Ottokár Prohászka and antisemitism

There is a new controversy surrounding the unveiling of a bust of Ottokár Prohászka (1858-1927), bishop of Székesfehérvár between 1905 and his death. Or rather it wasn't so much the unveiling of the bust that ruffled liberal nerves but the speeches delivered on the occasion by two Fidesz parliamentary  members, Sándor Lezsák and Zoltán Balog.

Let me introduce the cast of characters. First and foremost the controversial bishop. As one can easily detect, Prohászka's fervent Hungarian patriotism didn't have much to do with his lineage. His father still spelled his name in its original Czech form, Prochaska, although apparently the family was already German-speaking, making its home in Moravia. Dominick Prochaska was an army officer in the imperial army and in 1857 was sent to Pozsony (Bratislava) to serve as a lieutenant. Here he met his future wife, Anna Maria Filberger of Nyitra (Nitra), whose ancestors came from Switzerland; again, the language at home was German. Why the son was named Ottokár, a very typical Czech name, is not clear. Young Ottokár decided to become a priest early in life and there is no question that he was a talented man. After his death his collected works were published in twenty-five volumes. (By the way, available on the Internet: early became enamored with Christian socialism and wanted to modernize the Catholic church. The Church was not too taken with his efforts, and three of his books ended up on the papal index. After his death some of his admirers wanted to begin proceedings for his eventual sainthood, but the Church made sure that this wouldn't happen.

So he was controversial within the Catholic church and he is equally controversial outside of the church. Mostly because of his vicious antisemitism. According to most historians Prohászka's "modern" antisemitism made a real impact on the thinking of the Hungarian middle class between the two world wars. Prohászka's political views and antisemitism were based on his belief that modernity, capitalism, and the Jews are an integral part of the whole. He hated modernity, he hated capitalism, and therefore he hated the Jews. He claimed as early 1893 that for him antisemitism wasn't based on race or religion; it was a social and commercial "problem." He added: "the ulcer that is the Jewry has been gnawing at the corpus of Christian Hungarians." Even after many years, just a few years before his death, he still claimed that "Jewish ritual butchers want to shed the blood of Hungarians." The good Christian prelate used such words in connection with Jews as "perverse, cunning, immoral," he spoke of an "invasion of bed bugs, invasion of rats." And he asked: "How can we defend ourselves?" This is the man who is greatly venerated in Catholic circles today. There are several schools named after him. He already has a statue in Székesfehérvár. And now the new bronze bust in Lakitelek, at the birthplace of MDF (Magyar Demokrata Fórum).

About Lakitelek. Sándor Lezsák, a minor Hungarian poet, was one of the organizers of a meeting of Hungarian intellectuals to discuss the future of the country at the time when the collapse of the Kádár regime seemed imminent. Lezsák offered his backyard for the gathering. Since then Lezsák has left MDF and moved over to Fidesz where he and his fellow former MDF members of parliament established a group called Nemzeti Fórum (National Forum), a much more radical group than the majority of Fidesz members in parliament. Lezsák during the Orbán government managed to get a tidy sum of money in the form of a loan never to be repaid to build an academy of sorts. There over the years he has erected a "Christian Pantheon." Prohászka is the eighth member of the illustrious group. The others are also prominent conservative luminaries of the Horthy regime: Miklós Horthy himself, József Mindszenty, László Ravasz (a Hungarian Reformed bishop, member of the Upper House who voted for the anti-Jewish laws), Áron Márton (Catholic bishop of Transylvania), Lajos Ordass (Lutheran bishop), and Kuno Klebelsberg (conservative politician in the Horthy regime).

Zoltán Balog is a Hungarian Reformed minister who became a member of parliament only two years ago. However, he has been an "advisor on matters of theology and relations with churches" to Fidesz and also the former president of the republic, Ferenc Mádl. Apparently he is the spiritual advisor of Viktor Orbán. I assume he is the one who helps the formerly atheist Orbán find biblical themes for some of his speeches.

Both Lezsák and Balog said things at the unveiling that were inappropriate. Lezsák talked about the "spiritual terror" of a certain group the Hungarian people must suffer. He applauded Prohászka's stance against "cosmopolitan parasites." According to Balog "there is a need for the defense of the Christian faith because if we let it be taken away from us then we Hungarians will survive only in the biological sense." The reaction was immediate: Péter Gusztos, a young liberal deputy, in parliament called attention to the "outrageous speeches" made at the unveiling and accused the two Fidesz members of parliament of again courting the far right. Some of the leaders of the National Democratic Charta also expressed  their dismay and demanded that Fidesz recall the two members. Of course, that is not going to happen.

One may say that this is a storm in a teacup. For a few days we will hear a lot about Prohászka as we have been hearing about another favorite of Fidesz, Albert Wass, a Transylvanian writer of dubious talent, who was also honored with a bust in Debrecen. He died in the United States and was an energetic antisemite with a long career in different far-right Hungarian emigré publications. By themselves perhaps these cases are not terribly important, but unfortunately they signify a considerable shift to the right within Fidesz itself.


  1. The stories I could tell about Prohaszka!
    For now however, let it be enough to quote my favourite of his:
    “There is no baptismal water that could make a Hungarian out of a Jew.”

  2. This ‘cove’ Prohaszka seems a ‘right weirdo’. I do not know how they breed nurks like him in Central Europe, If some one could tell us may be we could put a stop to it! Preferably with a large rat trap! (One of the ‘break neck’ type).
    Personally some of the people of the Jewish religion I know would, not want to become a Hungarian, if Prohaszka were an example of its religious beliefs. The whole thing is as nutty as the ‘Panacea Society’ and the loony idea of ‘Opening Joanna Southcott’s’ box. The whole boiling lot seem totaly crackers.

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