Hungary

The reception of Viktor Orbán’s speech in the West and in Romania

The world is in such a turmoil that although Viktor Orbán’s open admission of his goal to eliminate the “liberal” component of western-type democracy might be considered a watershed both domestically and in Hungary’s relation with the European Union, it is receiving scant attention. After all, the armed conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East are serious current problems, while Viktor Orbán’s threat to Hungarian democracy and to the European Union would have  negative implications only in the future.

In English I managed to find only a couple of news items about Orbán’s speech. The Associated Press published a short summary which was then picked up by ABC. Zoltán Simon’s reporting from Budapest for Bloomberg was more detailed and to the point: “Orbán Says He Seeks to End Liberal Democracy in Hungary.”  This article must have had a large readership judging from the number of comments.

Vox.com quotes an important passage from the speech: “I don’t think that our European Union membership precludes us from building an illiberal new state based on national foundations.” Actually, I trust that this will be a sticking point soon enough. The author of the article also takes issue with Orbán’s contention that illiberal states are economic success stories; they are in fact doing a great deal worse than liberal states. Russia, Turkey, and China are all poorer than Croatia, Poland, or Hungary for that matter.

The German and Austrian papers that are usually full of news about Hungarian politics are silent. Perhaps everybody is on vacation. I found only one German article and even this one only through a Hungarian source. It appeared in the liberal Süddeutsche Zeitung. The title of the piece is “Enough!,” a reference to the question of how long the European Union will tolerate Viktor Orbán’s anti-democratic policies that have already transformed Hungary into a non-democratic state. “One must urgently pose the question whether Hungary led by Viktor Orbán wants to remain part of the European Union or not.” And while he was at it, the journalist suggested that the European People’s Party should expel Hungary from its delegation.

On the other hand, interest in Orbán’s speech was great in Romania. After all, it was delivered there and its implications can already be felt. Romanian-Hungarian relations are at an all-time low.

Before I turn to the Romanian press I would like to talk about Viktor Orbán’s contradictory messages and how they affect the Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries. Let’s start with Romania. The Hungarian minority in Romania is large: 1.2 million people or 6.4% of the population. Yet, according to the Romanian constitution, Romania is a “nation-state.” The Hungarian minority would like to have Romania be officially transformed into a multi-national state.

Orbán should know full well that the highly charged nationalism he is advocating is not in the interest of the Hungarians in the neighboring countries. Nationalism on one side of the border evokes nationalism on the other side. This is exactly what happened in Romania. Bogdan Diaconu, a nationalist politician and member of parliament, published an article in Adevarul, a leading Romanian newspaper, which was subsequently translated into Hungarian. The nationalistic hate speech of Diaconu there was countered with obscene, equally hateful comments by Hungarians.

nationalism

Surely, Orbán’s nationalism does not make the life of the Hungarian minority any easier in the neighboring countries. Just the opposite. Great suspicion follows every word Orbán utters in connection with his plans for the “nation.” And that is not all. Orbán’s attack on Hungarian NGOs that receive foreign money was also a double-edged sword. He argued that this money is being used to influence the Hungarian government, which cannot be tolerated. But the Hungarian government is financing Hungarian NGOs and parties in Romania and Slovakia. Thus, the Hungarian government is trying to influence the Slovak and Romanian governments on behalf of the Hungarian minority. What will happen if Romania or Slovakia follows Orbán’s example and refuses the receipt of any money from Budapest destined for the Hungarian NGOs? In fact, one of the Romanian articles that appeared in Romania Libera talked about the incongruity of Orbán’s stance on the issue. According to the journalist, if Orbán tries to silence the NGOs financed from abroad, “the bad example” might be imitated in other Eastern European countries where democracies are not yet sufficiently stable. We know which countries he has in mind.

In any case, although for the time being it is unlikely that either the Slovak or the Romanian government will try to imitate Viktor Orbán, Romanian commentators are worried that Hungarian bellicosity will have an adverse effect on the stability of the region. Romanian papers talk about an “illiberal” state’s possible revisionist tendencies which could upset the stability of the region given the presence of Hungarian minorities in Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, and Serbia.

All in all, Orbán with this speech declared war on several fronts. Against his own people, against the European Union, against Hungarian civil society, and last but not least by his overcharged nationalist rhetoric against the amity of nations in Eastern Europe.

——

I would like to call everyone’s attention to Hungarian Free Press, a new English-language news portal from Canada. Here are some introductory words from the editor-in-chief:

The Hungarian Free Press, an online newspaper published by Presszo Media Inc., a Canadian federally-registered company based in Ottawa, was launched this morning. The HFP aims to offer informed opinion on current events in Hungary and East/Central Europe, and to expose to a broader English-speaking audience the explicit move away from liberal parliamentary democracy, which now appears to be the overt policy direction of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government.

While pro-government English-language publications, such as the newly launched Hungary Today site, as well as Mandiner’s English-language blog, The Hungarian Globe, aim to create the impression that Mr. Orbán’s government is really no different than any other right-centre or conservative administration and is simply “attacked” by the left for the same ideological reasons, this is not an accurate reflection of the situation. A good case-in-point is Hungary Today’s coverage of Mr. Orbán’s Tusnádfürdő (Băile Tușnad) speech, where the prime minister formally declared that the days of Hungarian liberal democracy were over and that his preferred authoritarian political model was similar to that found in countries like China, Russia and Singapore. Hungary Today, in its coverage, made it appear that Mr. Orbán, like most right-centre politicians, was merely challenging the welfare state and was attacked for this reason by the left-centre opposition, thus making the speech and the reactions that followed seem like “business as usual” in the world of parliamentary politics.

In 1961, American President John F. Kennedy was among the most articulate in expressing the media’s role in the long-term survival of multiparty democracy. Kennedy, addressing the American Newspaper Publishers Association on April 27th, 1961 noted:

Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed–and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment– the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution- -not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply “give the public what it wants”–but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.”

The HFP joins a very small handful of English publications in exposing the danger that Mr. Orbán and his avowedly illiberal, anti-democratic and openly authoritarian government represent in the heart of Europe.

Domestic reactions to Viktor Orbán’s “illiberal democracy”

In the wake of Viktor Orbán’s speech in Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad on July 26 politicians on the left have been united in their condemnation while journalists on the right have been scrambling to make the speech more palatable.

The reactions of MSZP, DK, and Együtt-PM to the horrendous political message about establishing an “illiberal democracy” were fairly similar. They all deplored the fact that the Hungarian prime minister seems to be following the example of Putin’s Russia.

József Tóbiás, the newly elected chairman of MSZP, was perhaps the least forceful  in his condemnation of Viktor Orbán’s political philosophy. Tóbiás pointed out that Orbán with this speech demonstrated that he has turned against all those who don’t share his vision: the socialists, the liberals, and even the conservatives. Because all of these ideologies try to find political solutions within the framework of liberal democracy.

Együtt-PM found the speech appalling: “The former vice-president of Liberal International today buried the liberal state. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán not only lay to rest liberal democracy but democracy itself.” Subsequently, the party decided to turn to Brussels, asking the European Commission to protect the independent NGOs.

Gábor Fodor in the name of the Hungarian Liberal Party recalled Viktor Orbán’s liberal past and declared that “democracy is dead in our country.” The prime minister “made it expressly clear that it’s either him or us, freedom loving people.”

Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy in the name of the Democratic Coalition (DK) was the most explicit. He said what many people have been hinting at for a while: that “a fascist state” is in the making in Hungary. “Unfortunately,” he added, Orbán “is either insane or a traitor, or both.”

LMP’s András Schiffer, as usual, had a different take on the speech. According to him, Orbán’s critique of liberal democracy is on target. Only his conclusions are wrong. LMP, which likes to describe itself as a green party, is an enemy of capitalism and also, it seems, of liberal democracy.

Magyar Nemzet published an interesting editorial by Csaba Lukács. He fairly faithfully summarized the main points of  the speech with one notable omission. There was no mention of “illiberal democracy.” And no mention of “democracy” either. Instead, he went on for almost two paragraphs about the notion of a work-based state and expressed his astonishment that liberals are so much against work. “Perhaps they don’t like to work and that’s why they panic.” Lukács clumsily tried to lead the discussion astray. Surely, he himself must know that the liberals are not worried about work but about the “illiberal democracy” he refused to mention in his article.

Journalists who normally support the government and defend all its actions seem to be at a loss in dealing with Viktor Orbán’s “illiberal democracy.” Deep down most likely they also know that this so-called “illiberal democracy” will not be democracy at all. So, they simply skirt the issue.

Válasz‘s editorial avoided the term as well, but at least István Dévényi wanted to know more about Viktor Orbán’s plans. After discussing the reactions of the opposition parties which talk about the end of democracy, he added: “I don’t think that for the time being there is reason to worry, but it would be good to know what exactly the prime minister has in mind when he talks about a nation-state, a work-based state that will follow the welfare state.”

A new English-language paper entitled Hungary Today managed to summarize the speech that lasted for 30 minutes in 212 words. Not surprisingly this Hungarian propaganda organ also kept the news of “illiberal democracy” a secret. Instead, the reader learns that “copying the west is provincialism, and we must leave it behind, as it could ‘kill us.'”

As for DK’s reference to Italian fascism, it is not a new claim. For a number of years here and there one could find references to the similarities between the ideas of Prime Minister Gyula Gömbös (1932-1936) and those of Benito Mussolini. As prime  minister of Hungary, Gömbös made great strides toward establishing a fascist state in Hungary. József Debreczeni, an astute critic of Viktor Orbán who uncannily predicted what will happen if and when Viktor Orbán becomes prime minister again, quipped at one point that comparing Orbán to Horthy is a mistake; the comparison with Gömbös is much more apt.

Népszava's headline: "He already speaks as a dictator / Getty Images

Népszava’s headline: “He already speaks like a dictator / Getty Images

Péter Új, editor-in-chief of 444.hu, rushed to the library to find a Hungarian-language collection of the Duce’s memorable speeches. I might add that the book was published in 1928 and that István Bethlen, who happened to be prime minister at the time, wrote the preface to Benito Mussolini gondolatai (The thoughts of Benito Mussolini). In this book Új found some real gems: “The century of democracy over.” Or, “Unlimited freedom … does not exist.” “Freedom is not a right but a duty.” “It would be suicidal to follow the ideology of liberalism … I declare myself to be anti-liberal.” “The nation of tomorrow will be the nation of workers.”

Others searched for additional sources of Orbán’s assorted thoughts and claims in the speech. I already mentioned Fareed Zakaria’s article on illiberal democracies. Gábor Filippov of Magyar Progressive Institute concentrated on Orbán’s assertion that a well-known American political scientist had described American liberalism as hotbed of corruption, sex, drugs, and crime. Filippov found an article by Joseph S. Nye, former dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, in the June 2004 issue of Foreign Affairs entitled “The Decline of America’s Soft Power.” (You may recall that Zakaria’s article also appeared in that periodical. It seems that one of Orbán’s speechwriters has a set of Foreign Affairs on hand!) But whoever wrote the speech badly misunderstood the text. The original English is as follows:

Autocratic regimes in the Middle East have eradicated their liberal opposition, and radical Islamists are in most cases the only dissenters left. They feed on anger toward corrupt regimes, opposition to U.S. policies, and popular fears of modernization. Liberal democracy, as they portray it, is full of corruption, sex, and violence—an impression reinforced by American movies and television and often exacerbated by the extreme statements of some especially virulent Christian preachers in the United States.

Radical Islamists are the ones who claim that liberal democracy is full of corruption, sex, and violence. Viktor Orbán is now joining their ranks. Putin, Mussolini, radical Islamists–these are Orbán’s ideological friends. And he has unfettered power to transform this frightening ideology into government policy.

NGOs as threats to the building of Orbán Viktor’s “illiberal democracy”

Yesterday while analyzing Viktor Orbán’s latest speech I concentrated on the topic that aroused the greatest outrage in opposition circles, the Hungarian prime minister’s plans to introduce a so-called “illiberal democracy.”

Here I would like to talk about a topic that at first glance might seem tangential to these plans: the NGOs and civic groups in general. While Orbán dispassionately lectured his audience on the state of the world and Hungary’s place in it, he became visibly agitated when he turned to this topic. We may think that the question of who distributes the relatively small amount of money provided to Hungary by the EEA and Norwegian Grants is not worth a major international fight, but Viktor Orbán does not see it that way. For him the issue is of critical political importance.

I wrote earlier about the controversy surrounding these funds. Currently, a private organization distributes the funds, an arrangement that Hungary and the Norway Fund agreed to earlier. Sometime in the spring the Hungarian government unilaterally changed the rules of the game by insisting that the Budapest government should be responsible for the dispersion of the funds among the various civic organizations. The Norway Fund resisted the idea. After all, these civic groups are supposed to be, at least in part, the watchdogs of the government in power. Giving the government the right to decide which NGOs can and which cannot receive money would defeat the whole purpose.

Right now there is a standoff between Budapest and Oslo. Even the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, wrote a letter to János Lázár in which he expressed his displeasure at the government’s allegations that the Norwegian NGO Fund was used to support political activities in Hungary. He tried to explain that NGOs “should be able to pursue their public watchdog function … without undue interference in their internal functioning.” Lázár wasn’t moved. He argued that the Norwegian NGO funds “constitute public money, [and] it is the moral obligation of the Hungarian Government to order every measure in its discretion which is necessary for the thorough investigation of the questions to be examined, or the contents of the supported activities.” The sentence might be convoluted, but the message clear: Lázár insists on government oversight.

Why is this relatively small amount of money of such great political concern for the Orbán government? We can find the answer in Viktor Orbán’s speech delivered yesterday at Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad. These independent NGOs threaten the illiberal state he is building. He looks upon the NGOs, especially the ones that receive funds from abroad, as impediments to his plans. And as far as he is concerned, this is a very serious matter. As he put it, “here we are confronted with paid political activists. Moreover, these paid political activists are foreign paid political activists. Political activists paid by definable foreign interest groups about whom it is hard to imagine that they consider the sums given by them as social projects. Instead, our suspicion is justified that through this instrument [the NGOs] they try–in a given moment and in a given question–to influence Hungarian political life.” Therefore, the decision was made to create a parliamentary committee whose job will be “the continuous observation, recording, and release of foreign attempts at influence peddling. “

NGOs2And this was just the beginning of his tirade. He complained about the fact that some of the people who administer these projects are getting paid from abroad, from the money allocated to Hungary, and that their salaries are greater than the salaries of Hungarian civil servants in similar positions and rank. He complained that  35% of the funds are wasted on overhead costs, which is intolerable. Once the Hungarian government gets hold of the funds, these costs will be reduced to a maximum of 15%.

Administrators in Brussels and in Oslo will have to be prepared for a protracted and ugly fight because Orbán is adamant: foreign money is not going to be used to undermine his government. If the Norwegian Fund decides to stick it out, the case most likely will end up in the European Court of Human Rights. Commissioner Nils Muižnieks in his letter to Lázár alluded to that possibility when he stated that “the case law of the European Court of Human Rights on the role of NGOs in democratic society is clear: when an NGO draws attention to matters of public interest, it is exercising a public watchdog role of similar importance to that of the press.” And he mentions the 2007 ruling in Zhechev v. Bulgaria as a case in point. In brief, Muižniek recommends that Hungary back down because, if the case gets all the way up to the European Court of Human Rights, defeat is certain. Not that Viktor Orbán cares about court decisions. He will do, if and when it comes, what he has done in the past. Blithely ignore the decision.

Viktor Orbán’s Hungary: “An illiberal democracy”

Now at last we have the road map for Hungary under the leadership of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. As László Szily of Cink wrote, the Transylvanian air has a strange effect on him because it is usually there at this time of the year that he delivers a visionary sermon about his plans for the future. The mostly middle-aged audience listens to him in awe, not realizing the true meaning of his words.

This time he was brutally honest. He is in the middle of introducing a different kind of political system: illiberal democracy. This simple message was couched in pseudo-scientific language, giving the false impression that he has both a wide and a deep knowledge of the world. This knowledge leads him to great discoveries, which sooner or later will bring spectacular results to the Hungarian nation. “Our time will come,” he added at the conclusion of his speech.

So, what is illiberal democracy? The concept became popular in political science circles in the late 1990s after Fareed Zakaria, an Indian-born American journalist and author, published an article in the November-December 1997 issue of Foreign Affairs. In it he argued that in the West “democracy meant liberal democracy–a political system marked not only by free and fair elections, but also by the rule of law, a separation of powers, and property. This bundle of freedoms which might be termed constitutional liberalism is theoretically different and historically distinct from democracy.” In his scheme “democracy” is very narrowly defined. For him democracy simply means “free and fair elections.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton obviously agreed with Zakaria when she told the leaders of the Hungarian opposition in Budapest in June 2011 that as long as there are free and fair elections Hungary is a democratic country.

But in Zakaria’s view “constitutional liberalism” is what gives real meaning to Western democracy. He calls this liberalism constitutional because it rests on the rule of law that is a defense of the individual’s right to life, property, freedom of religion and speech. This is what Viktor Orbán wants to abolish in Hungary. There will be elections (more or less free though not fair), but the real backbone of our modern western political system, checks and balances, limits on the actions of the government, will be abolished if it depends on Viktor Orbán. And, unfortunately, at the moment it does depend on him.

Orbán was very careful to avoid defining liberalism as a political philosophy because if his audience had any knowledge of what liberals believe in, it should have been patently obvious to them that his plans involve depriving his fellow citizens of their individual rights. Instead, he invoked a popular saying about the extent of an individual’s liberty that in no way touches on the essence of liberalism: “one person’s freedom ends where another person’s freedom begins.” The cliché apparently has its origin in Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s claim that “Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins.”

Explaining the inexpicable Viktor Orbán in Tusnád/Băile Tușnad

Explaining the inexplicable
Viktor Orbán in Tusnád/Băile Tușnad

From this saying Orbán derives far-reaching conclusions about the meaning of liberalism. In his view, in such a system the stronger always wins. In his world, the idea that “everything is allowed” cannot be an organizing principle of the state. Instead, he suggests another concept: “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.” In brief, the state should adopt as its organizing principle the Golden Rule or the ethic of reciprocity. (That would be a tall order for the current Hungarian government.)

According to Orbán, the time of liberal democracies has come to an end. Something else, something better will come that will ensure “competitiveness” in this global economy. Orbán mentioned a few countries worth imitating: Singapore, China, India, Turkey, and Russia. What a happy prospect in the center of Europe!

Surely, he himself must have wondered whether he will be able to dismantle the rule of law in Hungary given the country’s membership in the European Union, but he convinced himself that he will be able to do it since the EU grants broad powers to the governments of the member states. And, after all, so far his building of an illiberal democracy, which has been going on for the past four years, hasn’t had any serious consequences.

Index‘s report on the speech bears the title: “Orbán is building an illiberal state and he is proud of it.” Cink is convinced that “not even Putin is as much of a Putinist as Orbán.” Indeed, it is unlikely that Putin would openly admit that he is building, or has built, an illiberal state.

Close to the end of his speech Orbán listed a number of unexpected global occurrences. For example, no one would have ever imagined that Barack Obama could be sued by Congress for repeatedly encroaching on Congress’s power. He expressed his utter astonishment and continued: “What do you think, how long could I stay in office if parliament could sue me for overstepping our authority?” Viktor Orbán does not even pretend. He tells the whole world that he has unlimited power. He has no shame. In fact, he is proud of it.

Foreign journalists should no longer have to pretend either. They don’t have to use milquetoast adjectives like “conservative,” “right-of-center,” and “conservative-nationalist” anymore. Call it what it is. A one-man dictatorship with more or less free but unfair elections.

A shameful verdict: The Court finds the new Budapest electoral law consitutional

Now that Viktor Orbán has seen the light and convinced Péter Szentmihályi Szabó to shelve his ambitions to be the next Hungarian ambassador to Rome, I am returning to the domestic scene, which is not pretty either.

Although hardly a day goes by without some horrendous attack on Hungarian democracy, this week’s greatest abomination was the 8 to 7 decision of the Constitutional Court affirming the constitutionality of the new law governing elections in Budapest. Once, back in May, I wrote about Fidesz plans to completely change the electoral system in Budapest. Why? Simple. After the April elections it looked as if Fidesz’s position was not secure in the capital. And naturally, in Fidesz’s view, no election can ever be lost. By hook or by crook they will win. The party and its leader will march resolutely from victory to victory for time immemorial. And so a devilish plan was devised to ensure victory.

Since I went into the details of previous system in May, here let me just summarize it briefly. In the past the lord mayor (főpolgármester) was elected directly by all the eligible voters in Budapest. District mayors were chosen only by the inhabitants of the 23 districts. In addition, there were party lists on the basis of which the 32-member city council was elected. What particularly bothered Fidesz was that the opposition might get a majority on the city council given the fact that numerically more Budapest people voted for the opposition parties than for Fidesz. After some clever mathematics they came up with a solution: simply abolish the city council as it exists today and replace it with a body composed of the 23 district mayors. This body could then be joined by nine people from the so-called compensation lists of the losers. Thus, including the lord mayor, it would have 33 members, just as it has now.

But from day one it was clear that this scheme is glaringly unconstitutional because it violates the one person, one vote principle that is fundamental in a functioning democracy. This disproportionality is due to the varying sizes of the districts. Here are some examples. While District I (the Castle district) has 24,679 inhabitants, District III has 127,602.  District V (Antal Rogán’s domain) has 26,048 while District XIII has 119,275. I guess you will not be terribly surprised to learn that the smaller districts lean heavily toward the right. Thus, the Castle District where no socialist or liberal has ever won will be represented on the city council by one person as will the socialist District XIII.

As soon as this problem was discovered–and it didn’t take long–the Fidesz “election experts” started to tinker with the proposed law and introduced all sorts of amendments that were supposed to remedy the situation. Their attempts eventually made the system extremely complicated without satisfying the constitutional requirements. In a very rare moment of unity, all parliamentary members of the opposition–including Jobbik and LMP–turned to the Constitutional Court for a ruling on the issue. That was in June. On Monday at last the judges handed down their decision. It was a very close vote, especially considering the composition of the court: 8 out of the 15 judges found the law, by and large, constitutional.

One ought to keep in mind that the majority of the judges were appointed by Fidesz after the “court-packing scheme” was introduced. In addition, there are two judges who were put forth by Fidesz earlier. Currently there are only three judges on the court who were nominated by MSZP, one of whom will have to retire in September and two others in March 2016.  After that time there will not be one member of the court who was not a Fidesz appointee. As it is, seven out of the eight judges who were nominated by Fidesz since 2010 found the law constitutional; the one exception refused to concur because he couldn’t agree with the majority on the one side issue it found unconstitutional. So, this is where we stand.

A rather telling picture of the current Hungarian Constitutional Court Source: Népszabadság

A rather telling picture of the current Hungarian Constitutional Court. Source: Népszabadság

Several judges wrote separate opinions. Perhaps the  hardest hitting was that of the chief justice, Peter Paczolay, who is considered by legal experts to be conservative. He was endorsed by both parties and since his term will be up next February I guess he doesn’t particularly care what Viktor Orbán thinks of him. He pointed out that “the present case does not merely touch on constitutional issues but on the right to vote that is the very basis of democracy.” According to him, this Fidesz-created law “is entirely contrary to the fundamental principle of equality.” Moreover, he added that some of his colleagues did not fulfill their professional duties and instead wrote a decision that was dictated by the interests of a political party. Pretty tough words.

András Bragyova (MSZP), who will be leaving the court in September, had nothing to lose either. In his opinion the new “council will not be an elected body although the constitution states that Budapest must have its own self-government.” It is an unconstitutional creation. Moreover, he noted that while the constitution demands self-government for the city as a whole, the election of district mayors is not specifically mentioned in the constitution. As he wittily remarked,  “from here on instead of Budapest having districts, the districts will have a capital city.”

The behavior of István Stumpf, an old Fidesz hand and Viktor Orbán’s former college professor who doesn’t always toe the party line, was the strangest. He voted this time with the slim majority, but he wrote a separate opinion in which he objected to changing the electoral law only months ahead of the election.

NGOs such as the Hungarian Helsinki Commission and TASZ as well as independent electoral law experts are appalled by the poor quality of the opinion that was written by Béla Pokol. Viktor Orbán chose him to serve on the court despite the fact that he is opposed to the very existence of a constitutional court. His judicial views are also extreme.

Csaba Horváth (MSZP), who ran against current lord mayor István Tarlós in 2010, declared that this decision demonstrates that the last bastion of democracy, the Constitutional Court, has been captured by the enemies of democracy. Some people contemplate boycotting the election but most are ready to face the music. Between Fidesz and the totally incompetent opposition a huge Fidesz win seems to be shaping up for October 12.

The aftershocks of the Szentmihályi Szabó affair

The translation of  Péter Szentmihályi Szabó’s article on the “agents of Satan” three days ago on Hungarian Spectrum has reawakened international scrutiny into the real nature of Viktor Orbán’s regime. Immediately after the document’s publication letters started pouring into the Italian Foreign Ministry and the Italian embassy in Hungary asking the Italians not to accept Szentmihályi Szabó as Hungary’s envoy.

Yesterday morning the Jewish Telegraphic Agency published a short article in which they said:

Eva Balogh described Szentmihályi Szabó as a “raging” and “inveterate” anti-Semite. She quoted an article written by him in 2000 in the far-right Magyar Forum, called “The Agents of Satan,” which, though it doesn’t specifically use the term “Jew,” clearly describes Jews in classic anti-Semitic terms similar to those used in Nazi propaganda.

The Hungarian Jewish leadership did not immediately respond to the nomination. But a source close to the leadership of the main Jewish umbrella group Mazsihisz told JTA that the nomination was a “very unfriendly gesture from the government” during the year designated by the government as an official Holocaust Memorial Year.

Vox.com also noticed my post and quoted at some length from Szentmihályi Szabó’s infamous article, describing it as “pretty appalling stuff.” According to the journalist responsible for the article, this latest development is “especially troubling given that it happened in Hungary, where there has been a trend of anti-Semitism… [T]hough right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orbán condemns anti-Semitism, his government doesn’t have the best track record on it.”

And finally today the World Jewish Congress raised its voice in protest. Let me quote the text of the press release in full:

The head of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) on Thursday said that appointment of Hungarian far-right publicist Péter Szentmihályi Szabó as Hungary’s ambassador to Italy was “clearly an affront to Jews”. WJC President Ronald Lauder urged Italy to refuse the accreditation of Szentmihályi Szabó, who has penned anti-Semitic texts in the past.

“A man who suggests that Hungary’s Jews are ‘agents of Satan’, ‘greedy, envious, evil and ugly’ is not fit to represent his country abroad, and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán would be well-advised to withdraw this man as soon as possible and look for a person who is suitable for this job,” said Lauder.

“It is particularly sad and irritating that Hungary, which declared 2014 as Holocaust memorial year, is once again in the news with this sort of thing. How can an anti-Semite represent a government whose leader pledged a policy of zero tolerance toward anti-Semitism?” Lauder asked, referring to Orbán’s speech before the World Jewish Congress Plenary Assembly in Budapest in May 2013. He said decisions such as this would do further damage to Hungary’s reputation abroad and “not inspire confidence that the Orbán government means business when it says it will fight anti-Semitism.”

The WJC leader expressed hope that, given Italy’s history and strong commitment to fight racial hatred and anti-Semitism, the Italian government would not accept an outspoken extremist and Jew-hater as a member of the diplomatic corps in Rome.

The appointment by Budapest of the 69-year-old Szentmihályi Szabó comes after a recent decision by the Hungarian government to build a controversial World War II monument that obfuscates Hungary’s role in the deportation of Jews to the Nazi death camps in 1944.

Meanwhile Péter Szentmihályi Szabó acts as if nothing has happened. Or at least he pretends that all this “noise” doesn’t bother him a bit. Rather, he seems to be proud of his name being bandied about in the Hungarian and the foreign press. He shared his reactions in his regular column in the far-right Magyar Hírlap called “Sarkosan fogalmazva,” which is perhaps best rendered as “Not beating around the bush.”

Actually, Szentmihályi Szabó exaggerates somewhat. Only about three dozen articles appeared about him, mostly in the liberal press. None in Magyar Nemzet or Válasz. Naturally, Magyar Hírlap, his own paper, reported disapprovingly that “Gyurcsány and Co. are asking Europe’s help in the matter of Péter Szentmihályi Szabó” and republished DK’s protest released by the party’s press department. In addition, László Domonkos, a journalist who since 1990 has written a number of books for far-right publishing houses, expressed his absolute delight that “István Csurka’s comrade-in-arms” received the honor of being able to represent Hungary in Rome. The late István Csurka was a self-professed anti-Semite who established MIÉP (Magyar Igazság és Élet Pártja/Party of Hungarian Truth and Justice) in 1993. Domonkos, I might add, wrote a biography of Csurka (Kárpátia Studió, 2012). He is on the editorial board of Trianoni Szemle (Trianon Review) and a frequent contributor to Nagy Magyarország (Greater Hungary).

Publication of the Committee on European Affairs responsible for the nomination of  Péter Szentmihályi Szabó

Publication of the Committee on European Affairs which was responsible for the nomination of Péter Szentmihályi Szabó

And finally, let me talk about an article written by Attila Ara-Kovács, a journalist and former diplomat, in Magyar Narancs where he has a regular column, “Diplomáciai jegyzet” (Diplomatic Notes). His latest piece is on Szentmihályi Szabó’s appointment. Its title is “To Rome with Love,” a reference to the Woody Allen movie of the same name.

Ara-Kovács, who is very well informed, suspects that there are serious differences of opinion over the direction of Hungarian foreign policy within Fidesz circles. The more conservative members have been worried about the worsening relationship between the Orbán government and the West. The first sign of discontent appeared in 2012 when it became clear that Orbán was taking Hungary in a direction that these conservative supporters or diplomats found injurious to the interests of the country. Turning to the East was bad enough, but when this new orientation culminated in the Putin-Orbán summit and the subsequent loan agreement, this was too much for these people who not surprisingly harbor anti-Russian sentiments from the days of the Kádár regime and are suspicious of Putin’s intentions. Then came what Ara-Kovács calls “the massacre” in the Foreign Ministry when about 200 people arrived from Tibor Navracsics’s Ministry of Administration and Justice and Péter Szijjártó’s Office of the Prime Minister. Naturally, a lot of old hands were fired to make place for the newcomers.

And now we come to the question of the source of the leak about the nomination of Péter Szentmihályi Szabó. Parliament is not in session, but the chairman of the Committee on European Affairs called the members together for an extraordinary session to discuss this particular nomination. The chairman of the committee is Richárd Hörcsik, who has been a member of parliament ever since 1990 when he belonged to the right-of-center Magyar Demokrata Fórum (MDF). Neither the Demokratikus Koalíció nor Együtt-PM is represented on this committee. There is one Jobbik member and two MSZP members. It turned out that both MSZP members, István Józsa ad Bertalan Tóth, were absent. Thus, the news that spread like wildfire about the committee giving its blessing to Péter Szentmihályi Szabó’s nomination must have come either from Jobbik or more likely from one of the Fidesz members of the committee. It looks as if this nomination was too much for somebody who seems to be worried about the foreign policy direction of the third Orbán government.

Despite Viktor Orbán’s best efforts, Hungarian football is not a success story

I never  in my wildest dreams thought that one day I would be searching for details on some fine points of football/soccer. In fact, in my teenage years I was so indifferent to the world’s favorite sport that I wouldn’t even attend the “game of the century” in Pécs when the “Golden Team/Mighty Magyars” played against the not so mighty locals. But what can one do if Hungary is today cursed with a prime minister for whom football is the most important thing after politics? (Or perhaps even ahead of it.)

Football for Viktor Orbán seems to be so important that he even subordinates matters that are vital to the well-being of his people (education, healthcare, and social services) to his favorite sport. Austerity measures are introduced three or four times a year in order to keep the deficit under the required 3%, but these measures never touch the sacred game of football. Other sports in which Hungarians are much more successful receive only meager–and ever decreasing–government subsidies.

I have to trust those who know something about the game and who claim that Hungarian football is currently beyond redemption. They emphasize that the kind of professional football that is played today pretty well precludes the possibility of Hungary ever becoming the football powerhouse that Viktor Orbán dreams of. Football is business, big business. And the borders are wide open. A talented Hungarian football player could make millions of euros in another country. But there is one major problem: there are no truly outstanding Hungarian players, and it looks as if there won’t be any in the near future.

Viktor Orbán, whose energy between 2002 and 2010 was spent primarily on his efforts to regain power, put aside enough time to ponder the future of the struggling Hungarian football enterprise. One of his many goals as prime minister was the revival of Hungarian football, but the way he has gone about it is not likely to produce results. He launched a stadium construction and renovation project in 2010, scheduled to be completed in 2018 to the tune of 140-160 billion forints. The  map below gives a fair idea of the magnitude of the undertaking. Altogether 33 stadiums will be built or renovated. Unfortunately, the quality of Hungarian football is so bad that the stadiums today are practically empty. I assume that Orbán thinks that better stadiums will attract  more fans; if you build them they will come. Stadionprojektek But where will the players come from? From the football academies, of course. Oh, yes, the football academies. Viktor Orbán received some bad news on that front recently. Some time ago the Hungarian Football Association (MLSZ) asked the independent Belgian firm Double Pass to assess the work being done in the Hungarian football academies. The verdict as summarized by MLSZ is devastating. Double Pass also ranked the Hungarian academies, which MLSZ wanted to keep secret. There was good reason for the secrecy. The “famous” Ferenc Puskás Academy backed by Viktor Orbán was ninth out of twelve! This is the same academy that, according to the prime minister, was among the top ten in Europe!

Even the best Hungarian academy, the Debreceni Labdarúgó Akadémia, is inferior in comparison to academies in other European countries with strong teams. In Hungary training methods are old-fashioned and not uniform. There are no trainers who specialize in developing particular skills. Recruiting is done on a part-time basis. Psychological coaching is sorely wanting. The Hungarian academies don’t use modern training software. And the report goes on and on for 134 pages.

The directors and coaches of these academies were not at all thrilled about this probing by Double Pass, and now that the ranking is available they try to explain away the firm’s findings by claiming, as is usual in Hungary, that the employees of Double Pass don’t really understand the Hungarian system. Well, let’s put it this way, Double Pass clearly understood that the Hungarian system doesn’t produce winning teams. Hungary is currently host to the annual UEFA European Under-19 Championship. So far, the Hungarian team has lost to Austria (3 to 1) and to Portugal (6 to 1). Sportswriters kept saying that the Hungarians “should have won” against the Austrians but, well, they blew it. The Portuguese  are very good but they won against Israel with only three goals and not six. In brief, the Hungarians under 19 are lousy. And these people are students and graduates of the academies! Hungary might have 33 swanky stadiums by 2018, but the country is unlikely to have fantastic football players.

And while we are on the subject of these new stadiums, an incredible amount of money was spent on the Felcsút project, but weeks ago one could already read that something is very wrong with the drainage of the field. After a heavy rain a game had to be scrapped because the grass would have been damaged otherwise. Nature was blamed: the rain was too heavy. This time the game was played in the rain, and as one of the sportswriters remarked, the game was almost played in a lake. But that is not the only problem. The fancy wooden structure over the spectator seats does not shield people from the rain. The sportswriters with their computers were not exactly happy with the section allocated to them because the rain was coming down on them fast and furious. So, they packed up and went inside to watch the game on the monitor. So much for Viktor Orbán’s efforts so far on behalf of Hungarian football. He seems to be as successful in this endeavor as he is in governing the country.

The other side of Péter Szentmihályi Szabó: An ardent communist

There is more to Péter Szentmihályi Szabó, the presumed future Hungarian ambassador to Italy, than meets the eye. The picture is complete only if we take a look at the man’s career during the Kádár regime, which he was allegedly ready to fight, if necessary with weapon in hand.

Péter Szabó, who changed his name to Péter Szentmihályi Szabó, was born on January 8, 1945. According to an interview he gave in 2000, his father, Károly Szabó, studied to be a  lawyer but in the 40s worked as a journalist for a “right-wing paper.” “Luckily” the offices of this unnamed newspaper were bombed during the war, and all traces of his father’s association with the paper disappeared. This way “the communists couldn’t molest him,” as the son remarked. What the father did after the war is not clear except that he was “an archaeologist of language” who wrote a book on the relationship between the Hungarian and the Etruscan languages. It was posthumously published by Karpatia Press, which specializes in far-right and wacky books.

As for Péter Szabó’s early life, we have little to go on except what he revealed about himself. When you try to put the story together, however, troubling questions emerge about the truthfulness of the man. The main problem is with his contention that in 1961, while he was a student at the famous Benedictine high school in Pannonhalma, he organized a day of remembrance for the fifth anniversary of the October Revolution of 1956. Consequently, the story goes, he was not only expelled from Pannonhalma but was barred from all Hungarian high schools. He claims that after this incident he was under constant police surveillance and had to work as a manual laborer. He eventually finished high school at night. The problem with this story is that Szabó finished high school in 1963, exactly when he was supposed to. Moreover, he was immediately admitted to ELTE as a Hungarian-English major. It is hard to fathom that the regime was that lenient with someone who a couple of years earlier was barred from every high school in the country.

Szabó came up with the following explanation about his speedy entrance to university. As a third-year high school student he was the national winner of the annual high school literature competition and therefore did not have to take an entrance exam. He “just marched in,” as he said in the interview. That does not ring true either. If Szabó’s story about his expulsion is correct, he spent only two months as a student during the school year of 1961-62, and that is mighty little time to end up the winner of a national competition. And that’s not all. In the same interview he recounted his first meeting with a well-known writer, adding that he was seventeen at the time and “still a student.” The problem is that this had to be in 1962 when, according to his own recounting, he was no longer a student. So much for Péter Szabó’s veracity.

One of Szentmihályi's sciene fictions Visitor from Infinity (1989)

One of Szentmihályi’s science fiction books
Visitor from Infinity (1989)

Szentmihályi Szabó poses as an ardent enemy of communism. In the interview he said that he “as a young man could never understand how people allowed all those things that would happen to us. [He] decided that he would not allow [the communists] to do the same to him and when the time comes [he] will not shirk from taking part in an armed struggle.” He was still a small boy when he cut out the biographies and pictures of “those horrible politicians” from Szabad Nép, the official paper of the communist party during the Rákosi period, because “politics interested him terribly.”

Indeed, it must have interested him because during his university years he joined KISZ (‘Magyar Kommunista Ifjúsági Szövetség) and later even became KISZ secretary of the politically important organization Írószövetség (Writers’ Union). In the interview he quickly added that he was removed from the position because of his counterrevolutionary and clerical activities. He also wants us to believe that in 1975 on the hundredth anniversary of Endre Ady’s birth (Ady was actually born in 1877) he declared in a speech that as long as Hungary is occupied by Soviet troops one cannot really speak about Ady’s work. But again, luckily his friends managed to save his skin.

A quick glance at some of the evidence, however, shows a very different Szabó who by that time had changed his rather common name to Péter Szentmihályi Szabó. In 1969 the editorial board of Új Írás, a literary magazine, sent out a questionnaire to young writers about their attitudes toward socialist Hungary. Szentmihályi Szabó answered, “I’m so glad that I can be a Hungarian here and now in socialism. Very exciting times. An age that poses great challenges.”

Or here is something else from 1973 that came to light only a couple of years ago when the historian György Németh was researching the history of the Attila József Circle, a gathering of young writers and poets in the 1970s.  It is a letter Szentmihályi Szabó wrote to “Dear Uncle Pista”–most likely István Király, the literary historian and an expert on Endre Ady. The letter can be found in the papers of György Aczél, the man responsible for cultural policies throughout the Kádár years. But before I quote the relevant passage, I have to provide some background.

It was in 1973 that Miklós Haraszti, later one of the founders of SZDSZ, who was 28 years old at the time wrote a sociological study of his own experiences as a blue-collar worker in Ganz-Mávag and in the Vörös Csillag Traktorgyár. The manuscript of Darabbér (Piecework) was confiscated by the authorities, and Haraszti had to stand trial: he received a suspended sentence of eight months. The book was eventually translated into eleven languages, but in Hungary it could appear only in 1989. In the “Dear Uncle Pista” letter Szentmihályi Szabó assures the addressee of his devotion to communist ideals, and he is especially angry over those pseudo-leftist rebels (specifically Haraszti) who turned against the Kádár regime. He is outraged because “we know that Haraszti is an enemy of the regime, our enemy.” Oh, yes, these are the words of the great counterrevolutionary Szentmihályi Szabó who would be ready to fight the communists with weapon in hand.

A few years later he wrote a poem that was published in a volume of poetry entitled Dream of the Mind (Budapest: Szépirodalmi, 1977). Here is a rough translation.

Ungraceful Prayer to Communism

Where are you idling, Communism
my happiness, my pure love?
Our happiness, our pure love.
Horn of plenty! The table of the law!
The spiritual light!
Eat, drink, hug, sleep!
Measure yourself with the infinite!
Instead of exclamation marks
question marks falling on us,
I known it is not urgent.
Just like the apocalypse, only
to the prophets:
your unfulfillment
does not cause sorrow to many.
Where are you idling communism?
The productive forces, the relations of productions,
rattling machines,
and the conscience… subconscious
the state does not want to fade away.
Where are you idling communism?
Spring follows Spring,
my children-eyes blink old;
communism, you, promised,
strain your every muscle,
shake off the parasites.
Communism, grow, my little child.

This same man is now the greatest enemy of the “communists,” the liberals, and the Jews. Actually, he would have gladly accepted the socialist system minus the Soviets and their “henchmen.” “To this day I consider socialism more just than this money-centered capitalism without any ideology.”

I would wager to say that Szentmihályi Szabó was a happier man in the 1960s and 1970s than he is today. In fact, he says in the interview that “those who did not live then can’t really understand that period. It was a much more interesting time than today…. Writers could bargain because Hungary was much more important to the West then…. Every word uttered had weight. The West watched what we wrote…. Who is interested today in what a Hungarian writer has to say?” A disappointed man whose discontent has morphed into hatred and who finds scapegoats in communists and Jews (perhaps the two are intertwined in his mind) for his own shortcomings.

A raging anti-Semite will be Hungary’s ambassador in Rome

Late Sunday night the media learned that Péter Szentmihályi Szabó, a mediocre poet and political commentator of the far right, will be Hungary’s next ambassador to Rome. Two opposition parties, Democratic Coalition and Együtt-PM, immediately protested against the appointment, pointing out that over the last two decades the nominee has been publishing in such far-right papers as István Csurka’s Magyar Fórum, Kárpátia, and Nemzetőr. Currently, he has a regular column in the far-right Magyar Hírlap and is also a regular on Echo TV, another far-right organ.

Tibor Navracsics and Péter Szentmihályi Szabó The foreign minister is delighted

Tibor Navracsics and Péter Szentmihályi Szabó
The foreign minister is delighted

There were commentators whose “breath was taken away” when they heard the news of Szentmihályi Szabó’s imminent ambassadorial appointment. A blogger expressed himself more strongly: “Viktor Orbán happened to appoint a rat to be ambassador to Rome.” One thing is sure: Szentmihályi Szabó is an inveterate anti-Semite. Pure and simple. So, it is a rather ironic Orbánite gesture to appoint such a man to an important post in the Memorial Year of the Holocaust.

I could hopscotch from article to article penned by this man, but perhaps it would be more useful to translate one of his memorable pieces that appeared in Magyar Fórum on December 14, 2000.

Meet Viktor Orbán’s choice for ambassador to Italy.

* * *

Péter Szentmihályi Szabó : The Agents of Satan

I don’t know, I don’t understand why they hate us so much. They live here in Hungary, they speak and write in Hungarian, but they loathe us. I really don’t understand why they stay if it is that bad here, in this welcoming country that is so foolishly patient. It is not difficult to recognize them because they are cowardly and impertinent at the same time. Money is their God, their mother tongue in which they have trusted from time immemorial. Dark circles under their eyes, flabby skin, clammy palms, cold feet, freakish smiles give them away. They can be found everywhere on the earth. They are the agents of Satan. They arouse fear and they live off of fear. They create turmoil and discord. They are constantly packing, yet they don’t leave. Are they foreign spirits whose mission is to destroy the local communities? International criminals who, following Marx and Lenin, decided to enslave mankind? Eternally homeless folk condemned to be constant wanderers? They are the debt collectors. The ones who first figured out that money “works” without labor although there are no goods behind the merchandise, only a piece of metal, a piece of paper, or by now only a digital symbol on the computer. Everybody is afraid of them, yet they dread those who fear them. The world’s strongest army guards their security, and yet they still don’t dare to get close to those whose rights they defend so loudly.

Pharisees, hypocrites, agents of Satan. They are in every party, in every church, in every community. They are ready for every betrayal because they are empty. They have no God, no nation, no people, no homeland, no Weltanschauung, only bank accounts. They don’t even have families, only temporarily. Their families are replaceable. They use everything, but nothing is theirs. And they clearly realize that. I am listening to the naive official statements about the forthcoming law on Hungarians living in the neighboring countries. One can hear the mistaken centuries-old notion being repeated: “a Hungarian is one who considers himself to be a Hungarian.” Oh my Lord, any member of any reasonably cultured nation would have a hearty laugh hearing this! Is someone who calls himself an Englishman, a Frenchman, a German, an American actually an Englishman, a Frenchman, a German or an American? In that case, our Roma in Strasbourg would have abandoned us a long time ago…. The agents of Satan are the devotees of globalism; they are not attached to their names, to their firms, to their own homeland. They have no attachment, only bank accounts. They are born traitors because they have never had their own country. They are in every radio and television station where they bray among themselves speaking in a nasal sing-song way and slimily blurring their r’s. They live off their fears. They are professional worriers. They are internationalists and cosmopolitans. Faithful friends of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Lukács, and György Aczél.

Descendants of Rákosi, the jailers of the “guilty” Hungarian nation. Members of the State Security forces, members of detachments, worker guardists. Approximately 200,000 people who call themselves Hungarian who have not cleared out of the country yet because after 1989 they realized that the stupid Hungarian people don’t harbor vengefulness. The two million former unskilled laborers understand only the demagoguery of MSZP and SZDSZ. Viktor Orbán is the same target as József Antall or Péter Boross, or for that matter István Csurka were.  The agents of Satan play games with us and have a grand time at it. They slap us in the face and call us to account that we, in an intolerant and very unchristian-like manner, don’t turn the other cheek. They are the ones who are most indignant when somebody tries to put an end to the greedy acquisition of Hungarian real estate by foreigners; they are the ones for whom abortion and drugs are human rights. They have more than one passport, preferably the kind that has no extradition treaty with Hungary–security foremost. They live in castles, they have servants, but they are great friends of the homeless, the Roma, the needy. From a distance and only in words. If they see some gain in getting involved with Hungarian issues, like, for example the millennial celebrations, then they reluctantly join in. They think everybody can be bought, because they themselves can be, always by the kilo. They are greedy, envious, evil–and ugly. Countenance is the mirror of the soul, but their mirror is a tarnished one. They are callous. Condemned souls for whom there is no resurrection. It is likely that Satan bestows such agents on all nations, ones who not only prey on them but also lecture the nations as if they were stupid primitive domestic animals. Hell is waiting for their return.

A historical exchange: Mária Schmidt versus Mária M. Kovács

Viktor Orbán decided to move. In the dead of night, surrounded by hundreds of policemen, the infamous statue commemorating the German occupation of Hungary arrived on Szabadság tér. In no time a few workers managed to perch the 7-meter high statue of Archangel Gabriel and the imperial eagle on its base. The policemen remained. So did the heavy metal fence that is needed to safeguard the statue, which was described by Pester Lloyd as “a self-portrait and a caricature” of Orbán’s regime. Whether the brave prime minister will have the courage to officially unveil it, no one knows. Put it this way, it arrived unveiled.

MTI did not report on its erection until noon, but by that time the German press had already reported the event and the Austrian Der Standard even knew about the eggs that were thrown at it. It is likely that this cursed statue will have to be guarded day and night for months, perhaps even years to come. But Viktor Orbán had his way. He can be proud of this hideous monument.

Gabriel

So, it is appropriate that I publish here a couple of important documents that are closely connected to the controversy that broke out at the beginning of the year when it became known that the Orbán government had already decided to erect a monument commemorating March 19, 1944, the day German troops occupied allied Hungary.

Mária Schmidt, about whom I have written several times, on June 26 came out with a lengthy vitriolic article in Heti Válasz against all those who oppose the government’s interpretation of modern Hungarian history. Thanks to Mandiner, a conservative Internet site, Mária Schmidt’s article is now available in English. I am republishing it here without any stylistic alteration.

About two weeks after the appearance of Schmidt’s diatribe Mária M. Kovács, a history professor at the Central European University, decided to dissect Schmidt’s rather flimsy argument. Her article appeared in Népszabadság on July 9. It was ably translated by Gábor D. Farkas.

I should add here that, according to the announcement that appeared on Friday, the House of Fates Mária M. Kovács is talking about at the end of her article is going full steam ahead under the general direction of Schmidt. Orbán promised to allow the Hungarian Jewish community to discuss the details, but naturally in the final analysis he decided to give a free hand to Schmidt, whom the Jewish community specifically opposed.

* * *

CAPTIVE OF THE PAST

10th July 2014

In contrast to the left-liberal fringe, the significant majority of the Hungarian electorate expects representation of the Hungarian national interest and demands it from its elected leaders.

This article was adapted from the original, which appeared in Hungarian at Válasz.hu

 “The tragedy of the Jewry has become the tragedy of the nation.”

                        György Ránki

Following the 2014 elections, the decades-long influence and intellectual terror of the left-liberal opinion leaders are slowly vanishing. The emblematic figures of the left-liberal team controlled the narrative for decades and ordained themselves responsible for deciding who was presentable and who was not, who would be celebrated – or even who must be celebrated – and who would not. Well, until this spring, that is. Since then, those who could do no wrong have finally lost the few bits of respect they had managed to maintain.

The left-liberal coalition that came to be known as “unity for change of government,” a self-imposed alliance, resulted in a spectacular failure and further proof that the “smart ones” got it wrong. They are not only failing to understand the 21st century, but have, once and for all, locked themselves in the ideology and values of the ‘68-ers, a world that expired long ago. They forced an unprincipled compromise on what at the time still seemed to be a viable party, the Hungarian Socialists, and thereby made impossible its hopes for renewal. This circle of intellectuals, who are completely unaccountable, repeatedly attacked and shamed the Socialist leader, Attila Mesterházy and other MSZP politicians who sought an opportunity to open up to the world outside their narrow circle of values and interests.

Some of the younger Socialists recognized that the path that Viktor Orbán followed over the past 25 years has lessons to offer them, too. They observed how Orbán, following the 2002 defeat, reorganized Fidesz and made it into a hard-hitting party. They learned from the organizational and technical masterstrokes of the Orbán-led transformation. But they have not fully grasped that the emotional appeal – based on a particular mindset and core values – is the soul of this well-functioning political power. Mesterházy realized that the advantage his party once enjoyed, that of being the post-communist successor party, is gone, and what little remains is too little to keep MSZP a defining political power in the 21st century.

The left-liberal intellectual and media elite, however, never got that far. They do not understand that the new century began in 2008, bringing a different balance of power, a different set of questions, different conflicts. And for these we have to find new answers. Instead, they continue to try to win the debates of the last century, ignoring the lessons that the past offers for today’s challenges. The past, however, offers guidance for the present and future only if we are able to study it without bias and prejudice. The left-liberal intellectual circle, those who devised the politically correct narrative and based their political power on it, is incapable of such study.

They cannot accept that alternative interpretations and understandings could be just as legitimate in a free society as theirs. They cannot accept that their narrative, once imposed upon society by the predominant power of a bygone era, no longer holds a privileged place. It’s about time to understand that history is not a religion. Nor can it be used, despite Marx’s promise, as a surrogate for religion. History is not equal to morality. The duty of the historian is to explain, to interpret, to understand and to help others understand. The historian is neither judge nor prosecutor nor attorney. The historian cannot project the ideological schemes of his age on the past and cannot observe the past’s narratives with today’s sensibilities. [1] A great example of this is the unholy and unproductive “debate” that has been going on for months around the memorial at Szabadság tér to the victims of the Nazi occupation that began in 1944. I will not comment on the actions aimed at getting media attention and, out of all of the objections, I would focus on the “contextual” ones. [2] I would prefer not to deal with the choice of location because what the United States Embassy has done to one of the most beautiful public squares in Budapest is going way too far. So those who refer to the aesthetic qualities of the square are more than a little hypocritical.

The Germans occupy Budapest

Conventional historical wisdom says Hungary was an ally to the Third Reich and, therefore, the Nazis didn’t really invade and occupy us. According to this line of thinking, we should call the Nazi invasion of March 19, 1944 “friendly support” similar to the Soviet army’s “support” of its Hungarian ally on November 4, 1956. This would be the very same Soviet army that “liberated” us in 1945 and ended up sticking around for about half a century. [3] Some even claim that Hungarians were happy with the occupation, receiving the Nazi troops with flowers and song. There is, to be fair, the faintest whiff of truth to this: the invading Red Army was joined by local collaborators. But the assertion that Hungarians in 1944, 1945 or 1956 were happy about a foreign invasion and occupation can only be made out of small-mindedness.

Another criticism is that the memorial mixes the perpetrators with the victims.[4] This holds that it is conceivable that someone actively involved in persecuting our Jewish compatriots later became a victim of the war. That’s the way war is, after all, right? It doesn’t spare the innocent and destroy the sinful. Every war memorial runs such a risk. On Szabadság tér, there is the Soviet heroes’ memorial, commemorating invading Soviet soldiers who raped more than a hundred thousand Hungarian women while pillaging and terrorizing the country. Of course, those with selective sensitivity have yet to organize a flashmob protest of that memorial.

Others point to the era’s legislative action. Those arguments hinge upon the idea that Hungarians weren’t “innocent” because their parliament passed numerous laws discriminating against our Jewish siblings – or even worse. In 1941, the government deported more than ten thousand citizens of Jewish origin who could not sufficiently verify their citizenship. As bad as these decisions were, they do not make the invasion and its consequences any less of a tragedy. [5] A victim is one who suffers the aggression of a stronger party. As with the ages before it, the twentieth century is rich in tragedies. Victims have become perpetrators more than once before. But recent decades have seen the victim’s status cemented into permanence. We are at a point where some groups would like to consider their ancestors’ tragic fate an inheritable and advantageous privilege. They would like this “victim status” to bleed to generations of those who suffered no harm. The implications of all this are profound. If the victim status becomes inheritable, so too does that of the perpetrator.

We survived two dictatorships. We are full of once-perpetrators and once-victims and their descendants. There are many, including my late grandmother, who died in World War II‘s bombings and the assaults. We don’t even know where their unmarked graves lie. Many Hungarian politicians and other public figures were imprisoned or killed not because of who they were, but because of their political views. [6] Is their martyrdom worth less? During the communist dictatorship, honoring them was out of the question.

Now, 70 years after the tragedy, those who developed the historic narrative of that dictatorship would still like to keep us from laying flowers of remembrance before every Hungarian victim of the Nazi occupation. They would still like to prescribe whom we can mourn and whom we can’t, for whom we can shed a tear and for whom we can’t. They prescribe empathy, then close their hearts, remaining deaf and blind to the pain of others. And so, because they act as if our national mourning can have no palliative effect on tragedies past, they exclude themselves from our national community.

Arguments against the memorial try to score identity points for the “democratic” side, which they portray as permanently forced into opposition and losing ground. By reheating the decades-old themes of “anti-Christianity” and “anti-Hungarianness,” Hungarian left-liberals rooted in Marxism and internationalism have become the longest lasting plums of the side promoting “transcendence of nations,” which even in Western-Europe is shrinking. [7] The angel motif, as a reflex, ignited a hate campaign in them, which only this atheist, extremely intolerant Marxist group is capable of doing.

Such accusations as relate to the memorial are insulting and unjust. [8] The proponents of these flawed ideas try to frame Hungarians more sinful and base than the Nazis. They deny the difference between murderer and abettor, suggesting that the Nazis somehow played a subservient role in the deportation and murder of our Jewish compatriots. That the real sinners were the Hungarians. [9] This, of course, ignores the historic facts and caters to the needs of the Germans and other foreign powers and the left-liberal’s penchant for sating them. [10]

“Up until the Nazi occupation, the lives of the almost one million-strong Hungarian Jewry, along with the ones seeking refuge here, were not endangered – everybody knew it back then and it was never denied by anyone except them. Despite Hungary self-critically owning up to responsibility, who would doubt that true responsibility lies mainly with German National Socialism, which eventually developed mass murder into a political program, planned it and executed it. Without all this, there would have been no Holocaust in Hungary,” György Ránki writes in his classic work. [11]

This jibes with the message of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s March 24, 1944 press conference: “As a result of the events of the last few days hundreds of thousands of Jews, who while living under persecution have at least found a haven from death in Hungary and the Balkans, are now threatened with annihilation as Hitler’s forces descend more heavily upon these lands.” [12]

Then there’s the letter from Otto Komoly, head of the Hungarian Zionist Federation, to the executing committee of the Jewish Agency. It was dated February 25, 1944: “Hungary, in extraordinary circumstances, one could say, shows heroic resistance against its largest neighbor and it only introduces the demanded anti-Jewish measures reluctantly and in a significantly decreased form. With this step-by-step delivery, the country was able to save the lives of three-quarters of a million Jewish compatriots.” [13]

Is it possible that these three men – the president of the United States, the leader of the Hungarian Zionists, and the Auschwitz-survivor and great historian of the period, György Ránki – all misjudged the role of the Nazis in destroying the Hungarian Jewry? It should come as no surprise that opponents of the memorial, in contrast to these men, refer to the self-extenuating testimonies of the most devious wrongdoers, Adolf Eichmann and Edmund Veesenmayer.

It’s important to talk it out

“The biggest obstacle in facing the past is that often we ourselves are afraid to face even the past of our own family,” says András Rényi, civic activist, who organized a protest group against the memorial entitled “Living memorial, my history.” Let’s look at his history, then. He might talk about what it was like to grow up in one of the most privileged families of the party state and the price his father paid to remain the permanent deputy editor-in-chief of the party’s Népszabadság (People’s Freedom). He might discuss how his mother served the constantly changing ideology of the party. What benefits did this bring him? Why did he join the state party at the age of 18? This is our mutual history. It is just as living but less discussed, though equally painful. Being open about these facts would also be an important step towards the living recollection he so sorely misses. Many of the protestors could – and should – speak out about the party-state pasts of themselves or their families. But they trust that if they talk ceaselessly about events 70 years past, they can avoid the discomfort.

The biggest problem of the left-liberal elite is that the phrase “Hungarian interest” is not comprehensible to them. Instead, with every fiber of their being, they define themselves as “forward-looking,” or “progressive,” and therefore more advanced than the merely national. They are, as such, greater than the nation, a cosmopolitan or internationalist group. Some of them don’t even notice that they have become servants to foreign interests. Of course, some are being well-compensated for their hard work. There is nothing unusual about this; our leftists have become accustomed to it. As in the past, they still protect the interests of the Soviet Empire’s status quo. While that empire existed, their loadstar was the representation of Soviet interests. Now they have become subservient to the talking points of the West, meaning the United States and the European Union, in particular Germany.

I don’t recall any instance in the past two decades where they were not convinced that the “developed west” or another of our criticizing neighbors were in fact correct. Just like they never stopped demanding the acceptance of the “more highly developed,” “eminent” Soviet example, putting their interests above ours when that was the expectation. There are two reasons for this. One is that they think the winner must be right. The other, and more important, reason: they are flat-out anti-nation.

They see empire – could be the Soviet, the European Union or the American –  as fundamentally superior to the Hungarian. In this view, the supernational is to be supported and the merely sovereign is to be rejected and discontinued. For them, the nation is dangerous and antipathetic, so the national interest, as a set of viewpoints, is a concept-non-grata. Its representatives are stuck here in a sort of old-fashioned, dangerous, pre-modern condition. It’s not a coincidence that, abroad, they are hyped and celebrated. They are bequeathed with scholarships and fancy jobs. For them, everything that has a connection to the national, concretely Hungarian interest is suspicious, provincial and must be talked down. That’s why they don’t care about Hungarians abroad or the interests of the Hungarian economy; that’s why they stand behind every criticism, excoriation, and rebuke with joyful approval, regardless of how insignificant or suspicious the source.

No wonder that the Socialists, led by Mesterházy, gathered black marks from these know-it-alls after even faint intimations of moving closer to the Hungarian interest (the visit to Kolozsvar, the support for the Szekler autonomy). Furthermore, unlike the “circle of signers” and their political representation – the new SZDSZ, the DK – they paid bare-minimum lip service to the favored topics of the empires (Holocaust, racism, Roma issues, homosexual marriage, etc.). Instead, the MSZP’s campaign espoused the scarcely decodable messages of the “democracy project” in the campaign. This made the MSZP quite incomprehensible to Hungarian voters. And besides: because most Hungarian voters have experienced dictatorship, they don’t need American and European bureaucrats’ secondhand wisdom about the difference between free and rigged elections, freedom of speech, party state censorship, democracy and dictatorship. We do not need the “concerned” of the West to decide when we are free and when we are prisoners. The arguments of the “democratic” opposition, campaigning on buzzphrases like “checks and balances” and the “democratic deficit,” so poorly reflect the experience of Hungarian society that their ad-nauseam repetition is counterproductive, as the election results showed.

The “democratic package” and the “unity” coalition could only have happened due to pressure. Who promised what to the Socialists in return? Support from the left-liberal circles could not have been promised. Every leader of MSZP knows the MSZP remained, to left-liberals, just as unacceptable as the conservatives.  The difference was that the left-liberals at least fear the conservatives, and therefore respect and revere them while reserving derision and pity for the Socies.

The “company of the infallible” for half a century dismissed the political elite between the two wars for wanting to join the West. They rejected the communist model and viewed the Soviet Union as hostile. Multiple indoctrinations focused on how unnecessary the declaration of war for the Soviet Union in World War II was, why Hungary declined Stalin’s supposed peace offer and so on. The discourse hinged on cluelessness, one insisting that the Horthyist political elite failed to comprehend the Soviet Union’s enormous power and also failed to see the inevitability of Hungary conforming to its superpower neighbor’s desires. Today the Russian-American power game playing out at our borders seems all too familiar. On the surface, it’s about influence in Ukraine; in fact, it’s about Russia’s redefining its sphere of influence vis-à-vis a momentary indecisive and weak-looking American empire. But the very same left-liberal team wants unconditional anti-Russian statements from the Hungarian body politic. They want this despite the fact that Europe is divided about how to deal with the conflict, and that both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Barack Obama are so circumspect in their public utterances that it’s hard to figure out what they really want. It is obvious that, precisely because Russia is the defining power in the region, Hungarian leaders will themselves be best served by serving our national interest, assuming they tread with care. Because in contrast to the left-liberal fringe, the significant majority of the Hungarian electorate expects representation of the Hungarian national interest and demands it from its elected leaders.

Aging left-liberals have been among the most persistent members of this elite that fails to understand the 21st century. They are accustomed to being navigated to the right track by the “club of signers.” These people, conditioned to unconditional authoritarianism and well-versed in peer pressure, have for decades been uninterested in what’s happening beyond the Beltway, so to speak. They are unable to interact with anyone besides similary elderly believers, and fail entirely to connect with younger generations, who, unlike them, believe in meritocracy. Among the young, pragmatism and achievement trumps blind faith, and they want no part of the odd hate logic of this “elite.” They expect rational analyses and ideas. They are far more impressed by compelling arguments than the signing of petition after petition. They want valid answers, rich debates, and thinking that goes beyond the black and white logic of statements and directives. Hungary wants – and needs – this, too.

They have only one hope left that on the political right there are still some who expect reassurance, verification, good grades for the possibility that one day in the future the tables may turn. That’s why they still enjoy appearance at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences again and again. [14]
———————————————————————————————
[1]   Jean Sévillia: Historiquement incorrect, Kairosz, Budapest, 2013. Liberté pour l’histoire, page 13. [Történelmileg inkorrekt - Hungarian edition]
[2]   “Undersigned historians call the government to discontinue falsifying our recent past, relativization of the history of the Holocaust and drop the plans to realize the memorial on Szabadság tér.” January 22, 2014 Galamus csoport. „Történészek tiltakozása” [Exclamation of Historians]. Amongst the 26 undersigning historians are Maria Ormos, former member of the MSZMP Political Committee, Tibor Hajdú and Lajos Gecsényi, former Workers’ Militia member, party historians favored by MSZMP for decades. [MSZMP= Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, state party in Hungary from 1956-1989 – translator’s note]
[3] “Neither the argument stands that the country lost its independence because foreign troops parked on its territory. This circumstance stood after 1990, but presence of the NATO soldiers didn’t cause public outrage just as it didn’t cause a demonstration wave in 1944 when the troops of the German Empire, allied with Hungary, arrived to our homeland” – argues Krisztián Ungváry (Megjegyzések Magyarország alaptörvényéhez [Notes on Hungary’s Basic Law], in: Tettesek vagy áldozatok? Feltáratlan fejezetek a XX. század történelméből [Perpetrators or Victims? Unrevealed Chapters of the 20th Century History], Jaffa kiadó, Budapest, 2014.311 o.) According to Ungváry the Nazi invasion and public vote-backed joining the NATO falls under the same category.
[4] “The memorial that caused many storms, the contrast of the pictures of the angel-like innocent Hungarian society and the empire eagle Germany aims at forgetting and making forget the responsibility of the Hungarian society and the Horthy-government in the harassment and getting rid of the masses marked as Jews and for the sometimes willing, other times unwilling cooperation with Nazi Germany that lasted until the end of the war.” – says György Hunyady Academy member. – http://index.hu/belfold/2014/05/13/az_mta_megunta_a_hallgatast/
[5] According to Mária Ormos, member of the Academy, in 1941, at the deportations of Karmenec-Podolsky: “Earlier there was no example of slaughtering the deported even in Poland, what the deportations meant was that Jews were let go on the new territory. At that time neither concentration camps nor even ghettos existed, which were later set up in Warsaw. We could not state therefore that responsible Hungarian actors knowingly took mass murder into account, but they by all means could have had an idea because the leadership knew the deported didn’t have homes, work at the new place, could not make money, so “when their savings are gone they are sentenced to starvation to death.” http://index.hu/belfold/2014/05/13/az_mta_megunta_a_hallgatast/
On the other hand, Ungváry states that “in the case of Kamenec-Podolszky the deportation anger of the Hungarian authorities lead to a humanitarian catastrophe… Only after that was the German decision taken that for the better supply of the local Ukrainian citizens, for the termination of the risk of epidemic and to carry out their own anti-semitic program they will murder the Jews.” – Krisztián Ungváry: Az emlékmű és az emlékműmutyi [The memorial and the memorial-fraud], in: id. mű, 319 o. Ungváry uses the German reasoning and language of that time!
[6] http://www.xxszazadintezet.hu/1944_marcius_19/1944_marcius_19.pdf
[7] Western Europe is seeing a national renaissance. Scotland’s break away, independence of Catalonia is on the agenda just as much as Belgium’s split only to mention a few examples. The strengthening of the European skeptics, or realists with an agenda emphasizing national attributes against the centralization of the European Union is worth mentioning too. England plans a vote on EU membership, etc.
[8] Thirty American senators and representatives of Jewish origin asked the Hungarian Prime Minister to revise the plans for building the Szabadság tér memorial. The undersigned in their letter published on the website of the World Jewish Congress wrote that “The Nazi occupation of Hungary was a horrific period in Hungarian history, which caused incalculable suffering and tragedy to millions of innocent people. And while there were individuals in Hungary who actively helped those persecuted by the Nazis, it cannot be ignored that there was also a portion of the population at that time that willingly participated in Nazi activities, including the deportation of Hungarian Jews.” “While we understand and greatly appreciate the desire to honor all Hungarians brutalized during the Nazi occupation, we also believe that Hungary’s remaining Jewish population should participate in determining the appropriate way to remember the suffering of Hungary’s Jews during this period. They too share in the Hungarian historical narrative and it is their leadership’s opinion that the current proposal whitewashes the fact that there were Hungarians complicit with the systematic murder of their relatives.” “We greatly value the strong and enduring relations and partnership between our two nations, and it is with that in mind that we urge you to reconsider your government’s current plan to construct this monument against the wishes of the Hungarian Jewish community.”http://www.hir24.hu/belfold/2014/05/23/amerikai-szenatorok-is-beszalltak-az-emlekmuvitaba/.
[9] “Hitler demanded Horthy to “solve” the Jewish question, but they did not declare what that meant exactly. The German side presumably would have been satisfied with smaller concessions…” (Megjegyzések Magyarország alaptörvényéhez [Notes on Hungary’s Basic Law], in: Tettesek vagy áldozatok? Feltáratlan fejezetek a XX. század történelméből [Perpetrators or Victims? Unrevealed Chapters of the 20th Century History,] id.mű.314 o.), “Hitler did not place an order to deport the Hungarian Jews to extermination camps” Krisztián Ungváry, November 7, 2013 galamus.hu.  With this Nazi-apologist understanding even the German historians don’t agree: “The government of Budapest again and again denied the German order that the local Jewry would be deported to Poland… From his numerous reports it turned out how Veesenmayer was involved in every minor detail and how passionate he was to follow the anti-Jewish initiative. He made recommendations for improvement again and again.” Eckart Conze – Norbert Frei – Peter Hayes – Moshe Zimmermann: Das Amt und die Vergangenheit – Deutsche Diplomaten Im Dritten Reich und in der Bundesrepublik [A Hivatal és a múlt – német diplomaták a Harmadik Birodalomban és a Német Szövetségi Köztársaságban]. Karl Blessing Verlag, München, 2010., pp. 260 – 267.
[10] The memorial shows Hungary the innocent victim of the evil Germans. This has to be emphasized because the German eagle does not mean the Nazis but Germany which cracks down on the unsuspicious Hungarians. Ungvary, Krisztian, in: Weltzeit, 2014, 12. mai, Ungarns Aufarbeitung des Faschismus von Keno Verseck. According to Ronald S. Lauder: “Even though Hitler made the command himself the murders were carried out by Hungarians, the Arrow Cross members, this “extremist group made up of anti-Semite bandits”.
[11]György Ránki: A Harmadik Birodalom árnyékában [In the Shadow of the Third Reich], Magvető, Budapest, 1988. page 176. A német megszálláshoz vezető út [The Road to the German Invasion], 176 o. Ránki quotes Goebbels’ diary that “The Jewish question was solved the least satisfactory in Hungary. The Hungarian state is full of Jews and the Führer at his negotiations with Horthy couldn’t convince him of the need for much stricter measures” The Goebbels Diaries, 1942-1943, edited by Louis M. Lochner. Garden city. N. Y. Doubleday, 1948, p. 357. quoted by: Ránki referred work. 219.
[12] Press Conference, on March 24, 1944. in: Maria Schmidt: Diktatúrák ördögszekerén [The Devil’s Wagon of Dictatorships], Magvető, Budapest, 1998. 100 o.
[13] Komoly, Ottó report to Richard Lichtheimnek, March 25, 1944, Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, L22-176.
[14] The conference entitled „A történelmi emlékezet és a történettudomány” [Historical Remembrance and History Studies] at MTA, May 13, 2014

 * * *

SCHMIDT

Mária Schmidt’s article, published in the June 26 issue of Heti Válasz, is a provocation and a declaration of war. Many among us think that this kind of provocation does not even deserve an answer. I disagree. The author crossed a line, and it is better if we see clearly what that line is.

Let’s start with the concepts and the cast of characters. Schmidt’s article takes up four printed pages. The author would have had ample space to name those with whom she disagrees. But only four people are named. From among the four, the author has no argument with Viktor Orbán and Attila Mesterházy. The other two are Barack Obama and András Rényi. So what about the others?

Well, the others are simply traitors of the nation who remain unnamed. They are the ones who took a position against the planned memorial to the German occupation [during WW2]. They are the internal enemies of the nation, those who “lock themselves out (sic!) from our national community,” “a vanguard educated in the herd mentality,” whose “every member is a convinced enemy of the nation,” “a devoted atheist,” “a lackey of any and all empires’ interests.” They are the ones who “are getting paid for their efforts.” References are also made in the piece to unnamed “certain ones” and “same ones.”

This kind of language is not without precedent in Hungarian political literature. The extreme right ideologues of the Horthy era used similar language against the political left that was declared, en masse, guilty of treason, against the freemasons, against the cosmopolitan liberals and especially against the Jews among them. Later, this tradition of writing was transferred—with slight variations—to the fifties. Stalinist journalism also spoke about “certain ones” and “same ones,” without mentioning names, but blaming the unnamed targets for being mercenaries of imperialism. In any case, readers were supposed to know whom the party was momentarily targeting, but in case they did not know for sure, all the better, let readers do some frightening guesswork for themselves.

But there are other reasons why the author had difficulties choosing some – named – persons from the large pool of those who oppose the German Occupation memorial. In fact she could have named the Piarist father István Jelenits or the art historian Katalin Dávid, who wrote in the press about her religious convictions. But then how would Schmidt explain her statement that all opponents of the memorial are “devoted atheists”? She could have named Imre Mécs, who during the Kádár era was sentenced to death for revolutionary deeds in 1956, or she could have named Rudolf Ungváry, who was interned during the same period. But then how could she explain her statement that these are the ”same ones” as those who “compiled and represented the historical view” of the Communist dictatorship?

She could have named Krisztián Ungváry, born in 1969, but then what could she do with her statement that the protesters are “elderly” who “locked themselves forever into the thoughts and values of 1968” and who “do not understand the challenges of the twenty-first century”? Or she could have named the historian András Gerő, who spoke up unambiguously against the memorial several times, but then how would she explain her statement that the protesters are members of the elite without opinions, “trained in herd behavior”?

Or she could have named Ignác Romsics and the other members of the history section of the Hungarian Academy of Science, who unanimously think that the design of the memorial is problematic because – as they say – it “seems to underestimate the Horthy regime’s responsibility for the Holocaust.” But then what would she do with her statement that the protestors always represent the truth of those “who seem to be powerful at the moment”?

In fact, the author does not want to argue with anyone. She doesn’t even want to argue. She characterizes the debate about the memorial as “damnable” and “fruitless.” But she does not explain why the debate would be fruitless. Because then she would also have to refer to the fact that the authorities announced the design and the description of the memorial without any public debate because they did not want to open up any discussion or debate. The design that became public on January 19, 2014, was a fait accompli. This was later confirmed by the Prime Minister himself when in a public letter he said mysteriously that he “had no room to maneuver” on the issue of the memorial. How should we understand this? Who are those limiting the Prime Minister’s “room to maneuver”?

Anyway, no debate was ever to take place. According to Mária Schmidt, debate is not even necessary; everything is just fine with the German occupation memorial. She considers the statue a memorial to reconciliation. But who are the parties to this reconciliation? And in whose mind and why was the idea of reconciliation born?

After all, until January 2014–exactly until the time the plan of the memorial was published, we did not witness any kind of excessive hostility between the authorities and those who were commemorating the Holocaust anniversary. But whatever this “reconciliation” may mean, how can this “peaceful” intention be served by this statue of dubious esthetic value, designed in secret and built without any kind of professional or social debate? And how can it be served by the official description of the work, according to which Archangel Gabriel stands for Hungary, symbolizing that the country, just as the angel, was a fully innocent victim during its occupation by the Germans?

The author cites the deceased historian György Ránki and former Zionist Leader Ottó Komoly to support her opinion that everything is just fine with the statue. After all, both of these people thought that without the German occupation the deportations [of the Jews] would not have happened. This is true; the opponents of the memorial do not deny it. But the protesters state—based on well-known historical facts—that while the German occupation was indeed a necessary condition for the deportation, it was not a sufficient one.

Without the collaboration of the Hungarian authorities, the occupying Germans could not have achieved their murderous objectives: making lists of the Jews, putting them into ghettos, pillaging them and transporting them to the trains was not done by Germans but by Hungarians. Ránki thought indeed that that the Germans bore the “main responsibility” for the Holocaust. But he also considered it important to state that Hungary also needs to face critically and self-critically the part of the responsibility that belongs to Hungary. It would be hard to imagine that Ránki, who was always careful about his phrasing when it came to history, would sanction the design of the memorial.

But the author, not for the first time, embarks on political language juggling and insinuation to discredit those who, as Ránki, establish the responsibility of Horthy and the Hungarian authorities for the deportations. The accusation that all those who criticize the role of Horthy and/or the Hungarian authorities would at the same time consider “the Hungarians” “the sole and true culprits” is nonsense. It is absurd to state that the critics would put into a subordinate role the murder of the Jews by the Germans. This is not at all what’s going on.

What’s happening rather is that the author is fighting with her own earlier statement from 1993 according to which Horthy’s responsibility cannot be even brought up because, according to the author’s assertion back then, Horthy knew nothing about the Nazis’ policies towards the Jews at the time that deportations were taking place between May and early July of 1944. According to this interpretation, even during this time Horthy’s understanding was that the Germans were taking away the Jews for labor—together with their families. According to this interpretation Horthy stopped the deportations later, in July, because only then did he find out what was truly going on—after his own daughter-in-law handed him the Auschwitz Protocols.

This is not how it happened. It can be documented that Horthy knew already as of the spring of 1943 what the Germans were doing with the deported Jews. Regardless of how disastrous Horthy’s decision after the German occupation was to give his name to the deportation of the Jews, we should consider it to be to his credit not to have handed over the Hungarian Jewry to the Germans until the moment of the occupation in March 1944, exactly because he knew what the Germans were doing with the Jews.

A draft of a letter written by Horthy to Hitler on May 7, 1943, almost a year before the German occupation, is in the archives. In this draft, referring to their meeting a few weeks earlier, Horthy wrote: “Your Excellency further reproached that the government did not proceed with the complete extermination of the Jews as thoroughly as it happened in Germany ….” It does not stand, therefore, that Horthy and his circle of advisors would not have known the intentions of the Germans.

It was the implementation of these intentions that Horthy finally gave his name to after the German occupation. This is also how the Hungarian Prime Minister of the 1920s, István Bethlen, saw it. Already in hiding, Bethlen warned Horthy that the Hungarian state became an accomplice in causing the catastrophe. During the third month of the German occupation he demanded in a secret memorandum that Horthy stop the deportations, dismiss the collaborationist Sztójay cabinet, and name a new cabinet in its place.

The task of this cabinet would be to “end this inhuman, stupid and cruel persecution of the Jews that is incompatible with the Hungarian character, with which the present cabinet soiled the name of Hungarians in the eyes of the world and which became the source of the most hideous corruption, robbery and theft. Unfortunately a major part of the Hungarian intelligentsia also got involved in it. This is a stigma that cannot be removed anymore from our good reputation, but this barbarism has to be stopped, otherwise the Christian Hungarian society will be permanently tainted.”

Since the 90s Mária Schmidt’s position on Horthy’s and the Hungarian state’s role changed somewhat: she no longer classifies Horthy and the Hungarian authorities as naive bystanders but, similarly to István Bethlen, as “accomplices.” But – maybe because of this – she now brings up new accusations against the critics of Horthy. Without any justification she accuses them with switching the order of importance between the “guilty Nazis” and the “accomplice” Hungarians.

I could analyze many other statements of the five-page-long article, but it is not worth it. At the beginning of this writing I stated that my goal was to show what lines the author crossed with her article. She crossed these lines with her treatment of the topic of the Holocaust and with the way she chose to describe the opponents of the memorial. She accuses the opponents of the memorial of treason and she states that “they would like to capitalize on their ancestors’ fate using this as a privilege that could be exchanged for benefits” and with this “they lock themselves out from our national community.” With this the author also declares that she has the right and the ability to determine who belongs to the national community and who does not. With her article she locks out from this community those who disagree with her.

Is this about anti-Semitism? To answer this question we need to evoke how the author writes about the Holocaust, because in my opinion here she also crossed a line. In her article she calls the Holocaust a “topic preferred by empires” related to which a “desired minimum” has to be, so to say, “performed.” According to the author, the “left-lib” team has no problem doing this. They “make fun of” and consider everything that is “related to the nation, to concrete Hungarian interests” as being “provincial”; after all, they “trained themselves into servile servants of points of view of the West, which means the United States, the European Union or possibly Germany.”

And with this the circle of the proof is closed. If the Holocaust is indeed a “topic of empires” in which any “performance” above a “minimum” is a priori opposed to the interests of the nation, then to prove the charge of treason it is sufficient to show that the protesters not only perform “the required minimum” related to the “topic of empires,” but they do more, possibly something else than what the author considers compatible with the national interest. And what this “required minimum” exactly consists of, is to be determined by no one else than the author.

In the past few months the government’s investments under Mária Schmidt’s control connected to the House of Fates project caused many to voice misgivings related to the author’s oeuvre, to the House of Terror and to her whole perception of history. The question was whether one could imagine the author being capable of creating a new Holocaust museum. Based on her writing, which is the subject of this article, the answer is obvious: one cannot.

The opening of the Washington, DC Holocaust Museum was preceded by fifteen years of work, research, and professional debate. The plans for the soon to open House of Fates are kept secret as of today, and the author, who also leads the preparation work of the museum, denounces those who disagree with her view of history as traitors. According to her writing, she considers the Holocaust a “topic of empires” which has a “required minimum.” She accuses others of doing exactly what she herself is doing.

She considers her position a “privilege that can be traded for benefits,” a position from which she can “force – through her power – onto the society” her own arbitrary and unsustainable narrative, while excluding the professionals and those most affected. Based on her writing we can expect that as far as the actual historical context of the Holocaust is concerned, the museum based on this philosophy will be reduced to what the author assesses to be sufficient in order to “perform” what she terms the “required minimum.”