorific title as a sign of devotion to his father is accepted “as a plausible explanation.” Liel Leibovitz, one of Gorka’s champions, adds in his Tablet article: “you may find this kind of devotion to be overly doting or even creepy but if you’re honest, the story here is simple and in some ways touching.” It almost sounds as if deep down he himself has some doubts about the story’s veracity.

As opposed to the documentation of Sebastian Gorka’s involvement with far-right groups in 2006-2007, no evidence is offered for this brave anti-fascist struggle by the Gorka family. I’m sorry to say that the overwhelming majority of Hungarians showed total passivity during these terrible times. Nonetheless, for David P. Goldman, who denounced the “shameful slanders against Sebastian Gorka, friend of Israel,” Gorka’s father became “a hero of the anti-fascist and anti-Communist resistance in Hungary.” It should be noted that in 1944 Paul Gorka, the hero of the anti-fascist resistance, was all of 14 years old.

Most of the pieces written on behalf of Sebastian Gorka are rife with factual errors and questionable interpretations of history. In Joel B. Pollak’s piece published in Breitbart, for example, we are told that the Order was banned by the “Soviets” because it was “an anti-communist symbol.” No, it was banned because it was considered to be one of those “pro-Hitler and other fascist political, military, para-military and other organizations on Hungarian territory conducting propaganda hostile to the United Nations.” Moreover, in his eagerness to establish the Gorka family’s anti-fascist credentials, Pollak places it in the middle of “the Nazi siege of Budapest.” Nazi siege? It would have been wise to learn the facts. Shortly before the end of the war the city was encircled by the Red Army. On the mad order of Hitler, German and Hungarian soldiers tried to defend the Hungarian capital. After 50 days and with a death toll of almost 40,000, the city, including the Budapest ghetto, was liberated. Every year, right-wing groups, including the Historic Vitézi Rend, commemorate the “Day of Honor,” February 11, 1945, when German and Hungarian soldiers inside Budapest tried to break through the Soviet lines.

Alternative Facts at Work

Bruce Abramson and Jeff Ballabon are perhaps Gorka’s most vehement defenders, and the fiercest critics of people who hold views different from their own. In their first article, “Leftist Trump Critics Play Anti-Semitism Card,” they write: “The hatchet job against the Trump Administration continues. The most recent victim is Sebastian Gorka … The charge is—surprise!—anti-Semitism. The behavior of Jewish progressives leading the attack is shameful.” In fact, the two authors created a strawman because, as pointed out above, neither the Forward nor LobeLog—nor their sources—accused Gorka himself of anti-Semitism.

In their second article, Abramson and Ballabon claim that a bad Vitézi Order existed before 1945 but that the current one promotes “Hungarian freedom from Soviet domination.” This is, I’m afraid, wrong. Today’s members swear allegiance to the same moral code that was written in the 1930s and reissued recently. Yet, according to the two authors, the current Vitézi Rend is so sensitive to Jewish causes that, “as recently as September of 2016, the Order commemorated the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, remembering the Nazis’ victims and honoring Hungarian soldiers who, despite their country being allied with the Germans, refused the Germans’ orders to put down the Uprising.” I was dumbfounded by this assertion. The writers seem to have gotten lost in the fog of war. They mixed up the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April-May 1943, in which 13,000 Jews were killed, with the Warsaw Uprising of August-September 1944, which was organized by the Polish resistance’s Home Army to liberate Warsaw from German occupation. It was the latter event’s anniversary that the Order commemorated. This mistake is symptomatic of the overreach of Gorka apologists in their efforts to create an alternative history of the Order as well as of the Gorka family.

Abramson and Ballabon’s third article, which appeared in the Jerusalem Post, gives their most complete account of Sebastian Gorka’s activities in Hungary. The authors claim that, once in Hungary, “Gorka chose his political affiliation consciously” when he became employed in the ministry of defense under the premiership of József Antall, Jr. But, according to his own father, the reason for Sebastian Gorka’s employment in the ministry was much more mundane. In his account, father and son paid a visit to the House of Parliament, where they bumped into Kálmán Kéri (1901-1994), a former high-ranking officer in the Hungarian Army and an old friend of Paul Gorka, who at the time was the oldest member of parliament. It was on his recommendation that Sebastian got a job in the ministry, which needed people with foreign language skills. Abramson and Ballabon, in a wild leap of logic, use Gorka’s employment as a civil servant in the Antall government as evidence of his attachment to the Jewish community. After all, József Antall, Sr. was recognized by Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.

Although we know from the very best source, Miklós Horthy himself, that Jews were not allowed to be members of the Order during his time in office, Abrahamson and Ballabon simply cannot accept this fact. According to their account, for example, one alleged Jewish member happened to be “a friend of the Gorka family whose valuables the Gorkas hid from the Nazis. Those valuables included a medal of the Order of Vitéz.” The authors thus kill two birds with one stone here: the Order must have had Jewish members, regardless of what everybody says, and, moreover, Gorka’s grandparents hid the valuables of their Jewish friends. The apparent goal is to show the Gorka family’s long-standing commitment to the Jewish people.

Abrahamson and Ballabon criticize The Forward for neglecting to read Paul Gorka’s book titled Budapest Betrayed,  because there they would have found “several steps that he himself as an adolescent and his family had taken to help protect Jewish friends during the war.” Well, I managed to get hold of the book, both in its original English version published in Great Britain in 1986 and its Hungarian translation from 2002.

The stories that Abrahamson and Ballabon recount appear in a chapter describing Paul Gorka’s interrogation in 1950 in connection with his passing information to British intelligence. One of his interrogators, whom he suspected of being Jewish, “was quietly impressed by my stories and this could have been one of the reasons for his fairly civilized behaviour towards me.”  Under the circumstances, can these “stories” be taken at face value? I don’t know, but it is troubling that the four paragraphs dealing with Paul Gorka’s interaction with this interrogator and the stories he told him about protecting Jews during the Nazi occupation are curiously missing from the Hungarian translation of the book. The question is why. Perhaps Gorka’s defenders could offer “a plausible explanation.”

Finally, I should mention that the Hungarian government has already gotten in touch with Sebastian Gorka, whom the Orbán government is hoping to use as a direct line to the White House. I assume that the opinion piece published in defense of Gorka last month in The Hill by Tibor Navracsics, former deputy to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (2010-2014) and currently European Union commissioner for education, culture, youth and sport, was meant as a preamble to future cooperation between the Budapest government and Sebastian Gorka. Navracsics in this article went out of his way to praise the man who was once an insistent critic of Viktor Orbán as an incompetent and ineffectual party leader. Navracsics even claimed that he had “watched with admiration as [Gorka] found a new home and rose so rapidly to the highest of policy positions,” which, considering Gorka’s relative obscurity before his appointment, is doubtful. In any case, Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó already had a meeting with Gorka in Washington, and Gorka was present at the opening of the new Hungarian Embassy. We may be seeing the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Gorka, a former editor of Breitbart News, and Viktor Orbán, the illiberal prime minister of Hungary who is most often compared to Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Marine Le Pen.

June 5, 2017

Spotlight on Sebastian Gorka’s Controversial Medal

Today I am republishing a piece I wrote for LobeLog, a foreign policy internet site, which appeared on February 24, 2017. It was a follow-up to the couple of Hungarian Spectrum posts I had done on Sebastian Gorka–the first, “Sebastian Gorka’s road from Budapest to the White House” and the second, “Sebastian L. von Gorka’s encounter with the Hungarian National Security Office.” At this point, we knew relatively little about this man, whom many consider to be something of an adventurer.

Since then, Lili Bayer, working out of Budapest, has done an enormous amount of investigative work. She published several articles on Gorka’s past in The Forward. I especially recommend her first article, “Senior Trump aide forged key ties to anti-Semitic groups in Hungary,” and another titled “Controversial Trump aide Sebastian Gorka backed violent anti-Semitic militia.”

Gorka’s Hungarian past has been the subject of immense interest, as the number of articles that have appeared in the past three months attests. The essay below was intended to inform readers what Miklós Horthy’s Vitézi Rend (Order of Knights) was all about. I might add that Gorka has consistently denied that he was a member of the order, although the evidence to the contrary is quite convincing.

♦ ♦ ♦

Sebastian Gorka, deputy assistant of President Donald Trump and member of a new White House team, the Strategic Initiatives Group, has been receiving an increasing amount of attention in the last few weeks. Julianne Smith, a former national security adviser to Vice President Joseph Biden, worries about both the existence of this new group and Sebastian Gorka’s presence in it. Counterterrorism experts are particularly concerned about Gorka’s ideas that Islam as a religion cannot be separated from the ideology of terror. Knowledgeable people in the field consider his ideas on Islam dangerous and a radical departure from U.S. policy over the last 17 years.

Several U.S. journalists who have dug into Sebastian Gorka’s past have been puzzled by his proud embrace of his Hungarian roots. Why did he appear at the inaugural ball in a strange braided outfit with an equally strange medallion and decoration? Eli Clifton of LobeLog identified the medallion as one bestowed by the Order of Knights (Vitézi Rend), a group established by Miklós Horthy, regent of Hungary between 1920 and 1944. A day later Allegra Kirkland of Talking Points Memo quoted a Hungarian historian who was less certain about its provenance.

By now we can state with confidence that the medallion is indeed the identifying object of the Order, as Sebastian Gorka himself admitted in a short Breitbart video appearance. He explained that on special occasions he wears the medallion and decoration, which his father received in appreciation of his suffering as a political prisoner between 1950 and 1956. But there is a more complete version of the story that needs telling.

Origins of Vitézi Rend

Miklós Horthy established the Order of Knights to bestow the honor of knighthood on highly decorated World War I veterans. The “captain-general” of the Order was Horthy himself. Although the Order’s leaders today claim that it was always apolitical, they end up describing it as a right-wing, conservative body that promotes Hungary’s military tradition. Unfortunately, this military tradition also includes Hungary’s participation in World War II on the side of Nazi Germany.

Only a few days ago members of the Order marched along with extreme right-wing groups to commemorate the “Day of Honor,” February 11, 1945, when German-Hungarian soldiers in an encircled Budapest tried to break through the Soviet lines. Imre Marosvári, the captain of the Order in Budapest, honored the 72nd anniversary of the event with an unrealistic, pro-German description of the military situation in 1945. The primary concern of these brave soldiers, he said, was to slow down the Soviet advance in order to give the Germans time to develop their “new weaponry.” I assume he is talking about the atomic bomb. He also had harsh words for the Allies. According to him, the American and British air raids were inhumane and cruel and turned the civilian population against the Allies.

The Order still follows its original goals, which among other things aimed “to secure the lordship of the Hungarian race, which could strike down all subversive, anti-national efforts with formidable force.” From its inception the Order was an irredentist organization, whose slogan is still: “I believe in one God, I believe in one country, I believe in the divine everlasting truth, I believe in the resurrection of Hungary,” which means the recreation of Hungary according to its pre-1918 borders. As Hungarian historian Szilárd Tátrai pointed out in a recent article, the ideology and policies of the Order were a faithful reflection of all the key attributes of the Horthy regime. Therefore, nobody should be surprised that the U.S. State Department considered the Order to be an organization under German influence. After all, they argued, Hungary was an ally of Nazi Germany.

The Order was organized along military lines. Under Horthy as captain-general were eight nationwide regional captains. Every county had a captain of its own, and every “járás,” a smaller administrative unit, had a lieutenant. The knight had to observe a strict political and moral code, and unmarried knights had to submit for scrutiny details about their future wives’ families. The male children of knights were required to enroll in the Levente Movement, designed to give military training to Hungarian boys between the ages of 12 and 21. Since the title of knight was inheritable by the oldest male child, the “ideological preparation” of the next generation of knights was considered to be of the utmost importance.

The Order’s Political Associations

Although Hungarians of Jewish extraction were not officially excluded from the Order, in practice they were barred from membership. Here is what Miklós Horthy, the captain-general of the order, had to say on the subject in a letter written in October 1940: “A ‘Vitéz’ may marry with a license only, and persons of alien stock are received only when this person is a 100 per cent Hungarian as to feeling, is reliable and applies himself for the Magyarization of his name. Even the bravest and most decorated Jew is excluded.” Those sentences were followed by Horthy’s infamous claim that “as regards the Jewish problem, I have been an anti-Semite throughout my life. I have never had contact with Jews.”

Although apologists of the Order bring up the couple of high government officials and military men who at the very end turned against the German and Hungarian Nazis, these people were few and far between. Even the official history admits that many knights committed war crimes. For example, “unfortunately the organizers of the bloodbath in Novi Sad (Újvidék) were members of the Order of Knights.” Approximately 3,500 Serbs and Hungarian Jews lost their lives in Novi Sad in 1942. The organizers of this carnage, who thanks to Horthy could await their trial as free men, escaped to Germany only to return with the German troops in 1944. Two men who were instrumental in organizing the transports that carried more than 400,000 Hungarian Jews to their death in 1944 were also knights: László Endre and László Baki.

Horthy died in February 1957 in Estoril, Portugal. But shortly before his death he was still thinking about the future role of the Order, whose “calling is the rebuilding of a new Hungarian future.” With his death, émigré knights began to reorganize the Order, and it soon spread among Hungarians worldwide. The reorganized Order introduced an important change in the admission procedures: heroes of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution could also become knights. Because of this new policy (loosely interpreted), Sebastian Gorka’s father, Pál Gorka, became eligible for admission to the Order of Heroes. His investiture, in 1979, apparently took place in Great Britain, to which he had escaped after the defeat of the uprising by Soviet troops.

Today there is not one Order of Knights but two because the leaders of the organizations are badly split on several issues. One group is called “Vitézi Red” (Order of Knights) while the other is known as “Történelmi Vitézi Rend” (Historical Order of Knights). The split occurred after the center of the Order moved back to Hungary. Pál Gorka and most likely Sebastian Gorka as well were invested in the Historical Order of Knights led by László Hunyadi, its captain-general.

Knights in inter-war military uniforms teach youngsters about the use of weaponry

Gorka’s Connection to the Order

As for Pál Gorka and his knighthood, I have pieced together his story from bits of information that he and his son provided. The stories, I’m afraid, don’t always jibe. The elder Gorka was arrested in 1950, but the duration of his sentence is not at all clear. When Pál Gorka was interviewed by David Irving, the well-known Holocaust denier, for his book on the Hungarian revolution of 1956, he claimed that he had been sentenced to life imprisonment for espionage because “one of his cell’s couriers was shot on the frontier, and papers found on him enabled the AVH [the Hungarian state security] to break the network.” However, in a Hungarian-language article that appeared in August 2002, he said that he had received a ten-year sentence and that Kim Philby, the notorious British spy, had betrayed him and his comrades.

In that same 2002 interview Pál Gorka also talked about his part-time work for the British government. For 30 years he helped the authorities vet newly arrived political refugees from Hungary. He seems to have been active in the local Hungarian community. For example, he represented the British-Hungarian community in the World Federation of Hungarians and in that capacity attended the Third World Congress of the Federation in Budapest in 1992.

Another intriguing aspect of the Gorka family’s life in Great Britain is their relationship to David Irving, a revisionist historian who tried to clean away the “years of grime and discoloration from the façade of a silent and forbidding monument” to reveal the real Hitler. His 1977 book, Hitler’s War, tried to whitewash Hitler while blaming the allies for escalating the war. Irving was prolific, coming out with a new book practically every year. Eventually, he decided to write a book on the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, which he published in 1981 under the title Uprising! One Nation’s Nightmare, 1956. The massive 740-page book is available online. Irving’s conclusion is that the revolt was “primarily an anti-Jewish uprising,” a gross misrepresentation of the facts. He interviewed a lot of people both in Hungary and abroad who had a role to play in the events. Although Pál Gorka, who had been freed from jail a few days after the outbreak of the uprising, certainly wasn’t a key player, he got at least a couple of footnotes. More interesting was the introduction where Irving thanked his three interpreters, one of whom was Susan Gorka, Pál’s wife and Sebastian’s mother. Considering that Irving, according to his own admission, spent about six years off and on doing research on this book and knew not a word of Hungarian, Susan Gorka must have worked with the author fairly closely.

Returning to the issue of the medallion, I would like to correct Sebastian Gorka’s somewhat misleading description of how his father acquired the medallion. The medallion is not bestowed by the Order in recognition of some heroic deed. It is tangible proof of membership in the Order. A person must apply for membership and must be approved by the leadership of the Order. Presumably, Pál Gorka was approved because he was a “hero” of 1956 who adhered to the precepts of the Order. Moreover, once a person undergoes the process of investiture he is expected to be an active participant in the organization. Pál Gorka was probably an active member of the organization when the Gorkas lived in Great Britain. He was certainly active after his return to Hungary. He and his wife settled in Sopron, a town close to the Austrian border, where he worked on behalf of the Order under Kornél Pintér, “territorial tribe captain” of the region. In the last ten years of his life he served as “knight lieutenant” on the county level.

According to the rules of the Order, inheritance of the title is not automatic. The eldest son must be approved by the Board of the Order. One cannot just “inherit” the medallion and use it “in memory” of one’s father. If we can believe Kornél Pintér, the “tribe captain,” Sebastian is a full-fledged member of the Order in his own right. That’s why Pintér is so proud that “one of our fellow members is now in the White House.”

June 2, 2017

Miklós Horthy will not have a statue in Perkáta after all

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

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

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

All set and ready

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

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

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

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

May 19, 2017