Victor Orbán and twentieth-century Hungarian history

Those of you who follow the comments may already have discovered that next year a new historical research institute will be set up by the Hungarian government. The institute, named Veritas Történetkutató Intézet (Veritas Historical Research Institute), will be up and running in 2014. The idea for yet another historical institute naturally came from the prime minister, who instructed the Ministry of National Economy to find funds for it in next year’s budget.

The goal of the institute will be “the strengthening of national unity” and “the authentic and worthy depiction of the Hungarian constitutional tradition.” Those who are chosen as associates will have to concentrate on the last 150 years, especially on political and social events. And they will have to produce research results “without any distortion,” which might not be an easy task since one of the goals of the institute will be the “strengthening of national consciousness.” Scientific neutrality and “national” historiography are hard to reconcile.

It seems that the Orbán government is not satisfied with the number of institutes whose members already study this particular period: there is the Habsburg Foundation as well as the Twentieth-Century and the Twenty-First Century Institutes directed by historians close to the present government. One suspects that the government’s aim is to widen the circle of historians whose devotion to the nation is unquestioning.

Viktor Orbán, the seeker of historical truth. Let’s see what he had to say in his speech about the times before and after 1956 and about another landmark in Hungarian history, the change of regime in 1989-1990.

Orbán described the 1956 revolution as the manifestation of an all-embracing feeling that the Hungarian people must act because otherwise the nation will perish. According to him, “everybody knew, or if they didn’t they felt it, that this cannot go on. If the Soviet world continues, nothing will remain of Hungarian life which is ours. … We felt in our bones and guts that the fate of our country is at stake. That’s why the overwhelming strength of the enemy didn’t matter. One couldn’t wait any longer. We had to do what was superhuman. Everything else would have led to the extinction of the nation.” For Orbán, the revolution’s only goal was national survival.

One doesn’t have to be a student of the revolution and its aftermath to sense that this explanation cannot be correct. After all, the revolution was crushed after about two weeks and Hungarian life managed to survive forty-three more years under communist rule within the Soviet bloc. Moreover, hundreds of books and memoirs attest to the fact that the uprising was totally spontaneous. And very few us who took part thought in such lofty terms. No one was terribly worried about our 1,000-year history; we wanted to get rid of the Stalinist leadership that had brought so much suffering to so many.

Viktor Orbán offered another highly questionable hypothesis. The arrival of János Kádár, which began his long rule at the head of MSZMP (Magyar Szocialista Munkáspárt), was bearable for the citizens of the country “because we could remember our heroes of whom we were so proud.” I think it is enough to read the memoirs of those who were incarcerated for a few years. When they were at last freed no one cared a whit about either them or the revolution. In fact, most people considered them fools for sacrificing years of their lives to a lost cause. As István Eörsi, the poet, described so well his encounter with reality in 1960. A book was written on this subject with the title “Silent Heritage.” No one talked about it, no one cared about it.

Once Orbán was in the swing of things he moved on to Hungarians’ other heroic struggles against communism in the twentieth century. He claimed that in the last century “Hungarians threw off the shackles of dictatorship three times. We got rid of the Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919; we cut loose the fetters in 1956, and in 1990 we overthrew the reign of goulash communism.”

Let’s start with 1919. The Hungarian people didn’t get rid of Béla Kun and his fellow commissars, the Romanians did. The Hungarian Red Army was demolished by the Romanian army, the Béla Kun government resigned, and  most of its members escaped. A couple of days later the Romanians occupied Budapest.

In 1956 Hungarians naturally did not throw off any shackles; they only tried. Although the outbreak of the revolution in Hungary was an uncomfortable episode for the Soviet Union, a few years later US-Soviet relations, for example, improved in comparison to the 1950s.

When it comes to 1990 and the overthrow of the regime, once again anyone who watched the events leading to the change of regime knows that the Eastern European countries managed to regain their freedom as a result of an economically and militarily greatly weakened Soviet Union whose leaders decided that they didn’t have either the will or the resources to fight for a Soviet empire in the region. Without that Soviet decision, in Hungary, just like in the other nations of the Soviet bloc, the one-party system would have continued–a system in which, most probably, Viktor Orbán and the other top Fidesz leaders would have had high party and government positions just as László Kövér predicted in 1985.

Orbán told his listeners yet another story that bears little resemblance to reality. 1989 was the year in which monumental changes took place. Imre Nagy and his fellow martyrs were reburied, the Oppositional Round Table (which included MSZMP) worked out all the arrangements for the regime change. The barbed wire fence between Austria and Hungary had already been dismantled. Therefore it is more than an exaggeration to say that “the strength of those killed in ’56 worked in our cells and the crushed truth expanded our chests. There was no power that could stop us. It was here on that square that we declared that the Soviet soldiers must leave Hungary. It was here that we said that the communist party must be forced to accept free elections.”

The young Viktor Orbán tells the Russians to go home, June 16, 1989

The young Viktor Orbán tells the Russians to go home
June 16, 1989

Of all this, the only thing that is true is that Viktor Orbán did demand Soviet troop withdrawal in his speech, which in fact was an unnecessary gesture because an agreement had been already reached between Hungary and the Soviet Union concerning the issue of troop withdrawal.

I guess one cannot make an effective speech about 1989-1990 by calling attention to the less heroic aspects of those years. For example, the general apathy of the people who passively watched the few politically active leaders who were deciding their fate. And I guess one shouldn’t note that just as many people showed up at the funeral of János Kádár as at the reburial of Imre Nagy two weeks earlier.

1956 had to be reshaped in the image of Orbán’s own nationalism and his own program. Because, after all, he gave the marching orders for the coming victorious election after which “we can finish what we started in 1956.” They? There’s an ideological chasm between the ideas of the intellectual leaders of the 1956 uprising and the thousands of students who played a large role in the events on the one hand and Viktor Orbán’s “System of National Unity” (Nemzeti Együttműködés Rendszere [NER]) on the other. They started nothing, and they’re not finishing anything either, except in the sense of “finishing off” the country’s fledgling democratic spirit.

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24 comments

  1. Nothing new revealed here in this post, but it is something that MUST be repeated again again so that what really happened (in 1919, 1956 or 19890) does not get forgotten and re-written. Re-written to serve the interests of those in power today.

  2. An empty vessel. A greedy Hungarian. Another false political start.
    Annoying.
    Luckily, there is a budding unity against this man.

  3. April 25, 1989 – The start of the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Hungary.

    June 16, 1989 – Orban demands the withdrawal of Soviet troops at Nagy’s reburial.

    June 19, 1991 – The Soviet withdrawal from Hungary has finished.

  4. Wait a second… I thought Hungary was a victim of Hitler (who some people seem to imply was aligned with the Jews to suppress Hungarian dreams). 1945 counts for nothing? Is Orban saying that Nazi domination doesn’t rate in his pantheon of oppression?

  5. Here is another hidden adulation of Horthy I just discovered.

    On May 20, 2012 the Defense Ministry established a unit to protect the “Sacred Crown” and the President. The unit was officially named after “vitéz” Sándor Szurmay.

    http://www.honvedelem.hu/szervezet/Szurmay

    King Karl ennobled general Szurmay in 1917 with the title of “baron of Uzsok”.

    Horthy did not have the right to ennoble people, so he created his own substitute noble title, called “vitéz” from 1921. Szurmay was made a “vitéz” by Horthy in 1921.

    My point is
    1. nobility and the vitéz order were abolished after WW2

    2. if a military unit has to be named after a person with a title,
    and the title has to appear with the name,
    why is the unit not called after “baron” Sándor Szurmay?

    The answer is clear. The Orban regime wanted to show respect to Horthy.

  6. Gripen rental fees:
    [how much money did Orban get for his 2001 decision to rent the Gripen planes?]:

    2014: 22.8 billion,
    2015: 23.0
    2016: 28.8
    2017: 32.4 billion HUF

  7. tappanch :
    Gripen rental fees:
    [how much money did Orban get for his 2001 decision to rent the Gripen planes?]:
    2014: 22.8 billion,
    2015: 23.0
    2016: 28.8
    2017: 32.4 billion HUF

    Good question.
    How about the $s for the Azeri axe swinger, for which he takes full credit for releasing?
    And yet, with all these funds, the Felcsutian went and got himself a swiss loan.
    Ahh, a ‘man of the people’….
    How do you spell duplicity?

  8. tappanch :
    Gripen rental fees:
    [how much money did Orban get for his 2001 decision to rent the Gripen planes?]:
    2014: 22.8 billion,
    2015: 23.0
    2016: 28.8
    2017: 32.4 billion HUF

    ~10,000,000USD was split between Czech and Hungarian officials.

  9. Historical truth does not count in Orbáns postmodern camp. The Narrative counts and if the leader says, Hungarians did win against Kun Béla, then that becomes the truth in his camp and unfortunately not only there.
    The Kádárregime was “bearable” especially for those of Orbáns followers, who “served the people”. For those who were hanged after the crushing of the revolution and who were imprisoned for long time, the Kádár regime was not bearable.
    A lot of poor Hungarians are good for Orbán and his ilk, because they will not be busy fighting his regime but busy to find something to eat and/or finish the month and they will hate the neighbour. Especially if it is a Roma.. His system is based on divide et impera, so the talk about uniting the people is just to cover up criminal activities as shown above.

  10. Orban is a politician. Politicians like sweeping statements. Remember Tom Lantos asserting that America saved the world three times! Yes, three times! Of course a state-run Historical Institute is not a good idea. In the US no need for that. Most if not all mainstream historians fall into line, supporting and serving the powers that be.

  11. @Joe Simon

    “…serving the powers that be.”

    Ah! So that explains the high rate of suicide among Western historians!!

  12. Apologies if I’m stating the obvious, but isn’t Fidesz just taking the p*ss out of (or jerking around with, if you’re from the US) anyone who has ever read Orwell?

    I mean … a historical ‘research’ agency called Veritas ??? Whose job it is to describe an ‘authentic’ version of history?

    What next? Big slogans like “War is peace”?? Oh, I forgot. Zsolt Bayer already has that one covered.

    We just need a mathematical institute next, to prove that 2+2=5, and all will be well in Orbanisztan.

  13. We just need a mathematical institute next, to prove that 2+2=5, and all will be well in Orbanisztan.

    No mathematical institute needed for that, Orbán and Matolcsy can prove that 2+2=5, this is the basis for their economy. And many Hungarians believe them.

  14. Joe Simon :
    Historical Institute is not a good idea. In the US no need for that. Most if not all mainstream historians fall into line, supporting and serving the powers that be.

    Exactly! 🙂

    What’s wrong with these people? They agree on history?

  15. @tappanch
    Thanks for this article
    I remember the book of the catholic priest György Kis, who documented what went on in Hungary at the time. Kis graduated from Innsbruck University in 1938 and went back to Hungary. The book was published in Hungarian and German. One can learn a lot about
    the church at that time from this book.

  16. Andrei Stavilă :
    Talking about history: today i attended a big rally for the Székely autonomy. Pictures here: http://stavilaandrei.wordpress.com/2013/10/27/my-budapest-39-the-szekely-autonomy-march/

    @ Andrei Stavilă
    Thank you for the article and the pics. The Orbán regime is fighting everybody. In first line the majority of its own people. So they need enemies. Jews, Roma, the left and the homosexuals are not enough. They need also an exterior enemy and together with Jobbik are not afraid to provoke the neighbours. All because the Orbán regime cannot give enough bread so instead of that it is giving circenses. The great Hungarian poet Attila József
    has written about that before the 2nd WW. Looks to me like an absurd wish to repeat the mistakes of the past. One has only to look at the masquerade of those demonstrators to feel that they try to turn back the clock. There is no chance for success.

  17. Here is an interesting bit of trivia about Orbán’s 1989 speech in which he “told the Russians to go home.” Everybody knows that he said this during his June 16 address on Heroes’ Square, and some have even accused him of sensation-seeking, as the (partial) pullout of Soviet troops was already underway then. Few are aware of the fact that he had already delivered (almost) the same speech three months earlier, on March 15, on Kossuth tér, when there was no agreement in place on the withdrawal of SU forces. I do not know if there is a recording of the entire March 15 speech but a five-minute fragment is available online at http://videotorium.hu/hu/recordings/details/2130,Orban_Viktor_Kossuth_teren_tartott_marcius_15-i_beszede_reszlet_

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