Tag Archives: Pál Teleki

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.

How not to win friends and influence people: Viktor Orbán

I’m sure that Viktor Orbán never read Dale Carnegie’s famous self-help book How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936) that has sold more than 18 million copies in the last 78 years. In fact, I fear that his own anti-Carnegie principles will ensure that he will eventually be hated by everyone, with the exception of the “hard-core” who think he walks on water.

One of the chapters in Dale Carnegie’s book speaks about the virtues of leaders, specifically “how to change people without giving offense or arousing resentment.” Among the principal virtues Carnegie mentions are qualities that Viktor Orbán totally lacks. He suggests that a good leader should talk about his own mistakes before criticizing the other person. Orbán and self-criticism? Carnegie also suggests that if a leader is wrong he should admit it “quickly and emphatically.” Or another piece of advice: “Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires.” Or “show respect for the other person’s opinions.” All these are alien concepts to the prime minister of Hungary. In fact, he does just the opposite of everything that Carnegie thought was necessary for a successful leader.

Take, for example, the erection of the ill-fated Archangel Gabriel monument. Regardless of how much criticism he receives, regardless of how many historians and art historians tell him that the concept is historically and artistically inaccurate, he plows ahead with it. Yesterday the Hungarian Academy of Sciences organized a conference on the issue; their condemnation was unanimous.

Or there is the decision to extend the capacity of the Paks nuclear power plant. As Bernadett Szél (LMP member of parliament) continues to dig into the details of the planned expansion it is becoming obvious that no serious feasibility studies were done before Orbán hurriedly signed the contract with Russia. But that is perhaps the least of the problems Paks is causing Hungary. Orbán’s newly found friendship with Vladimir Putin has led him to regard Ukraine as a potential trophy not only for Putin but for himself as well.

First, he tried to ignore the issue of Russian aggression in the Crimea, but since Hungary happens to be situated in a region that borders on Ukraine, Orbán had to line up, however reluctantly, with Hungary’s neighbors. He decided, however, to make a claim of his own–though for people, not land.

In the same speech I wrote about yesterday, he spoke briefly about Hungarian foreign policy. Here is a translation of the relevant part.

We will continue our policy of the Eastern Opening; we will strengthen our economic presence in the Carpathian Basin. This is in the interest of Hungary as well as of the neighboring countries and the European Union. This strengthening of regional economic relations is not in opposition to a resolute national policy [nemzetpolitika]. The question of the Hungarian minorities has not been solved since the end of World War II. We consider the Hungarian question a European affair. Hungarians of the Carpathian Basin deserve dual citizenship, communal rights, and autonomy. This is our view, which we will represent on international forums. The Hungarian question is especially timely because of the 200,000 strong Hungarian community in Ukraine whose members must receive dual citizenship, the entirety of communal rights [ közösségi jogok], and the possibility of  self-government [önigazgatás]. This is our expectation for the new Ukraine currently under reconstruction that otherwise enjoys our sympathy and assistance in the work of the creation of a democratic Ukraine.

Not exactly a friendly gesture toward a neighbor that is in great peril at the moment because of Russian aggression. As if Hungary would like to take advantage of the troubled waters for its own gains. Apparently, according to a leaked foreign ministry document, “Fidesz with its own national policy [nemzetpolitika]–even at the price of ‘fertile chaos’–is striving for a change in the status quo.” If there is one thing the European Union and the United States are worried about, it is ethnic strife in Eastern Europe. And Hungary just took a rather aggressive step in this direction.

The Hungarian ambassador to Kiev was immediately summoned to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry. He was told in no uncertain terms that such a step “is not conducive to the de-escalation and stabilization of the situation.” The spokesman for the ministry noted that “certain aspects of [Hungarian] national policy were criticized by Hungary’s partners in the European Union.”

The Ukrainian reaction was expected. Donald Tusk’s response, however, was more of a surprise given the normally warm relations between Poland and Hungary. Both Tusk’s party and Fidesz belong to the same conservative People’s Party, and usually Orbán receives a lot of help in Strasbourg from Polish members of EP. But this time the Polish prime minister was anything but sympathetic. “I am sorry to say this but I consider the statement made by Prime Minister Orbán as unfortunate.” And he continued: “Today, when we witness the Russian efforts of Ukraine’s partition such a statement must raise concern. We need to be careful that in no way, whether intentional or not, it should sound as backing the actions of pro-Russian separatists.” He added that the Polish government will make sure that none of its neighbors threatens the integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.

Donald Tusk and Viktor Orbán / Photo Barna Burger

Donald Tusk and Viktor Orbán on May 5, 2014 / Photo Barna Burger

In cases like this it is Foreign Minister János Martonyi who comes to the rescue. According to Martonyi, Orbán’s words were misinterpreted. Orbán invoked “self governance” not autonomy. But if you read my translation carefully, you can see that he talked about both self-governance and autonomy in the Carpathian Basin. Martonyi tried to explain that self-government and autonomy are actually “cultural autonomy in Hungarian.” No, they are not. Cultural autonomy exists in Subcarpathian Ukraine already. There are Hungarian schools, Hungarian associations, Hungarian theaters.

Naturally, the opposition made hay out of these careless sentences of Orbán. Ferenc Gyurcsány recalled a sentence from the farewell letter of Prime Minister Pál Teleki to Miklós Horthy before he committed suicide. In April 1941 Hungary agreed to let German troops through Hungary in order to attack Yugoslavia with whom Hungary had just signed a pact of eternal friendship. In that letter Teleki told the Governor: “We became body snatchers!” On Facebook Gyurcsány asks Orbán whether he is playing the role of a body snatcher in these hard days in Ukraine.

Martonyi might have tempered Orbán’s harsh words but Orbán himself did not. He announced this afternoon that he simply reiterated the Hungarian government’s “long-standing views on the Hungarian minorities.” As far as he is concerned, the case is closed.

Viktor Orbán’s speech at the meeting of the Association of Christian Intelligentsia

Viktor Orbán gave a speech at a round table discussion of the Association of Christian Intelligentsia (Keresztény Értlemiségiek Szövetsége/KÉSZ = Ready). The name of the organization didn’t immediately ring a bell until I read that its president is Zoltán Osztie, a Catholic priest known for his reactionary worldview. Moreover, Osztie is a politically committed man in the service of the current government. He and his organization work hand in hand with László Csizmadia’s CÖF (Civil Összefogás Fórum), which is behind the peace marches and which lately announced plans for a peace march to Brussels. CÖF received billions of forints from the central government, and thus Csizmadia and his friends had no problem footing the rather expensive campaign against Gordon Bajnai. Zsolt Bayer, András Bencsik, Gábor Széles, Ádám Pozsonyi, and László Csizmadia are prominent members of a “defense front” in the service of Viktor Orbán and his policies. Zoltán Osztie belongs to that inner circle of supporters.

I did some research on KÉSZ, which originally I mistakenly thought was just one of the many Christian civil groups. I always get suspicious when a group of people get together in the name of Christianity because in Hungary the adjective “keresztény” normally carries an emphasis on being “non-Jewish.” Otherwise, I see no reason for writers, journalists, and actors to distinguish themselves as Christians. KÉSZ is certainly not a simple gathering place for practicing Christians. Under the leadership of Zoltán Osztie it has become a politically committed organization.

The group was formed by another Catholic priest, Béla Csanád, in 1989 with the mission to spread the word. After years of anti-religious propaganda Csanád and his friends felt that there was a need for a kind of re-conversion of the intellectual elite who could then spread the gospel further. Although Csanád was a Catholic poet, the organization theoretically was open to all practicing Christians; according to the by-laws this is still the case. Osztie, however, often talks about the one and only church, the mysterious body of Christ, about a community in the middle of which lives the Virgin Mary. Well, that is a rather specific worldview in which Protestants wouldn’t be welcome.

kereszteny ertelmisegiek szovetsegeOsztie took over the presidency of KÉSZ after Csanád’s death in 1996. His election was questioned by some of the members and eventually the court found it illegal. Seventeen years later he shows no inclination to leave the position, and most likely his grip on KÉSZ is such that no one could unseat him. There is an excellent article on Osztie that appeared in Magyar Narancs a couple of months ago.

A few interesting tidbits about the man. While he was studying for the priesthood in the 1970s he didn’t seem to be at all attracted to the small group of students who stood up to professors servile to the regime. He especially liked those professors whom most of the students disliked because of their rigidity. And he developed a hatred of liberalism, which he calls the result of “the devil’s destructive fury.” In his eyes, everything that has happened since the Renaissance is an attack on the church. Why was the Catholic Church the target? Because “the church is the guardian of natural communities, the family, the nation, the natural sexual and societal roles.” Society must therefore return to Christianity “because without God life has no meaning and no morality.” As for the appropriate sexual roles, in summer camps for children organized by KÉSZ boys learn to harvest and girls learn home canning. Traditional all right.

As for the role of the church, “Hungary is a Christian country. It is that simple. No other ideology, no other religion, no other messages have any place in this homeland. It is time to say that at last.” Of modern governments, he considers the Horthy regime’s attitude toward the church the most satisfactory. He finds the anti-Semitic 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.”

As for his ideas on the media, Osztie thinks that its duties include the delivery of the aspirations and the accomplishments of the government. It’s no wonder that Osztie welcomed the much criticized media law.

When we analyze Viktor Orbán’s speech at the round table discussion of KÉSZ in Győr we must keep his audience in mind. The speech is partially transcribed on Viktor Orbán’s website and available on YouTube in its entirety. Here he describes himself as a Christian politician who must answer to God not just every four years but every day. We also learn the reason for the European Union’s intense dislike of Hungary. “While the European Union piles fiasco on top of fiasco it doesn’t want to recognize the success story of Hungary… We have been blacklisted. They want to force the role of black sheep on us.” And why is this so? “Because of our traditional and natural view of the family. In the center of the controversy is the family. Our Fundamental Law defends the family and marriage.”  He added that “for four thousand years the rule was that every marriage consists of a man and a woman. … We don’t have to explain anything; we must ask them why it was necessary to give up a four-thousand-year tradition.” According to Orbán, there is a strong secular and anti-family lobby in Europe that has been very successful. Hungary bucks this trend and receives Europe’s hatred as a result.

And finally, he assured his audience that the government counts on the Christian intelligentsia because without them there is no electoral victory.

At the end, let me mention a Galamus article on this speech by the philosopher Ferenc L. Lendvai. He found a few pieces of nonsense [zöldség in Hungarian] in it. First, Viktor Orbán’s reference to the 4,000-year tradition of marriage between men and women. Orbán specifically mentioned 2,000 years of the New Testament and 2,000 years of the New Testament. Nice, but wrong!  Napoleon talked about 4,000 years of civilization during his campaign against Egypt. And he was right; the pyramids are more than 4,000 years old. But Orbán has a problem with Old Testament chronology. Abraham wasn’t even born 2,000 years before Christ. And where was Moses with his tablets? And where were the priests who wrote down the laws of God? Moreover, even if they had lived four thousand years ago, the good Hungarian Christians wouldn’t be too enamored with the concepts of marriage and family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “If they don’t believe it, I suggest they should read the Bible if they are such good Christians.”

As for Orbán’s reference to good Christian politicians who have to give account to God every day, Lendvai quotes Matthew 7:22-23.

On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Gábor Bethlen, prince of Transylvania (1580-1629), was a good Calvinist. In his lifetime he read the Old and New Testaments forty times. Viktor Orbán, who is so proud of belonging to the Hungarian Reformed Church, should follow the example of Bethlen whom he admires. Start reading. And not just the Bible.

Looking backward: Historical complexity and political simplification

A couple of days ago I mentioned that three historians who are attached to the Institute of History of the Hungarian Academy of Science were entrusted with deciding the fate of persons and concepts that can possibly be connected to dictatorial regimes of the twentieth century. The other day the long awaited list was made public and was met with a mix of fury and derision. By today well known historians, members of the Academy, are calling the list and its creators a disgrace to the historical profession.

Almost a month before the appearance of the infamous list András Gerő, whose specialty is the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, rang the alarm bell and predicted that nothing good would come from this enterprise because the text of the law is imprecise and because whoever wrote it has no clue about the complexity of life and thus of history.

I will summarize Gerő’s main objections. The full text of the the law can be read here, but the key sentence is that “the name of no person can be used anywhere (institutions, media organs, public places) who played a leading role in the establishment, formation, and maintenance of twentieth-century dictatorial regimes or such expression or name of an organ that can be directly related with such a regime.”

The first problem is that the law itself is sloppily formulated. On the one hand it talks about dictatorial regimes (rendszerek) in the plural when it comes to persons whereas, when talking about organizations and concepts, it uses the singular (rendszer). So, how many dictatorial regimes are we talking about? Gerő rightly states that there were three such regimes in Hungary in the twentieth century. The Soviet Republic of 1919, the 1944-45 Arrow Cross regime, and the communist regime between 1949 and 1989. The text of the preamble to the bill provides a clue to the lawmakers’ thinking. Here they talk about “dictatorships” but add that “first and foremost” they are thinking of  the communist dictatorship and the 1919 Soviet Republic lasting 133 days. Thus, the emphasis is on dictatorships of the left.

Why does any lawmaker think that such a piece of legislation is necessary in the first place? The reason is that “our streets and institutions should bear names that are worthy of the ideals of a democratic country.” However, Gerő points out, it is not only dictatorship that is opposed to the ideals of a democratic state. What if the equality of citizens is terminated in a perfectly legitimate and democratic manner? The reference here is to the Horthy regime’s anti-Jewish laws. “Without equality of citizens there is no rule of rule (jogállam).” Gerő comes to the conclusion that perhaps the lawmakers are not really familiar with the meaning of the rule of law.

Listed by Epicantus / Daria Nepriakhina

Listed by Epicantus / Daria Nepriakhina / Flickr

But, Gerő says, ignorance has its consequences. On the preliminary list were such names as Béla Kun and Tibor Szamuely, who was personally responsible for political murders during the 1919 communist interlude. Their roles in the establishment and maintenance of a dictatorship are indisputable. But Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels also appeared on the list. They were included because of their role in laying the foundation for the later Soviet regime. Since both died years before 1917, we have no idea what they would have thought of the kind of dictatorship that was established in Soviet Russia. And if Marx and Engels are blacklisted, why don’t we put Prime Minister Pál Teleki, who played a leading role in the enactment of Hungary’s anti-Jewish laws, on the same list? And if we can connect Marx and Engels with the Muscovite Mátyás Rákosi, we should certainly link the name of Bishop Ottokár Prohászka, who is considered to be the theoretician of Ferenc Szálasi’s Hungarism, with the Holocaust.

One must also should keep in mind that people might change their views over their lifetimes. Either because they genuinely had a change of heart or because they responded to a changing situation. As an example Gerő brings up Gyula Szekfű (1883-1955), the historian. His extremely influential book written in 1920, Három nemzedék: Egy hanyatló kor története (Three generations: History of a declining age), blamed the liberals of the dual monarchy for the misfortunes that befell Hungary after World War I. This book played an important role in justifying István Bethlen’s counterrevolutionary regime. Later he moved farther to the left and after 1945 he even praised Stalin’s accomplishments and the Soviet regime. From 1953 he became a member of parliament and in the last two years of his life a member of the Presidium. There’s no question that he helped maintain the communist dictatorship. Right now a street bears his name in Budapest’s District IV. Should he be banned? According to the law, if we take it seriously, yes, he should be.

The other person Gerő mentions is János Szentágothai, the famous Hungarian medical researcher. He was also a member of parliament and later a member of the Presidium during the Kádár regime. Between 1977 and 1985 he was the president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences which was a political post. After 1990 he was again a member of parliament as an MDF member. Again, he should be banned but naturally he won’t be.

The third person is Béla Kovács, secretary-general of the Smallholders party, whom the Soviets exiled to the Gulag on February 25, 1947. In 2000, during the first Orbán administration, the government made February 25 a day of remembrance for the victims of communism. In 2002 Kovács’s statue was unveiled on Kossuth Square. Kovács became a member of Imre Nagy’s cabinet, but in 1958 he became a member of the pseudo-parliament of the early Kádár regime. He should also be banned according to a strict interpretation of the law.

The drafters of the law added that if and when there is any question concerning eligibility the case must be referred to the historians of the Academy. But if one reads the law carefully, it doesn’t allow for any doubt. The choice is either black or white, yes or no. Historians should know full well that life and therefore history is not that simple, and therefore they should not have accepted the job. Unfortunately, they did. The historians “should have told the government that this task cannot be accomplished in the spirit of academic correctness.”

They accepted the job despite the fact that Attila Pók, one of the three historians who took part in this disgraceful exercise, admitted that the law doesn’t allow for any shading or for a scientific approach and that the law was not thought through.

The government passed the buck to the Academy and the historians passed it back to the government. They excused their own participation by emphasizing that theirs was not the final word. They acted only in an advisory capacity.

The concern is growing in historical circles that “by participating in this political game they risked their academic credibility.”  As historian Gábor Gyáni said, “the historians found themselves in such an absurd situation that they had to explain why concepts like “freedom” or “republic” are not directly related to dictatorships. But at the same time they fell into such traps as declaring Maxim Gorky or Vladimir Mayakovsky supporters of a dictatorship. The former, after the assassination of Sergei Kirov in December 1934, was placed under “secret” house arrest. There were rumors that his sudden death wasn’t an accident. Mayakovsky by the late 1920s became increasingly disillusioned with the course the Soviet Union was taking and committed suicide.

Life is not as simple as Fidesz politicos imagine or as even well-known Hungarian historians think. And what if one day historians associate Viktor Orbán and the members of his government with the destruction of democracy in Hungary and with building an authoritarian regime with the assistance of a neo-Nazi party? It could easily happen.

An open letter to Tamás Fellegi

An open letter to Tamás Fellegi in Washington

The reason for our open letter is that Tamás Fellegi, former minister of national development, minister in charge of the IMF negotiations and adviser to Viktor Orbán,  spoke before the members of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations of the Committee on Foreign Affairs.

* * *

Gyömrő, February 27, 2013

Dear Mr. Fellegi,

You claimed prior to your appearance before the congressional committee that all democratic forces in Hungary stand in unison against antisemitism and that not one of the mainstream political parties in Hungary is antisemitic or racist.

You were quoted as saying that it is very hard for a country to be shielded against racism, including antisemitism, and indeed you are right, especially if one considers that in the preamble of the new constitution the present Hungarian government considers itself the direct successor to the Horthy regime while it does not take responsibility for the most important events of the Hungarian Holocaust, including the deportations of Jewish citizens. Or, when the Kossuth Square in front of the Hungarian parliament building is being refashioned as it was in 1944, the worst year of the Holocaust.

It is difficult to confront racism and antisemitism when our minister in charge of education and culture, Zoltán Balog, and the deputy speaker of the House, Sándor Lezsák, while still in opposition unveiled the statue of Ottokár Prohászka, Catholic bishop and member of parliament, who was the author of Europe’s first racist legislation, the so-called Numerus Clausus of 1920 that made antisemitism part of the Hungarian legal system.

In the new constitution Christianity is mentioned as Hungary’s only religious heritage, excluding other faiths, while Hungarian Reformed Bishop Gusztáv Bölcskei unveiled a plaque honoring Regent Miklós Horthy, who bears the foremost responsibility for the Hungarian Holocaust. He did that in the presence of a banned neo-Nazi paramilitary organization called Magyar Gárda. And this celebration took place in the famous Reformed College of Debrecen where many of the greats of Hungarian culture studied: the sin of the Holocaust is elevated to the status of memorials to János Arany, Mihály Vitéz Csokonai, and Zsigmond Móricz.

How can societal memory function when the government maintains a Holocaust Institute but at the same time an undersecretary and a Fidesz mayor collect donations for a statue of Miklós Horthy in Budapest?

The Hungarian Parliament enacted a law mandating that all public places and organizations that are named after people whose ideology is not to the liking of the current government must be changed. We are not talking about politicians connected to the Rákosi or Kádár regimes but those who had anything to do with the trade union movement or early social democracy. At the same time there are more and more streets being named after people who are responsible for the anti-Jewish laws of the 1920s and 1930s or the Holocaust. In the last two decades at least a dozen institutions have been named after Ottokár Prohászka. The situation is the same with racist and antisemitic politicians, for example Prime Minister Pál Teleki. Statues and streets carry his name. He was prime minister when the Numerus Clausus was enacted and he was responsible for the text of the second and third anti-Jewish laws. There are at least 50 statues of the antisemitic Albert Wass who was condemned to death in absentia as a war criminal in Romania after the war. József Nyirő, who was an admirer of Hitler and who remained a member of the Hungarian parliament even after the Arrow Cross take-over, was reburied at government expense, an event organized by László Kövér. By that act Kövér violated the Romanian law banning the adulation of war criminals. A law that doesn’t exist in Hungary.

Miklós Horthy, who bears a major responsibility for the Holocaust, was reburied in the presence of several government officials and members of parliament in 1993. A member of that government was Péter Boross, an open sympathizer with the Horthy regime, who is the chairman of the National Memorial and Reverence Committee. In Kenderes, a small town where the Horthy family’s residence is situated, there is a permanent exhibition in which Horthy’s role in the Holocaust is not even mentioned. Today in Kenderes there is official Holocaust denial. On the other hand, one can hear a lot of irredentist propaganda from the tour guides.

In 2000 Hungary signed the Declaration of the Stockholm International Holocaust Forum that obliged the signatories, including Hungary, to teach and disseminate information about the events of the Holocaust. The state of affairs described above doesn’t jibe with these declared obligations.

Gyomro Horthy ter

Miklós Horthy Square, Kereki / Photo by Martin Fejér (estost.net)

Since Miklós Horthy’s reburial in Kenderes eight towns honored the former governor either by erecting statues or by naming public places after him–Szeged, Páty, Csókakő, Kereki, Gyömrő, Debrecen, Harc, Kunhegyes–as well as three districts in Budapest. Most of these occurred in 2012. While irredentist national flags (országzászlók), the so-called Árpád-striped flags recalling the Arrow Cross Party of Ferenc Szálasi, are prominently displayed in several towns and villages, the government organized an exhibit in the Holocaust Center about the very same flag’s role in the Holocaust.

For a number of years the Military Museum has organized a remembrance for the “Day of the Breakthrough” of German and Hungarian troops from the Hungarian capital that was surrounded by Soviet troops. Sometimes the day is called the “Day of Honor,” borrowing the term from the Waffen-SS’s motto. On the wall of the museum is a plaque honoring the gendarmes who were entrusted with the deportation of the Hungarian Jews in the summer of 1944. All this is happening while the Criminal Code (§269/C) states that the denial of the Holocaust is a punishable act.

Hungary thus disgraces the memory of the Holocaust and denies the responsibility of the Hungarian state and societyHow can the country integrate itself into the European culture of remembrance this way? How can one government undersecretary attend a Holocaust Memorial while another collects money for a Horthy statue? How can they dedicate a year of remembrance to Raoul Wallenberg while the works of racist, antisemitic writers are made part of the school curriculum? Or how can someone–namely Ottokár Prohászka–be deemed a propagator of antisemitic ideas by the Holocaust Center while at least a dozen mostly educational institutions bear his name?

You claim that only the far-right Jobbik is an antisemitic party. However, open neo-Nazi  demagoguery goes on unchecked in the Hungarian Parliament even from an MP who happens to be the editor-in-chief of a weekly magazine. The banned Magyar Gárda can parade in military formation with government permission. The government with a two-thirds majority doesn’t move a finger to enforce the law on hate speech.

While in December Antal Rogán, a leading member of the government party, stood by the demonstrators against the infamous Márton Gyöngyösi (Jobbik) who suggested keeping lists of Jews, in February another important member of Fidesz, Lajos Kósa, mayor of Debrecen, made one of the cultural institutions of the city available for Gyöngyösi to deliver a lecture there.

We ask Tamás Fellegi to admit that in Hungary there is a glorification, with the active assistance of the government, of those responsible for the Holocaust. Admit that Hungary is incapable of admitting responsibility for the death of 600,000 Hungarian victims. Admit that Hungary is incapable of recognizing the danger of neo-Nazi ideology fostered by legislators. The Hungarian government is idly watching the ever increasing racism that once already ended in a series of murders. This is a greater problem than the racism of one party.

We ask you to take legislative steps to end the glorification of people who are responsible for the HolocaustMiklós Horthy, Ferenc Szálasi and members of the government between 1941 and 1945 in addition to those who voted for the Numerus Clausus, among them Ottokár Prohászka and Pál Teleki, and all those who took an active part in spreading racist ideologies, for example Albert Wass, József Nyirő, and Cécile Tormay. Memorials, places suitable for pilgrimages by extremists, plaques, and museums devoted to war criminals should be removed and their erection in the future forbidden.

According to the Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum it is the Holocaust Memorial Center and the Hungarian school system that are responsible for documenting Hungarian events accurately. We can remember these events on international and Hungarian days of remembrance without a denial of the past and without the glorification of those responsible.

Környezet-, Ifjúság- és Gyermekvédelmi Egyesület (KIGYE), Gyömrő /A civic group that protested the renaming a park Miklós Horthy Park

Pursuing a quote from the “scribbler” Imre Roboz

Occasionally the detective emerges in all of us with any intellectual curiosity. That is what happened to me yesterday when for the second time I read about the Jewish Bolshevik Imre Roboz (1892-1945) in the “sterling prose” of Zsolt Bayer.

It seems that Imre Roboz always comes in handy when Bayer makes a frontal attack on Hungarian Jews who allegedly hate their own country. The first time he used a quotation from Roboz was in his op/ed piece about those Hungarian and foreign Jews who say all sorts of nasty things about Hungary. Like András Schiff or Cohn-Bendit. The title of this incredible piece was “The same stench.” It appeared in the far-right Magyar Hírlap. I wrote about this article at length earlier.

At that time I was satisfied to check the most basic details about Imre Roboz’s life and ascertain that Roboz was not “a scribbler” as Bayer claimed but a very well-known and respected theater director who was murdered by the Hungarian Nazis only a few days before the Soviet troops liberated the Hungarian capital.

Yesterday, however, my intellectual curiosity about Imre Roboz was further piqued because Zsolt Bayer invoked him again. The occasion for using the same Roboz quotation that he cited last January was of course another tirade, this time against Ákos Kertész. The same quotation and an attempt to equate all Bolshevik murderers with the Hungarian Jewry. But Bayer often reveals his ignorance of history. For example, he quotes József Cserny, the leader of the murderous Lenin Boys, as a typical case of Jewish terror. The problem is that Cserny was a Protestant shoemaker’s assistant. Bayer also tries to teach Ákos Kertész a thing or two. For example, that “we were among the first ones in Europe who emancipated the Jews.” One doesn’t have to be an expert on the history of Jewish emancipation to suspect that this is untrue. And indeed. Hungary was one of the laggards, emancipating the Jews in 1867, beating out only Bulgaria, Serbia, Spain, Portugal, and Russia (1917).

The Roboz quotation, it turns out, has had quite a career in right-wing scribbling. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) The anti-Semitic István Csurka, chairman of MIÉP, also fell in love with the Roboz quotation, which he introduced as having been written by “a newspaperman, a Jew called Imre Roboz.” Csurka quoted the passage at length in which the theater director asks: “Why should I be a good son, a faithful son of a bad and unfaithful country…. It didn’t need me, I don’t need it. My weak people, my cowardly people, contemptible people, I have nothing to do with you.” These sentences remind Csurka of the words of Ágnes Heller, János Kis, Gábor Halmai, Bálint Magyar and the others “talking about the rule of law.”

A book review of “the much sought after best-seller of this year’s book week,” Francia Kiss Mihály élete és halála (Life and Death of Mihály Francia Kiss) by László Domonkos, also repeats the words of the Hungarian-hater Imre Roboz. Keep in mind that the “hero” of the Domonkos’s book, Mihály Francia Kiss, was a murderous counterrevolutionary who was sentenced to death in 1945 but escaped his fate by hiding until 1957.

Károly Szalay, a frequent contributor to Magyar Demokrata, writing on January 22, 2011, brought up Roboz in connection with the “red emigration.” He claims that he just happened to read Elemér Mályusz’sVörös emigráció (1931) where he found the same quotation Bayer cited only three weeks earlier. Szalay seems to know that Roboz wasn’t a writer as Bayer claimed but a “busy-body [mitugrász] theater director.”

The Hungarist (Arrow Cross) László Tompó (Brother Tompó) suggests reading Elemér Mályusz’s book on the red emigration which, although written in 1931, was reprinted in 2006 by Attraktor Press. One can buy it in bookstores specializing in far-right publications and can also order it from a website called “Nemzeti Könyvek boltja.”

Assuming that Imre Roboz was part of the “red emigration” in Vienna after 1919, he couldn’t have stayed there for long because on October 12, 1920 Pesti Hírlap announced that a certain Ben Blumenthal from New York had negotiated a deal between the United Play Corporation and Vígszinház, the famous Budapest theater. Blumenthal had to return to New York, but in his absence his lawyer, Mór Bedő, and Imre Roboz, director of Projetograph, were designated to represent him. According to the deal, Roboz would be the director of Vígszinház. Not only must Roboz have returned to Hungary after only a few months, but surely his “sins” couldn’t have been that grave because at this point counterrevolutionary atrocities were daily occurrences and yet he was a respectable member of Budapest’s cultural life only a year after the fall of the Hungarian Soviet Republic.

Only a few days ago Múlt-kor, a historical website, announced that an old Hungarian film from 1917 called “Az utolsó hajnal” (The last dawn) was recovered and placed in the Hungarian film archives. From the article we learn that “‘Hungarian film was the child of the war’ as Imre Roboz, the Hungarian film producer of the teens said.” Raphael Patai’s book entitled The Jews of Hungary: History, Culture, Psychology describes Imre Roboz as “another multitalented man whose career included the ownership of a cabaret…. He started as secretary of the Projectograph Film Company, then became editor of the first Hungarian motion picture magazine, Mozgófénykép Hiradó (Motion Picture News), and went on to direct the Phoenix Film Company and the Apollo Cabaret. In 1921 he also became director of the Vigszinház.”

As for Elemér Mályusz (1898-1989), he was a renowned medieval historian whose work, as long as he stayed with the Middle Ages, was outstanding although somewhat on the nationalist side. He and Gyula Szekfű, another giant of Hungarian historiography, were at odds over the essence of Hungarian history. Szekfű looked at progressivism as being intertwined with Hungary’s connection with Vienna while Mályusz was searching for models for Hungary in the East. He envisaged some kind of singular Hungarian road whose inspiration was the semi-independent Transylvania.

If Mályusz had stuck to history he would have had fewer troubles after 1945. Unfortunately he was not only an anti-communist and an anti-Semite but also an admirer of Hitler’s Germany. Thus, after the war Mályusz got into trouble because of two books he wrote. One was Vörös emigráció (also translated into German as Sturm auf Ungarn. Volkskommissäre und Genossen im Auslande and into English under the title The Fugitive Bolsheviks). This is the book from which publicists of the Hungarian extreme right like to quote. The other was a series of articles, later published in book form under the title A magyar történelemtudomány (1942; Hungarian Historiography). In these articles he talked about deporting the Jews from the country in order “to shape a life truly our own.” He talked approvingly about the German solution to the “Jewish question.”

Historian István Papp, who wrote an article about Mályusz’s troubles with the political police in 1945, remarks that A vörös emigráció was Mályusz’s worst effort. During his questioning Mályusz told the investigators that it was Pál Teleki, former prime minister, who asked him and Gyula Szekfű to write such a book. The original idea was that Mályusz would write about the events themselves while Szekfű would provide the ideological background. In the end Szekfű bailed out and thus Mályusz came to be the sole author. Teleki took care of the publication of the work into German and English. Surely, on money supplied by the Hungarian government. After 1945 Mályusz was relieved of his professorship, but eventually he was rehabilitated and became a senior researcher at the Hungarian Academy’s Historical Institute.

And a final word on Imre Roboz. His daughter, the painter Zsuzsi Roboz, in 1991 established an Imre Roboz Prize for actors or actresses of Vígszinház who beyond their performances on the stage spread the good name of the theater by pursuing public roles.

September 11, 2011