Tag Archives: Tolstoy Association

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

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