Tag Archives: Sándor Lezsák

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 Lakitelek foundation and Russian cultural penetration in Hungary

In early May I wrote a piece titled “Sándor Lezsák’s fiefdom in Lakitelek came to an abrupt end.” The occasion was a by-election held in this large village where the Fidesz leadership suffered a severe blow. The solid Fidesz majority on the Lakitelek town council simply evaporated. The event received national attention because Lakitelek is Sándor Lezsák’s Felcsút.

Sándor Lezsák is best known as the man in whose backyard the Magyar Demokrata Fórum, a right-of-center political party that won the first democratic election after the fall of communism, was born. Lezsák was a teacher at the time in the Lakitelek elementary school. Although he is often described as a minor poet on the basis of two slim volumes of poetry published in 1983 and 1988, he seems to have given up his literary ambitions. On the other hand, ever since 1987 he has been active in politics, first as a member of MDF and later, after his expulsion from the party, in Fidesz. Today Lezsák is one of the deputy speakers of the Hungarian parliament.

While Viktor Orbán’s Felcsút has become the football capital of Hungary, Lakitelek is best known for the Lakitelek Népfőiskola Alapítvány, a private foundation established by Lezsák and his wife for the edification of those who would like to immerse themselves in the eastern traditions of the Hungarian past. This “people’s college” has adopted a decidedly right-wing ideology and a pro-eastern cultural and political orientation. Lezsák’s foundation receives a great deal less public money than does Orbán’s Puskás Academy. Still, according to some estimates, Lakitelek Népfőiskola will have received about 12 billion forints in public funds by 2020. Year after year buildings are added to the complex, which by now looks more like a wellness center than a college for poor country folks, as the founders of such institutions originally imagined them.

Lakitelek is in the news again. It looks as if the Nemzeti Művelődési Intézet (NMI), a public institution with a yearly budget of 1.3 billion forints, will be “inherited” by Sándor Lezsák’s foundation. Thus, a publicly funded institution will be moving to the grounds of a private foundation. NMI’s headquarters are currently in Budapest, but a new building will be erected in Lakitelek. The staff will have to relocate. If, that is, they want to move to a village on the Great Plains about 100 km from Budapest.

In January János Lázár announced, in the name of reducing the size of the bureaucracy and cost cutting, the closing or merger of 73 so-called background institutions attached to ministries. NMI, which was established only in 2013, was destined to be eliminated. But then, as usual, all sorts of interest groups tried to save the institution, which has a nationwide network and whose main function is cultural and educational improvements, especially in smaller, disadvantaged communities.

In Hungarian universities a student can choose a major that trains people to become professional educators outside of the formal educational network. Perhaps one could call them adult educators. The subject is also described as andragogy, which, according to dictionary.com means “the methods or techniques used to teach adults.” Ever since the 1950s almost all villages have had “a house of culture” (kultúrház) where movies, theatrical performances, and other cultural activities could be held. Now it seems that the government wants to replace this network with 500 “people’s colleges” following the Lakitelek model. Accordingly, a June 13 government decree abolished NMI and declared that its functions will be taken over by the Lakitelek Népfőiskola Alapítvány.

This change is another decision that will fundamentally change cultural and education activities outside of schools. Until now NMI’s cultural activities were on a professional footing, but in the hands of the far-right Sándor Lezsák, who is a devotee of Turanism (which is described as a “pseudoscientific, nationalist political and cultural movement which proclaims an ethnic cultural unity for disparate people who are supposed to have a common ancestral origin in Central Asia”), they will be vehicles of state ideology.

And that’s not all. Péter Pető of Népszabadság called attention today to the fact that Lezsák is also honorary president of the Tolsztoj Társaság (Tolstoy Association), which was established on May 12, 2011. Those of you who know either Hungarian or Russian should take a look at their website. MVM, the state-owned Hungarian Power Company, is the supporter of the organization. That support must be quite substantial judging from the number of trips members or students of Slovak-Hungarian or Hungarian high schools make to Russia. The board includes such men as T. Gyula Máté, the son of Gyula Thürmer, chairman of Munkáspárt, the minuscule communist party of Hungary. He is best known for his viciously anti-American opinion pieces in Magyar Hírlap. Gábor Stier, a pro-Russian foreign affairs editor of Magyar Nemzet, is also a board member. Pető correctly points out that Lezsák is not only infatuated with Hungarians’ Turanian origin but is also an advocate of closer relations between Hungary and Russia. Over the years he has invited to Lakitelek such government officials as Ernő Keskeny, today Hungarian ambassador in Kiev and the alleged architect of Viktor Orbán’s Russia policy, Aleksandr Tolkach, former Russian ambassador to Hungary, and the infamous Szilárd Kiss, the Hungarian wheeler and dealer in Moscow.

Unveiling Lev Tolstoy's bust in Városliget, October 16, 2013 / MTI / Photo Zoltán Máthé

Unveiling Lev Tolstoy’s bust in Városliget, October 16, 2013. Lezsák is on the right. MTI / Photo by Zoltán Máthé

According to Lóránt Győri, an analyst at Political Capital, “what we see in Lakitelek and in the Tolsztoj Társaság is the result of Russia’s attempt with the means of ‘soft power’ to gain influence in Central and Western Europe.” As is well known, Russia generously supports far-right political organizations, but “there is another form of influence gathering, the ‘Lakitelek model,’ which is trying to influence people indirectly through pro-Russian socialization in the fields of culture and education.” Such influence, especially now that Lezsák will have MNI’s cultural network at his disposal, “might create a pro-Russian young intellectual elite who later in key positions can be useful in the ideological war of the Kremlin.” It sounds pretty scary.

August 8, 2016

Sándor Lezsák’s fiefdom in Lakitelek came to an abrupt end

Yesterday several by-elections were held, with mixed results. Here I will concentrate on the election held in Lakitelek, a large village about 30 km from Kecskemét.

Before 1987 few people had ever heard of Lakitelek. But in September 1987 Sándor Lezsák, a minor poet, offered the backyard of his house in the village for the first gathering of anti-communist forces. There they established the Magyar Demokrata Fórum (MDF). The vast majority of the people who attended this meeting belonged to the Hungarian equivalent of the German Völkisch or the Russian narodnik movement.

Sándor Lezsák, a typical representative of the narodnik (népies) Hungarian literary tradition, has since drifted far to the right. By 2004 he was expelled from MDF, along with some other like-minded politicians. In no time they joined Fidesz as members of a political group they named Nemzeti Fórum.

Lezsák is a great supporter of Turanism, a nationalistic ideology that believes that the Hungarian people migrated from the steppes of Central Asia. A couple of years ago he was the honorary president of Kurultaj, a tribal meeting of Turanian people. A private initiative five or six years ago, this annual event is now sponsored by the Hungarian government and aided by generous grants.

The Hungarian narodniks were always keen on educating talented peasant boys and girls. After 1945 they established so-called people’s colleges, which were forced to close after the 1948 communist takeover. A few years ago Lezsák and his wife established a foundation and began building a people’s college (népfőiskola) of their own. On four hectares the Lezsáks have been erecting an ambitious complex, naturally with generous government grants. In 2015 the Orbán government gave the Lakitelek Népfőiskola 2.3 billion forints. In 2014 the income of the college was 445.7 million, of which 343 million came from the ministry of human resources.

As you can see from the plans, Lakitelek is Lezsák’s Felcsút. When the campus is completed, the college will have a swimming pool, tennis courts, a guest house, café, restaurant, print shop (with a separate building for its publications), gallery, mini golf course, chapel, horse stable, “national statue park,” and, rounding things out in appropriate fashion, yurtas. Classes in Azeri, Bashkir, Belarus, Georgian, Kazakh, Kirgiz, Tatar, Turkmen, Uyghur, and Uzbek are already offered. How much the students will learn in 32 hours of instruction I have no idea, but I have my doubts about the usefulness of Lezsák’s educational methods.

Plans for Sándor Lezsák's very own people's college in Lakitelek

Plans for Sándor Lezsák’s very own people’s college in Lakitelek

Lezsák has been running the show in Lakitelek ever since 1990. In fact, the local internet site is called Lakitelek Lezsák-falva, meaning “the village of Lezsák” where nothing happens without his say so. In the past, the majority of the town council and the mayor were all members of Lezsák’s Nemzeti Fórum, a party with a status similar to that of the Hungarian Christian Democratic Party. It has eight members in parliament within the Fidesz parliamentary caucus. In 2014, however, an unheard-of event took place. A Nemzeti Fórum candidate for mayor lost the election to an independent, Mrs. Anita Kiss-Zoboki. Her margin was slight. Moreover, in the town council Fidesz-NF members remained in the majority. Although Kiss-Zoboki was most accommodating, Lezsák and his men refused to work with her. In fact, when the new mayor asked for an appointment with the great man, he refused to meet with her for six solid months. The situation in Lakitelek began to resemble the one that developed in Esztergom after 2010 when its independent mayor ended up with a totally uncooperative city council with a Fidesz majority. Just like in Esztergom, the Fidesz-NF majority refused to work with the new mayor until, at the end of January, the Fidesz-NF deputy mayor suggested the dissolution of the council and new elections. He sure made a mistake.

First of all, this time 61% of eligible voters cast ballots, as opposed to 45% in 2014. In the October 2014 election Anita Kiss-Zoboki got 867 votes as opposed to her opponent’s 795, a difference of 72 votes. Yesterday she received 1,377 votes; her Fidesz-NF opponent, 827. In the six-member council formed in 2014 there were four Fidesz-NF affiliated members and only two independents. Today all six council members are independents belonging to Kiss-Zoboki’s team. That’s called a rout.

The village is described as politically divided, and therefore articles in local papers that appeared before the election predicted a close contest. The Fidesz-NF leadership in town seemed to be worried because apparently the party’s local supporters distributed phony leaflets trying to tie the independent candidate to Ferenc Gyurcsány. On the leaflets one could see a picture of Anita Kiss-Zoboki with the colors of DK in the background. The ads claimed that if she wins the election the whole town will be full of migrants and same-sex marriages will be allowed.

According to Hírösvény, an internet news site serving Kecskemét and environs, such a huge win was totally unexpected because other left-leaning opposition parties are not at all represented in Lakitelek. Clearly, the people of Lakitelek had had enough of the local politicos acting like medieval barons. The people also realized that voting for a non-Fidesz mayor but allowing a Fidesz-ruled council doesn’t work. The result is a non-functioning local government. And so, while the people of Lakitelek were at it, they got rid of the whole bunch.

May 9, 2016

Miklós Horthy redux

While the anti-refugee propaganda is loud and shrill, the rehabilitation of Admiral Horthy, regent of the Kingdom of Hungary (1920-1944), is quietly taking place in the background. About a month ago the website of the “Truth Institute,” my name for the Veritas Institute established by the Orbán government to set Hungarian history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries straight, advertised a conference to be held in Kaposvár on August 22 with the innocent-sounding theme “Society and culture in Hungary between the two world wars.” I became suspicious, however, when it turned out that one of the scheduled speakers was vitéz László Hunyadi, captain-general of the Order of Knights, established by Miklós Horthy to honor soldiers with a record of distinguished service in World War I. At the order of the regent, no Jew, no matter how valiantly he fought in the war, could be a member.

I became even more suspicious when I heard that the conference began with a holy mass for István Horthy, the older son of the admiral who died in an airplane accident in Russia, and for the fallen during World War II. István (Sharif) Horthy, Jr. was the guest of honor.

What the program did not reveal was that the Hungarian government, through its National Cultural Fund (Nemzeti Kulturális Alap), contributed generously to the conference which, as it turned out later, was the brainchild of the Horthy Miklós Alapítvány (Miklós Horthy Foundation). The Hungarian military was also represented by the air force band of Veszprém.

Unfortunately there is a public record of the speeches of only three speakers: the introductory words of the “chief sponsor”–Sándor Lezsák, a very minor poet in whose backyard the Magyar Demokrata Fórum was born and who today is the deputy speaker of the Hungarian parliament; István Horthy, Jr.; and Sándor Szakály, a military historian and director of the Truth Institute. Anyone who can handle the language can listen to their speeches as recorded by the cameraman of a local newspaper.

Sándor Lezsák and the knights

Sándor Lezsák and the knights

Although it was Sándor Lezsák who opened the conference, I would prefer to begin my analysis with the short speech of István Horthy, Jr., who has proved himself, on the few occasions he was called upon to speak in Hungary, to be a moderate and reasonable man. He pointed to the divide that cuts across Hungarian society and the inability of the two sides to find common ground. He expressed his hope that the conference would help bring divergent opinions closer together.

With his prepared speech in hand, what could István Horthy have been thinking when he listened to Sándor Lezsák’s introductory words, which were full of condemnation of those who don’t agree with his views? Here are a few key sentences. “Those historians, teachers, politicians, 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.” A good beginning. And he continued. Of course, it is possible that “these people are misled by the long-time conductors of this anti-Horthy campaign.” It is hard to know whether the historians are the ones who are misled by these unnamed “conductors” or whether it is the historians themselves who are the evil conductors who want to discredit Miklós Horthy and his regime.

According to Lezsák, the white terror supervised by Miklós Horthy was designed to end the chaos created by the events of 1918-1919 and to bring order to the land. In his version, Horthy had nothing to do with the atrocities committed by his detachments that resulted in the deaths of approximately 1,200 people, many Jews among them. In fact, he was the one who was strong enough to put an end to the atrocities. This version of the story, alas, bears no resemblance to reality.

Lezsák, as one of the founders of MDF, inherited the narodnik (népi/népiesek) ideology of those writers and sociologists who severely criticized the Horthy regime’s agricultural policies, which created a large landless peasantry. Therefore, his only criticism of the Horthy regime was on that front, which he called “the darkest side of the regime.” A commentator criticized Lezsák for neglecting to mention the Holocaust, which surely was a much greater tragedy, but I would have been greatly surprised if he had. After all, in the official view of the Orbán regime the Hungarian government had nothing to do with the Holocaust because after March 19, 1944 Hungary ceased to be a sovereign nation. This is an untenable position. It is enough to look at the members of the Hungarian governments formed after that date and Horthy’s decision to stay in his post to demonstrate the continuity.

The third speech was delivered by Sándor Szakály, whose main theme was revisionism, which was supported by all segments of Hungarian society.  In his view no inter-war government would have survived that abandoned the idea of revising the Treaty of Trianon. As far as public sentiment was concerned, Szakály has a point, but what he failed to mention was the Hungarian government’s very effective propaganda. It eventually led to a situation that prompted even John F. Montgomery, U.S. minister to Hungary between 1933 and 1941 and a friend of Horthy, to remark that “the Hungarian people were not quite sane” on the subject of the Treaty of Trianon. Szakály’s conclusion was that since nothing but a revisionist foreign policy was possible, Hungary had to rely on those great powers that were ready to help, and they were Germany and Italy. End of discussion.

It’s too bad that no one reported on some of the other lectures. For example what István Ravasz, a military historian, had to say about “the Hungarian casus belli” on July 26, 1941, when Hungary entered the war on the side of Germany against the Soviet Union. Or how Zalán Bognár, who teaches at the Gáspár Károli Hungarian Reformed University, handled the German occupation of Hungary. The title of his speech sounds intriguing: “Arrow Cross takeover, deportations, counter-measures.” What kinds of counter-measures could he possibly be talking about?

All in all, the task of rewriting the history of the interwar period is under way. And this is only the beginning. The Truth Institute is publishing several books that I’m sure are destined to replace monographs about the period by well-known historian. It’s enough to visit the website of the Veritas Institute. They are busy revisionists.

Viktor Orbán feels more at home in Astana than in Brussels

After finding out today that the whole story about the new M4 superhighway was bogus, that the European Union hadn’t charged the bid-winning construction companies with price-fixing, I decided to move away from the muck of current Hungarian politics, at least for a day. I find the Hungarian government’s constant lying hard to take.

Instead, today I’m going to re-explore some Hungarian pseudo-science, prompted by Viktor Orbán’s visit to Kazakhstan. The trip was obviously a big deal for the prime minister. For instance, he took his wife along, which rarely happens. And the Hungarian government chartered a Boeing 767-300ER plane from Austria that seats 200.

The chartered plane that took Viktor Orbán to the country of his dreams

The chartered plane that took Viktor Orbán to the country of his dreams

What captured the imagination of the Hungarian media was a short Russian-language quotation from one of Orbán’s speeches while in Kazakhstan in which he said: “We believe that we are equal partners within the European Union but originally we were strangers there. When we go to Brussels, we have no relatives there. But when we come to you in Kazakhstan we are at home. This is a strange feeling, that people have to go to the East in order to feel at home. Therefore, it is always with great pleasure that the Hungarian delegation comes here.” I used the original Russian when translating the above passage; it can be found on the website of the Kazakh Information Service.

Interestingly enough, MTI decided that Viktor Orbán’s gushing might not go over too well with the Hungarian public who, thank you very much, feel quite at home in Europe. It left these sentences out of its report.

Let’s look into this so-called genetic relationship between the Kazakhs and the Hungarians. Since I already wrote a post on the genetic markers in the Hungarian population both at the time of the conquest and now, I will just briefly summarize the latest findings on the subject. A group of geneticists at the University of Szeged did research on the DNA composition of human remains from graves dating from the early tenth century. On the basis of their findings they came to the conclusion that the number of invaders was most likely very small because even in these early graves only 36% of the people had markers indicating Asiatic origin. Fifty percent of them were of purely European origin. Their DNA indicated that their ancestors had lived in Europe for at least 40,000-50,000 years. By now 84% of the Hungarian-speaking inhabitants of the Carpathian basin are of purely European origin, and only 16% carry any Asiatic markers at all.

In 2009, A. Z. Bíró, A. Zalán, A. Völgyi, and H. Pamjav published a study in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology titled “A Y-chromosomal comparison of the Madjars (Kazakhstan) and the Magyars (Hungary).” They compared the Madjars with 37 other populations and showed that they were closer to the Hungarian population than to their geographical neighbors. They added that “although this finding could result from chance, it is striking and suggests that there could have been genetic contact between the ancestors of the Madjars and Magyars.” Critics of the study, including Csanád Bálint, director of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Archaeology, complained about the authors’ qualifications when it comes to history, linguistics or ethnography. But qualified or not, A[ndrás] Z[s] Bíró is a favorite of those people of extreme right political views who are searching for the original homeland of the Hungarians somewhere in Kazakhstan. I wrote about them in an August 2010 post titled “Turanian tribal meeting in Hungary.”

Nándor Dreisziger, a Canadian-Hungarian historian, wrote an article on “Genetic Research and Hungarian ‘Deep Ancestry'” in which he described the Bíró-Zalán-Völgyi-Pamjav study’s conclusion as most likely untenable. As he said: “Crudely put, the argument used by Bíró and company sounds like this: the Madijars [whom the authors misleadingly called Madjars] are genetically extremely distant from all other populations, and they are very distant from Hungarians: therefore they must be the closest relatives of Hungarians.”

Those who believe in the Kazakh-Hungarian relationship are ideologically extreme, but one mustn’t think that this group includes only people attracted to Jobbik. Far from it. One year László Kövér, president of the Hungarian parliament, was the chief sponsor of the tribal meeting. Sándor Lezsák, who between 2006 and 2014 was the Fidesz deputy president of parliament, was one of the original organizers of the yearly gathering of men and women who play tribal games imitating life as they imagine it to have been in the tenth century or earlier somewhere on the steppes of Eurasia. Naturally, during these gatherings they are also treated to lectures about all aspects of their pseudo-history. Among the lecturers one often finds András Zs. Bíró. Most of the people involved in studying ancient Hungarian history are amateurs, and their research is bogus. But Viktor Orbán must have fallen for their stories about Hungary’s central Asian history.

Of course, propagating a false account of the origin of Hungarians is bad enough, but going so far as to to show a preference for a country where there is a brutal dictatorship takes one’s breath away. I know, I promised that I wouldn’t write about politics today, so I’ll stop on that “breath-less” note.

The siege of Budapest: Neo-Nazis remember the “breakthrough” of February 11, 1945

Every year around this time the Hungarian press is full of stories about far-right groups celebrating the “breakthrough” of German and Hungarian forces on February 11, 1945 from the city of Budapest, which was surrounded by Soviet troops on all sides.

If you can get hold of Krisztián Ungváry’s book entitled Budapest ostroma (1998), which was also translated into English (The Siege of Budapest) and German (Die Belagerung Budapest), by all means do so because it is a fascinating book and the story of the “breakthrough” is gripping. Here I will very briefly relate what happened.

The siege of Budapest, which lasted 64 days all told, was one of the bloodiest encounters of the war. Hitler forbade the German military to abandon the city or to try to escape before the total encirclement of Budapest took place. The German commander of the city was Karl Pfeffer-Wildenbruch, who was not brave enough to defy the Führer until it was too late.

Between December 24 and December 27 the Red Army managed to surround the Buda side of the city. The Soviets reached Pest in January and by January 17 they liberated the Pest ghetto. The siege of Buda started on January 20 and lasted until February 11. It was on that day that Pfeffer-Wilderbruch finally decided to try to break through the enemy lines.

Here are some figures to give you an idea of the desperate situation in which the German and Hungarian troops found themselves. On December 24, that is before the total encirclement, there were approximately 79,000 soldiers in the city. During the siege of Pest 22,000 were either captured or killed. In Buda the number of dead and captured was approximately 13,000 prior to February 11. On that fateful day there were only 43,900 soldiers left, and of that number 11,600 were wounded.

During the breakthrough attempt 19,200 soldiers died. Only 700 managed to join the Germans west of the Soviet line. Pfeffer-Wilderbruch, the German commander, was captured by the Soviets and in August 1949 was sentenced to 25 years of hard labor. After Stalin’s death, however, he was released to West Germany along with 10,000 other German prisoners of war. The Hungarian commander, Iván Hindy, was also captured and subsequently was sentenced to death by the Hungarian People’s Courts. In 1946 he was executed. A neo-Nazi Hungarian site, by the way, lists all those who were executed for war crimes by Hungarian courts in 1946.

So, this is the day Hungarian neo-Nazis remember every year in early February. This year, however, talk about the “breakthrough” began even earlier. In January someone discovered on a list of walking tours sponsored by the City of Budapest Kitörés 60,  a tour organized every year on the anniversary of the “breakthrough” during the weekend closest to February 11. Participants follow the route of those 700 individuals who managed to break through the Soviet lines. According to the information on their website, the walking tour is over 57 km, which participants must complete in 18 hours. Just to give you an idea of how popular this tour is, last year more than 1,000 people paid 2,000 forints each to participate. According to their Internet site, the walking tour is organized “every February in remembrance of those Hungarian and German soldiers who in World War II heroically defended Budapest and Western Europe from the Bolshevik Red Army.”

Participants are gathering for their yearly tour following the German and Hungarian troops "breakthrough" on February 11, 1944

Participants are gathering for their yearly walking tour following the route of the German and Hungarian troops’ “breakthrough” on February 11, 1945

“Kitörés 60” didn’t attract too much attention until now, although the walking tour has been held since 2005. If they hadn’t made the mistake of listing themselves together with other walking tours sponsored by the City of Budapest, most likely no one would have paid any attention to these neo-Nazi enthusiasts.

Another interesting bit of information came to light in connection with this walking tour. Zoltán Moys, son-in-law of Sándor Lezsák (Fidesz), deputy speaker of the Hungarian parliament, is the founder of a group called Börzsöny Akciócsoport which is behind the tours. Zoltán Moys has a company that produces television shows for the public, actually state, television stations MTV and Duna TV. He is behind such far-right programs as “Hagyaték (Inheritance) about which I wrote earlier. My post’s title was “Neo-Nazi/Jobbik programs on Duna TV: The Orbán government has no objection.” At that point I didn’t know that Lezsák’s own son-in-law was the producer of this unspeakable program where Sándor Szakály also makes frequent appearances. I place Lezsák at the very far right of the ideological spectrum of Fidesz; he would actually find himself much more at home in Jobbik.

This year some Hungarian neo-Nazis planned another, more modest celebration. The Budapest anti-Fascist group learned about it and went out to protest. The celebrants were supposed to have gathered on Clark Ádám tér at the Lánchíd. But the police, fearing a clash between the neo-Nazis and the anti-Fascists, closed off the square and with it the bridge from Pest to Buda. A lot of the participants managed to get to Buda only in a roundabout way. Eventually they gathered on Kapisztrán tér. They marched the short distance from Kapisztrán tér to Dísz tér and back to the tune of World War II German and Hungarian marches. Speeches at the gathering lauded the heroes who died “for Christian Europe.” Meanwhile the anti-Fascists gathered on Dózsa György tér and walked to the Castle district with a police escort. To keep the two groups away from each other the anti-Fascists were stopped in front of the German embassy.

Actually, if I were one of the members of the Budapest anti-Fascist group, I would be much more worried about the walking tour organized by the man who produces falsified accounts of Hungarian history from a far right perspective than the gathering of a few skinheads with swastikas tattooed on their necks. The neo-Nazi Zoltán Moys and his friends who produce programs for the state television stations are much more dangerous to Hungarian democracy than the few guys marching in military formation.