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.”
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.