Horthy cult and irredentist yearnings?

The other day I watched a political round table discussion where one of the topics was the growth of the extreme right in Hungary. One of the participants noted that Hungary is not unique in having a fairly sizable extreme right electorate. After all, it is enough to look around anywhere in Europe to see the growth of these groups.

Another participant, Péter Róna, an economist who spent the larger part of his life in the United States, called attention to a basic difference between the extreme right elsewhere and in Hungary. The significant difference is that Jobbik is the only extremist movement in Europe that is also irredentist.

Yes, Jobbik is not only a racist party but also an irredentist one. Gábor Vona, chairman of Jobbik, in one of his speeches in parliament called Miklós Horthy “the greatest Hungarian statesman of the twentieth century.” And what was Horthy’s most laudable achievement? “The addition of Hungarian-populated areas to the mutilated country.”

Bence Rétvári (KDNP), undersecretary in the Ministry of  Administration and Justice, decided to chime in and agreed with Vona that “there were some fundamental facts that were portrayed untruthfully in the textbooks and in historical monographs in the last forty years and we certainly have to correct that.”  According to Rétvári, Horthy doesn’t need to be “rehabilitated” because he was not accused of any war crimes. Moreover, Horthy should be praised for shielding Hungarian Jewry until the Germans occupied Hungary on March 19, 1944. He refused to take part in an offensive against Poland and helped many Polish refugees to safety. “He deserves credit for these deeds.”

You may notice that a number of less meritorious acts of Horthy was left out of this list, starting with the White Terror and the Jewish laws and ending with the declaration of war against the Soviet Union unsolicited by Germany. Naturally, not a word was uttered by Rétvári about the deportation of the Jewish population from the entire country with the exception of Budapest. All this happened while Horthy was still the head of  the state. Mind you, Fidesz-KDNP politicians are not noted for their historical knowledge. Only three days ago Lajos Kósa, vice chairman of Fidesz and mayor of Debrecen, with full conviction argued that during the governorship of Horthy no Jew was deported from Hungary. Only Ferenc Szálasi did such a terrible thing. Outlandish ignorance!

Tamás Bauer (DK) wrote an opinion piece a couple of weeks ago in which he recalled a conversation with a young journalist of a well-known Internet newspaper. Bauer doesn’t mention the name of the paper, but if I guess correctly the site referred to by Bauer is not considered to be a far-right publication. On the contrary. Yet when this young man was asked by Bauer why anyone would name a square after Horthy, he answered: “He managed to get Transylvania back.” With whose help Horthy’s Hungary managed to get these territories back and the price of this territorial expansion don’t seem to interest the Hungarian right.

To your homeland without fail / Be faithful, O Hungarian!
August 30, 1940 — Second Vienna Award

Bauer claims–and there are many signs that he may be on the right track–that “Horthy’s irredentism is not alien to Orbán.” Because of this simmering irredentism Hungary’s role in World War II is being transformed by the Orbán government into a “war of defense.” His government’s emphasis on “the national unification across borders is the guiding principle of his regime.” Orbán knows that in the twenty-first century there is no way to follow in the footsteps of the Horthy period’s revisionism, so he is trying new methods. For example, the dual citizenship scheme that is also supposed to help Fidesz win the next elections.

The results of the Romanian municipal elections demonstrate that Fidesz plans in the neighboring countries may not be successful. Fidesz-assisted extremist parties received practically no support among Hungarians in Romania. Fidesz’s favorite party in Slovakia also did less well than the party that is ready to cooperate with the Slovak majority.

The “creeping Horthy cult,” as Der Spiegel called the phenomenon, doesn’t seem to help in the “unification” process of the nation, and its only “fruit” seems to be growing suspicion abroad about the Hungarian government’s plans.

A couple of days ago a fairly lengthy article appeared in Bloomberg that was subsequently reprinted in major U.S. newspapers. I happened to see it the San Francisco Chronicle. The article itself is a detailed description of the events of the last few weeks. The title of the article is “Hungary has a new hero.” According to the author nationalists are gaining ground everywhere, but Orbán himself is accused of “including parts of the radical agenda in his own policies.” And, unfortunately, there are signs that Orbán’s government is complicit in the revival. Not that the pro-Horthy propaganda is centrally organized but that local Fidesz politicians feel that it is not against the wishes of the government to name a street or two after Miklós Horthy or to erect a bust or a statue in his honor.

Jobbik, realizing that it has a willing accomplice in the Orbán government, is getting bolder and bolder in its pro-Horthy propaganda. By now the party even demands that part of Kossuth Square be named after Miklós Horthy, although I doubt that Viktor Orbán would dare to go so far. But I suspect that the creeping Horthy cult will proceed undisturbed. People with rightist political leanings suddenly have an urge to learn more about the man whom Jobbik considers the greatest Hungarian statesman of his century. Fidesz towns like Eger invited a literary historian and a Jobbik supporter, Mihály Takaró, to give a lecture on the accomplishments of Miklós Horthy. Considering that it was the same Takaró who managed to convince  Undersecretary Rózsa Hoffmann to include a number of mediocre writers with Nazi sympathies in the basic curriculum, I can well imagine what kind of  information the good people of Eger will receive from him on the historical role of Miklós Horthy.

But the world is watching. Yesterday the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum released a statement on the Horthy cult in Hungary. According to the press release “the Hungarian government’s rehabilitation of fascist ideologues and leaders from World War II is of great concern” to the museum.  Museum Director Sara J. Bloomfield called “the recent trends in Hungary … alarming” and the museum called on “the leaders of Hungary to unequivocally renounce all forms of antisemitism and racism and to reject every effort to honor individuals responsible for the genocide of Europe’s Jews.”

Unequivocally? Orbán and Fidesz never announce or renounce anything unequivocally. Meanwhile, local Fidesz-KDNP leaders will go ahead rewriting Hungarian history in the name of the “unification of the nation.”



  1. Very curious as to why there are no comments in the past 20 hours–I suspect a WordPress glitch.

  2. Gretchen :
    …I suspect a WordPress glitch.

    …or the kind the people reading H.S. find Vona’s talk about revisionism so outlandish that they are left speechless :). They just can take it seriously.
    It sounds as a fantasy-talk, just as it sounds Orban’s talk about the incoming “re-industrialization” of Hungary (with what money ? or there will be a “5-year plan” as during the communist period)
    or as Matolcsy’s expectation (CNN-intreview) that “Central Europe region will be the next hub of the global business community”, with Hungary being “at the very center of it”..grandiose things ahead.

  3. Like many others I’m speechless …

    I read that letter by Horthy to Hitler (the link is on the Contrarian Hungarian I believe) in German – just horrible to think this guy is a hero for Jobbik and other Hungarians too.

  4. Horthy celebration in Romania, Miercurea-Ciuc/Csikszereda. In Romanian-language but the images speak for themselves.
    The mayor, Raduly Robert, is from RMDSZ and was re-elected recently but you can see from the pictures that it is not case that the whole town came out to celebrate.

  5. This topic on Horthy is wearing me out. The extreme right keep pushing these so-called heroes down people’s throat, yet the people keep swallowing without objection.

    Whereas, as you mentioned above, Romanian-Hungarians are not buying what the extreme right is selling. It just magnifies how passive the Hungarians are.

  6. Ovidiu :

    Horthy celebration in Romania, Miercurea-Ciuc/Csikszereda. In Romanian-language but the images speak for themselves.

    I’m stunned. I would like to see the Romanian minority in Hungary celebrating the arrival of the Romanian army in Budapest in August 1919.

  7. London Calling!

    Sorry Eva – I pipped you by 5mins!

    In my cutting above it continues:

    “In an interview to be published Sunday by the Austrian daily Die Presse, Orban has refused to call Horthy a “dictator”.”


    “Questioned on the recent local celebrations of Horthy’s legacy, the prime minister refused to take sides.

    “These decisions concern exclusively the local authorities,” he said.”

    So tacit approval then.



  8. London Calling!

    Confused beginner in Central European History of Croydon, England.

    Why is Romania honouring Horthy?

    Is it because he signed over the Trianon lands and they are thanking Hungary for their bounty?



  9. Charlie:
    Why is Romania honouring Horthy?
    Is it because he signed over the Trianon lands and they are thanking Hungary for their bounty?

    This is not Romania honouring Horthy. It appears more to be Hungarians of Romania remembering the return of Transylvania to Hungary two decades after Trianon. But perhaps this could be clarified, from the post of Ovidiu I also expected that it is Romanians who celebrate.

  10. Ovidiu:”Horthy celebration in Romania, Miercurea-Ciuc/Csikszereda. In Romanian-language but the images speak for themselves.”

    It should be added, that the clip is from 2010, at the 70th anniversary of the second Vienna award.

  11. (of course) it is not Romania celebrating Horthy, it would be like Poland celebrating Hitler.

    Miercurea Ciuc/ Csíkszereda is located in the Szekely-region and has 80% ethnic Hungarian inhabitants (17% Romanian, 3% other). The city mayor, Raduly Robert, is known for his Fidesz sympathies (he has been involved in other dubious events) and it was he who approved that ultra-nationalist organizations from Hungary (HIVM) to come in town and stage this event.
    But it was a fiasco. You can see that the organizers outnumber the local participants (there may be 50-100 of them, out of 40 000).

  12. Just imagine …its 2014. Eurozone has split. Politics in individual states is driven by economical nationalism. Then will pop up another Breivik who kill some people in neighbouring counry and Europe (eg central) is again on fire. Antisemitism is horrible but its iredentism which has real potential iniatiate war. Maybe this scenario is crazy but in history it has happened many times. The concept of EU is far from being ideal but certainly limits iredentism…lets see where we in Europe will be in 2014….

  13. London Calling!

    Confused of …blah blah blah is even more confused.

    Treat me like an idiot (oh! there’s a coincidence! – or everybody!) I think most Hungarians would realise it’s like a turkey voting for Christmas.

    Surely this is a slight to your (chosen?) adopted country? And is a sure way to invite recriminations – besides being an unworthy citizen?

    Sort of rubbing their noses in it?

    Kirsten – Your link is really interesting – and sad in some ways. My partner told me about having to be a member of KISZ if you had any hope of further education – and the ramifications if you weren’t.

    I understand the uniforms are significant – even if the only combat they seem capable of is fighting their way out of a bariatric ambulance (and even if they look ridiculous!).

    Maybe my reading of ‘The Hungarians’ (Lendvai) will help me a little more – The early history is a sure solid read!

    O/T – and something I find incredible; how a country can just mis-treat its most able citizens for the sake of an ideology.

    Lendvai says:

    “An absurd yet logical consequence of officially promoted ant-Jewish legislation was that many of the greatest talents, among them eight Nobel Prizewinners, achieved their pioneering successes in science and art, finance and industry, not in their homeland but mainly in Britain or the United States”

    No further comment needed on this being a consequence of Horthy?

    I still need a definitive explanation please in words of one syllable, to understand more.



  14. “Just imagine …its 2014. Eurozone has split. Politics in individual states is driven by economical nationalism. ”

    Not that hard to imagine. What has happened since 2006 in Hungary may repeat elsewhere in EU. It was serious design-mistake that the EU-project assumed as sufficient the financial and the institutional integration and downplayed the “identity” issue. Economic interest alone won’t hold together the EU.
    EU should have a common cultural strategy aimed at the creation of a new political identity as well. An “European”-identity meant to replace the (ethnic)-national ones which the integration process undermines.

    Otherwise you will get “blow-back” nationalistic reactions not only in Hungary or only Est-Europe. You can see it at work in Netherlands (Wilders PVV-party, anti-Muslim and anti Est-European) and in Finland and France.

    “It is a categorical failure of the European Union that cultural politics was left in the hands of individual nations, and that there is still no European policy on culture and commemoration. One only need look at Slovakia, where a so-called patriotism act has just been passed. Similarly, Romania and Poland have nationalist tendencies. There is a psychological rift between east and west…”


  15. Charlie, a book that I found helpful is the book of Cartledge, The will to survive. Lendvai is interesting but he is an Hungarian and therefore he has not or he could not avoid the romantic component in defeat and the (at least implicit) adoration of the nobility.

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