Tag Archives: White terror

In Orbán’s opinion Miklós Horthy was an exceptional statesman

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

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

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

Source: Miniszterelnöki Kabinet / Károly Árvai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 21, 2017

Zsolt Bayer: It’s all the Jews’ fault

I have been waiting ever since February 27 for Zsolt Bayer to finish his magnum opus titled “Intolerable,” a series of articles railing against the “fact” that Jews tell the Hungarian people how to interpret their own history. I hoped that after two or three articles Bayer would wrap up his harangue against the evil influence of Jews in Hungarian history, but there is still no end in sight. Today he delivered his fourteenth installment and the third that deals with literary figures’ attraction to Nazi Germany: Ezra Pound, Louis-Férdinand Céline, Gerhart Hauptmann, and Knut Hamsun. All this to prove that anti-Semitism or an affinity with the Nazi ideology shouldn’t be a disqualification for the recognition of greatness. Earlier he quoted anti-Semitic writings from Hungarian classics in defense of the government’s decision to erect memorials to Hungarian interwar politicians like Bálint Hóman and György Donáth. The analogy of course is false because, in the case of Hóman and Donáth, we are talking about active politicians. And surely one cannot compare the groundbreaking modernist poetry of Ezra Pound to Bálint Hóman’s work on numismatics.

Bayer, however, insists that anti-Semitism after 1919 was a “natural” state of mind because of the Jewish preponderance in the leadership of the Soviet Republic. And with this assertion he absolves all anti-Semitism between the two world wars, which admittedly was widespread among writers, especially the Hungarian version of “narodniks” (népiesek). András Nyerges documented this anti-Semitism in Színrebontás (Color separation). Nyerges painstakingly combed through newspapers and periodicals of the interwar period looking for famous writers, especially those who became favorites of the party during the Kádár regime, and found plenty of evidence for both anti-Semitism and in some cases strong sympathy for the Nazi regime. Bayer wants to know why it is that “we forgive the anti-Semitism evoked by the Red Terror and the ‘revolt of the Jews’ of the best, the smartest, the most educated but we can’t forgive the same of the [ordinary Hungarian] people.”

Bayer defends the anti-Semitism of Hungarian villagers. “It is therefore time to ask the question: why are we surprised that the simple peasant whose determinant experience was that the Jews broke into his village, beat his priest to death, threatened to convert his church into a movie theater, why do we find it shocking that twenty years later he watched without pity as the gendarmes dragged the Jews away from his village?” Let’s look at the historical facts. First of all, the “Lenin boys” who showed up in the villages came from various religious backgrounds. For example, their leader, József Czerny, was a Protestant. In fact, of the 14 Lenin boys who were condemned to death on December 18, 1919, only three were listed as “izrealita.” Second, Chief Prosecutor Albert Váry claimed that there were 590 victims of the Red Terror, but later research proved that this number was far too high. Some of the listed victims actually died in battles between “revolutionaries” and “counterrevolutionaries.”

A group of Lenin boys

A group of Lenin boys

A victim of the White Terror

A victim of the White Terror

On the other hand, Miklós Horthy’s detachments killed about 1,200 people. How many of the victims were Jewish it is hard to tell, but from Pál Prónay’s diary we know that he and his detachment were actively looking for people who in their opinion were Jewish. But a lot of poor peasants who found the communist regime, especially at the beginning, attractive were also among the victims. Gergely Bödők’s article “Vörös és Fehér,” available online, reflects the most recent research on the Red and White Terrors in Hungary.

Claiming a causal link between the activities of the “Jewish” Lenin boys and the callous attitude of the Hungarian peasantry when their neighbors were dragged away is preposterous. Yet Bayer places this link at the center of his view on anti-Semitism in Hungary. The connection between the Red Terror and the peasants’ emotionless reaction “is important when we ponder the question of anti-Semitism, which poses further questions. For example, who can have a statue in this country and who can make such a decision.”

Bayer finds “the canonization and glorification of the Hungarian Soviet Republic” one of the greatest sins of the Kádár regime. I who did a lot of research on that period can attest to the fact that the “proper” interpretation of the Soviet Republic had to be strictly observed in those days. By the end of the Kádár period there were few historical taboos, but Béla Kun’s regime was one. Simple facts such as the weakness of the communist party in Hungary at the time couldn’t be included in an article, as I found out from personal experience. Setting things straight after the change of regime would have been easy enough and actually such corrections have taken place through several articles, including one on the Red and White Terrors mentioned earlier. But let’s hear what Bayer has to say on the topic. “We had the misconception following the regime change that everything would be tipped in the right direction. But that’s not happened. The whole thing is simply incomprehensible.”

What is Bayer talking about? There are no taboos today. Free-wheeling historical debates go on unabated. What is it that Bayer finds lacking in interpretations of the Hungarian Soviet Republic? He wants to emphasize the Jewishness of the Hungarian Soviet Republic and to exonerate the White Terror and the anti-Semitism of the interwar period as an understandable reaction. At the same time he would like to see historians rewrite the history of the Horthy regime, which in his opinion was unfairly dealt with by historians of the 1970s and 1980s. But the “liberal” historians today, and they are in the majority, resist the pressure of the Christian-national Orbán government. This is what bothers Zsolt Bayer.

Bayer would like to remove from the Hungarian historical canon not only those who were involved in the Soviet Republic and later in the illegal communist movement but even such greats of Hungarian progressivism as Károly Polányi, Ervin Szabó, Oszkár Jászi, Ilona Duczyńska, and others who were members of the Galilei Circle. I’m pretty sure that he is not alone in Fidesz in holding this view. Since Viktor Orbán formed his government there were several attempts to obliterate these names from the national consciousness. I was actually most surprised to find a couple of streets in Szombathely and Miskolc that bear the name of Oszkár Jászi. If it depended on Bayer, his name would be removed without a second thought. The very fact that streets are named after these people or that Budapest’s public library system is named after Ervin Szabó, who was its first chief librarian, is unbearable to Bayer. These are “tormenting questions.” But what is truly excruciating is how it can happen that “the sins of a real murderer, as long as he is a left-winger and a communist, are forgiven.” The “murderer” to whom he is referring is George Lukács, the philosopher and literary critic who happened to be born in the same year as Bálint Hóman.

March 14, 2016

A short history lesson about 1918-1919 in Hungary

I’ve written several times about András Nyerges’s excellent column, “Color Separation,” that compares today’s right wing to their interwar counterparts. His articles–originally published in Magyar Hírlap when it was a liberal paper and, after Gábor Széles made it a mouthpiece of the far right, in Élet és Irodalom–were reprinted in a two-volume collection. Inspired by some recent topics of discussion, I went back to these books. Today I’ll focus on two articles that are especially on target. One deals with the Romanian occupation of Budapest in August 1919 and even mentions Cécile Tormay by name. The other, published in 2002, is about Fidesz’s “reinterpretation” of Mihály Károlyi and the First Republic.

First to Tormay and the Romanians. I took a look at the last few pages of Cécile Tormay’s second volume in which she discusses the events between August 1 and August 8, 1919. During this time Tormay was hiding from the Budapest terrorists in a border town between Slovakia and Hungary, Balassagyarmat. It turned out to be a bad choice: Balassagyarmat was swarming with local terrorists who planned to kill practically all the better-off people in town even after the fall of Béla Kun. At least according to Tormay.

It is here that Tormay learned that the Romanians had occupied Budapest. She immediately came up with a conspiracy theory. That’s why the Entente representative refused to negotiate with “us, Hungarians” and instead turned to “William Böhm, Kunfi and with Károlyi’s henchman, Garami.” I guess it doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone that all three happened to be of Jewish origin. The Entente didn’t allow the Hungarian troops stationed in French-occupied Szeged to liberate Hungary because “the occupation of Budapest was reserved by the Great Powers for the Rumanians so that the city might become their prey and they might still act the role of deliverers.”

Well, it seems from Nyerges’s article that there were alternative theories about the arrival of the Romanian troops. One of the very few liberal members of parliament in 1922 inquired from István Bethlen, by then prime minister, whether he was planning to set up a committee to investigate “who those traitors were who, against the expressed wishes of the Entente, asked the Romanians to occupy the capital city.”  The committee was indeed set up and those members of parliament who in one way or the other were involved in the coup d’état against the social democratic government that took over after the fall of Béla Kun loudly protested, although no one accused them of anything. They all denied complicity. As usual with investigative committees in Hungary then or now, no one became any the wiser as a result of the hearings.

Outside the House, however, rumors didn’t die down. A Romanian politician, Ioan Erdeli (in Hungarian sources he is referred to as Erdélyi János) who was involved in the secret Hungarian-Romanian negotiations during September-October 1919, gave an interview in a Cluj (Kolozsvár) paper in 1922 in which he said that there were indeed several delegations to the Romanian army asking for the occupation of Budapest. He was not at liberty to disclose names, “but they were mostly aristocrats and important representatives of industry.” But a journalist close to government circles had already mentioned in late 1919 two important people who were allegedly involved: István Friedrich, prime minister in 1919, and General Ferenc Schnetzer, his minister of defense. There is no real proof of their complicity, but what we can say for sure is that the fall of Béla Kun and the arrival of the Romanians was greeted with relief. In fact, the Romanians’ reception in Budapest was more than cordial; the disillusioned Hungarians welcomed the soldiers with a shower of late summer flowers. Tormay was “longingly waiting for the arrival of the occupiers” because communism meant the death of the nation. Foreign occupation was only humiliating.

And since we were just talking about the White Terror, mostly conducted by Miklós Horthy’s officers stationed in Siófok at Lake Balaton, here is Tormay’s account. “In Western Hungary the peasants are arresting the hiding butchers of the dictatorship and delivering them up to the justice of the crowd. They are executed by those whose father, mother, husband or child they have murdered.” This is how people rewrite history according to their own political views. Surely, true Hungarian officers couldn’t possibly murder the Jews and riff-raff whom Tormay loathed; this task had to fall to the aggrieved peasant masses.

Róbert Berényi's famous poster for recruiting volunteers for the Red Army

Róbert Berény’s famous poster to recruit volunteers for the Red Army

Nyerges’s second article deals with the reevaluation of the 1918-1919 period. Nyerges wrote it in 2002 after reading a work by a historian of decidedly right-wing views. This work as well as many other studies of the period try to portray the period in black and white. All the good men were on the right; those who supported Mihály Károlyi, and especially the Hungarian Soviet Republic, were “the garbage of Hungarian society.” This is still the case, says the unnamed historian, “even if some well known intellectuals enthusiastically spoke of the communist system and the arrival of the Red God and for a while served the regime. That was only their error or rather their shame.”

But life is never that simple. Combing through the contemporary conservative press Nyerges found plenty from the other side who enthusiastically supported the Károlyi regime. Here is an editorial (December 24, 1918) from Alkotmány (Constitution), the official paper of the Katolikus Néppárt (Catholic People’s Party). “We can take it for granted, based on Mihály Károlyi’s political past, and he himself certainly has the right to claim that every word of his comes from inner conviction. We don’t believe that the ship of state would be heading in better direction than in his hands.” The militantly conservative Budapesti Hírlap on February 25, 1919 wrote in connection with the land reform that “regardless of how it will end, it is leading toward true democratization. …  As the Romans said: Quod bonum, faustum, felix fortunatumque sit (May the outcome be good, propitious, lucky and successful.)” But this very same newspaper on October 7, 1919 wrote: “Károlyi and his conniving accomplices killed Hungary!”  A few weeks later the Budapesti Hírlap thought that the stupefied people didn’t realize that the October 1918 revolution  “was not national but a Bolshevik revolution. Every thinking man in the very first week, at the time Barna Buza announced the land reform, should have seen that.”  But if that was the case, why did the same newspaper say on February 22, 1919 that Buza “clearly stated that the land reform means not only a right but a responsibility.” The conservative Élet (Life), a literary magazine, wrote: “Károlyi is a martyr. A well meaning man who is ready to negotiate with the enemy and who received real promises.” In another article, the literary weekly admitted that under the circumstances the socialists became the backbone of society. Moreover, they are real patriots because “the socialists fought for the integrity of Greater Hungary” at the meeting of the Bern International in February 1919.”We were reading their speeches with great excitement at home. We applauded and cheered.” And the very last example, which is really telling: the Alkotmány (Catholic People’s Party) wrote on March 23, two days after the declaration of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, that “when pacifism and the pro-Entente politics failed, the hand of the proletariat was raised. The Hungarian Soviet Republic was born in order to save the integrity of Hungary.”  “During the war years the enemy called the Hungarian soldier ‘the red devil.’ The enemy will certainly hear in the future about the Red Army.” So, not only duped, ill-informed, naive people were enthusiastic about the revolutionary events of 1918-1919.

After the arrival of the counterrevolutionaries the history of these years was rewritten.  And today the rewriting of history is again proceeding apace. Black (or red) and white, evil and good, non-Christian and Christian, international (and by implication treasonous) and national. But a binary history is a false history, whichever side writes it.