I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to dwell any further on the Horthy cult and the inclusion of antisemitic writers in the core curriculum of Hungarian high schools. There are many other subjects that need attention or are interesting, but the controversy over the rehabilitation of the three or four writers with right-radical or Nazi views simply doesn’t want to go away. In fact, the upheaval surrounding the case is growing; by now it has brought about a serious diplomatic rift.
First there was only a protest on the part of the association of teachers of Hungarian over the inclusion of Dezső Szabó, Albert Wass, and József Nyirő in the curriculum. This professional debate by the end of February reached the larger public and caused an outcry on the liberal side of the political spectrum. Outcry or not, Rózsa Hoffmann’s staff decided in favor of those right-wingers who inundated the ministry with their suggestion to “balance” the teaching of Hungarian literature by including far-right, antisemitic writers.
On top of this original controversy came another one that involved one of these controversial writers, József Nyirő. The Hungarian public learned in late April that the Hungarian government had a hand in the planned reburial of Nyirő in Odorheiu Secuiesc / Székelyudvarhely in Romania. For some time now I have been trying to imagine what must have gone behind the scenes before László Kövér, speaker of the Hungarian parliament, decided to officially sponsor the transport of Nyirő’s remains from Portugal and their reburial in Romania. I suspect that it was Kövér’s favorite Romanian-Hungarian politician, Jenő Szász, chairman of the Fidesz-assisted Magyar Polgári Párt (MPP), who came up with the idea and that Kövér, whose political views are perhaps the farthest to the right among the leading Fidesz politicians, gladly obliged.
But then all hell broke loose, starting with Romania’s refusal to allow the reburial of Nyirő. The reburial was supposed to take place on Pentecost, which fell this year on May 27-28. Since then the incident has became a cause célèbre, especially since the reburial was part and parcel, it seems, of a general rehabilitation of the whole Horthy regime. In addition, some antisemitic incidents occurred lately both in Budapest and elsewhere in the country.
In the last three weeks or so came a press release from the Holocaust Museum in Washington followed by a letter signed by fifty representatives of the U.S. Congress to Viktor Orbán protesting the growing antisemitism fed by the neo-Nazi party, Jobbik. Two days after the Holocaust Museum press release came Elie Wiesel’s letter to László Kövér in which he indicated his resolve to return the high honor he received from the Hungarian government earlier. Kövér in his answer to Wiesel claimed that Nyirő was neither a Nazi nor an anti-Semite. As for the charge about the rehabilitation of the Horthy regime Kövér had nothing to say. Wiesel not surprisingly wasn’t satisfied with Kövér’s answer.
This is where we stood yesterday when the Jerusalem Post reported that the speaker of the Knesset, Reuven Rivlin, had informed László Kövér, his Hungarian counterpart, that he was no longer welcome in the Israeli parliament after his participation in a memorial ceremony for a pro-Nazi author. Kövér was scheduled to visit the Knesset in July when he was in Israel for a conference honoring the 100th anniversary of Raoul Wallenberg’s birth.
According to the Israeli paper, Rivlin wrote to Kövér that “you chose to participate in [the Nyirő memorial service] and openly declare your solidarity with a person whose party, within the Government of Hungary, cooperated with the German Nazi murderers in realizing their program to annihilate the Jewish People.” He added that “anyone who participates in such an event cannot possibly then take part in an event to honor a man like Raoul Wallenberg, a beacon of humanity, who saved Jews, who is a symbol of the struggle against Nazi Germany and its collaborators, one of whom you chose to identify with and pay homage to.”
Tough language. MTI didn’t pick up the news. Instead ATV, a television station often critical of the government, made the news public yesterday. Naturally, all the media outlets approached László Kövér’s office to find out what was up.
By now one is accustomed to the widespread government habit of dissembling, and therefore I read the following piece of news with great suspicion. When MTI asked the spokesman of the Speaker’s office, László Veress, about the Jerusalem Post‘s article, he denied that László Kövér had received any such letter from Rivlin. He expressed his astonishment that the speaker of the Knesset would send messages to his Hungarian counterpart via the media.
Veress went even further in his denial. If such a letter had actually been written, it was written in vain because days before Kövér cancelled his trip to Jerusalem due to scheduling difficulties. In his place President János Áder will attend the memorial conference on Wallenberg’s role in saving Jewish lives in Hungary.
But the reporters of ATV are resourceful. Within hours they approached Yotam Yakir, the spokesman of the Israeli Knesset, who informed the ATV reporter that Rivlin’s letter to Kövér had been sent on June 20th–that is, four days before the Jerusalem Post reported the news. It was a day after the receipt of this letter, on June 21, that the Israeli authorities received the information via diplomatic channels that, in place of Kövér, Áder will attend the conference. In that letter no mention was made of the objections to the Kövér visit listed by Rivlin.
Every time that a member of the Hungarian government is caught lying I always wonder what on earth must be going on in the minds of these people. They truly think that the truth will never surface? Maybe. But it is also possible that this crew is simply incompetent. They don’t know how to get out of a sticky situation like the one they got themselves into with the Nyirő reburial. Because surely, one doesn’t have to resort to outright lies in order to sidestep an uncomfortable situation.
Who is this László Veress? He has a fairly common name, which makes research a bit difficult, but I managed to find a somewhat unsavory piece of news about Dr. Veress from a year ago.
I wouldn’t be surprised if László Veress has Transylvanian roots. On Facebook most of his friends are from Romania. The incident below, widely reported in the media, also has Romanian connections. In 2010 a Hungarian photographer living in the Netherlands exhibited a black and white photo taken at Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tuşnad where every summer the Fidesz top brass deliver speeches and mingle with Hungarian youngsters sympathizing with Fidesz. Dr. Veress liked the photo and asked the artist whether he could get a copy of it. The artist was asking 70,000 forints for his work. Eventually he heard from Veress that because of budgetary restraints he was unable to purchase the photo he wanted to display in his office. So, great was the photographer’s surprise when he learned that Veress had ordered two illegal copies of his photo. He wrote a letter in which complained about the piracy and heard nothing in reply for some time.
Eventually an answer came from the press corps of the Hungarian parliament in which the office claimed that the Hungarian parliament had an agreement with the organizers of the exhibition that allowed parliament to make free use of the material exhibited. Why then did Veress ask the photographer to make a copy for him? According to the explanation, László Veress was unaware of the agreement between parliament and the organizers of the exhibit. The story was reported in Amerikai-Magyar Népszava published in New York under the headline “Who lies also cheats, who lies also steals.”
A murky story. Who knows who is telling the truth. I doubt that the photographer ever got a cent for his work from Veress or anyone else. Unfortunately, the story of Rivlin’s letter to Kövér is also shrouded in mystery or, if you prefer, in lies. The Israelis claim that the letter was sent to Kövér on the 20th while Veress claims that his office didn’t get the letter until today, that is June 25th. Whom do you believe? Given the track record of the current Hungarian government, I’m inclined to believe the Israelis.