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Days of protest, but the “Nazi” monument will stand in Budapest

April 16, 2014 35 comments

I have been so preoccupied with the election results that I have neglected the recent tug-of-war between the Orbán government and a small group of people who desperately want to prevent the erection of a monument to commemorate the “occupation” of Hungary by German troops on March 19, 1944.

The monument depicts Hungary in the guise of the Archangel Gabriel as an innocent victim of German aggression when, in fact, Hungary was an ally of Nazi Germany. By extension, the present Hungarian government puts the blame for the Hungarian Holocaust entirely on Germany, although they do admit that some civil servants shamefully collaborated with the commandos of Adolf Eichmann. But the Hungarian government is not to be blamed because, with the occupation, Hungary lost its sovereignty. Most historians who are experts on the subject, inside and outside of Hungary, see it differently. So does the Hungarian Jewish community, whose representatives have been trying to have a dialogue with Viktor Orbán: they proposed more appropriate ways to remember the seventieth anniversary of the Hungarian Holocaust. At the end of February there was a short reprieve in the “war of words” between Orbán and the Jewish community when Orbán promised to postpone the erection of the monument and offered to engage in a dialogue sometime after the Easter holidays.

But then came the election, whose results Viktor Orbán described as a resounding victory, and he was again full of energy. Two days after the election workmen appeared on Szabadság tér (Freedom Square) and started building a barrier around the designated site of the monument. Soon enough activists gathered and swore they would take it down. And indeed, in the morning the workmen constructed the wall and in the afternoon the demonstrators took it down. By the second day the demonstrators had the right kind of equipment to do quite a professional job disassembling the barrier. By yesterday, the barrier had gone up six times and come down six times. Someone compared the situation to the famous Hungarian/Romanian folk ballad in which the walls that are built one day by the masons at the Fortress of Deva/Déva are destroyed by the next morning.

While this was going on, about 20 policemen stood idly by until April 14, when several of the organizers were ordered to appear at the police station and charged with defacement of property. The defacement consisted of using spray paint to write messages on the canvas that covered the metal barrier. Included among the people so charged were Zoltán Lovas, a newspaper man; Fruzsina Magyar, wife of Imre Mécs who as a young man was condemned to death after the failed revolution in 1956; and Alice Fried, a Holocaust survivor, whose “graffiti” read: “I survived the Shoa. I still want to live!” Since then Imre Mécs, who “willfully” wrote messages on the canvas, was also charged.

History falsification / spiritual well-poisioning The first on the right is Fruzsina Magyar

History falsification / Spiritual well-poisoning
Fruzsina Magyar is on the far right.

Meanwhile tourists keep inquiring what’s going on and the participants tell them that “the government wants to erect a Nazi monument and the people are protesting.” Of course, it would be far too complicated to explain to these people what is at stake here. The game of erecting and taking down the barrier will go on for a while, but meanwhile the foundation for the enormous statue of Archangel Gabriel is being built. Yes, it must stand just as ordered by the imperious Viktor Orbán. His announced deadline is May 1.

Opponents say that as soon as Viktor Orbán and his government are gone this statue will join the statues erected during the Rákosi and Kádár periods, which are now  in a kind of statue cemetery in Memento Park. Others are certain that the new monument will have to be guarded day and night because it is likely that opponents will deface this monument that they find so objectionable.

The English-language media doesn’t seem to have taken much notice of what’s going on in the heart of Budapest. I discovered only one opinion piece, by András Simonyi, former Hungarian ambassador in Washington, who finds Viktor Orbán “deaf to the uproar by the Jewish community and other decent Hungarians. He fails to show leadership and magnanimity. He is missing the opportunity to behave like a statesman.”  Statesmanship? Magnanimity? From Viktor Orbán?

By contrast, the German press has been covering the story of the monument from the beginning. After all, Germany is implicated in this story. But the Germans, unlike the Hungarians, faced up to their own past and were ready to take the blame. They also know, as do most historians, that the Germans had eager accomplices in the Hungarian Holocaust. German public radio had a segment on the controversy, “Proteste gegen Nazi-Bezatsungsdenkmal.” Yes, the description of it as a Nazi monument is spreading. In it the journalist responsible for the text accurately described the situation that awaited the German troops in Hungary. Junge Welt ran an article entitled “Orbán in the role of the victim.” Perhaps the writer who claimed that Hungarians never quite got over the fact that they lost World War II is right. Seventy years after the fact. It would be high time to do so, but self-examination is impossible as long as the Hungarian government prevents any kind of honest look at Hungary’s role in the Holocaust.

Let’s purify the language: Orbán’s new institute

March 24, 2014 47 comments

I’m not sure that I will be able to come up with a complete list of new institutes the Orbán government has established in four years, but to the best of my recollection there were at least six. The most notorious is the Veritas Historical Institute headed by Sándor Szakály, whose name became known even abroad in the last few months in connection with his opinions on the Holocaust. But the institution that is supposed to study the change of regime of 1989-1990 is just as outrageous because Viktor Orbán named Zoltán Bíró, a right-winger active on Echo TV, as its head. I can well imagine what kinds of publications Bíró’s crew will come out with. Then there is a new institute studying the national strategy of the country. It is headed by Jenő Szász, the favorite Szekler politician of  János Kövér. After Szász became a burden for Orbán and László Tőkés, he was compensated with a research institute of his own in Budapest. What he and his colleagues are doing besides receiving handsome salaries, no one knows. And we mustn’t forget about the Committee on National Remembrance whose job, as far as I can see, will be to mete out punishments for sins committed during the Kádár period.

There are also institutions set up as parallel organizations to already existing ones but designed to represent the political right and to reward pro-government members of the intellectual elite. New organizations represent right-leaning actors, writers, and artists.

On February 28 the government announced the creation of a Hungarian Language Strategical Institute. The new institute will open its doors on April Fool’s Day, a fact that was not missed by the great majority of linguists who are baffled by the whole idea. I might add that the new institute, just like Veritas, will be supervised by Viktor Orbán’s right-hand man János Lázár. Lázár is the government’s jack of all trades: he supervises historical studies and linguistics, and he is rapidly becoming an expert on the Holocaust.

I have always been interested in language. At one point I was even toying with the idea of becoming a linguist–at least until I encountered some members of ELTE’s Department of the Hungarian Language. In any case, I usually pay attention to what’s going on in the field and know that there is a huge divide between those who consider themselves “real” linguists and those who are called “language cultivators” (nyelvművelők). The former consider language a living organ that changes constantly over time and that needs no conscious cultivation. The cultivators are enemies of foreign words and their adoption; they are convinced that the language is under siege by modern technology; they are certain that the Hungarian vocabulary is shrinking; they want to change speaking habits to conform to the “right rules” even if the majority of the population uses a different set of rules.

Language cultivation was a favorite pastime during the Kádár regime. Lajos Lőrincze was the high priest of the series “Édes anyanyelvünk” (Our sweet mother tongue). In the last twenty-five years, however, the cultivator linguists had to take a back seat to those who are convinced that the best thing is to leave language alone.

Naturally Viktor Orbán sympathizes with the language cultivators and bemoans foreign influences on our sweet mother tongue. In fact, already during his first term as prime minister he declared war on foreign words on store fronts. A decree was enacted that would have required store owners to change certain words in their stores’ names. But Orbán left and with him the idea, and the decree, died a quiet death. Now he is reviving an old idea on an even grander scale.

Language

Reactions to the establishment of the Hungarian Language Strategical Institute are almost uniformly negative, with the notable exception of Géza Balázs, a professor of linguistics at ELTE who seems to be an ardent “language cultivator.” Even the usually servile József Pálinkás, president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, is no fan of the idea. Margit Fehér, a journalist working for The Wall Street Journal who wrote an article about this latest brain child of Viktor Orbán, asked Pálinkás for his opinion on the institute. To my great surprise he sent the following answer back to Fehér: “To me, the government decree means that the 20-strong institute will operate not as a home for scientific research but as a central bureau of the Prime Minister’s Office which coordinates the preparation of materials to be written at the government’s order for its decision on the language policy and language cultivation.” Pálinkás went even further when he stated that “It’s hard to draw a parallel between an institute that functions as a state office and an institute that conducts scientific research.” It seems as if Pálinkás is getting fed up with Orbán’s government taking over more and more functions that were previously under the jurisdiction of the Academy.

I managed to find an old article by Géza Balázs from 2011 entitled “A sketch of a possible language strategy” which may be the rationale for this institute. He talks at length about “the erosion of the language,” especially in the field of science where access to all material is a fundamental human right. I’m pretty sure that the use of English terms, especially in computer science, irritates Balázs and his fellow language cultivators. In the past, he argues, it was all right to let the language develop organically, but in our fast-moving world with all these rapid changes we cannot be lackadaisical about the state of our language.

Although Margit Fehér quotes only Ádám Nádasdy’s opinions in her English-language article, she notes that “most linguists received news of the government decree with raised eyebrows and disapproval.” Even the official Institute of Linguistics of the Hungarian Academy immediately launched a website where they collected opinions on the new institute and newspaper articles dealing with the subject. They all seem to be negative. Of course, this latest Orbán move reminds everybody of Stalin and his dabbling in linguistics in the 1950s. As Nádasdy said, “the government may decide what it is willing to dish money out for, but that doesn’t make it linguistics. We are not the Soviet Union of the 1930s, where Stalin decided what makes science and what not.”

Finally, let me do a little advertisement for Ádám Nádasdy. A few years ago he delivered a lecture on how language changes at the Mindentudás Egyeteme (university of all knowledge). It is a pleasure to listen to him because he is an excellent lecturer. After his lecture you will understand his strong opinions on “language cultivation.”

Randolph L. Braham: The assault on the historical memory of the Holocaust

March 22, 2014 45 comments

This is the first time that Hungarian Spectrum is publishing a scholarly article. It is therefore considerably longer than my usual posts. It also contains footnotes, which are an important part of the article because they lead the reader to scholarly works on the subject as well as to relevant current newspaper articles.

The article is a detailed description of “the assault on the historical integrity of the Holocaust” with special emphasis on the period after 1990.

* * *

 Memoria est thesaurus omnium rerum et custos

(Memory is the treasury and guardian of all  things) Cicero

THE LAUNCHING OF THE CAMPAIGN

The Communist Era 

As in many other countries in Nazi-dominated Europe, in Hungary, the assault on the historical integrity of the Holocaust began before the war had come to an end. While many thousands of Hungarian Jews still were lingering in concentration camps, those Jews liberated by the Red Army, including those of Budapest, soon were warned not to seek any advantages as a consequence of their suffering. This time the campaign was launched from the left. The Communists and their allies, who also had been persecuted by the Nazis, were engaged in a political struggle for the acquisition of state power. To acquire the support of those Christian masses who remained intoxicated with anti-Semitism, and with many of those in possession of stolen and/or “legally” allocated Jewish-owned property, leftist leaders were among the first to use the method of “generalization” in their attack on the facticity and specificity of the Holocaust. Claiming that the events that had befallen the Jews were part and parcel of the catastrophe that had engulfed most Europeans during the Second World War, they called upon the survivors to give up any particularist claims and participate instead in the building of a new “egalitarian” society.  As early as late March 1945, József Darvas, the noted populist writer and leader of the National Peasant Party, asserted that “no one may claim any privileges on the basis of former suffering.” On August 26, 1945, he reiterated this anti-Jewish position by stating that “a certain group should not demand preferential treatment on the ground of racial prerogatives.” The incitements by the Communists soon led to the spread of blood-libel rumors and to pogroms in several cities, including Kunmadaras and Miskolc.[1]

Following their acquisition of power in 1949, the Communist-dominated government of Hungary largely put an end to physical attacks on Jews, but soon began an assault on the memory of the Holocaust. That regime pursued this goal concurrent with the Soviet-led anti-Semitic campaign against “cosmopolitanism” and Zionism, and soon began attempts that sought the de-legitimization of the State of Israel. As a consequence, the Holocaust, like the “the Jewish question” in general, were for many decades sunk in an Orwellian black hole of history.

Unlike in the West, however, where the campaign to distort, denigrate, and actually deny the Holocaust has been waged freely by so-called “historical revisionists,”  the campaign in the Soviet bloc had been pursued under strict state control with its intensity varying in accordance with the changing political interests of the Kremlin.[2]

The Post-Communist Era

Following the dissolution of the Communist regimes and the disintegration of the Soviet bloc in the late 1980s, “historical revisionism” also infected the xenophobic nationalist stratum of Hungarian society.  Ironically, this new strain came to the fore following the liberalization measures that the first democratically elected government adopted after the systemic change of 1989. The political stresses and socioeconomic dislocations engendered by the new administration’s privatization and marketization measures enabled the xenophobic nationalist-populist elements to revive both “the Jewish question” and anti-Semitism as convenient instruments of domestic politics. The number of Hungarian xenophobic champions of anti-Semitism has grown since the systemic change, constituting an increasing danger not only to the integrity of the historical record of the Holocaust but also to the newly established democratic system. The current danger is represented not so much by the “historical revisionists” who vocally deny the Holocaust – they will most probably end up in the dung-heap of history – but by “respectable public figures” – members and heads of government, parliamentarians, and high-ranking officers. The rhetoric and tactics of these respectable individuals vary in terms of their particular political-ideological group interests and personal ambitions. The leaders of the successive democratically elected Hungarian governments have, with a few exceptions, consistently pursued policies that aimed to:

  1. Bring about the rehabilitation of the Horthy era and the revitalization of the national-Christian principles that had guided it;
  2. Absolve Hungary of any guilt for the Holocaust by placing ultimate responsibility on the Germans;
  3. Deflect attention from the Holocaust by focusing on the “positive” experiences of the Jews since their emancipation in 1867 and on the rescue activities of Christian Hungarians during the German occupation, including Horthy’s halting of the deportations in early July 1944.

To achieve these objectives the successive governments have supported with various degrees of enthusiasm the efforts of “patriotic-nationalist” groups and individuals who have dedicated themselves to cleansing the historical record of Hungary, that is, in effect, to falsifying the historical record of the Nazi era in general and of the Holocaust in particular. Like their counterparts elsewhere in the former Nazi-dominated world, the Hungarian history-cleansers have, among other things, adopted the historical technique of “denationalization,” to prove Hungary’s “innocence” during the Holocaust, and that of “relativization” and “trivialization,” to demonstrate that the number of the Nazi victims was dwarfed by that caused by Communism, and that the Holocaust was but a relatively minor factor during the Second World War.

This study documents the policies of the successive Hungarian governments since 1989, critically evaluating the various approaches they have used to reach their national self-exculpatory objectives. It also aims to identify the historical context in which these policies were formulated, focusing on the radical “constitutional” and other “legal” and politically oriented Holocaust-related measures that were introduced following the inauguration of the Viktor Orbán-led government in 2010.

 THE FACTS UNDER SIEGE

In March 1944, Hungary had a Jewish population of more than 800,000 (including the approximately 100,000 Christians and converts who were identified as Jews under the racial laws then in effect). They constituted the last relatively intact Jewish community in Nazi-dominated Europe. Having survived throughout most of the war, they were destroyed on the eve of Allied victory with the connivance of their own government. An ally of Nazi Germany, Hungary, beginning in early 1938, instituted a series of increasingly severe anti-Jewish measures that not only curtailed the basic civil and socioeconomic rights of the Jews[3] but also claimed approximately 60,000 Jewish lives by early 1944.[4] Nevertheless, the bulk of Hungarian Jewry survived the first four and a half years of the war “thanks” to their physical protection by the conservative-aristocratic government of Miklós Kállay. After the German occupation of March 19, 1944, however, it was this relatively intact Jewish community that was subjected to the most concentrated and brutal ghettoization and deportation process of the Nazis’ Final Solution program.[5] The murderous drive against the Hungarian Jews was launched almost immediately after the beginning of the occupation that was welcomed not only by the military but also by a large stratum of the population.[6] By that time the leaders of the world, including those of Hungary, already were familiar with the realities of Auschwitz. By that time even many among the Nazis realized that the Axis would lose the war. It was precisely because of this prospect that the Germans and their Hungarian accomplices decided to win at least the campaign against the Jews. Time was clearly of the essence. The Red Army was fast approaching Romania, and the Western Allies were expected to launch their invasion of Europe soon.

The Nazis’ machinery of destruction was already well oiled by 1944. With experience gained through the mass murder of Jews from almost all over German-dominated Europe, the Nazis were ready and well prepared for a lightning operation in Hungary. Their initial fear at that juncture of the losing war was that Miklós Horthy, the Hungarian head of state, might emulate the latter-day position of Marshal Ion Antonescu of Romania, and prevent the full implementation of the Final Solution by identifying the Jewish question as a domestic issue. The German’s concern was dissipated soon after the occupation began. Adolf Eichmann, the experienced head of a small but efficient SS unit, was amazed at the enthusiasm with which members of the new Döme Sztójay government – all constitutionally appointed by Horthy – proved ready to “solve” the Jewish question.[7] This new government placed the instruments of state power – the gendarmerie, police, and civil service – at the disposal of the Hungarian and German Nazis bent on the swiftest possible implementation of the Final Solution. With Horthy still at the helm and providing the symbol of national sovereignty, the approximately 200,000 Hungarian policemen, gendarmes, civil servants, and “patriotic” volunteers had collaborated in the anti-Jewish drive with a routine and efficiency that impressed even the relatively few SS who had served as “advisors.” Within less than two months – that is from late March to mid-May, 1944 – those in charge of the Final Solution completed the first phase of the anti-Jewish drive. Acting in accordance with the provisions of the many “laws, decrees, and orders,” issued by the central and the regional governmental organs, the Jews were isolated, marked, robbed of their possessions, and placed into ghettos. During the next two months – from May 15 through July 9 – they were subjected to the most barbaric and speedy deportation and extermination program of the war. It was so massive and so swift that the crematoria in Auschwitz-Birkenau, updated as they were, could not cope. Special ditches had to be dug to burn the thousands of victims the crematoria could not handle. When Winston Churchill was informed about this catastrophe, he referred to it as “probably the greatest and most horrible crime ever committed in the history of the world.”[8]  In sheer numbers the mass murder of the Hungarian Jews overshadowed the losses of many major combatants of the Second World War![9]

STAGES OF THE ASSAULT

The Hungarian chapter of the Holocaust of European Jewry constitutes not only the greatest tragedy in the history of Hungarian Jewry but also the darkest chapter in the history of Hungary. Never before in the history of the Hungarian nation were so many people expropriated and murdered in so short a time as in 1944. Most of the hundreds of thousands of victims were Hungarian citizens who had proudly considered themselves “Magyars of the Jewish faith.” To the chagrin of the other ethnic-national minorities of Hungary, most Jews were patriotic and had been firmly committed to the Magyar cause since 1848. They were the forerunners of Hungary’s modernization and champions of the Hungarian language and culture even in the territories Hungary lost in 1918. At the end, however, they fared less well than the other ethnic and national groups. They were destroyed with the connivance of the Magyars they had so eagerly supported and implicitly trusted.

The details of this apocalyptic chapter in the history of Hungary have not yet sunk into the national consciousness of the Hungarian people. The reasons are many and complex. The wartime history of Hungary, including the Holocaust, has been manipulated by the successive postwar regimes to serve their particular political interests.

The Immediate Postwar Era

During the immediate postwar period, the needs and interests of the survivors came into conflict with the political aspirations of the various parties. It is one of the ironies of history that, at the end, the surviving remnant of Hungarian Jewry suffered most at the hands of the very political party that many of them had trusted as their genuine supporter and whose members, like the Jews, had been a main target of the Nazis and of the Horthy regime: the Communist Party. During the immediate postwar era, many of the victimized Jews placed their faith in the Party, believing that it was the only one that was genuinely free of any stain of Fascism. They also considered it reliable for the advancement of their legitimate interests, including the roundup and prosecution of war criminals, the effectuation of an equitable restitution and reparation program, and the building of a just and egalitarian society. The Jewish survivors were soon awakened to the political realities of the postwar power struggle. Small and generally mistrusted by the ethnic majority, the Communist Party had no scruples about sacrificing the interests of the Jews in order to build a popular base for the acquisition of state power. Driven by political expediency, the party leadership, which included a proportionately large number of Communists of Jewish origin, urged the survivors to forget about their past suffering, abandon their demands for restitution, and subordinate their special needs to the building of the new socialist society. With the exception of the relatively few diehards who remained loyal to their ideology and newly acquired power, the survivors soon discovered that it was the Communist Party’s search for mass support that was in fact largely behind the anti-Semitic agitation and the many “spontaneous” anti-Jewish outbursts and pogroms that occurred during the immediate postwar period.[10]

During the Stalinist era, the Holocaust was virtually sunk into the Orwellian black hole of history. The Jewish martyrs were subsumed as part of the losses incurred by the population at large. The survivors themselves were subjected to many inequities. Many of them found themselves persecuted on both social and religious-political grounds. They were either identified as members of “the exploiting bourgeoisie” or accused of the sins of Zionism and cosmopolitanism. Many among these Jews  were once again  deported to concentration camps for “re-education,”  often in the company of their former tormentors. Others  were either jailed or deprived of a livelihood. In the course of time even the Communist Party itself was purged of its Jewish component to make it more attractive to the ethnic majority.[11]

During the National Communist era that followed the Uprising of 1956, the Jewish question and the issue of anti-Semitism, while persistent at the popular level, were kept under control by the government. Consistent with the policies of the previous governments, public awareness of the Holocaust continued to remain low even though Hungary – unlike the other Soviet bloc countries – witnessed the appearance of several important documentary and historical publications on the tragedy of Hungarian Jewry.[12]

The Post-Communist Era

The systemic change in the Soviet bloc nations began in Hungary as early as 1987. It was spearheaded by the reformist group within the ruling Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party (Magyar Szocialista Munkáspárt). Defying the Kremlin, Imre Pozsgay, one of the leaders of this group, identified the Hungarian revolution of 1956 as a popular uprising rather than a counterrevolution, leading thereby to a public discussion of other hitherto prohibited topics such as Trianon and gradually even the Holocaust. Since the triumph of democracy in 1989, the Holocaust has emerged as an “embarrassing” topic for the various governments that succeeded the Communist regime. Driven largely by domestic and international political considerations, the elected national leaders of the new democratic society have reacted to the Holocaust in a different manner, which, in turn, determined the level and intensity of the assault on historical memory during their administration. They all publicly acknowledged the wartime tragedy of the Jews and have consistently committed themselves, especially during Holocaust remembrance occasions, to combatting the scourge of anti-Semitism.

In the absence of unambiguous and unequivocal moral guidance on the Holocaust, the history-cleansers appear to have been given a green light to “safeguard the national honor of Hungary” by absolving that nation of any responsibility. The offensive against the historical memory of the Holocaust was spearheaded not only by the “historical revisionists,” but also – and more important – by an ever-larger group of sophisticated degree-holding history–cleansers. These “patriotic” professionals have dedicated themselves to rewriting the Horthy era, ostensibly “to enable conservative Hungarians to become once again proud of their history.”

The initial steps in this direction were taken during the tenure of József Antall, Jr., the first democratically elected prime minister of post-Communist Hungary (May 23, 1990 – December 12, 1993).[13] A leader of the Hungarian Democratic Forum (Magyar Demokrata Fórum – MDF), a political party he co-founded with notorious anti-Semitic figures such as István Csurka[14] and Sándor Csoóri, Antall had dedicated himself to rebuilding Hungary along national-Christian lines reminiscent of the Horthy era. He spearheaded the rehabilitation of former prime minister Pál Teleki, the author of several major anti-Jewish laws, and launched the campaign to bring about the rehabilitation of the former Regent as well. It was he in fact who first aimed to unburden the national conscience over the Holocaust by consistently repudiating the idea of any official apology. It was also Antall who first suggested that in any discussion of the Holocaust, if it must be discussed at all, emphasis should be placed on the rescue activities of the Righteous rather than the on perpetrators.[15]

It was during Antall’s administration that the drive to bring about the rehabilitation of Miklós Horthy gained momentum.  A major step in this direction was the political resurrection of the former Regent by returning his and his family’s remains from Portugal and reburying them with the pomp and circumstance befitting a former head of state.[16] Antall’s informal guidelines relating to the treatment of the Holocaust were soon abused by neo-anti-Semitic nationalists. Taking advantage of the new democratic freedoms, some of them openly resorted to anti-Jewish diatribes. Sándor Csoóri, one of Hungary’s most celebrated writers of the period, for example, aimed to demonstrate that “liberal Hungarian Jewry wanted to ‘assimilate’ the Magyars in style and thought.” Reminiscent of the anti-Jewish campaign of the Horthy era, he clearly implied that the surviving remnant of Hungarian Jewry had become a threat to the Christian Magyars.[17]

Antall’s successor, Prime Minister Péter Boross (December 12, 1993 – July 15, 1994) was considerably more active in encouraging and supporting the history-cleansers. As the spiritus rector of the neo-Fascist drive to rehabilitate the Horthy regime, Boross  has become a leading champion for the restoration of the national-Christian tradition in Hungary. He also emerged as one of the most vocal supporters of the Holocaust-denigrating drive not only during his administration but also during the tenure of Viktor Orbán as prime minister.[18]

The historical memory of the survivors was jolted early in 1994, when the Constitutional Court (Alkotmánybíróság) that was established in late 1989 nullified many provisions of the People’s Tribunals Act (Law No. VII of 1945). It soon led to the reversal in the conviction of many individuals who had been involved in various degrees in the implementation of the Final Solution program.[19] Concluding that the wartime activities of the convicted individuals were not deemed criminally punishable at the time of their commission, the Court enabled the rehabilitation of many of those who had been involved in the roundup, expropriation, ghettoization, and deportation of the Jews.

The policies deemed detrimental to the survivors of the Holocaust continued even during the administration of Gyula Horn, a leading figure of the Hungarian Socialist Party.[20] It was during his tenure (July 15, 1994 – July 8, 1998) that the issue of restitution and reparation, virtually overlooked since 1945, finally came to the fore. The Communists when in power, had ignored the issue almost altogether, citing the requirements of socialist construction. The post-Communist regimes, for their part, became more concerned with the compensation for the victims of Communism than for those of Nazism. To add insult to injury, an indeterminate number of the Christian victims who were compensated for properties nationalized by the Communist regime had, in fact, “legally” or fraudulently acquired them from Jews during the Nazi era.[21]

It was also during the Horn administration that the historical memory of the Holocaust was subjected to another challenge. A ruling by the Constitutional Court and the many governmental rules and regulations issued during his tenure virtually prohibited many scholars from pursuing their work on the preservation and/or acquisition of archival materials relating to the Holocaust. The “personal data protection” provisions of various legislative acts and judicial decisions, plausibly designed to protect public officials who had formerly been associated with either the Nazi-collaborationist or the Communist regime, not surprisingly had the ancillary effect of restricting the Holocaust-related research activities of scholars in general and of foreign nationals in particular.[22] The issue continued to remain unsolved.[23]

THE INTENSIFICATION OF THE ASSAULT

The assault on historical memory gradually exacerbated during the first administration of Viktor Orbán (July 8, 1998 – May 27, 2002) and took an ominous turn during his second term (May 29, 2010 – ).

Even though Orbán’s party, the League of Young Democrats (Fiatal Demokraták Szövetsége – FIDESZ), had only won a narrow parliamentary majority following the elections of May 1998,[24]  he and his right-of-center coalition government  had given a free hand to the history-cleansers dedicated to the rehabilitation of the Horthy era.  While reportedly not an anti-Semite himself, it appears that political expediency has compelled Orbán to condone the activities of the ultra-right and to encourage, if not actually support, those dedicated to cleansing Hungary’s wartime history. In was during his tenure that the history falsifying technique of “denationalization” gained general acceptance.  Using this technique, history-cleansers have dedicated themselves to absolving Hungary of all guilt by transferring exclusive responsibility for the Holocaust onto the Germans.  To assure a guilt-free national continuity in Hungary’s history, the Orbán administration decided to revitalize the national-Christian values of the Horthy era by re-introducing its national symbols.[25]  One of the most forceful spokesmen for the need to return to these values was Ibolya Dávid, Orbán’s minister of justice.[26]

It was also around this time that the history-cleansers were indirectly encouraged to “re-evaluate” the Hungarian state security agencies that had been involved in the Final Solution and to focus on the “positive” contribution of Hungarians to the rescuing of Jews.

As part of their re-evaluation drive, history-cleansers expended considerable effort to bring about the absolution of the gendarmerie, which had played a crucial role in the roundup, ghettoization, and deportation of the Jews.[27] Toward this end, they produced a documentary that was first shown on Hungarian television in early December 1998.[28] The “historians” featured in the documentary were seen in effect to exonerate the gendarmerie not only by placing ultimate responsibility on the Germans but also by focusing on the law-abiding attitude of the Jews.  Sándor Szakály, one of the “experts” associated with the documentary, advanced the obscene argument that there was no need for the gendarmerie to use force because the Jews – law-abiding citizens that they were – carried out the anti-Jewish measures of their own volition. Another “expert” advanced the thesis that the gendarmes were, in fact, engaged in a form of resistance by carrying out the anti-Jewish measures “humanely.” All of the participants in the documentary appeared to conclude that the gendarmes were guided by the Christian spirit and were highly appreciated by the people they had served for the preservation of law and order. The gendarmes who were interviewed for the documentary – all of whom were veterans of the anti-Jewish drive – offered a variety of extenuating “explanations” for their own involvement.[29] Less than a year later, a plaque honoring the gendarmes who died during the war was unveiled by Zsolt Lányi, head of the armed services committee of the Hungarian Parliament, in the courtyard of the Institute of War History and Museum (Hadtörténelmi Intézet és Múzeum), headed by Szakály.

The escalation in the activities of history-cleansers appears to have been indirectly encouraged by governmental policies that increasingly reflect the “national-Christian” course of the interwar period. Despite its very brief tradition of civil liberties, Hungary has permitted the dissemination of hate literature[30] and, until recently, the denial of the Holocaust – acts that are deemed illegal and severely punished in France and many other countries with a much longer record of liberal democracy.[31]

Ultra-nationalists seem to have been encouraged in history-cleansing activities by the attitude of some of the highest-ranking officials. A few among these have not only expressed sympathy for the objective pursued by many of the cleansers but have also occasionally engaged in such practices themselves.[32]

One of the most brazen attempts to falsify the history of Hungarian Jewry in general and the Holocaust record in particular was a plan that was initiated by the Hungarian Ministry of Culture for a new exhibition in Auschwitz.  The idea originated in the fall of 1998, when during a trip to Poland, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán visited the death camp and found the current exhibit in the Hungarian pavilion – established by the Communist regime in 1979-80 – both “inappropriate and neglected.”

The original plan called merely for the reconstruction of the exhibit, but the experts in the Ministry of Culture subsequently decided to shelve it altogether and create a new one to be opened, with appropriate pomp and circumstance, by the prime minister on May 9, 2000.  The Ministry entrusted the planning and creation of the new exhibit to the Hungarian National Museum.  The head of that museum, Dr. Tibor Kovács, had no problem in finding the “right person” for the job: István Ihász, the chief of the museum’s Contemporary History Division.  An unabashed rightist, Ihász had already established his nationalist credentials as the creator of that museum’s highly controversial “Twentieth Century Hungary” exhibit. Still one of the museum’s most popular exhibits, it virtually glorifies the Horthy era and denigrates the tragedy of Hungarian Jewry.

Ihász began working on the new assignment in December 1998, preparing a script and collecting the visual and archival materials he wanted to use in the new pavilion.  He pursued his task with the assistance of a committee of three experts: Mária Schmidt, then a counselor to the prime minister; Tamás Stark, an associate of the Institute of History of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences; and József Schweitzer, then the chief rabbi of Hungary.  The first draft of the script was finished early in the spring of 1998.  Following the experts’ input during several consultations, a second draft – dated April 9, 1999, and bearing the names of the three experts – was forwarded to the Ministry of Culture early in June.  Convinced that the main purpose of the script was informational rather than educational, Ihász reportedly recommended that no further experts be consulted.  The Ministry, however, followed a more cautious approach and forwarded the script for evaluation to three well-known historians and museology experts: Szabolcs Szita, the chief historian of the Hungarian Auschwitz Foundation of Budapest; Ilona Radnóti, the historian associated with the Janus Pannonius Museum of Pécs; and Róbert Turán, the head of the Jewish Museum of Budapest.  Shocked after its first reading, Turán decided to forward copies of the draft to László Karsai, a leading expert on the Holocaust, and Emil Horn, an expert in museology with many museum exhibits to his credit.

The reaction of all five experts was prompt and virtually unanimous. They individually concluded that the script basically falsified the history of the Jews in Hungary in general and of the Holocaust era in particular, and that it appeared to have a political objective: the rehabilitation of the Horthy era by transferring virtually all responsibility for whatever crimes were committed in Hungary almost exclusively to the Germans.  Collectively, the evaluations of Ihász’s script exposed not only his shortcomings as a historian but also his apparent political agenda as a museologist.  His deficiencies as a historian were revealed by Karsai and four fellow historians in a lengthy collective report dated August 4, 1999; his perceived political objectives and museological shortcomings were demonstrated by Horn, in a lengthy and cogently argued report dated August 6.[33]

Almost three weeks after these reports were forwarded to the leadership of the Jewish community, the chief rabbi decided to resign from Ihász’s committee.  Stark, reportedly upset that his name appeared on the second draft of the script without his authorization, informed Mária Schmidt about his displeasure. Only Schmidt, a historian who formerly specialized in Holocaust studies, continued to express her basic satisfaction with the unfortunate script.  Ihász, on his part, must have felt vindicated: on August 20, a national holiday, he received a prestigious state award on the recommendation of the prime minister’s office.

The reaction of the official leadership of the Jewish community was prompt and forthright.  In a letter dated August 25, 1999, Péter Tordai, the president of the Association of the Jewish Communities of Hungary (a Magyarországi Zsidó Hitközségek Szövetsége – Mazsihisz), informed the Ministry of Culture that in the view of the community the script was unacceptable.  He expressed his doubts about whether it was the intention of the Hungarian government to establish a pro-Horthy, Holocaust denigrating, and covertly anti-Semitic exhibit in Auschwitz – “the emblematic scene of Nazi genocide and the largest mass grave of Hungarian Jewry.”  Tordai coupled his bewilderment with a warning: Should Ihász’s script, nevertheless, become the basis of the planned exhibit, “it will elicit an international scandal that would extend from Jerusalem to Washington and from Budapest to Berlin.”[34]

In addition to the technique of “denationalization” by which exclusive responsibility for the Holocaust is transferred onto the Germans, the Orbán-supported experts on the national-Christian traditions of Hungary have also employed the method of “generalization.” This approach is used by those claiming that the tragedy of the Jews was part and parcel of the general catastrophic consequences of a war in which many others suffered as well. Some among the history-cleansers go so far as to identify the Jews themselves as primarily responsible for their own tragic fate. Others claim that the Holocaust was in fact intentionally brought about by rich Jews who had supported Hitler.[35] Still others in this group attempt to absolve the Christian Hungarians from any guilt by blaming the Jewish Councils for the suffering the Jews.[36]

Another favorite history-cleansing technique is that of “generalization.” Some of the “patriotic” individuals in this category try to mitigate the magnitude of the Holocaust by linking the tragedy of the Jews and the trauma endured by Hungary at Trianon.[37] Others in this category have dedicated themselves to the whitewashing of Hungary’s close alliance with Nazi Germany, including the fact that it was the last satellite to fight along its side until the end of the Second World War, by arguing that the Hungarians had in fact been the Third Reich’s last victims and as such had suffered as much as the Jews, if not more.[38]

Insisting on the commonality of suffering, many history-cleansers have dedicated themselves to the preservation of “collective” historical memory. They generalize the Holocaust by homogenizing the losses of Jewry with those incurred by the military forces and the civilian population during the war. Toward this end they erected a large number of monuments, unveiled many plaques, and published many monographs in memory of communal casualties, transmogrifying the Holocaust victims into war casualties. The equation of the martyrdom of armed soldiers, who died as heroes in the service of their country, and of Christian civilians, who were killed in the wake of the hostilities, with that of the Jews, who were murdered irrespective of their age or sex, is clearly politically motivated. This approach enables history-cleansers to demonstrate that the combined military-civilian casualties incurred by the Christian population during the Second World War far exceeded those suffered by the Jews.[39]

Still another technique frequently employed by history-cleansers is that of “trivialization and relativization.” Denying the uniqueness of the Holocaust, the destruction of the Jews is viewed as just another chapter in the long history of man’s inhumanity to man. The apparent main objective of this group of cleansers is to safeguard Hungary’s honor by demonstrating not only that the Holocaust, to the extent that it took place, was in fact preceded by other examples of mass murder (e.g., the massacre of Indians in the Americas and the genocide of the Armenians by the Turks), but also and above all that the destruction of the Jews was dwarfed in scope and magnitude by the atrocities committed by Communist regimes the world over. In this context, many in this group also argue that the Jewish suffering, like that of many other ethnic-national groups, was war-related.[40]

During the first Orbán administration, the nationalists dedicated to the cleansing of the Horthy era have found, in addition to Szakály, a new ally – Dr. Mária Schmidt. A rising young scholar in Holocaust studies during the Communist era, Dr. Schmidt changed her original academic ambitions soon after the systemic change of 1989. She appears to have dedicated herself to the “nationalist” reinterpretation of Hungary’s history after World War I, shifting her interest to the unmasking of the crimes of the Communist era. This soon proved to be a somewhat politically risky undertaking in a country in which Communism has been claimed by sundry anti-Semites since 1919 to be Jewish in origin and character. One may wonder, like many other nationalists, Dr. Schmidt may have concluded that by unmasking the crimes of the Soviet-dominated Communist regimes in general and those perpetrated by the Hungarian Communists in particular, she might not only help mitigate the impact of the Holocaust but also contribute to the defense of the domestic and foreign policies of Horthy’s Hungary. Whatever her motivations, she emerged as a vociferous advocate of the idea that the same yardsticks must be used in the assessment of the Nazi and Communist-type totalitarian regimes and of the crimes perpetrated by them.[41] By mechanically applying this methodology, Schmidt, like many among some ideologically-oriented colleagues, seems to overlook the many historical, socioeconomic, and moral factors that differentiate these totalitarian regimes,  correctly concluding that in terms of numbers the crimes committed by the Communists the world over far exceeded those perpetrated by the Nazis.[42] Among the crimes and injustices committed by the Communists, she also includes many of the verdicts of the People’s Courts of the immediate postwar period.[43]

Ms. Schmidt caused a considerable political uproar in early November 1999 when she spoke extensively before a largely rightist group on an accustomed theme: the supposed use of two yardsticks in the evaluation of Nazi and Communist crimes. She expressed profound disappointment that only the Holocaust of the Jews was being recalled in connection with World War II. In her view, the idea that the Holocaust was unique and indisputable was being advanced and propagated by a segment of the intelligentsia who dominated the mass media, whereas, in fact, “the Holocaust, the extermination or rescue of the Jews represented but a secondary, marginal point of view not among the war aims of either belligerent.”[44] The reaction of the Jewish community leaders and many intellectuals was immediate and caustic. In a press release, the Jewish leaders characterized Ms. Schmidt as “the best Hungarian student of Jean-Marie Le Pen,” the French far-right leader who referred to the Holocaust as a “detail” of history.[45] Others questioned her historical analysis and intellectual integrity.[46] Still others expressed disapproval of her activities as head of the newly established and financially well-endowed Twentieth Century Institute.[47] The numerous protests and criticisms notwithstanding, she has continued to play an influential role because of the support she receives from various nationalists and, above all, because she continued to enjoy the confidence and support of the prime minister.[48]

Many Hungarian history-cleansers have taken Schmidt’s anti-Communist crusade a step further. Counterbalancing the accounts of the Holocaust, they concentrate and emphasize almost exclusively the crimes perpetrated by the Communists. Identifying Communism and Bolshevism as Jewish in origin and character, these historical revisionists insist that the wartime suffering of the Jews was matched, if not actually exceeded, by the pain the Jews supposedly inflicted upon the Christian world during the Communist era.[49] This was particularly the case during the Stalinist period when, in their view, “the Jews” exploited their power to avenge the suffering they had endured during the Holocaust. In parliamentary debates and other public forums, even “moderate” politicians occasionally feel compelled to remind their compatriots of the Jewish factor during the Soviet era by selectively identifying former Communist leaders by their original Jewish names.[50]

Another ploy in this context is the tendency to equate Auschwitz with the Gulag, “balancing” the suffering of the Jews with that endured by Hungarian POWs and other political prisoners in Soviet camps. Borrowing a page from their counterparts elsewhere, some Hungarian revisionists claim that Auschwitz was modeled on the Gulag, revealing their ignorance or intentional misrepresentation of the fundamental differences in the operation and objectives of the Nazi death camps and the Soviet penal establishments.[51]

The campaign for the rehabilitation of the Horthy era coupled with the drive to falsify the history of the Holocaust gained momentum during Prime Minister Orbán’s second administration. Emboldened by the landslide victory of his party in the elections of April 2010,[52] Orbán provided both the legal framework and the political directives for the successful pursuit of this campaign. The legal façade for his grand design was provided by the following provision of the preamble to the new constitution that was adopted on April 25, 2011:

We date the restoration of our country’s self-determination, lost on the nineteenth day of March 1944, from the second day of May 1990, when the first freely elected organ of popular representation was formed. We shall consider this date to be the beginning of our country’s new democracy and constitutional order.

By this constitutional provision, the Orbán government appears to pursue two major objectives: to establish a historical continuity between the Hungarian state of the Horthy era and the Hungarian state of the post-communist period and to convince the world that Hungary had lost its sovereignty in the wake of the beginning of the German occupation and, as a victim itself, not responsible for the subsequent destruction of the Jews. By using this big lie technique, he and the history-cleansers he supports have proceeded to erase the historical fact that the German occupiers were well-received by most Hungarians, civilians and the military alike. They seem to be particularly dedicated to falsify the fact that the occupation took place without any resistance in the wake of a Horthy-Hitler agreement at Schloss Klessheim (March 18–19, 1944), that the Hungarian army and the law enforcement agencies continued to serve the Axis war effort, and that the Horthy-appointed government placed the instruments of state power – the gendarmerie, police, and civil service – at the disposal of those in charge of the Final Solution  –  while he, the Regent, continued to represent the sovereignty of the nation as head of state.

The Hungarian history-cleansers could not, in the age of the Internet while Hungary is a member of NATO and the European Union, deny the realities of the catastrophe that befell the Hungarian Jews. As a result, concurrent with blaming exclusively the Germans for the Holocaust, they are engaged in covering up Hungary’s involvement by focusing on the “positive” aspects of its history – the help Hungarians had provided for the Jews since 1867 in general and during the Second World War in particular. In connection with the latter, the history-cleansers usually have focused on the protection of labor servicemen following the beginning of the German occupation, the rescue activities of the Righteous, and the saving of the Jews of Budapest.

It is true that the Jewish labor servicemen were, with a few exceptions, exempted from the ghettoization and deportation measures and had the “protection” of the armed forces, which continued to exercise exclusive jurisdiction over the labor service system even after the beginning of the German occupation. It is also true that quite a number of military commanders recruited “strong-looking” Jewish men from within the ghettos in order to save them from deportation and almost certain death – still another indication of their awareness of the realities of the anti-Jewish drive. The history-cleansers fail to deal with the basically discriminatory nature of the system and the horrors to which many of the labor servicemen were subjected along the Soviet front lines, in the copper mines of Serbia, and during the Nyilas era. A few well-known “patriotic” historians, including Sándor Szakály, went so far as to describe the labor service system as quite equitable, emphasizing that the treatment of the Jewish labor servicemen was tolerable, and that their losses were far fewer than generally claimed.[53]

In accordance with the guidelines originally formulated by former prime minister József Antall, Jr., the history-cleansers, like many among the “respectable” governmental and political leaders of contemporary Hungary, have tried to deflect attention from the Hungarians’ involvement in the Holocaust by focusing attention on the rescue activities of the relatively few Christians who had been identified by Yad Vashem as Righteous among the Nations.  This politically directed overemphasis on the Righteous, in the absence of the historical context of the Final Solution, is presumably designed to inculcate in the postwar generations the belief that the practitioners of righteous conduct, rather than the perpetrators, were the dominant elements of the Holocaust era.[54]

One of the major arguments used by the history-cleansers in their drive to rehabilitate the Horthy era has been the Regent’s decision of July 6-7, 1944 to halt the deportations and thereby save the Jews of Budapest.[55] While this is basically true, history-cleansers fail to identify the political and military factors that induced the Regent to act at a time when all of Hungary, with the notable exception of the capital, already had been made judenrein. They also fail to acknowledge Horthy’s own responsibility for the liquidation of the provincial Jewish communities. He did so by consenting, during his March 18, 1944 meeting with Hitler at Schloss Klessheim, to the delivery of hundreds of thousands of Jews “for labor in Germany.”[56] After constitutionally appointing his new pro-German government, he decided not to be involved in Jewish matters thereby giving a free hand to those involved in the Final Solution program.[57] The argument advanced by Edmund Veesenmayer, the Führer”s former plenipotentiary in Hungary, is quite persuasive. In his testimony at the 1946 war crimes trial of the so-called “deportation trio” – Andor Jaross, László Endre, and László Baky – Veesenmayer declared that Horthy, who as head of state, had demonstrated his ability to halt the deportations at a particular time could have prevented their initiation in the first place – had he really wanted to do so.[58] Horthy’s champions also overlook the fact that credit for the rescuing of the Jews of Budapest has also been claimed by or attributed to many others, including the commander of the troops that foiled an anti-Horthy coup early in July 1944.[59]

 As part of the drive to focus attention on the Righteous, the Orbán government decided to celebrate Raoul Wallenberg’s centenary in 2012 by organizing a series of commemorative events both at home and abroad. One of these events was planned for New York.[60] Among the many events organized in Budapest, one featured Kati Marton, the well-known Hungarian-born author of a book on Wallenberg, focusing on his disappearance in the Soviet Union. In an interview following her lecture, she claimed that Wallenberg “was in fact a Hungarian hero… who was honored because he had in fact saved Hungarians in Budapest” (emphasis added).[61]  Presumably designed to please her official hosts, these claims were properly rebuffed by those interested in protecting the historical integrity of the Holocaust era.[62] The commemoration of the centenary of Raoul Wallenberg, one of the first rescuers to be identified by Yad Vashem as a Righteous among the Nations, provided an opportunity to highlight the rescue activities of the Hungarian righteous – all diverting attention from Hungary’s involvement in the Holocaust.

The drive to bring about the rehabilitation of the Horthy era continued to be pursued along seemingly two conflicting paths: the encouragement of activities relating to the revitalization of the national-Christian spirit of the interwar period and the commemoration of its national heroes concurrent with the adoption of some policies relating to the Holocaust. Along the former path, the Orbán government consented to, if not actually encouraged, the renaming of streets and the erection of statues for Horthy in many parts of the country and condoned the “positive” reevaluation of notorious anti-Semites such as the writers Albert Wass and József Nyirő, and Bishop Ottokár Prohászka.

Along the second path, the Orbán government adopted a number of positive measures relating to the commemoration of the Holocaust. It was during his administration that April 16 was designated as the day of remembrance of the Hungarian chapter of the Holocaust.[63] It also supports the Holocaust Memorial Center (Holokauszt Emlékközpont), which was established on July 1, 2002 and inaugurated on April 16, 2004 under the auspices of Prime Minister Péter Medgyessy (May 27, 2002 – September 29,  2004).[64] As a state agency, the Center depends almost exclusively on the financial support by the government. As a result, its leaders, like the members of the Board of Directors (Kurátorium), appear not to be totally free and independent in determining the agenda of their research and other activities. They had managed, so far at least, to retain relatively intact the permanent exhibition that was organized during the Medgyessy era, and this in spite of occasional public criticism by high officials of the Orbán government. In 2011, for example,  they were subjected to an attack by András Levente Gál, then state secretary in the Ministry of Public Administration and Justice (a Küzigazgatási és Igazságügyi Minisztérium) – an official with jurisdiction over the Center. Gál, a non-historian and a well-known nationalist politician, had publicly objected to some aspects of the Center’s permanent exhibition. He was particularly angered by the correlation he had found between Hungary’s territorial acquisitions between 1938 and 1941 and the Holocaust, he reportedly suggested that appropriate changes be effectuated in the exhibition. The suggestion aroused vocal protests in Hungary and elsewhere, forcing Gál to retreat. In addition to Gál, Cardinal Péter Erdő, the Archbishop of Esztergom, objected to the placement of a portrait of the anti-Semitic Ottokár Prohászka, the bishop of Székesfehérvár, next to that of Hitler.

One of the major conflicts between the remnant Jewish community and the successive Hungarian governments during the 70 years following the Holocaust has revolved around the issue of responsibility. In contrast to the leaders of many states in former Nazi-dominated Europe, those of Hungary so far have lacked the courage to confront the Holocaust openly and honestly. In the course of the past few decades, quite a number of officials, including members of the various successive governments, have expressed sorrow and even apologized for the tragedy that befell Hungarian Jewry.[65] These expressions of contrition usually have been made during official national or international commemorative events, especially those organized by Jewish or democratically-oriented civic organizations. The hopes of the surviving remnant of Hungarian Jewry that one day the leaders of the government and state will – in an official address to the nation – admit responsibility and perhaps even apologize, however belatedly, for the Hungarians’ involvement in the destruction of their fellow citizens of the Jewish faith have virtually faded. Ironically, they were shattered by the very measures the Orbán government had initiated for the remembrance of that tragedy.

Early in 2013, the Orbán government decided to make 2014 the year for the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust in Hungary. Toward this end, it brought about the establishment of a “2014 Memorial Committee on the Holocaust in Hungary” (a Magyar Holokauszt – 2014 Emlékbizottság ).[66] It was placed under the leadership of János Lázár, a state secretary in charge of the prime minister’s office – a controversial political figure whose previous activities raised a number of agonizing questions about his suitability for the job. In June 2010, for example, Lázár, then mayor of Hódmezővásárhely, unveiled a statue honoring Albert Wass, a Hungarian writer who, in 1946, a people’s court in Romania convicted for war crimes.

Following the first organizational meeting of the Committee, which came into existence on January 1, 2013, Lázár attempted to disarm his critics by publicly stating, among other things:

2014 must the year for facing up to the fact and for apologizing… .  Facing up to the fact denotes a command for remembrance and under law, a prohibition of forgetting; we must make the apology a part of our national identity… . The remembrance year must be the time for the national facing up to the Holocaust and for apologizing rather than the time for individual or intellectual confrontations and apologies… . We owe an apology to the victims; the Hungarian state was guilty during the Holocaust. Doubly guilty: first because it failed to save its own citizens from destruction and, second, because it assisted and provided instruments of power for the genocide.[67]

Lázár’s statement was welcomed by those who were interested in setting the Holocaust-related historical record straight; others were more skeptical not only because of the anti-democratic policies of the Orbán-led government, but also and primarily because it has condoned the glaringly anti-Semitic and racist policies and activities of several extremist political parties and movements.

To assist the work of the 2014 Memorial Committee, the government created a Civil Fund of 1.5 billion forints (approximately 6.8 million US dollars) for the support of civil and municipal initiatives and commemorative program proposals. Shortly after the deadline of November 15, 2013, the hundreds of proposals submitted by Jewish community organizations, branches of the Christian churches, cultural institutions, and individuals were reviewed and ranked by the Commission for Culture and Media of the Hungarian Parliament.[68]

The government’s Holocaust commemoration plans were not universally applauded. Some argued that, given the political climate in the country and the dire economic conditions with high levels of unemployment, the allocation of such funds for the remembrance of the Holocaust might only stoke the fire of anti-Semitism and could be better used for helping the needy.  Many others expressed their suspicion that the grandiose remembrance program had been designed to detract attention from the government’s intentions to “denationalize” the Holocaust by transferring exclusive responsibility onto the Germans and concurrently to rehabilitate the Horthy era.

One of the most controversial projects in the government’s commemoration plans was a decision to transform the former Józsefvárosi Railway Station into a museum honoring the children who were murdered during the Holocaust.[69]  Early in July 2013, the Orbán government authorized the building of such a museum to be named “House of Fates – European Education Center” (Sorsok Háza – Európai Oktatási Központ).[70] To the dismay of many, the government entrusted Mária Schmidt, the controversial founder and director of the House of Terror (Terror Háza), with the realization of the new museum plans. As a visionary and director of the House of Terror, Schmidt has, in the view of many historians, used this richly funded institution to denigrate and minimize the Holocaust and emphasize the crimes that had been committed during the communist era.[71] Following her new assignment, Schmidt, assured of a large budgetary allocation, soon established an International Advisory Body (Nemzetközi Tanácsadó Testület – NTT) that included a number of reputable individuals, including a few scholars and several top Jewish community leaders.[72]

The appointment of Schmidt to build and lead a Holocaust-related museum aroused the ire not only of the official leaders of Hungarian Jewry but also of many individuals familiar with her professional background.[73]

Another development that cast a foreboding shadow on the Orbán government’s history-cleansing plans was the inauguration of a new institute on January 2, 2014 – at the very start of the highly publicized Holocaust remembrance year. Named VERITAS Történetkutató Intézet (VERITAS Historical Research Institute), the new institute is envisioned “to strengthen national awareness” by re-studying and presumably re-writing Hungary’s history of the past 150 years in a “genuinely multidisciplinary” fashion.[74] To carry out this “historically important patriotic task,” the institute was placed under the leadership of Dr. Sándor Szakály, a historian who had already distinguished himself as a defender of the wartime activities of the Hungarian gendarmerie and as a minimizer of the plight of the Jewish labor servicemen. Shortly after his appointment, Szakály demonstrated his history-cleansing qualifications for his appointment by reinterpreting two horrific events of the Nazi era. He first tried to “prove” that the fire that killed hundreds of labor servicemen at Doroshich in late April 1943 was caused by the Jews themselves.[75] On another occasion his portrayal minimized the roundup and deportation of approximately 18,000 “alien” Jews, most of whom were subsequently murdered near Kamenets-Podolsk in the summer of 1941, as merely a police raid against those who were illegally in the country.[76] What many assess as the falsification drive of the past few years was directed not only against the historical reality of the Holocaust era but also toward the distortion of the anti-Semitic record of the Horthy regime prior to the German occupation.[77]

What many cannot help but see as the Orbán government’s real objectives in connection with the commemorative year were revealed within less than three weeks into 2014. On January 17, it announced its decision to erect a monument in commemoration of the German occupation of Hungary on March 19, 1944. The statue, depicting the crushing of Archangel Gabriel, symbolizing Hungary, by Germany’s imperial eagle, was planned to be erected on Szabadság (Heroes’) Square and unveiled on the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the occupation.[78] The decision on the statue was a logical sequence to the deceitful preamble to the new constitution. Both of these measures by the Orbán government clearly aim to absolve Hungary of any responsibility for the Holocaust by denying its close and fruitful alliance with Nazi Germany, by identifying all casualties of the Second World War – the Jews who were destroyed with the involvement of Horthy’s regime, the soldiers who died on the battlefields, and the civilians who were killed by enemy fire – as victims of the Germans.

Originally applauding the government’s Holocaust remembrance plans, the leaders of the Jewish community became apprehensive by late 2013. Aware of Mária Schmidt’s record, they first expressed their concerns over her suitability in building the Józsefvárosi Holocaust Museum. András Heisler, the president of Mazsihisz, expressed his apprehensions over her record of relativizing the Holocaust vis-à-vis the horrors of Communism; he emphasized the uniqueness of the tragedy of the Jews during the Holocaust.[79] Specific demands relating to the planned Museum were made during the December 2013 assembly of the Jewish Community of Budapest (Budapesti Zsidó Hitközség – BZSH), led by Péter Tordai. Distrustful of Schmidt’s suitability, the leaders of the community requested that her advisory committee be expanded through the inclusion of their own nominees[80] – a request, reportedly, that she refused to honor.[81]

The Jewish community leaders’ concerns over Schmidt’s plans for the new Holocaust museum – plans scheduled to be realized by April 2014 – were compounded by their shock over Szakály’s falsifications of history, and by their distress over the government’s decision to build a statue designed to falsify Hungary’s active involvement in the Holocaust. In a public statement distributed by MTI (Magyar Távirati Iroda; Hungarian News Service) on January 19, they demanded not only the resignation of Szakály, but also issued a veiled warning:

The leaders of Mazsihisz request the representatives of political public life to prevent the 70th anniversary of the Hungarian Holocaust from becoming part of the electoral campaign and to stop all attempts at the rewriting of our past history. If Hungary’s government is serious about historically facing up to the Holocaust, it must immediately stop the ruinous and offensive processes that question the legitimacy of the series of events relating to the 2014 remembrance. … Mazsihisz will use the funds awarded it from Civil Fund only if the series of remembrance events are returned to the path acceptable by our community.[82]

The following day Heisler addressed a formal letter to Prime Minister Orbán regarding the Jewish community’s concerns. In his response of January 22, the prime minister assured Mr. Heisler of his government’s determination to defend the interests of the Jewish community while restating his resolve to build the statue, insisting that one could not overlook the fate of those (i.e., the Christian Magyars) “who were imprisoned, dragged away, or murdered.” Citing the new Hungarian Constitution, he implied that these victims were to be honored and remembered just like “your community’s losses.”

The uproar over the statue and the Holocaust-denigrating activities of the state-supported history-cleansers became considerably louder following the publication of an open letter that I addressed to the leaders of the Holocaust Memorial Center on January 26, 2014.[83] Picked up by several news services, the letter was published and commented upon in a large number of newspapers and periodicals in Hungary and many other parts of the world, galvanizing those dedicated to the preservation of the historical truth.[84]

Disturbed over the government-condoned drive to falsify the history of the Holocaust, the leaders of some of the local Jewish congregations and communal organizations decided not to avail themselves of the grants that were allocated to them from the Civic Fund.[85] The same decision was taken by a number of individual grant awardees.[86] The ire over Orbán’s unyielding position on the statue was also shared by many Christians.[87]

In an attempt to restore calm, János Lázár decided to convene a “Jewish Communal Roundtable” (Zsidó Közösségi Kerekasztal) on February 6.[88] Apparently, the Jewish representatives had been left unconvinced by Lázár, who claimed that “it was important to identify the facts that might lead closer to the question of responsibility.” Ignoring that the facts of the Holocaust already had been verified in countless studies and through innumerable archival sources, the state secretary, defending the planned erection of the statue, declared that “it would a falsification of history to claim that Hungary did not lose its sovereignty following the occupation of March 19, 1944.”

The leaders of Mazsihisz found themselves in a bind. Clearly committed to the preservation of the historical record of the Holocaust, they also were mindful of their responsibility to the central and local Jewish communities for maintaining the various religious, cultural, and charity organizations and institutions – a responsibility they could fulfill only with the financial support of the government.[89] The government’s adamant position on their demands induced these leaders to consider the possibility of boycotting the commemorative events. Under pressure from representatives of communal, social, religious, and cultural organizations, the leaders decided to convene an extraordinary general assembly – an unprecedented event in the 150-year history of Hungarian Jewry.[90]

In an unusual display of unity, at the meeting held on February 9, the delegates voted 72 to 2 with three abstentions in passing a resolution (No. 1/2014.02.09) that authorized Mazsihisz to abstain from participating in the state-sponsored 2014 Holocaust Remembrance events unless the government agreed to:

  1. Stop the erection of a statue relating to the German occupation because its symbol would contribute to the deflection of national responsibility for the Holocaust;
  2. Stop work on the Józsefvárosi Museum because the community’s experts were still left in the dark about its historical conceptions and the project leader [Mária Schmidt] has in effect failed to cooperate; and
  3. Remove Sándor Szakály as head of Veritas because his public and professional declarations made him unsuitable for that position.[91]

The position of Mazsihisz was publicly supported not only by a group of Hungarian Christians, but also by the leaders of several international Jewish organizations.[92] Its wisdom was questioned primarily by the enthusiasts of Orbán’s national-Christian policies.93]

A day after the general assembly’s historic decision, the Mazsihisz leaders forwarded a conciliatory letter to Prime Minister Orbán. Signed by András Heisler, Péter Tordai, and Gusztáv Zoltai, the leaders suggested, among other things, that instead of the controversial Schmidt-led Józsefvárosi Museum another institution – a House of Coexistence devoted to the symbiosis of Jewish and non-Jewish culture – should be built. While ignoring their earlier concerns over Szakály’s activities, they also suggested that a dialogue be held over the planned statue commemorating the German occupation, arguing that the conflicts surrounding it “harm our homeland, Hungary.”  Presumably designed not to further exacerbate the conflict, the letter was considered “wise” by some and as sycophantic and treacherous by others.[94]

Orbán’s long-awaited response came on February 19. While acknowledging the “constructive” tone of their letter, he reminded the Jewish leaders about the initiatives he had taken in support of Holocaust remembrance, including the establishment of the Holocaust Memorial Center and the designation of April 16 as the day of Holocaust remembrance. However, he failed to refer to any of the specific suggestions by the Jewish leaders and instead suggested that in light of the electoral campaign that officially began on February 15, the proposed dialogue be postponed until after the Easter holidays.

Lázár’s reaction to Mazsihisz’s stand was more bellicose. He lashed out at the Jewish leaders, identifying their “ultimatum” – something these leaders never gave – as a potential danger wrecking the government’s plans for the commemoration of the Holocaust. He also charged them with “fomenting discord between Hungarians and Jews who have lived in unity and symbiosis for centuries,” cynically “overlooking” the horrors of the Horthy era that culminated in the Holocaust.[95]

The chances for resolving the fundamental issues dividing the Jewish community and the Orbán government are slim. The assumption of responsibility for the Holocaust is currently “forbidden” under the new constitution. The resolution of the great divide will to a large extent depend on the outcome of the April 2014 elections, which most pundits believe will result in another Fidesz victory.   In the meantime, the government will undoubtedly proceed with its grand design for the rehabilitation of the Horthy era, continue to transfer ultimate responsibility for the Holocaust onto the Germans, and go on condoning the anti-Semitic agitations of the neo-Fascist Jobbik party and its allies.[96] During the same time, more and more Jewish congregations and organizations probably will decide against participating in the government-sponsored memorial events and return the grants they had received from the Civic Fund.

The anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denigrating developments in Hungary since the systemic change in 1989 have shocked many people of good will – Jews and Christians alike. For a short while immediately after the end of the Second World War it was generally believed that the Holocaust would put an end to the age-old scourge of anti-Semitism. Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, once believed that the memory of the Holocaust would put to shame all those who were proud of their anti-Semitism. He recently admitted that he was wrong, asserting that people no longer are ashamed about being anti-Semitic.  In Hungary this is largely due to the history-cleansing policies that the state and government leaders have pursued since the systemic change in 1989. The declarations of the government officials about their commitment to the proper commemoration the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust sound hollow in light of the constitutional provision they had adopted to exculpate Hungary from any responsibility.

The distortion, denigration, and actual denial of the Holocaust represent a new danger to the Jewish people. The survivors of the Holocaust have a special obligation to confront this danger. In the words of Elie Wiesel:

[A survivor’s] duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.[97]

The anti-Semitic assault on memory is wrought with danger: without memory there is no history and without history there is no national-ethnic continuity. One is reminded of the party slogan in George Orwell’s 1984: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” History is a formidable weapon. It is particularly corruptive and dangerous in the hands of chauvinistic nationalists bent on shaping history. Unless the historical revisionists and the history-cleansers are unmasked and counteracted, the record of the Holocaust inevitably will be tarnished, if not obliterated. One must protect the integrity of this record in order that the world –the current and future generations – may learn its lessons and thereby avoid another cataclysm.

NOTES


*Some parts of this study were reproduced from an article published in East European Quarterly, Boulder, 33 (January 2000)4: 411-425, and in Hungary and the Holocaust: Confrontation with the Past. Symposium Proceedings. Washington, DC: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2001, pp. 45–75.

[1] Randolph L. Braham, The Politics of Genocide: The Holocaust in Hungary (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), pp.1312–1313. (Cited hereafter as Braham, Politics).

[2] For some details, see Randolph L. Braham, “Revisionism: Historical, Political, and Legal Implications.” In: Comprehending the Holocaust – Historical and Literary Research. Asher Cohen, et al., eds. (Frankfurt am Main: Verlag Peter Lang, 1988), pp. 61–96.

[3] Between May 14, 1938 and March 27, 1945, the Hungarian authorities issued many hundreds of anti-Jewish “legal” measures. For details, see  László Karsai, “Anti-Jewish Laws and Decrees in Hungary, 1920–1944.” In: The Holocaust in Hungary: A European Perspective. (Budapest: Balassi Kiadó, 2005), pp. 143–179.

[4] Approximately 40,000 of these were labor servicemen; 18,000 to 20,000 were the  so-called “alien” Jews who were deported in the summer of 1941 and murdered near Kamenets-Podolsk; and the remainder of the victims of the massacred in and around Újvidék early in 1942. See Braham, Politics, pp. 205–218. 1296. See also Krisztián Ungváry, A Horthy rendszer mérlege: Diszkrimináció, szociálpolitika és antiszemitizmus (The Balance of the Horthy Regime: Discrimination, Social Politics and Anti-Semitism). (Budapest: Jelenkor Kiadó, 2013), 607 p.

[5] For details on Hitler’s decision to occupy Hungary, see ibid., pp. 381–405.

[6] When Maximilian von Weichs, the general in command of the invading forces was asked about the time he would need to accomplish his mission, he said 24 hours. “And in case of resistance?” he was asked. He responded 12 hours, because in that case there would be no welcoming speeches to attend. Krisztián Ungváry, “Kinek az emlékműve?” (Whose Monument?),  Népszava/Szabadság, New York, January 31, 2014.

[7] Seeing the enthusiasm with which his Hungarian accomplices carried out the Final Solution program, Eichmann commented that the Hungarians must surely be descended from the Huns since nowhere else had he seen so much brutality. The newly-appointed government of Sztójay included nine members of the deposed Kállay government. Krisztián Ungváry, “Az eleven borzalom” (The Living Horror). HVG.hu, January 21, 2014.

[8] For details, consult Braham, Politics. For additional scholarly accounts and personal narratives, consult the  Bibliography of the Holocaust in Hungary. Randolph L. Braham, ed. (Boulder, CO: Social Science Monographs, 2011), 934 p.

[9] The magnitude of the crime committed by the Nazis and their Hungarian accomplices is dramatically illustrated by the following comparative statistical data. Three transports arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau with nearly 12,000 Jews from Northern Transylvania on June 6, 1944. Better known as D-Day, this was one of the most magnificent days in the annals of military history, when the greatest multinational armada ever assembled under one command stormed the beaches of Normandy. By the end of that day, the number of invading Allied troops killed was about half that of the Hungarian Jews murdered during the same period. While the Allies’ killed-in-action figures declined dramatically after the toehold had been gained on Normandy later that day, the Hungarian Jews continued to be murdered at almost the same high rate day after day until July 9, continuing the awesome daily massacre rate that began on May 16. In the end, the wartime losses of Hungarian Jewry significantly exceeded those incurred by the military forces of the United States in all theaters of war, just as they also significantly exceeded the combined military and civilian war deaths of the British, a nation that bore much of the German military onslaught. These comparisons are cited not to minimize the sacrifices or diminish the heroism of the Western Allies but simply to underscore the magnitude of the Holocaust in Hungary.

[10] For details see Róbert Szabó Győri, A kommunista párt és a zsidóság (The Communist Party and Jewry) (Budapest: Windsor Kiadó, 1997), 350 pp.

[11] Ibid. See especially, pp. 179-283.

[12] Among the most important of these publications are the three-volume Vádirat a nácizmus ellen (Indictment of Nazism) by Elek Karsai and Ilona Benoschofsky, (1960-1967); Karsai’s two-volume “Fegyvertelen álltak az aknamezőkön…” (They Stood Unarmed in the Mine Fields . . . ; 1962); Mária Ember’s Hajtűkanyar (Hairpin Bend; 1974); György Száraz’s Egy előitélet nyomában (In the Footsteps of a Prejudice; 1976); and István Nemeskürty’s Requiem egy hadseregért (Requiem for an Army; 1972).

[13] While in Budapest for the inauguration of A magyar holocaust, the Hungarian translation of my The Politics of Genocide in late January 1989, József Antall, Jr., then Executive Director of the Semmelweis Museum of Medical History, Library and Archives (Semmelweis Orvostörténeti Múzeum, Könyvtár és Levéltár), gently reproached me for not having written anything about his father József Antall, Sr., who as head of a section in the Ministry of the Interior in charge of refugees had saved a large number of Polish Jewish and non-Jewish refugees during the war. He sent me a number of archival documents relating to his father’s activities, which I later used in the second editions of both the English and Hungarian versions of my two-volume work. On August 28, 2011, Reverend Tamás Majsai, a highly respected student of the Holocaust, sent me a copy of a forthcoming study which included several disturbing documents about Antall’s wartime activities. According to Majsai’s documentation,  Antall, Sr. had in fact agitated against the Jewish refugees who sought or actually found refuge in Hungary.

[14] Sometime in 1990, Csurka, ousted from the party by Antall, formed his own the neo-Fascist Hungarian Justice and Life Party (Magyar Igazság és Élet Pártja–MIÉP). He continued to be one of Hungary’s leading anti-Semitic figures until his death on February 4, 2012.

[15] See László Karsai, “The Radical Right in Hungary.” In: The Radical Right in Central and Eastern Europe since 1989. Sabrina P. Ramet, ed. (University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999), pp. 133-146.  See also his “Mitoszok, rágalmak és pártpropaganda” (Myths, Slanders, and Party Propaganda). Kritika, Budapest, December 1990, pp. 22-26, and January 1991, pp. 27-30.

[16] The remains of the Regent were brought back from Portugal, together with those of his wife and youngest son, and re-interred in their home town of Kenderes on September 4, 1993. Among the tens of thousands of Hungarians attending the reburial were a few leading members of the Antall government, including Péter Boross,  Lajos Für, László Surján, István Balsai, and Béla Kádár.. Randolph L. Braham, “The Reinterment and Political Rehabilitation of Miklós Horthy,” in Slavic Almanach Vol. II. Henrietta Mondry and Paul Schweiger, eds. (Johannesburg: University of the Witwaterstand, 1993), pp. 137-40. See also my “Horthy Miklós újratemetése és politikai feltámadása” (The Reburial and Political Resurrection of Miklós Horthy), Menóra, Toronto, August 27, 1993, and reproduced in Népszava/Szabadság, New York, September 27, 2013.

[17] Csoóri’s diatribe was part of his autobiographical series  Nappali Hold (Daytime Moon), published in Hitel (Credit), Budapest, September 5, 1990, p. 6. Like others,   Csoóri singles out a few noted writers and poets, including Antal Szerb, Miklós Radnóti, and György Konrád, as “good Hungarians.” The contrasting of a few “prominent” Jews with the rest of Jewry was also the technique used by Bishop Ottokár Prohászka, the notorious Catholic Jew-baiter, and Miklós Horthy himself.

[18] For an overview of Péter Boross’s political background and Holocaust-related views, see László  Bartus, “Boross.” Népszava/Szabadság, New York, February 14, 2014, p. 10.

[19] See Decision No. 2/1994.(I.14) AB, which was adopted on January 11, 1994, in   Az Alkotmánybíróság határozatai (Decisions of the Constitutional Court), Budapest, No.1, 1994, pp. 9-20.

[20] Horn was one of the leaders of the radical reformers who changed the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party into the Hungarian Socialist Party in 1989. He played a major role in Hungary’s transition to democracy.

[21] In late 1998, the Orbán government sought to ease the collective conscience of the nation by offering to compensate survivors by paying approximately $150 for each member of their particular immediate families, assuming that they can prove that their loved ones were in fact victims of the Holocaust. The reparation offer was based on Law XXIX of 1997. The survivors who availed themselves of this offer discovered, after considerable time-consuming paper work, that even this amount was to be obtained in forints and spent in Hungary. The issue of the heirless and unclaimed property has still not been resolved. As a result of negotiations with the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO), represented by a delegation headed by Moshe Sanbar, and the Hungarian government, represented by István Hiller, then Minister of Education and Culture, the Hungarians transferred $21 million to the Jewish Heritage of Public Endowment of Hungary (Magyarországi Zsidó Örökség Közalapitvány – MAZSÖK), as a down payment on the value of all heirless and unclaimed, formerly Jewish-owned private property in the country.  MAZSÖK, created in 1997, distributed one-third of the amount for the benefit of Holocaust survivors residing in Hungary, while two-thirds of the fund is being distributed and administered by the Claims Conference to assist survivors or Hungarian origin in need residing outside of Hungary. The WJRO is currently in discussions with government officials, primarily János Lázár,  regarding the resumption of negotiations relating to remaining open restitution issues.  As part of these discussions, in November 2013, WJRO submitted a paper to Hungary reviewing approaches taken by other European countries regarding the restitution of heirless and other unclaimed property.  Lázár’s predecessors on these negotiations were István Hiller and András Levente Gál.

[22] For example, see the ruling by the Hungarian Constitutional Court of June 30, 1995, and Decree No. 118/1998 of the Council of Ministers. To cite just one example of the difficulties, access to the archives of the National Central Alien Control Office (KEOKH), which was the agency that was responsible for the roundup and deportation of nearly 18,000 “alien” Jews in the summer of 1941, most of whom were slaughtered near  Kamenets-Podolsk, was reportedly blocked for ninety years.

[23] The restrictions continued to be strictly enforced. The frustration over these restrictions was felt not only by individual scholars but also by such world-renowned Holocaust-related archival and research centers as Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. Miles Lerman, then chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, expressed this frustration in a letter addressed to Prime Minister Orbán on June 17, 1999. Among other things, he stated: “After several rounds of discussions with Hungarian officials and archivists and a series of unfortunate experiences, we have reached the regrettable conclusion that Hungary has failed to cooperate with the Museum in its efforts and stands nearly alone among countries in Europe in its failing to make available its records on the Holocaust.”

[24] Orbán’s FIDESZ Hungarian Civic Party and his coalition partners (i.e., the right-wing rural-based Smallholders’ Party led by József Torgyán and the Hungarian Democratic Forum led by Ibolya Dávid) controlled only 213 seats (55 percent) of the total 386 seats in Parliament. For some details on anti-Semitic incidents since the inauguration of the Orbán government, see Marta S. Halpert, “Hungary: A Growing Tolerance for Anti-Semitism,” ADL International Notes, New York, December 1999.

[25] Early in 2000, the Orbán government restored the Royal Crown of St. Stephen as the symbol of the Hungarian state. Overlooking the inherent contradiction between the symbol of a royal crown and Hungary’s current democratic, republican form of government, Zsolt Lányi, vice president of the Independent Smallholders’ Party and chairman of Parliament’s armed services committee, for example, declared that the Crown represented “the embodiment of Christian Hungary.” The Orbán government also revived the Corvin Prize, the state award introduced by Horthy in 1930. Some nationalists have also called for the restoration of noble titles and knighthood rituals, the honoring of those who fought for the Fascist cause as “heroes,” and the renaming of a street in Budapest for Horthy. Alex Bandy, “Hungary Revives Nationalist Symbols,” The Associated Press, December 14, 1999, and Zoltán Vajda, “Horthyról mégsem neveznek el utat” (There Will Be No Road Named for Horthy), Magyar Hirlap, March 17, 2000.

[26] Early in November 1999, she declared, among other things, that the “experience of the post-Communist era revealed a great societal need for the representation of Christian-conservative values based on national traditions.” For some details on Dávid’s activities, see “Antallra emlékezett az MDF: Dávid Ibolya pártelnök a demokrata fórum integráló szerepéről” (The MDF Memorialized Antall: Ibolya Dávid, the Party President, on the Integrating Role of the Democratic Forum). Népszabadság, November 1, 1999. During her tenure, Dávid consistently rejected the Jewish leaders’ plea for her to initiate legislation making Holocaust-denial punishable.

[27]The many personal narratives by Holocaust survivors are virtually unanimous in their recollection of the barbaric behavior of the gendarmes during the roundup, expropriation, ghettoization, and deportation  of the Jews. For references to these narratives, consult the bibliography listed in note 7.

[28] Titled Hiven, becsülettel, vitézül (Faithfully, With Honor, Bravely), the logo of the gendarmerie, the documentary featured a few experts on national security, including Sándor Szakály and József Parádi, who were also involved in its production.

[29] Among those featured in the film were Captain István Jáni, the former commander of the gendarmes in the ghetto of Szombathely; First Lieutenant László Radnay and First Lieutenant Mihály Gerencséry, who were convicted for their involvement in the Újvidék massacres in early 1942; First Lieutenant Pál Bugarin-Horváth, who was involved in the ghettoization of Jews in Matészalka; and Sergeant József Szendi, who was deported from the United States for hiding his background and involvement in the anti-Jewish drive.

[30] In addition to permitting the publication of venomously anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying periodicals such as Hunnia and Szent Korona, the Hungarian authorities also consented to the reissuing of Hitler’s Mein Kampf (see note 34) and the notorious forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, works that were effectively exploited by the Nazis and their Hungarian hirelings in the drive against the Jews.

[31] During the administration of Gordon Bajnai (April 14, 2009 – May 29, 2010), the Criminal Code (Büntető Törvénykönyv) was amended by Parliament on February 22, 2010. In January 2013 a Holocaust-denier was convicted and sentenced to visit the Holocaust Documentation Center in Budapest at least three times. For some details on the legal issues surrounding Holocust denial in Hungary, see http://www.jogiforum.hu/hirek/22695.

[32] For example, István Stumpf, a top-ranking minister in the Orbán government, misled his Stockholm audience at the January 2000 summit conference on the Holocaust. He did so by failing to address Hungaruy’s anti-Jewish historical record of the 1938-1945 period. For the text of his talk, see Új Kelet (New East), Tel Aviv, February 4, 2000.

[33] The planned exhibit attempted to portray a virtual symbiosis of Hungarian-Jewish life since the emancipation of the Jews in 1867, downplaying the many anti-Jewish manifestations as mere aberrations in an otherwise chivalrous history of Hungary.  While focusing attention on the positive aspects of Jewish life in the country, emphasizing the “flourishing” of the Jewish community between 1867 and 1944, the rescue activities of those identified as Righteous, and Horthy’s “saving” of the Jews of Budapest, it blamed almost exclusively the Germans for the destruction of the Jews. In connection with the pre-Holocaust era, the planned exhibit failed to deal with various aspects of the anti-Jewish drive, including the anti-Semitic manifestations of the pre-World War I era; the agitation of the so-called Patriotic Associations; the pogroms by the counterrevolutionary forces during the White Terror; the enactment of ever harsher anti-Jewish laws; the shared responsibility of the Christian churches for reinforcing the climate of anti-Semitism by approving the adoption of virtually all anti-Jewish measures; the inequities of the forced labor service system; the deportation and subsequent murder of nearly 18,000 “alien” Jews in the summer of 1941; and the mass murder of Jews during the so-called Délvidék raids early in 1942. In connection with the Holocaust, the planned exhibit falsified the historical record by placing exclusive blame on the Germans. The Jewish leaders, as did many others interested in a cooperative resolution of the issue of the new exhibit in Auschwitz, were in favor of authorizing another “team of experts” to prepare a historically accurate and a politically neutral exhibit.  Toward this end they hoped to keep the whole affair under cover.  But it exploded into the open on September 8, 1999, when the Népszabadság, Hungary’s most popular daily, revealed the Jewish community’s negative reaction to the planned exhibit.  Taken aback by the avalanche of critical reviews, officials of the Ministry of Culture recommended that the project be shelved, saving the nation from an international scandal.

 [34] The Jewish community leaders forwarded a copy of the script for my own evaluation and input.  I read it with great personal and professional interest.  As a survivor of the Holocaust in Hungary, I was shocked by its tone and content; as a historian, I was disturbed by its clearly political-propagandistic objective.  I found it a clearly pro-Horthy apologia designed to sanitize the Nazi era in general and the Hungarians’ involvement in the Final Solution in particular.  I thought it was especially obscene that the author and his supporters aimed to achieve these objectives through an exhibit in Auschwitz!

[35] This view is espoused by, among others, Aron Mónus. See his epilogue to the 1996 Hungarian edition of Hitler’s Mein Kampf (Harcom. Hódmezövásárhely: Interseas Editions, p. 366). He reiterated the same views in Új Magyarország (New Hungary), Budapest, August 13, 1994, p. 5. See László Karsai, “The Radical Right in Hungary,” op. cit.

[36] This view has been expressed by, among others, István Jáni, who is the former gendarmerie captain in charge of a unit guarding the ghetto of Szombathely. See note 28.

[37] This view was aired by then Foreign Minister Géza Jeszenszky on April 5, 1994, during the opening session of the International Scholars’ Conference in Budapest, “The Holocaust in Hungary: Fifty Years Later.” His comments caused a scandal in the hall as well as in the press. For example, see “Holocaust-konferencia: kitapsolták a külügyminisztert” (Holocaust Conference: Foreign Minister Shouted Down) in Népszabadság (People’s Freedom), Budapest, April 6, 1994; “Az igazság megismeréséért, a lelkek megbékéléséért” (To Know the Truth and Give Peace to the Spirit) in  Esti Hirlap, Budapest, April 6, 1994, p. 3; “Holocaust-tanácskozás Budapesten, Jeszenszky—kitapsolt párhuzam” (Holocaust Discussion in Budapest, Jeszenszky—Parallelism Shouted  Down), by Éva V. Bálint and Éva Cseh in Magyar Hirlap, Budapest, April 6, 1994; “Holocaust-konferencia Budapesten, Jeszenszky Géza beszédét félbeszakították (Holocaust Conference Budapest, Géza Jeszenszky’s Speech Interrupted), by Sára Szeli in Pesti Hirlap, Budapest, April 6, 1994.

[38] One of the most vocal representative of this position has been János Horváth, a rightist member of the Hungarian Parliament. He tried to lecture me on the veracity of his position at a meeting with various Hungarian officials, including  Zsolt Németh, State Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,  at the Hungarian Consulate General in New York  on November 30, 1998.

[39] Many communities in Hungary have erected plaques and monuments honoring the local martyrs of the war, listing them alphabetically irrespective of the circumstances of their death. The same approach is followed in many memorial books. For example, see  Somogy megye a II. világháborúban (Somogy County in the Second World War),  Péter Szabó and Ferenc Szily, eds. (Kaposvár: A Somogy Megye Levéltár kiadása, 1993), 539 pp. Pages 179-536 of the book, for which Sándor Szakály wrote the introduction and served as editorial consultant, contain the listing of the wartime casualties by communities. With this approach, which amalgamates Jewish and non-Jewish casualties into a single category, the number of Christian victims is almost three times as high as that of the Jews killed during the Holocaust: Soldiers, 5,916; civilians, 4,498; Jews, 3,539.

[40] Champions of this group argue, among other things, that the suffering of the Jews was due to the fact that they had sided with the Allies and actually participated in revolts in many ghettos and concentration camps. For example, see  “Összehasonlitó véralgebra és a holocaust” (Comparative Blood Algebra and the Holocaust) by István Lovas in Népszabadság (People’s Freedom), Budapest, March 5, 1999, p. 10.

[41] At the London conference on the Holocaust on April 17-18, 1994, for example,  Mária Schmidt was virtually shouted down by members of the audience when it appeared to many that she was trying to “prove” that the postwar Communist regime in Hungary was more oppressive than the pro-Nazi Sztójay government. Her paper was excluded from the volume dealing with the conference (Genocide and Rescue: The Holocaust in Hungary, 1944, David Cesarani, ed. (Oxford: Berg, 1997).

[42] Supporters of this argument rely for documentation on The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression by Stephane Courteois, et al. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 858 pp. In a controversial speech (see note 43), Ms. Schmidt emphasized that while the Communist regimes were responsible for nearly 100 million victims, the Nazis killed only about 25 million. In this context, see also some of her essays in her Diktatúrák ördögszekerén (In the Devil’s Cauldron of Dictatorships ) (Budapest: Magvető, 1998), 289 pp.

[43] Within a few years after the systemic change of 1989, she emerged as a crusader for the rehabilitation of former Prime Minister László Bárdossy, who was executed for war crimes in 1946. For example, see her “Az első kirakatper” (The First Show Trial), Ibid., pp. 217-30. The article was first read as a paper at the Vienna Conference of November 2-5, 1995, held under the sponsorship of the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen. This writer took pains to remind her and the audience that the former prime minister was not only the “statesman” she basically portrayed him to be but also the man during whose relatively brief tenure as head of government (April 4, 1941–March 7, 1942), Hungary among other things declared war first on the Soviet Union and then the Western Allies; adopted the Nuremberg-type Third anti-Jewish Law; aggravated the status of the Jewish labor servicemen; rounded up nearly 18,000 so-called “alien” Jews, who were deported and subsequently murdered near Kamenets-Podolsk; and massacred more than 3,300 men, women, and children in and around Újvidék. György Dancsecs, a top-ranking leader of István Csurka’s neo-Fascist Hungarian Justice and Life Party in Budapest, launched an initiative in late October 1999, for the re-trial and possible rehabilitation of the former prime minister. Népszabadság, October 22, 1999. A month later, the initiative for the judicial rehabilitation of Bárdossy was publicly endorsed by Csurka himself. Michael Shafir, “Radical Politics in East-Central Europe.” RFE/RL East European Perspectives 2:2 (January 26, 2000), p. 6.

[44] Ms. Schmidt’s talk was given under the auspices of the Eckhardt Tibor Political Academy (Eckhardt Tibor Politikai Akadémia ) at the headquarters of the Independent Smallholders’ Party (Független Kisgazdapárt). For text, see Mária Schmidt, “Holokausztok a huszadik században” (Holocausts in the Twentieth Century), Magyar Hirlap (Hungarian Journal), Budapest, November 13, 1999.

[45] Ibid.

[46] For example, see Tamás Gáspár Miklós, “Sírrablok és halottgyalázók” (Grave Robbers and Vilifiers of the Dead), Ibid., November 16, 1999, and Sándor Kopátsy. “Holocaust csak egy volt” (There Was Only One Holocaust), Ibid., November 23, 1999.

[47] In this capacity and with a huge budget at her disposal, some people believe that Ms. Schmidt reportedly has the power to determine which historians and projects will receive state funding. According to a published report, “she also backs the unrestricted publication and distribution of Mein Kampf, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and other anti-Semitic tracts, which are selling well in many Budapest bookstores in new Hungarian editions.” Michael J. Jordan, “Hungary Whitewashes Its Murky Past,” Jerusalem Report 10:23 (March 13, 2000), pp. 30-31. According to many reports, Schmidt has also been exerting considerable influence on shaping media policy. Some details about her role in this area were revealed in the March 2, 2000 judgment of the Pesti Központi Kerületi Bíróság (Central Regional Court of Pest) in a libel case she initiated – and lost ­– against the Magyar Hirlap. For the text of the judgment, see Magyar Hirlap, April 6, 2000.

[48] See “Orbán bizik Schmidt Máriában” (Orbán Has Confidence in Mária Schmidt), Népszabadság, November 17, 1999. Among the nationalist-rightist organizations that expressed support of Schmidt’s activities is the Történelmi Igazságtétel Bizottság (Committee for Historical Justice). See ibid.

[49] Anti-Semites and ultra-nationalists continuously emphasize that most of the leaders of the short-lived proletarian dictatorship of 1919 were “Jews,” overlooking the fact that these Communists of Jewish origin were in reality “magyarized internationalists” whose class-oriented social and economic policies hurt the Jewish community even more than they did the Christian society. Of course, these anti-Semites also predictably fail to note that the counterrevolutionary forces that succeeded the proletarian dictatorship killed many more human beings – Jews and non-Jews alike – than the Communists.  As to the postwar Communist era, they also fail to note that the Communist Party of Hungary had more than 800,000 members in the late 1980s, among whom the percentage of Jews was relatively small (the total Hungarian Jewish population was only around 80,000). Moreover, the top leadership of the Party, like its membership in general, consisted overwhelmingly of ethnic Hungarians, the Jews having been largely purged in the wake of the anti-Zionist and anti-cosmopolitan campaign that began during the Stalinist era

[50] A notorious example of this was the comment by G. Nagyné Maczó Ágnes, a representative of the Smallholder’s Party and one of the vice presidents of the Hungarian Parliament. During a speech on March 17, 1997, the former member of the right-of-center Hungarian Democratic Forum reminded Imre Szekeres, the leader of the Hungarian Socialist Party faction, that his predecessor was “the Hungarian-hating Manó Roth,” which was a clear reference to Mátyás Rákosi, the Stalinist leader of Jewish origin. Ignoring the fact that Rákosi was perhaps an even greater Jew-hater, the parliamentary vice president clearly did not even know that Rákosi’s original name was Rosenfeld. For some details on this incident, see Péter Regős, “Zsidózó ‘56-os vendég” (An Anti-Semitic Guest of the ‘56 [Generation]), Menóra, Toronto, October 3-10, 1997.

[51] Horrible and murderous as the Gulags were, the inmates were overwhelmingly political and performed tasks deemed useful by the Soviet state. These history cleansers ignore the fact that, unlike the Jews deported to Auschwitz, the Gulag inmates, identified as “enemies of the people,” were allowed to receive mail, food packages, medical care, and occasionally visits during the period of their incarceration. While millions of Gulag inmates died or were killed during the seventy-year history of the Soviet Union, their entire families were not automatically subjected to genocidal treatment as the Jews were during the Holocaust. For a balanced overview of the basic differences between Auschwitz and the Gulag, see Steven T. Katz, The Holocaust and Comparative History (New York: Leo Baeck Institute, 1993), pp. 18-25.

[52] In the elections of April 11 and April 25, 2010, his FIDESZ–Hungarian Civic Union and its  coalition partner, the Christian Democratic People’s Union (KDNP), won 261 seats, constituting a supermajority of 67.88 percent. The extremist neo-Nazi party, the Jobbik (Jobbik Magyarországért Mozgalom; Movement for a Better Hungary), gained 47 seats (12.18 percent), emerging as the third-largest party represented in the Hungarian Parliament.

[53] Tamás Stark, Péter Szabó, and Sándor Szakály, “Második világháború: A magyar munkaszolgálat” (The Second World War: The Hungarian Labor Service), Magyar Nemzet (Hungarian Nation), Budapest, February 20, 1992 and February 28, 1992. In rebuttal, see Randolph L. Braham, “Nyugtalanitó gyakorlatok Magyarországon a Holocausttal kapcsolatban” (Disturbing Research Practices on the Holocaust in Hungary), Menóra, Toronto, May 29, 1992, pp. 3-4.

 [54] See also Rabbi Marvin Hier, “Remembrance Needs to Emphasize Villains, Not Heroes,” Martyrdom and Resistance, New York, March-April 1995, p. 12.  A relevant example of this possible conclusion is based on a personal experience I had in Budapest in September 1997. I found that all of the graduating students of the Jewish High School were acquainted with the wartime activities of Raoul Wallenberg, but none of them had any recollection of ever having heard or read anything about László Endre or László Baky. Since these students were completely unaware of the key role that these high-ranking Hungarian officials had played in the destruction of the Jews, one can assume that the same students were basically ignorant of the Holocaust in general. If this is the case with students graduating from the Jewish High School in Budapest, one can surmise the level of Holocaust awareness on the part of Christian students in the capital, let alone in the countryside.

[55] Sándor Püski, a publisher and book-dealer went even further, claiming that the Horthy regime entered World War II to save the Hungarian Jews and could not end the alliance with Hitler for the same reason. For some details on this outlandish position, see Ivan Berend, “’Jobbra át [Right Face]’: Right-Wing Trends in Post-Communist Hungary.” In: Democracy and Right-Wing Politics in Eastern Europe in the 1990s, Joseph Held, ed. (Boulder, CO: East European Monographs, 1993), pp. 127–128.

[56] It was partially this agreement that the perpetrators exploited as the “legal” basis for their drive against the Jews. Cynically arguing that the Jewish workers would be happier with their loved ones with them, the Hungarian law enforcement officials proceeded, in accordance with directives received from the Ministry of the Interior, to round up all Jews in the countryside irrespective of their age, sex, or medical status.

[57] Braham, Politics, pp. 393, 397–401.

[58] Ibid., pp. 1063–1064.

[59] While mythmakers operating at opposite ends of the political spectrum also claim credit for Heinrich Himmler and Raoul Wallenberg, very few find it politically fashionable to acknowledge the decisive role that the Red Army had played in the liberation of the Jews. The chief spokesman for Himmler’s alleged role in rescuing the Jews of Budapest is SS-Sturmbannführer Wilhelm Höttl (Walter Hagen), former head of the Intelligence Service of the Security Service in Vienna (which covered Hungary). See his interview in Péter Bokor’s Végjáték a Duna mentén (Endgame Along the Danube) (Budapest: RTV-Minerva-Kossuth, 1982) p. 192. See also Braham, Politics, p. 939, note 152.

[60] At a lunch at the Hungarian Consulate in New York on November 28, 2011, Ambassador Károly Dán revealed his plans for such a commemoration, inviting me to get involved. While aware of the government’s intentions, I submitted some ideas, which were considered with reservation. I suggested,  among other things, to synchronize the event in conjunction with an address on Wallenberg that I already had prepared as part of the Fall 2012 lecture series of the Institute for Holocaust Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. The ambassador apparently informed the Hungarian Foreign Ministry because the May 15, 2012 issue of Új Élet, the official organ of the Jewish community of Hungary, reported that a Wallenberg symposium would take place on October 10, 2012 “under the patronage of Professor Randolph Braham.” It  did not take place because I did not want to cooperate with the ambassador’s expectations. He managed to persuade the head of the Museum of Jewish Heritage to co-operate in the sponsorship of a lecture on Wallenberg by Kati Marton sometime in November 2012.

[61] Új Élet, Budapest, May 15, 2012.

[62]  See, for example, László Bartus, “Tollhegy,” Amerikai Magyar Népszava/Szabadság, New York, June 1, 2012.

[63]  It was on April 16, 1944, the last day of Passover, that the roundup and ghettoization of the Jews of Carpatho-Ruthenia and northeastern Hungary began. The date establishing the Memorial Day for the Victims of the Holocaust in Hungary (a Holokauszt Magyarországi Áldozatainak Emléknapja) was set by the National Assembly (Országgyűlés) on January 18, 2000, and was first observed by high school students on April 16, 2001.

[64] The Holocaust Memorial Center, officially known as the Holocaust Documentation Center and Public Foundation for Memorial Collection (Holocaust Dokumentációs Központ és Emlékgyűjtemény Közalapitvány), is the successor organization of the Hungarian Auschwitz Foundation (a Magyar Auschwitz Alapitvány), a private organization that was established in 1990 by a historian (Szabolcs Szita) and two survivors of the Holocaust (László November and Gábor Verő).

[65] Among the most persuasive expressions of sorrow over the Holocaust during the past few years were those by Deputy Prime Minister Tibor Navracsics and Foreign Minister János Martonyi during the October 1–2, 2013 conference on Jewish life and anti-Semitism organized by the Tom Lantos Institute. For text, see Múlt és Jövő, Budapest, 2013/3, pp. 6–10. Similar sentiments were expressed by Csaba Kőrösi, Hungary’s ambassador to the United Nations, and by President János Áder on the occasion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27).  It was in the same vein that János  Lázár, the secretary of state in charge of the Prime Minister’s Office, spoke on the same occasion at the UNESCO in Paris on January 28, 2014.

[66] Among those who were invited to participate were representatives of the various Jewish organizations, of the Christian Churches, various ministers, the president of the Hungarian Academy of Science, and the ambassadors of Austria,  Germany, Israel, and the United States.

[67] Új Élet, Budapest, February 1, 2013.

[68] The Civil Fund was created under the provisions of Decision No. 1688/2013 of September 30, 2013, and implemented under the provisions of Paragraph 68 of Decree 368/2011.(XII.31.)Korm.  Applications were invited not only from organizations and individuals in Hungary but also from those in the Successor States (Croatia, Romania, Serbia, and Slovakia), parts of whose territories were part of Hungary during the Holocaust. The list of the award recipients was published in the middle of December 2013. By early 2014, the government had added an additional 300 million forints to the Civic Fund.

[69] The idea of transforming the defunct station into a Holocaust-related museum originated with Szabolcs Szita, the director of the HDKE. His idea was to use the museum as an education center in honor of Raoul Wallenberg (Raoul Wallenberg Európai Emlékhely és Oktatási Központ;   The Raoul Wallenberg European Memorial and Education Center).

[70] The name reportedly was selected to counteract the impact the Nobel-laureate Imre Kertész had had with his autobiographical novel Sorstalanság (Fatelessness).

[71] One can only speculate whether the intention of Schmidt and of her history-cleansing nationalist supporters was to induce the visitors to conclude that the crimes committed by the communists (often a codename for Jews) were equal, if not more horrendous, than the ones the Nazis and their few “misguided Hungarian Nyilas” had committed against the Jews during the war.

[72] The first organizational meeting of the NTT was held on September 30, 2013, with the participation of  György Haraszti; Professor Gabriel Gorodetsky, an Oxford University historian; Professor Muravchik of Johns Hopkins University; Professor Michael Wolffsohn of Munich; Anne Applebaum, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist; János Szász, a film producer-director; Annette Lantos, the late Congressman Tom Lantos’s widow; Yehudit Shendar and Chava Baruch, as representatives of Yad Vashem; András Heisler, the president of MAZSIHISZ; and Rabbi Andrew Baker, Director of International Jewish Affairs of the American Jewish Committee.  Sara Bloomfield, the Director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, politely declined Mária Schmidt’s personal invitation to participate in the NTT. Paul Shapiro, the Director of the Museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies also refused an invitation proffered by Hungary’s Deputy Foreign Minister Zsolt Németh during a visit to Washington.  Ms. Bloomfield reportedly suggested that instead of building a new Józsefvárosi museum, the authorities should support more generously the Holocaust Documentation Center already in existence in Budapest. Heisler resigned from the International Advisory Committee on March 5, 2014, and Yad Vashem announced its withdrawal on March 19, 2014.

[73] See her characterization above. See also László Karsai’s “Schmidt Mária és a holokauszt” (Mária Schmidt and the Holocaust), Népszabadság, Budapest, February 19, 2014.

[74] According to many sources, one of Orbán’s chief advisers on Veritas and the entire history-cleansing campaign is Péter Boross, a former prime minister. By authorizing and financing Veritas, one is led to conclude that the Orbán government had lost confidence in the competence and scholarly activities of the Institute of History of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

[75] Szakáy made this outrageous claim during a radio roundtable discussion, “The Royal Hungarian Army, Gendarmerie, and the Holocaust” on October 8, 2013. An abbreviated transcript of the discussion was published in the online October 23, 2013 issue of Népszava, Budapest, and in the November 8, 2013 edition of the New York-based Amerikai Magyar Népszava. For some details on the Hungarian soldiers’ involvement in the mass murder of the Jewish labor servicemen in Doroshich,  in rebuttal to Szakály’s distortions, see Daniel Lőwy, “Valójában mi is történt Dorosicsban?” (What Did in Reality Happen in Doroshich?), Kritika, Budapest, 43(January–February 2014)1–2: 2–6.  See also Braham, Politics, pp. 333–334.

[76] For details on the tragedy of the “alien” Jews, see ibid., pp. 207–214.

[77] As part of the commemoration year, the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration (Közigazgatási és Igazságügyi Minisztérium– KIM) announced plans for the organization of a mobile exhibition titled Famous Hungarians in the Great World (Hires magyarok a nagyvilágban) that would focus attention on 21 Jews who had become famous after leaving Hungary. The announcement emphasized that these Jews had left the country “in order to advance their knowledge and talent abroad, raising thereby the Hungarians’ reputation in the world.” This announcement falsifies the history of the Horthy era not only by limiting the number of the Jewish scholars and scientists who were compelled by the anti-Jewish laws to study abroad, but also by ignoring the large number of Hungarian-Jewish scholars and artists who were murdered during the Holocaust. Miklós Hernádi, “Emlékezik a KIM” (The KIM Remembers). Élet és Irodalom, Budapest, February 7, 2014.

[78] The decision on the plans for the statue was reached without the involvement of any historians. See the letter, dated January 21, 2014, addressed to János Lázár by Professor Attila Pók, secretary of the Magyar Történelmi Társulat  (Hungarian Historical Association), in Múlt és Jövő, Budapest, 2013/4, p. 20. To substantiate his complaint, Pók attached a listing of the six historical realities relating to the consequences of the German occupation noted by Dr. Krisztián  Ungváry in his “Az eleven borzalom” (The Living Horror). HVG.Hu, January 21, 2014.

[79] Új Élet, January 15, 2014.

[80] The Jewish leaders requested the inclusion of Chief Rabbi Alfred Schöner; Imre Lebovits as representative of the survivors; Tamás Ungvári, the literary historian; Zoltán Vági, the Holocaust specialist; and Zsuzsanna Toronyi, the archivist of the Hungarian Jewish Archives (a Magyar Zsidó Levéltár). Ibid.

[81] Perhaps in light of the criticism surrounding her activities, in early February 2014, Mária Schmidt contacted me and several other well-known scholars, including Professors István Deák and Mária M. Kovács, requesting that we – as experts in the field – assist her work on the construction of the Józsefvárosi Museum by offering constructive suggestions. I decided not to respond.

[82] “Szakály Sándor lemondását követeli a Mazsihisz” (Mazsihisz Demands the Resignation of Sándor Szakály). Népszabadság, Budapest, January 19, 2014. In an interview published in the January 22 issue of the daily (“Történész, kezében szivaccsal”; Historian with a Sponge in His Hand), I expressed my support for Mazsihisz’s position, identifying Szakály’s distortions of the Holocaust era by referring to the saying: “Behind every tyrant with a sword there’s a historian with a sponge.”

[83] I addressed my open letter to György Haraszti and Szabolcs Szita, the top leaders of the Holocaust Memorial Center, requesting that my name be removed from the HMC’s Library and Information Center (Téka és Informaciós Központ).  I also announced my decision to return the Medium Cross of the Order of the Republic of Hungary, together with the scroll signed by President Pál Schmitt, which I received in October 2011. I resolved to act not only in protest against the shocking Holocaust-denigrating activities at the very start of the Holocaust remembrance year, but also in reaction to the questionable activities of the HMC, including the active involvement of its leaders in the Mária Schmidt-led planning of the Sorsok Háza  and in the organization of a conference on January 27, 2014, to which they also invited Sándor Szakály. For details on the conference, see “Katolikusok voltak a holokauszt áldozatai?” (Were the Victims of the Holocaust Catholic?). Amerikai Magyar Népszava Online, January 23, 2014.

[84] A declaration of support for my stand was published in the January 31, 2014, issue of  Népszava . It was signed by well-known writers, professionals, and theologians, including István Deák, Ágnes Heller, Gábor Iványi, László Karsai, György Konrád, Judit Molnár, József Schweitzer, Krisztián Ungváry, and Mária Vásárhelyi. A declaration in support of the protest by the Hungarians was published by a number of foreign scholars specializing in various aspects of Hungarian history on February 2. Among the signers were Eva S. Balogh, Yehuda Bauer,  Holly Case, Tim Cole, Christian Gerlach, Eleonore Lappin-Eppel, Julia Richers, and Georg Sessler.

[85] The first to act in this respect, on January 28, 2014, was the Jewish Congregation of Érsekújvár (Nové Zámky). It was followed by that of Nyìregyháza, and a number of foundations. See Új Élet, Budapest,  February 15, 2014.

[86] One of the most notable among these was Róber Garai, the actor-playwright, who decided not to avail himself of the 2.5 million forints awarded him by the Civic Fund. Szombat Online, February 11, 2014.

[87] Rudolf Ungváry, the noted Hungarian writer, for example, asserted that if “Mazsihisz and the other Jewish and non-Jewish organizations continued, in light of the issue of the statue, to cooperate to any degree in the state-organized Holocaust-year then this could not be compared to the cowardice of the wartime Jewish Council because then its members were fearful for their lives.” Magyar Narancs Online, January 25, 2014.

[88] Among those who decided not to attend was Rabbi Slomó Köves, head of the United Jewish Congregation of Hungary (Egységes Magyarországi Izraelita Hítközség).

[89] For a perceptive analysis of  the Jewish leaders’ predicament, see Mátyás, Eörsi, “Keretek és korlátok. A Mazsihisz külső és belső harcairól”  (Framework and Limits. On Mazsihisz’s Outer and Inner Battles). Magyar Narancs, Budapest, February 20, 2014.

[90] Personal communication by Dr. János Kőbányai, the editor and publisher of Múlt és Jövő, dated  January 31, 2014.

[91] “Mazsihisz: példa nélküli egység!” (Mazsihisz: Unprecedented Unity). Új Élet, Budapest, February 15, 2014. Mazsihisz’s stand was also supported by a group of Christians. “Magyar keresztényként felemeljük hangunkat a múlt meghamisitása ellen” (We Raise Our Voice as Christian Hungarians Against the Falsification of the Past). http://www.mazsihisz.hu/2014/02/24.

[92] In his March 19, 2013 testimony before the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (“The Trajectory of Democracy: Why Hungary Matters”), Paul A. Shapiro, Director of the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies  of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, provided  a fully documented overview of the changing political climate in Hungary, emphasizing the drive to bring about the rehabilitation of the Horthy era and the concurrent attacks on the memory of the Holocaust. See also “Magyar keresztényként felemeljük hangunkat a múlt meghamisitása ellen” (We Raise Our Voice as Christian Hungarians Against the Falsification of the Past). http://www.mazsihisz.hu/2014/02/24. On February 10, Rabbi Andrew Baker, a top official of the American Jewish Committee, urged the Orbán administration to respond to the Jewish community’s concerns without delay, emphasizing that it now has “an opportunity to openly confront Hungary’s past and responsibility.”  In an op-ed published in Népszabadság on February 15, Ronald Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, expressed his support for the stand taken by Mazsihisz, emphasizing that the Hungarian government  must do more in acknowledging the role the wartime regime of Horthy had played, in collaboration with the Nazis, in the destruction of the Jews. On February 13, the Foreign Ministry of Israel summoned Andor Nagy, Hungary’s Ambassador, to express its concerns over Hungary’s failure to deal truthfully with the past. Rafi Schutz, the Ministry’s deputy director general for Europe, expressed his anxiety over the trends within Hungary to re-write the history of the Holocaust and of the role Horthy had played in it. Schutz referred specifically to the conference that was held at the House of Terror on December 6, 2013, during which the two Horthy-apologists, Mária Schmidt and László Tőkéczky, tried to re-write history by defending the Regent and his policies.

[93] Minister of Human Resources Zoltán Balog  expressed his disappointment over Mazsihisz’ decision, citing it as shortsighted, emphasizing that the dispute is not only between the Jewish leadership and the government,  but that it also involves the 10 million Hungarians. He also cited the “positive” actions taken by the Orbán administration. Szombat Online, February 10, 2014.

[94] Among the leaders’ severest critics was Tamás Suchman, a former Mazsihisz vice president. In an electronic letter to the delegates, he identified the leaders as liars and traitors, who went counter to the decision taken by the general assembly.  “Suchman szerint a Mazsihisz vezetői hazudnak” (According to Suchman the Mazsihisz Leaders Are Lying).  Amerikai Népszava Online, February 13, 2014. For a very critical overview, see “A Mazsihisz vezetősége elárulta közgyűlése határozatát” (Mazsihisz’s Leadership Betrayed the Decision of Its Assembly).  Népszava/Szabadság, New York, February 21, 2014.

[95] “The Hungarian Holocaust Memorial Year: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back.”  http://Hungarianspectrumwordpress.com,  February 28, 2014. See also Mária M. Kovács, “Kettős beszéd: holokauszt- emlékév és Horthy-rehabilitáció. http://www.galamuscsoport.hu, March 8, 2014, and  István Sebestyén and Marie-Rose Makki, “Érik a botrány” (The Scandal Is Growing). Hetek, Budapest, 18(February 28, 2014)9: 14–15.

[96] While formally decrying some of the activities of this neo-Fascist party, the Orbán government failed to take any meaningful action against the anti-Semitic agitations by representatives of this party.  On November 26, 2012, for example, Márton Gyöngyösi called on the government  to draw up lists of Jews who “pose a national security risk” and on November 3, 2013, he, Reverend Loránt Hegedűs, and other top leaders of the party participated in the  unveiling of  a bronze bust of Miklós Horthy. For a thoroughly documented overview of Viktor Orbán’s policies in general  and of his condoning of the  activities of the anti-Semitic extremist Jobbik party in particular, see Zoltán Tibori Szabó, Hungary under the Orbán Regime, Cluj-Napoca, August 2013. A copy of the manuscript is in possession of this author.

[97] Elie Wiesel, Night. (New York: Bantam Books, 1982), p. xv.

 

The Hungarian Holocaust Memorial Year: One step forward, two steps backward

February 27, 2014 96 comments

It was exactly a week ago that I wrote about the Hungarian Holocaust Memorial Year, which is still very much a topic of debate in Hungary. The core of the problem is the effort on the part of the Orbán government to rewrite the modern history of Hungary.

The problem started with the adoption of a new constitution that has a fairly lengthy preamble in which  the emphasis is on the concept of “nation.” The preamble is actually called “national avowal” and its first sentence reads “we, the members of the Hungarian nation.” For the sake of comparison the United States Constitution refers to the “people of the United States” and the modern constitution of Germany to “the German people.” As we will see a little later, this preoccupation with the idea of “nation” may have far-reaching consequences as far as the current controversy is concerned.

At the time of the release of the text of the preamble to the new Hungarian constitution a lot of legal scholars, historians, and commentators severely criticized it for being a hodgepodge of disconnected, unhistorical nonsense. But what must be an absolutely unique feature of this preamble is that the framers decided to eliminate 46 years, 2 months, and 5 days from Hungary’s history because the decision was made to “date the restoration of our country’s self-determination, lost on the nineteenth day of March 1944, from the second day of May 1990, when the first freely elected organ of popular representation was formed. We shall consider this date to be the beginning of our country’s new democracy and constitutional order.” In plain language, Hungarians are not responsible for anything that happened during this “lost” period. It was immediately noted that the first Hungarian transports headed for Auschwitz and other death camps occurred after March 19, 1944. A lot of people suspected that this government was thinking of shifting the entire responsibility for the Holocaust on the Germans who, with the permission of Miklós Horthy, moved their troops into Hungary. Regardless of how often officials of the current Hungarian government repeat that they accept responsibility for the Holocaust, the new constitution claims otherwise. And that is the basic law of the land at the moment.

Sorry about these repetitive prefatory remarks, but in order to fully understand the thinking of Viktor Orbán, János Lázár, and other high officials of the government we must keep in mind the emphasis both on the “Hungarian nation” and on the alleged lack of sovereignty of Hungary. Giving up the idea of erecting a monument that depicts Hungary as the innocent and long-suffering Archangel Gabriel would go against the very core of this view of history. And when we find more and more references to “Hungarians and Jews” in government parlance, we must also keep in mind the nation-centric views that found their way into the new constitution. I maintain that as long as this constitution is in force there can be no meaningful discussion between Viktor Orbán and those who don’t subscribe to this warped view of history. Viktor Orbán may suggest to the leadership of Mazsihisz that “the dialogue should be continued after the Easter holidays,” but there can be no common ground between the two views.

Still, one ought to appreciate the fact that he made the gesture at all. Viktor Orbán rarely retreats. As his critics say, “he goes all the way to the wall.” It seems that this time he bumped into that wall, a wall of condemnation by a civilized Europe that doesn’t take Holocaust denial lightly. Let me quote here from a speech Ilan Mor, Israeli Ambassador to Hungary, delivered at the gathering to honor the recipients of Yad Vashem’s Righteous Among the Nations awards. He said that “any attempts to rewrite or to reinterpret the history of the Shoa, in this country or elsewhere, for any reason, politically and/or ideologically, are part of the deplorable attempt to deny the Holocaust, the Shoa.” This is the kind of criticism the Hungarian government is facing when it tries to falsify history.

Just when we thought that, at least until April, we could have a little respite and prepare ourselves for the next round, János Lázár decided to upset the apple cart. He happened to be in Gyula, a city near the Romanian border, when he gave an interview to the local television station. During the interview the reporter asked him about Mazsihisz’s opposition to the government’s plans for the Holocaust Memorial Year. Lázár lashed out at the leaders of Mazsihisz, accusing them of wrecking the government’s plans for the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust. He charged them with fomenting discord between Hungarians and Jews who have lived in unity and symbiosis for centuries. According to him, the story of that common past was a real success. He predicted that Mazsihisz’s “ultimatum” will have a negative influence on the cohabitation of Jews and Hungarians. He added that he hopes “the local Jewish communities in conjunction with the officials of the municipalities will find a way to remember together.” Lázár expressed his belief “in the wisdom of the local Jewish leaders and even more so in the wisdom of the municipal leaders,” and he said he hoped that “this ultimatum was only part of a political move that will not be able to fracture that unity and symbiosis in which we have lived together with our Jewish compatriots in Gyula or for that matter in Hódmezővásárhely,” his hometown where he served as mayor until recently.

"Cohabitiation: Minority and majority in the Carpathian Basin Source: Amerikai Nepszava Online

“Cohabitation: Minority and majority in the Carpathian Basin”
Source: Amerikai Népszava Online

It was at this point that all hell broke loose and for good reason. First of all, Mazsihisz didn’t issue an ultimatum. Second, Lázár practically accused Mazsihisz of fomenting anti-Semitism in Hungary by not meekly accepting the falsification of history promulgated by the Orbán government. Third, it was especially tasteless to talk about Jewish/non-Jewish symbiosis and cohabitation in a provincial town. As is well known, there are practically no Jews left in Hungary outside of Budapest. The vast majority perished because Miklós Horthy wanted to start the deportations with those whom he considered to be the great unwashed. And fourth, what caused real furor was that Lázár excluded Hungarians of Jewish origin from the Hungarian nation. Commentators noted that this view comes straight from the Nuremberg laws and the anti-Jewish laws of Hungary. People are truly outraged.

Commentators are trying to figure out what motivated János Lázár to make a frontal attack on Mazsihisz. Some think that he was just careless and didn’t weigh his words. Perhaps in a more formal setting, they claim, he wouldn’t have said what he did. Others think that he is just outright stupid and/or crass.

I see it differently. Lázár is the messenger boy of Viktor Orbán. It is enough to recall the meeting between him and members of different Jewish communities. The participants were hoping for some solution to the impasse. It turned out that Lázár had no authority whatsoever to talk about anything substantive. He could only tell those present that he would relay the points they made to Viktor Orbán, who would answer them in writing. Therefore, I suspect that Lázár, when questioned in Gyula, simply repeated what he knew to be Viktor Orbán’s position. And I don’t think that I’m too far off when I predict that Viktor Orbán will not be any more malleable after Easter. Lázár’s words are only a forewarning of what lies ahead.

——

P.S. I would like to correct an earlier mistake of mine. I attributed a statement to Ambassador Mor that turned out to be erroneous. In his interview with Heti Válasz he did not speak critically of Mazsihisz as I assumed.

Russia, Hungary, and the European Union: Paks documents released

February 26, 2014 74 comments

It’s time to make sense of all the contradictory pieces of information that have reached the public in the last couple of days concerning the European Union’s attitude toward the Russian-Hungarian agreement on the Paks II nuclear power plant. The central question was whether the Orbán government notified Brussels, as it was obliged to, about the details of the agreement.

Energiaklub, a non-profit organization that deals with questions of energy and the environment, wrote a letter to the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Energy on February 17 asking for “access to the documentation related to the notification, under the Euratom Treaty, of the PAKS nuclear power in Hungary.” The answer was: “This investment project has not yet been notified to the Commission under Article 41 of the Euratom Treaty, and therefore at the moment no documents can be found in the Commission’s possession.” Critics of Viktor Orbán were only too happy to find that his administration seemed once again to have been caught lying. Soon enough, however, the relevant documentation was made public on the website of the prime minister’s office.

But before I talk about these newly released documents, which give us only a little more knowledge of the whole Paks affair than we had before, I would like to jot down a few dates by way of a road map.

I began collecting material on Paks and nuclear energy on October 18, 2013 when Viktor Orbán, then in India, boasted that Hungary would have extremely low energy prices in the not too distant future. He brought this up as an economic enticement for Indian investors. He also emphasized his commitment to nuclear energy.

Source: nuclear-news.net

Source: nuclear-news.net

Then for almost two months we heard nothing about nuclear energy. Finally János Lázár broached the subject and talked about advanced negotiations with Russia for Rosatom to construct two new reactors in Paks. What we didn’t know was that on December 10, 2013 János Lázár wrote a letter to Günther Oettinger, commissioner for energy. The released document is a cover letter to “the Draft International Agreement with the Russian Federation.” The letter also indicates that the Commission had been notified earlier, at its November 26, 2013 meeting, that “Hungary intends to enter into an international agreement with the government of the Russian Federation on the cooperation in peaceful use of nuclear energy.” Attached was the draft agreement “in accordance with Article 103 of the European Treaty.” The letter also reveals that talks between Brussels and Budapest about Hungary’s intention to sign such a treaty had taken place even before that date because Lázár assured the commissioner that they took “into consideration the comments obtained from the Commission.” The conversation between the commissioner and the Hungarian government is described as “open and constructive.” The confusion described above was most likely due to Energiaklub’s reference to Article 41 as opposed to relevant Article 103 of the Euratom Treaty.

A month later, on January 13, Viktor Orbán traveled to Moscow where Mrs. László Németh, minister of national development, on behalf of the Hungarian government, signed a document about which we still know very little. A couple of days later curious Hungarian journalists inquired from Günther Oettinger’s office what the European Commission thinks of the Russian-Hungarian agreement. They were told on January 15 that the Commission had not passed judgment on whether the lack of competitive bidding was an obstacle to the European Union’s blessing for the deal. However, they were told by the spokesman for Oettinger’s office that such a probe will take place some time in the future.

A good two weeks after his trip to Moscow, Orbán decided to write a letter to José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, in which  he informed Barroso about “the recent developments with regards to nuclear energy cooperation between Hungary and the Russian Federation.” From the letter it becomes clear that there had been a response from Brussels to János Lázár’s December 10 cover letter attached to the copy of the draft treaty. According to Orbán, “the Commission raised no objection to the draft agreement” and therefore “my government signed the intergovernmental agreement on January 14, 2014.”

Orbán in this letter tried to downplay the fact that the job of building the nuclear power plant was given without any competitive bidding process. He added that “Rosatom, the Russian nuclear state authority, will be in charge of the implementation of the design and construction work. However, whenever any such work or services cannot be provided in-house, the Russian party will undertake an open and non-discriminatory tendering process.”

And finally, Orbán tried to reassure Barroso that the Russian-Hungarian deal actually serves European interests. “We believe that the long-term cooperation of Hungary with the Russian Federation in the field of nuclear power will contribute to strengthening the energy security of the EU as a whole.” It was at about this time that John Lukács, the conservative Hungarian-American historian who had fairly close ties with Viktor Orbán earlier, wrote him an open letter in which he warned about the deadly embrace of Putin’s Russia. I translated Lukács’s letter and Orbán’s rather impertinent reply.

By February 7 the Hungarian parliament, after five hours of debate, voted for a treaty about which the members knew practically nothing, even as opposition to the Russian-Hungarian deal was growing in the country. Most Hungarians didn’t want an extension to Paks, and they especially didn’t want to have the Russians building it. Foreign observers also envisaged a “Comecon reborn,” which looked quite possible after “realigning Ukraine as a satellite state under Vladimir Putin.” Nick Butler of the Financial Times emphasized Hungary’s “acceptance of Russian technology in its nuclear sector” and added that this huge investment will be financed by a Russian loan. He noted a reassertion of Russian power across the region and wrote that “the advance is not military but economic with energy issues to the fore.”

Barroso’s answer came on February 7. He referred to the progress made toward a common European energy policy. He attributed this success to the Commission’s “respect for Member States’ basic choices concerning their energy mix.” He added, however: “Member States’ commitment to comply fully with the rules of the Treaties and secondary legislation, in particular those governing the internal energy market, and to act in a spirit of coordination and full transparency, remains vital.” After the Commission examined the draft agreement it “raised no objections of principle to the agreement from the perspective of article 103.” But it seems that Orbán is still not entirely in the clear because “there are … other aspects of EU law to be observed, such as the rules on public procurement and state aid.”

Many people are convinced that the hidden state subsidies and the lack of public procurement are insuperable obstacles. Although who knows. Viktor Orbán always finds ways to come out on top.

Bálint Magyar: The Hungarian post-communist mafia state (from a critique of the government to a critique of the system)*

February 13, 2014 77 comments

After the collapse of the Soviet Empire, many of us lived under the illusion that communist dictatorships were going to be replaced by liberal democracies. Although the road ahead appeared to be bumpy, there was consensus that we were going through a process of a linear progression. Deviances from the norms of liberal democracies seemed to be children’s diseases rather than characteristics of adulthood. However, the chronic symptoms of such deviances caused analysts to interpret the political processes of certain post-communist states and describe their systems, which got stalled and even turned back on the road, along the liberal democracy-autocracy axis.

Having gained entry into the European Union, certain countries of Central and Eastern Europe passed the entrance test, albeit the exam requirements of the crash courses had been relaxed owing to geopolitical considerations. Those responsible for the enlargement believed that the new member states were inspired not only by the compulsion to pass the test, which entitled them to join the rank of consumer societies, but also by the desire to belong to a network with shared values. As the frustration of old member states grew, so did the literature of transitology become richer and richer. There was disagreement among transitologists, however, as to the extent post-communist countries differed from one another in terms of their deviation from liberal democracies.They sometimes added an adjective to restrict the meaning of democracy, such as illiberal, directed or pseudo, along different institutional indicators, and endeavored to produce a measure of “composite” deviation, which was supposed to assess whether the system under investigation was to be found democratic or not. Others characterized these systems as variants of autocracy by using softening labels, such as semi-autocratic, soft dictatorship or electoral authoritarianism. Still others attached the label “hybrid” to denote such systems.

When reference was made to the subjects of the regime, the phrase “majority democracy” or “dominant party system” was used. When the concept of power concentration cum wealth accumulation was mentioned, “clientalist regime,” “crony capitalism” or “post-accession hooliganism” were the terms suited to stress the illegitimate beneficiaries of power.

Transitional systems or terminal station?

Perceiving the conceptual framework of deviations, Hungarian analysts searched for historical analogies. The process of centralization and nationalization were suggestive of the soft-communist stages of the Kádár regime until 1989. The reincarnation of the ideology, cultural models and language of the Horthy regime between the two world wars gave way to fascist and corporative interpretations whereas the loss of personal integrity in administration and governance was reminiscent of feudal systems.

After 2010, Fidesz annihilated the system of liberal democracy and created an entirely new system. In his speech at Kötcse before the 2010 election, Orbán declared that he would not simply change the government but create a new model of governance, which would be completely different from “the messy period of the past two decades.” This new model was based on an ideology of “national war of independence,” which he called “The System of National Cooperation,” and, true to his promise, he established this system as a “central field.”

Meanwhile, his critics from the opposition – in self-disarmament, as it were – got stuck in a paradigm of mere government criticism, instead of finding a conceptual framework capable of interpreting this novel type of political predator.

The post-communist mafia state

The mafia state, the organised overworld is far removed from the world of anomalies of party funding and the organised underworld’s attempts to influence political decisions – the relationships have now been reversed: it is no longer the case that private wealth is acquired to help a party’s need for financial support to be gained from illegitimate sources; rather a political party’s decision-making potential is used here to requisition private property. It is no longer the case that a hidden underworld seeks to corrupt decision-making processes; rather inherently purposeful illegitimate special interests are aligned here with legislative measures and governance. There are hardly any areas where activities would not be subject to power and wealth accumulation considerations of the adopted political family. The mafia state is a privatized form of a parasite state.

The authoritarianism of the post-communist mafia state as established after 2010 has particular characteristics, and cannot be classified as being any form seen up to now. Although it may share a few characteristic similarities with other autocratic forms, its unique traits define a unique type. It is nothing else than a sub-type of autocratic regimes, and the conceptual framework into which it is cached describes not only the techniques of power concentration but the nature of the elite in power.

The epithet post-communist not merely refers to a historical period, but also to that it came into being from the carcass of communist dictatorship, what was characterized by the state monopoly of ownership. The designation “mafia state” is by no means emotional or journalistic in nature, but rather refers to the new power elite’s essential trait: to its organisational nature and to its order. Here, in considering the characteristics of the relatively narrow authoritarian new elite, the mafia state differs greatly from the various analogies referred to in elites in authoritarian regimes. Above all that it is made up of – as is usual in the mafia – joint businesses founded principally by the family, as well as by sworn adopted political family members through the family’s network of relationships. The organization’s kinship and loyalty are connected by threads linking ever more families, which radiate from the family patriarch in strongly hierarchical divisions of pyramid-like order of obedience.

The traditional mafia, the organized underworld is no more than a violent, illegitimate attempt by a head of the premodern patriarchal family to exercise its power of enforcement within a society based on the equal rights of citizens and the rule of law. An attempt that the state’s public authority agencies are attempting to thwart. The mafia is an adopted family in which “relatives without any blood ties make a strict and solemn commitment to provide unconditional mutual assistance to all parties” (Eric Hobsbawm). The mafia is an illegitimate neo-archaism.

In the mafia state, in the organized overworld the patriarch’s  powers of enforcement works at a national level under the disguise of the institutions of democracy by occupying state power and acquiring the tools to achieve it. It can be considered as a kind of political enterprise. For the head of the adopted political family, reigning in terms of the patterns of leadership, the patriarchal family, the home, one’s estate and one’s country are isomorphic concepts. The same culture follows the same pattern for the exercise of power at each level: the nation is his household’s members. Just like the patriarch, who once had the right to decide in personal and wealth-related matters, as well as in any issue concerning the individual roles and competencies of his “household,” this new type of patriarch reigns supreme in a country where the nation becomes his “household.” He does not expropriate – he merely disposes. It is his due to serve justice according to status and alleged merit.

The distinctiveness of the mafia state as a subtype of autocracy

The post-communist mafia state is not merely a deviant form of liberal democracy, nor is it a transient formation, rather it is an independent subtype of autocracy. The specific features of the regime can be summarized as follows:

  1. The concentration of political power and the accumulation of personal/family wealth occur in unison.
  2. The alternation of the political elites’ systematic replacement takes place in parallel with that of the economic elite, driving such change not with the instruments of democracy and market economy. This elite replacement is centrally organised into a hierarchy dependent on the adopted political family. This cannot be called a traditional form of primitive accumulation of capital, because herein there is no flow of capital between the premodern and modern sectors or between the agrarian and industrial sectors, accompanied by a change of ownership. What happens is merely the implementation of the  change of owners of accumulated capital. Due to their socialization, however, the new body of owners do not become real entrepreneurs, but merely tax collectors in an entrepreneurial disguise, fortified by the head of the adopted political family with political monopolies.
  3. It is not incidental that public interest is subverted to private interest; it occurs systematically and relentlessly. Public policy objectives, such as the motives for policy decisions, remain in the background, unaccounted for. Decisions are tainted with power and wealth motivations. Every decision concerns power and wealth at the same time: “brainwash and money laundering” (Mária Vásárhelyi).
  4. The organised underworld’s illegal physical coercion, characteristic of the mafia, is replaced by legalized public authority/state sponsored coercion. The intention of this is to serve not only to maintain power, but also to further extend the wealth of the adopted political family.
  5. With the legalized instruments of state monopoly of coercion, the mafia state coercively extracts personal fortunes – sometimes indirectly through (transit)nationalization – to serve its own interests and redistributes this amongst the adopted political family members. In this respect, too, such corruption differs from “established” forms, in which merely the illegitimate diversion of revenues takes place. Just as private banditry is abolished by classical mafia, the mafia state eliminates individual and anarchic forms of corruption, and replaces them with ransom levied from above, in a centralized and largely legalized form.
  6. The personal wealth, resulting from the accumulation of political power of the adopted political family’s fortune, and public/state property inevitably overlap with each other. This is in contrast to, for example, constitutional monarchies, where the two are clearly distinct from one another.
  7. Key players in the authoritarian mafia state:
    • the poligarch (Tamás Frei) is someone who uses legitimate political power to secure illegitimate economic wealth – their political power is visible, whilst the economic power remains hidden;
    • the oligarch is someone who from legitimate economic wealth builds political power for themselves – their economic power is visible, whilst the political power, if any, remains hidden;
    • the strawman is someone who has no real power – whether in politics, or in the economic sphere. In the gap between the legitimate and illegitimate spheres, they formally serve as go-between for the public. In fact, the majority of those in different posts of governance are strawmen, and so are those in the economic sphere, especially if they are dependent on the state.
  1. Decisions are taken outside the competence of formalized and legitimate organizations. It is not the model of the communist parties’ “politburo.” but the “polipburo” (Sándor Révész) run by the adopted political family. (The phrase polip is the Hungarian equivalent of the phrase octopus.) However, the polipburo does not possess the legitimacy demanded by the nature of its operation. It is not Fidesz that has a transmission belt to enforce its decisions, but it is the party itself that has become the major transmission belt of the adopted political family.
  2. In place of the class structures, a patron-client chain of vassal relationships comes into being. The adopted political family is built around the patriarch, the head of the family. It is centralised and hierarchically made up of personal and family relationships structured in an authoritarian formation. Under the protection of institutional guarantees, a strong democratic society with a wide range of weak ties is replaced, alongside the abolition of institutional guarantees, by a weak society with limited but strong ties. There is no free entry into the adopted political family; one may enter only if  accepted, admitted and ready to give up one’s integrity. Nor is there a free exit – one may only be expelled.
  3. Formalized and legal procedures give way to material and arbitrary actions. The head of the government does not govern, but illegitimately disposes of   the country as if he owned it. State institutions, including the Parliament, the government, the tax offices and the Chief Prosecutor’s Office, do no more than rubberstamp and do the bookkeeping. The “law of rule” substitutes for the “the rule of law.” Proper jurisdiction is replaced by an arbitrary practice of justice.
  4. The topdown destruction of bureaucracy a la Max Weber implies the takeover of the leading positions of administration by “party commissars,” who they are loyal not to the party, but to the head of the adopted political family directly or through personal links. These commissars play various roles in the legitimate spheres of bureaucracy: strawmen, governors, commissars, supervisors, cashiers – labels that give a more precise sociological definition of their actual functions than the official designations of management positions.
  5. This new form of vassal dependency should not be called feudal, because the sociological/material nature of power and its legal/formal legitimacy do not converge. The gap between them is bridged by state coercion and hypocrisy. The mafia state is compelled to bridge the gap between the sociological nature and legitimacy of autocratic rule with quasi-democratic procedures by restricting civil rights and electoral democracy. It is neither a liberal democracy, nor a dictatorship based purely on coercion.

Pyramid scheme

In the wake of the massive and aggressive transformation of wealth structure, the expenses incurred by the power restructuring of the mafia state impose a heavy strain on the economy and at a time of crisis the mafia state resembles an oil dictatorship without oil revenues. New sources are needed to generate revenues that reinforce the power and wealth of the adopted political family. These include flat rate tax, reduction of social expenditure, ransom levied on banks and public utility providers, and above all channelling European Union sources into the coffers of the adopted political family.  This, in some sense, is an economic pyramid scheme, because there are three losers per one winner (Balázs Krémer); it is moot point how long taxpayers of West Europe are willing to directly finance the enrichment of the Hungarian mafia, the adopted political family.

Pyramid

However, in addition to the economic pyramid scheme, there is a political pyramid scheme as well, which in foreign policy may be characterized as a strategy of “drifting in a Western boat propelled by an Eastern wind” (Miklós Haraszti). The policy that runs in the face of our European Union and Transatlantic commitments goes hand in hand with begging for alms in terms of legitimacy and finances, at autocrats in the East. In domestic policy some form of cold civil war and the subjection of citizens are under way. Alternate periods of mobilization and demobilization under the slogan of a national war of independence are part of an ideological pyramid scheme, which serves as a tool of suspending moral and legal justice.

The nationalism of the mafia state is not targeted at other nations, but rather the expulsion of all from their own nation who are not part of the adopted political family, or are not built into the order of vassals. Since they are not part of the “patriarch’s household,” they must face all the consequences of being outsiders. For Orbán the nation consists of the adopted political family and their in-laws, from the head of the family down to the servants. The Hungarian octopus creates a collectivist, nationalistic ideology under the pretext of the so-called national and social justice, which is just a tool to justify their egotistic aspirations for concentrating power and wealth. Short of assets, the losers are offered a feeling of belonging, as well as the right to pass positive and negative judgments: the right to cherish “true patriotism” on the one hand, and to contempt the enemies (“aliens” and “traitors”) and parasites (Gypsies, homeless, jobless) of the motherland on the other. Whereas the leaders of Fidesz are not anti-Semites and their target is not “the Jew,” they pander to anti-Semites. They hate the bank sector not because it is run by “the Jew,” but rather because it is not theirs. Nor are they racists – but their target audience is. However, it is their inexcusable sin that they have legitimized feelings of antisemitism and racism as well as allowed to use the language that expresses such feelings. In a campaign to reach out to extremist voters they reproduce them in expanded numbers and occasionally build the representatives of radical right-wing ideology into state institutions. One wonders if the escalation of this economic, political and ideological pyramid scheme can be curbed and what tragedy may befall the society should the pyramid implode one day.

This being the case, it boggles the mind that the main dilemma of the opposition still is whether to regard Viktor Orbán’s reign as a legitimate government or an illegitimate system. Although the manipulative and one-sided transformation of the election law urged the coalition of the democratic opposition to unite, but this unity exists only in a technical sense. They are still between the devil and the deep blue sea: should they be the opposition of only the government or rather of the whole system?

——

*This is an edited version of a talk delivered on February 2, 2014 at a conference of the István Bibó Public Society (Népszabadság, February 15, 2014).

The Budapest Holocaust Memorial Center publishes its “professional communiqué”

February 10, 2014 45 comments

I think that this latest tug of war between Hungarian Jewish organizations and the Orbán government should not be viewed solely in the context of the treatment and fate of Jews in Hungary. Yes, the debate broke out as a direct result of the government’s plans for the 70th anniversary of the Hungarian Holocaust. But we are dealing here with a larger project: the government’s concerted effort to rehabilitate the entire Horthy era (1920-1944). Downplaying the country’s responsibility for the deportation of Hungarian Jews is part and parcel of this effort.

There has been a debate in the last couple of years among political commentators about the nature of the Orbán government’s policies. Are they the result of a grand design or are they a haphazard collection of on the spot decisions dictated by circumstances? I am inclined to think that the first hypothesis is closer to the truth, especially when it comes to Fidesz politicians’ views of the history of the Horthy period.

One of the first steps taken by the Orbán government was the removal of the director of the Holocaust Memorial Center. A few months after the formation of the government András Levente Gál, one of the undersecretaries in the Ministry of Administration and Justice, paid a visit to the Center and expressed his displeasure at what he saw there. He especially objected to the exhibit’s linkage of the Hungarian occupation of the regained territories with the deportation of Jewish Hungarians from those territories. And he was not the only one to complain. Cardinal Péter Erdő, Archbishop of Esztergom, objected to the placement of the anti-Semitic Ottokár Prohászka, bishop of Székesfehérvár (1858-1927), right next to Hitler. A Christian Democratic politician announced that he will not visit the Holocaust Memorial Center as long as Prohászka’s picture is there. It was clear that the Orbán government’s view was that, since it is the Hungarian government that finances the Center, it can dictate what goes on there. As the Hungarian saying goes: “Who pays the Gypsy can order the music.”

Szabolcs Szita

Szabolcs Szita

Soon enough the government fired the director and appointed its own man, a non-Jew, Szabolcs Szita, in his place. He is the man to whom Professor Randolph L. Braham addressed his letter stating that in protest he will no longer allow his name to be associated with the Center’s library. I don’t know much about Szabolcs Szita’s work. I do have one of his books, but I must admit that I didn’t read it very carefully. In light of all these developments, it’s time for a much closer reading. The book, Együttélés–üldöztetés– holokauszt (Coexistence–Persecution–Holocaust), was published in 2001. According to an English-language postscript, it “won the first prize in the competition announced by the Ministry of Education” of the first Orbán government. The first half of the unfootnoted book deals with the history of European Jews with special emphasis on Germany while the other half, about 150 pages, looks at the history of Hungarian Jewry from their settlement to the Holocaust. There is a lot of emphasis on Hungarian civilians’ efforts to save their Jewish friends and neighbors. Szita’s views seem to be more in sync with those of the government than were his predecessor’s.

Shortly after his appointment Szabolcs Szita gave an interview to Origowhich was severely criticized by fellow historians and Jewish leaders. Let me quote some of Szita’s contentions: “If there had been no aggressive German interference Hungary probably would have been the example in the eyes of Europe and the world. Until 1944 we were an island of peace. There were anti-Jewish laws but Jews were not facing the peril of death en masse as in other countries.” In this interview he put the blame more on individuals “who must be named and condemned, Baky, Endre and Jaross,” men in charge of the deportations in the Ministry of Interior of the Sztójay government. He also overemphasized the number of high officials who resigned rather than take part in the deportation of their compatriots. As we know, there were mighty few of those. A notable exception, by the way, was Károly Szendy, mayor of Budapest between 1934 and 1944. As far as I know, the “grateful nation” didn’t even bother to name a street after this decent man.

In 2011 Szita came up with some startling suggestions. For example, he thought that it might be a good idea to organize a professional debate on whether “there was national resistance” to German occupation. That question doesn’t need a lot of research. There is ample evidence already showing that there wasn’t. He also thought that it would be a good idea to set up an institute to investigate the activities of the People’s Courts. These were the courts that dealt with the fate of war criminals. How would that help our understanding of the Holocaust?

From this interview we learn about the genesis of the House of Fates. Szita came up with the idea that the abandoned building of the Józsefváros Railway Station should be acquired by the Holocaust Memorial Center. School children could visit there to learn something about the Holocaust. He would have placed a Wallenberg Memorial at the site because Raoul Wallenberg managed to save a few people at that station.

The Holocaust Memorial Center has been suspiciously quiet in the last few weeks, but I guess after Mazsihisz’s announcement of a boycott yesterday Szabolcs Szita could no longer remain silent. He and his staff came out with a “professional communiqué.” That sounds to me like: “here is the final truth on the matter.” It is a strange document. The first paragraph talks about March 19, 1944 as a dividing line (actually sorsforditó, which means an event that changes everything) when “the trampled down country without any resistance became free prey.” Further, the official statement claims that “it is probable that without the unexpected German occupation Hungarian Jewry would have survived the war.”

It is at this point that Szabolcs Szita goes further in his condemnation of Miklós Horthy and the Sztójay government than in his 2011 interview with Origo. Then he blamed only individuals lower down on the totem pole, László Baky, László Endre, and Andor Jaross, who were guilty because they organized the deportations. Now he seems to have moved from this position and also blames “Governor Horthy, the Sztójay government, and the servile attitude of the civil service.” He also makes reference to the “civil servants who were brought up in the spirit of anti-Jewish laws” and thus became violently anti-Semitic. Again, Szita refuses to admit that it was not just the members of the civil service who were infected by the all-pervasive anti-Semitism but the whole population. There were few people who raised their voices or moved a finger in defense of their Jewish compatriots.

Some people called the document “cowardly.” Well, it is certainly not a brave document, but what can one expect from an institute that is basically an arm of the Hungarian government? It tries to satisfy both sides and therefore its message is confused and contradictory. But at least the document names Miklós Horthy and the government he appointed as guilty of the crime, which is more than one might have expected from the new management of the Budapest Holocaust Memorial Center.

The Orbán government’s war on multiple fronts

January 22, 2014 99 comments

It looks as if there is a good possibility that the Orbán government will go through with its plans to erect a monument in memory of the German “occupation” of Hungary which, according to the new constitution’s preamble, put an end to Hungarian sovereignty for almost half a century. I’m sure that by now all readers of Hungarian Spectrum are aware of the significance of this monument. I also hope that most people who are even slightly familiar with the history of Hungary in the twentieth century perfectly understand that this monument, if erected, will be the embodiment of Hungary’s claim to total innocence in the Holocaust. This attempt at rewriting history has unfortunate ramifications for the way Hungarian society will look at the past and their own place in it. This monument, if Viktor Orbán’s plans become reality, will put a stamp of approval on the government-led falsification of history.

The planned monument has already raised concerns and objections, and yet Viktor Orbán refuses to reconsider. Why is this monument so important to Fidesz and the present right-wing government? Why are they ready to alienate important groups at home and abroad for the sake of this hideous monument? Why did they announce their decision so late? Why the hurry?

I would like to offer a couple of thoughts for consideration. The first is that, in my opinion, preparations for the reinterpretation of the history of Hungary between the two world wars has been in the works for a long period of time. Since way before 2010. Moreover, I’m sure that it was systematically worked out with one overarching thing in mind: to take away the odium of the Holocaust from the Hungarians. I know that a lot of people think that the script for a revisionist history was written only recently in order to compete with Jobbik, whose votes Fidesz needs at the next election. But the text of the constitution’s preamble belies this theory. Viktor Orbán promised great changes in every facet of life in 2010. Why should history be any different? In fact, changing society’s historical consciousness should be practically a prerequisite of all other changes.

It was maybe yesterday that Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy, formerly of MDF and today a DK candidate in the first electoral district of Budapest, pointed out that by now he thinks that Viktor Orbán and his friends aren’t just trying to please their friends in Jobbik but actually believe that changes in historical interpretation are warranted. Reporter Olga Kálmán loudly protested, as is customary in Hungarian liberal circles. I tend to side with Kerék-Bárczy. I think that setting up the “Veritas” Institute under the direction of a former MIÉP now Jobbik supporter is more than politics. It comes from deep conviction.

I will make available a few documents here. First, a protest of twenty-three historians that was published this morning on Galamus. 

* * *

The protest of the Hungarian historians against the planned German Occupation Memorial

We hereby protest against the plan to erect a memorial in central Budapest to the German occupation of 1944. The memorial falsifies an important period of our history, and relativizes the Holocaust in Hungary.

According to the description of the memorial, which has recently been made public, the memorial will be built “in the memory of all the victims.” Since, however, this memorial is based on a falsified version of history, it cannot fulfill its purpose. By presenting both the victims and perpetrators of the Holocaust together as the sole victim of the Germans, the planned memorial dishonours the memory of those half a million victims who were killed in the Holocaust in Hungary. 

The Hungarian Holocaust took place with the active participation of the Hungarian authorities. But the planned memorial places all responsibility solely with the Germans and the German army’s “Arrow Cross subordinates.” In truth, the Arrow Cross had nothing to do with the mass deportations which took place in the summer of 1944.

We, the undersigned historians, call upon the government to stop falsifying our recent past, to stop relativizing the history of the Holocaust in Hungary, and to abandon the plan to erect a memorial to the German occupation on Freedom Square in Budapest.

Bencsik Péter historian

Deák Ágnes historian

Eörsi László historian

Fazekas Csaba historian

Frojimovics Kinga historian

Gecsényi Lajos historian

Gyáni Gábor  historian

Hajdu Tibor historian

Hosszú Gyula historian

Karády Viktor sociologist

Karsai László historian

Kenedi János  historian

Klaniczay Gábor historian

Kovács M. Mária historian

Kövér György  historian

Majsai Tamás historian

Mink András historian

Molnár Judit historian

Ormos Mária historian

Paksy Zoltán historian

Pihurik Judit historian

Rainer M. János historian

Sipos Péter historian

    * * *

You will recall that Mazsihisz wrote a letter to Viktor Orbán in which the leaders of the organization expressed their misgivings about the direction in which the Holocaust Memorial Year is heading. They complained about Mária Schmidt’s reinterpretation of the Horthy regime and objected to the appointment of Sándor Szakály to head the “Veritas” Institute and demanded his resignation. In addition, they called on the government to give up the idea of a monument to the events of March 19, 1944. Yesterday came the answer:

* * *

A Statement by the Government Information Centre

January 21, 2014 2:50 PM

Historical facts speak for themselves. The time has come for us to erect a monument to all victims. This is a question of humanity. The debate concerning the monument is understandable because this is an important issue, but we very much hope that no one disputes the fact that the victims of the events that occurred following 19 March 1944 deserve to be remembered with compassion and respect. On 19 March 1944, Hungary was occupied by Nazi German forces; on this day, the country lost its independence.

The Fundamental Law of Hungary states very clearly: “We date the restoration of our country’s self-determination, lost on the nineteenth day of March 1944, from the second day of May 1990, when the first freely elected organ of popular representation was formed. We shall consider this date to be the beginning of our country’s new democracy and constitutional order. We hold that after the decades of the twentieth century which led to a state of moral decay, we have an abiding need for spiritual and intellectual renewal.”

This is why, to mark the 70th anniversary of the German occupation, the Government decided to erect a memorial in commemoration of all victims.

We ask everyone not to make a political issue out of this compassionate remembrance. It is the objective of Hungary’s Government for a culture of remembrance to become established in Hungary.

(Prime Minister’s Office)

* * *

There is one obvious question: what victims are we talking about besides Hungary’s Jewish citizens? Hungary continued the war uninterrupted on the German side just as before. Thus the peaceful occupation of the country made no difference in the military losses of Hungary. The reference to lost independence, of course, equates to a refusal to take any responsibility for what happened.

So, this is where we stand now. Orbán is planning to go ahead while Mazsihisz is standing firm.  As expected, the city council of District V with its Fidesz-Jobbik majority voted to grant the permit to construct the statue. Mazsihisz so far hasn’t changed its mind. As András Heisler, president of Mazsihisz, said, “trench warfare” set in.

St. George and the Dragon

St. George and the Dragon

In addition to Mazsihisz, there is EMIH (Egységes Magyarországi Izraelita Hitközség/Unified Israelite Religious Community/Chabad) whose leader, Rabbi Slomó Köves, has been on very friendly terms with Fidesz and the Orbán government. For example, Köves was appointed to be the official rabbi to the Hungarian armed forces. Even he is supporting Mazsihisz, but he suggests that besides the ultimatum-like voices an alternative program ought to be offered. Whatever he means by that.

Mazsihisz’s position has been greatly strengthened by Randolph L. Braham’support, who shares the point of view of Mazsihisz concerning the issues at hand. He considers the events of late a well orchestrated rewriting of history with a view to the rehabilitation of the Horthy regime. Braham in an interview given to Népszabadság said while talking about Sándor Szakály that he recalled the saying:  “Behind every dictator with  a sword there is a historian with a sponge in his hand.” How true.

And here is another topic we ought to cover. I may have criticized Colleen Bell for not being as well prepared for her Senate hearing as she should have been. However, no one in his right mind should think that her statement about current Hungarian politics is Colleen Bell’s personal opinion. It clearly reflects the U.S. State Department’s interpretation of Hungarian affairs. She was only the voice of this opinion. Therefore it is inexplicable why Gergely Gulyás addressed an open letter to Colleen Bell personally in today’s Magyar Nemzet. He accused her of bias. How will she be able to represent the United States with the kinds of prejudices she exhibited at the hearing, Gulyás asked. Bell shouldn’t be worried about the state of democracy in Hungary. The U.S. Embassy had nothing to say when in the fall of 2006 “the police force of the Gyurcsány government brutally attacked the peaceful demonstrators.” Gulyás at one point talked about Ferenc Gyurcsány’s party as a “left-wing Jobbik.” It is the Demokratikus Koalíció that poses a danger to democracy. He expressed his hope that “the Hungarian government can count on the new ambassador in the struggle against extremists.”

At the same time he talked about some of “the self-appointed Hungary experts” who have an influence on American diplomacy and who are committed to the Hungarian left-liberal side and are therefore unable to swallow the fact that it was a right-of center government that won the election. “These people try to mislead American diplomacy and the American public with the most absurd lies.” Finally, he drew a line in the sand: “The citizens of Hungary don’t need outside help in their decisions concerning their own future.”

Trench warfare with with Mazsihisz and open war against the United States. Where will this lead?

Viktor Orbán looked into Vladimir Putin’s eyes and was reassured

January 15, 2014 29 comments

Yesterday, given the very crowded news day, I had  neither time nor space to discuss an article by Ildikó Csuhaj of Népszabadság about some of the details of the negotiations between Russia and Hungary over the Paks nuclear plant. What you have to know about Csuhaj is that she seems to have fantastic connections to important Fidesz and government officials and usually comes up with impressive “scoops.”

As we discussed in the comments, information coming from these circles cannot always be trusted and, in fact, one suspects that some of the leaks that reach Csuhaj might be purposely planted in the leading left-of-center paper. In any case, Csuhaj received lots of information about the Paks deal from her unnamed sources. Some of the information sounds entirely plausible. For example, that the plan to have the Russians build the extension to the power plant was first discussed in January 2013 during Viktor Orbán’s visit to Moscow.

I don’t know whether any of you remember, but the opposition belittled the significance of the meeting last January and pointed to the extremely short duration of the visit. The left media drew the conclusion that Viktor Orbán offered himself to Vladimir Putin but the president of Russia wasn’t interested. In brief, the meeting was no more than a courtesy visit. Today we know that during that visit Orbán got an offer of Russian collaboration on the Paks project. Apparently he pondered the issue for a few months and by the summer made the decision to go ahead. In mid-summer serious negotiations began, which continued all the way to the last days of December.

According to Ildikó Csuhaj’s source, what inspired the Orbán government to add two extra reactors to the existing plant was its desire to achieve sustainable economic growth. Building such a large project, especially if the story is true that 40% of the work will be done by Hungarian companies, will be a stimulus to employment and will give impetus to faster growth.

So far the story sounds plausible, but what comes after that must be taken with a grain of salt. According to the Fidesz story, Viktor Orbán began making inquiries at large German industrial concerns. Apparently, negotiations were conducted with RWE AG, the second largest utility company in Germany, and Deutsche Telekom. On the basis of these conversations, according to the Fidesz source, Orbán came to the conclusion that what German industry will need in the future is cheap energy. But those nasty German environmentalists are against building reactors on German soil. Given the Russian offer, Orbán apparently hatched the idea of building a large nuclear power plant that will be more than enough for Hungary’s energy needs. The rest of the capacity could be sold to Germany’s energy-hungry industrial complex.

The project couldn’t be financed from private sources as the Finnish nuclear power plant will be. Moreover, Orbán apparently made it clear that the plant must remain in state hands. Thus, a bilateral financial agreement signed by Russia and Hungary was needed which is a first within the European Union.

Csuhaj’s Fidesz source claimed that Viktor Orbán received the European Union’s blessing for the bilateral agreement. Allegedly, János Lázár talked to Günther Oettinger, EU commissioner for energy. The EU Commission even sanctioned closing the deal without a tender.

Apparently, the Edmond de Rothschild Group, a private Swiss banking concern which among other things offers investment advisory services, was especially helpful to the Hungarians in handling all these sticky negotiations with EU officials. The Rothschild Group advised the Hungarian government to get in touch with the law firm Hengeler Mueller, which has offices in Berlin, Düsseldorf, Munich, Brussels, and London. It is a large firm with 90 partners and 160 associates. They give “high-end legal advice to companies in complex business transactions.” It was allegedly this law firm that managed “to convince” the European Commission about the legality of the transaction.

Well, it seems that the European Commission has not yet blessed the deal. Eszter Zalán, the Brussels correspondent for Népszabadság, asked Sabine Berger, the spokeswoman of Günther Oettinger, who informed her that Oettinger’s office will examine the agreement and decide whether it conforms to European laws. This legal scrutiny may take weeks to complete. It also became clear that details of the agreement reached Brussels only in December. The announcement yesterday, however, didn’t come as a surprise to the European Commission.

Domestically, there is an outcry over the agreement, signed secretly with no consultation with the opposition, experts, or the general public. Fidesz politicians responded to this criticism by claiming that it was during Bajnai ‘s tenure that parliament authorized the government to conduct negotiations about doubling the capacity of the Paks nuclear power plant. They called members of the opposition, including Bajnai, liars for denying their authorization of the negotiations.

Well, this is not a correct description of what happened in 2009 when the topic of the enlargement of the power plant came up in parliament. Csaba Molnár, then minister in charge of transportation, communication, and energy, was the man who turned in the resolution to which Fidesz is now referring. In it there is not one word about permission to start negotiations with anyone concerning building two more reactors. It simply talks about authorization to begin a study of its feasibility, its environmental impact, future requirements of the population, etc. However, all Fidesz politicians keep referring to this resolution as authorization for making a deal with the Russians.

Finally, let me tell you a funny story that I read in today’s Magyar Nemzet. The article quotes Viktor Orbán as saying, “It was three years ago at one of the meetings of the Valdai Club that Vladimir Putin turned a bit to the right and winked; his eyes told me that everything will be all right. He talked about energy cooperation, about Paks, and about many other matters. He made it clear that Hungary can only win from all his plans. I looked into his eyes and saw that he means it, and Hungary will be a winner of all this.”

Putin turned a bit to the right and squinted

Putin turned a bit to the right and winked

I assume many of you remember another quotation, this time from George W. Bush, about Putin’s eyes. It was uttered in 2001: “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.” So, I wouldn’t rely on Putin’s eyes if I were Viktor Orbán. And while we are at Putin’s eyes, John McCain said in 2007 : “I looked into Mr. Putin’s eyes and I saw three things — a K and a G and a B.” Viktor Orbán should keep that in mind when he gazes into eyes of Vladimir Putin, whom he apparently admires greatly.

Neo-Nazi/Jobbik programs on Duna TV: The Orbán government has no objection

January 12, 2014 30 comments

I have been planning for some time to write a post about the neo-Nazi propaganda that can be heard daily on Duna TV.

Duna TV was established during the Antall government and is supposed to serve the Hungarian diaspora in the neighboring countries, although I understand that MTV covers a large portion of the territories in question. In any case, at Duna TV, just like at all other public media outlets, the change of government brought in an entirely new management and staff. The old right-of-center ideology that was the trademark of Duna TV was not good enough for the Orbán government. By now there are a couple of programs on Duna TV that are neo-Nazi propaganda, pure and simple.

A rewriting of Hungarian history is one of the goals of this relatively young crew, whose roots go back to their days as HÖK officials in various Hungarian universities. I wrote several times about this student association (Hallgatói Önkormányzat), which bears a suspicious resemblance to KISZ (Kommunista Ifjúsági Szövetség). Just like KISZ secretaries, HÖK presidents receive salaries and have large sums of money at their disposal. There were scandals at several universities involving HÖK, and there is no question that in most colleges HÖK is “the breeding ground for Jobbik.” At ELTE’s faculty of arts one HÖK chairman after the other ended up in Jobbik. One of the chairmen, István Szávay, is today a member of parliament.

Szávay’s predecessor at ELTE’s HÖK, Gábor Balogh, calls himself a historian, although he is in reality a Jobbik propagandist. He writes for far-right publications and, according to at least one source, is on the editorial board of kuruc.info, the site the Orbán government claims not to be able to shut down. At one time he worked for Barikád, the official publication of Jobbik. His name could also be found as a contributor to alfahir.hu, and lately he writes for Jobbegyenes (Straight Right). He gives lectures on political and historical topics to sympathetic audiences which are then made available on YouTube by igazCsepel, who seems to be the cameraman of Jobbik.

Why did Gábor Balogh’s name crop up suddenly? One reason is that in Jobbegyenes he wrote a sharply worded article about Imre Kerényi’s asinine Magyar Krónika, in which he expressed his misgivings about such primitive ideas that give a bad name to the conservative ideology. György Bolgár asked him for an interview, during which Balogh was asked about his professional activities outside of writing a blog. It turned out that he produces and edits television shows on historical and literary topics. From here it was only a couple of clicks to the notorious series aired on Duna TV called Hagyaték (Inheritance).

I don’t watch Duna TV and therefore had no idea that this series is not new. In fact, more than 50 programs were already produced and shown. Every Saturday there is a new segment which is then repeated over and over every day of the week, sometimes twice a day. So, one doesn’t have to worry about missing one of the programs. The programs are also available on YouTube. A Facebook friend called my attention to one that he found especially upsetting entitled “Geniuses at a dead-end: Endre Ady and Attila József.” The conclusion of this program was that these two poets were basically good Hungarians whose Jewish friends led them astray. One of the latest programs extolled the virtues of the Hungarian aristocracy whose only goal in life was service to people and country. Another recent program was devoted to the praise of the Hungarian gendarmes whose activities were distorted after 1945, primarily the result of personal revenge because of their involvement in the “logistics of deportation.” Naturally, what the writers and producers of the program mean is that it was the returning Jews or their surviving relatives who falsified the true role of the gendarmes. One can see many, if not all, of the segments of Hagyaték in the video archives of Duna TV.

Already two years ago people noticed that blatant Arrow Cross and Jobbik propaganda was going on at Duna TV. Péter Urfi of Magyar Narancs wrote an open letter to Zoltán Rockenbauer, the editor of MTVA in charge of cultural programs, in which he complained about Hagyaték and Száműzött magyar irodalom (Banished Hungarian literature) shown on Duna TV. Naturally, nothing happened because including such programs among the offerings of the public television stations is not the result of a misstep or an unfortunate mistake but is part and parcel of what I see as a planned political move by the Orbán government. There may not be a written or verbal agreement between Fidesz and Jobbik, but there is no question in my mind that the Orbán government panders to Jobbik with these programs which rewrite Hungarian history according to Jobbik tenets. A prominent place is given to the map of Greater Hungary, and there is a lot of talk about Trianon and “Nem, nem, soha!” (No, no, never!). Often the commentator talks about Kárpáthaza (Carpathian Home) instead of Magyarország, which is a borrowing from Ferenc Szálasi’s ideological vocabulary.

hagyaték

About a month ago Blikk discovered that the son-in-law of Sándor Lezsák, deputy president of the Hungarian parliament (Fidesz), has a company called Dextramedia Kft. that produces television programs. This company received an order from MTVA to produce a five-part series on the everyday lives of those people who, after losing their homes because of their Forex loans, moved into the ill-conceived newly erected community in Ócsa. At this time Blikk‘s only question was the connection between the owner of the company and a high Fidesz official. But it seems that there is a more to Dextramedia. A couple of days later hirhatar.hu reported that Dextramedia produced for the neo-Nazi Internet N1TV a warm remembrance of Hitler on the anniversary of his birth. And then we learned from hir24.hu that Dextramedia was one of the sponsors of the Christmas Eve concert of a band called Nemzeti Front. Among the other sponsors was kuruc.info.hu.  I guess nobody will be terribly surprised to hear that Hagyaték is also produced by Dextramedia. The gate between Fidesz and Jobbik is wide open.

A couple more pieces of information. The new historical institute, Veritas, is supposed to spearhead the rewriting of Hungary’s history. János Lázár found an ideologically appropriate director–Sándor Szakály, a military historian who wrote a whole book on the history of the Hungarian gendarmes. Szakály was one of the experts asked to comment on the history of the organization for Hagyaték. We learned from him that the Hungarian gendarmerie was the best in the whole world. The 12,000 gendarmes were the most disciplined force in the country, and their main task was the prevention of crime. They were friends of the people but enemies of the criminals. They were extremely well trained and received continuing education. They had to wear their uniforms and carry their weapons even when off duty.

Szakály went on and on about the greatness of the force, and he was assisted by another expert–Péter Ákos Kosaras, a high school teacher (by now principal), who lost his job when he posted a picture of himself on a Hungarian social media site dressed in an SS uniform, which he captioned “a good-hearted SS officer.” But he wasn’t unemployed for long. I understand that Kosaras has since written a book entitled Magyarok a Waffen SS- kötelékében (Hungarians in the Waffen SS) in which he portrays these people as heroes.

The objectionable Hagyaték shows are directed by Attila Vándor, one of the owners of Dextramedia, and the editor is our Gábor Balogh.

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