Veritas Historical Research Institute: State ordered history

Today I’ll add a little more color to Viktor Orbán’s decision to establish a new institute whose associates will study history, specifically the history of the last 150 years.

As I wrote earlier, the new body will be known as the Veritas Historical Research Institute. The government decree (373/2013. (X. 25.) was signed by Viktor Orbán himself. Who knows who planted the idea of yet another historical institute into the prime minister’s head and who came up with the idea of calling it Veritas. I assume the party hacks, including the prime minister himself, believe in one “truthful” description of past events and hence the name. Unfortunately they are not alone in this holding this untenable view. Even a learned legal scholar, László Sólyom, was foolish enough to talk about the necessity of producing a “true” history of the October Revolution of 1956. A rather strange idea from some who comes from the world of legal research with its many conflicting opinions.

Clio, Goddess Muse of History

Clio, muse of history

History, just like law or any other social science, is not exact; it is not like mathematics where 2 + 2 is always 4. There are, of course, indisputable facts, the kinds we discussed at length in our debate over Miklós Horthy’s decision to halt the deportation of Budapest Jews on August 24, 1944. But his motivations are open to interpretation. So Viktor Orbán is looking in vain for absolute truth from the future associates of the Veritas Institute.

It is worth taking a look at the actual decree to see that the search for truth is not the principal goal of the Orbán government. In one of the first sentences we read that the government is establishing this institute “in the interest of national unity with special emphasis on the legal tradition.” The works born there will have “to strengthen national consciousness.”

Those historians who join the staff will have their goalposts set by none other than János Lázár, chief of staff of the prime minister’s office. As Csaba Fazekas mentions in an article on the subject in Galamus today, this government doesn’t worry about appearances because a research institute of this sort should fall under the aegis of the Ministry of Human Resources which is in charge, among other things, of education. It will be János Lázár who will appoint and/or dismiss the director of the institute, whose appointment will be for five years. There will be two deputy directors, also appointed  and/or dismissed by Lázár. Someone will be in charge of finances, and again it will be Lázár on whom his appointment depends. The remuneration of the staff will also be decided by Lázár. So, for all practical purposes it will be János Lázár who will head the Veritas Institute.

What does the Orbán government expect from this new historical institute? “To reveal  the formation of the system of parliamentary democracy.” If you think this mandate doesn’t make sense and perhaps it is only a bad translation, you are wrong. This is what the decree says. In addition, the historians who work there will have to study “the survival of the centuries-old parliamentary tradition, a unique feature of the Hungarian legal system,  in the last one hundred and fifty years.” A questionable statement.

But that’s not all. They will have to work on a “portrait gallery” which, I assume, means, writing biographies of important politicians. Since this government is madly looking for forebears, I assume the emphasis will be on politicians of a conservative bent.  The publications should also concentrate on “the successful efforts of successive governments worthy of emulation.” Parties and their ideologies should be studied with special emphasis on unique national characteristics and traditions. The researchers should pay attention to the whole Carpathian Basin, but naturally the focal point of that attention should be Hungary. In addition, the historians working at Veritas must fulfill any tasks János Lázár deems necessary for them to perform.

After reading this “to do” list, someone unfamiliar with Hungarian historiography might think that the history of the last 150 years is uncharted territory. Of course, this is not the case. There are thousands and thousands of books and articles on all of the subjects mentioned in this decree. So it is not a dearth of historical literature that prompted the Orbán government to establish a research institute under its direct supervision. Moreover, if they simply wanted to encourage more historical research they could have given additional money to universities and to the existing research institutes. No, the Orbán government wants to have their “own version of modern Hungarian history.” The kind that serves their political agenda. They want an “alternative” history, separate from the normal historical intercourse.

If the government’s plans for Veritas bear fruit, we can predict the ideology that will motivate the historians working there. But Veritas cannot function in a bubble, and the monographs produced within its walls will have to stand the test of time and the criticism of colleagues. Unless, of course, Viktor Orbán plans to introduce a totalitarian dictatorship where there is only one official history. But that kind of forcible uniformity of historical thought couldn’t even survive for long during the socialist period. By the late 1960s different schools of historical thought and different interpretations surfaced. Csaba Fazekas points out that during the socialist period MSZMP established an institute called Párttörténeti Intézet (Institute of Party History), but even within that body by the 1970s and 1980s the party line was not always followed.

With a little luck the Veritas Institute will be short lived. We don’t need history that is merely propaganda in academic disguise.

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36 comments

  1. Somehow I suspect the Veritas Historical Research Institute is part of a Hungarian obsession with linage of the state and nationality. I can well recall my very aged grandfather getting into a fist fight with a equally old Romanian over his use of the term “Bozgori,” for Hungarians here in the USA. Or my father who spent a part of his retirement back in Hungary and in Rome studying ancient Latin documents to determine the actual origins of our family supposedly going back to Attila the Hun or Arpad and really in my opinion never proving much at all despite his valiant efforts. The Institute of Genetics of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences is doing the same thing as my father and others in the past probably on a more complex level to address on a scientific level the phrase ver nem valik vizze (did I still get it right?).

    My father taught me as a child the supposed Attila phrase “There, where I have passed, the grass will never grow again,” which I did not fully grasp until after my service in the Vietnam war.

    Maybe this research makes some of us happy? It gives us a time and place in the universe. As my daughter would appropriately say -whatever.

  2. Historians, I am sure, will spend considerable time in the future trying to understand the motivations for joining or leaving organizations like the Jobbik. The New Yorker in the November 11 issue has an excellent article by Anne Applebaum on one of the founders of Jobbik. It is an eyeopener. A good read!

  3. As they say in Hungary: Ezentúl minden másképpen volt!

    It’s a pun on the everyday statement “from now on everything will be different” but referring to the past. Something like: From now on everything has been different, if this makes sense at all in English. Prof Balogh can perhaps give a better translation.

    “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

  4. Hey-ho, happy days are here again. New perpectives, new horizons, redacted history in the making.

    Favorite Hungarian passtime: Rewrite truth as viewed by the current powers-that-be…
    And spend money to buy adherents to the new party-line-history books. Taught heretofor in all schools and Universities!!!!

    The carousel is coming around again. Meet new masks of Hitler, Mussolinis, Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Eisenhower, DeGaulle, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed. Re-programmed. Forget Google and multi-source seekers of meaning or Warch engines. The internet as we know it will be blocked. A new Syria, North Korea, Iran, Azerbajidzsan, Afghanistan. The szellem-vasut of the carousel days, diving into the dark tunnel… are on the dark horizon.

    I suggest everyone pack a minimum 100L hordó of Palinka in case yar about to get shipped out over the edge of the Earth.

    Plan on extra-terrestrial living if you wanna stay alive, for all opposition will be met with the boot…

  5. I cannot help but recall Stefan Heym’s novel The King David Report (Der König David Bericht), in which King Solomon sets up a committee to write “The One and Only True and Authoritative, Historically Correct and Officially Approved Report on the Amazing Rise, God-fearing Life, Heroic Deeds and Wonderful Achievements of David, Son of Jesse”.

  6. Kirby :

    By the way it seems that Sándor Szakály will be the head of Veritas.

    I guess dr. Szakály will make sure we will learn a lot about the glory of the Hungarian Army during WWI and WWII.

    Perfect choice 😉

  7. OT, Fellegi seems to be pulling a nice salary for running the lobby groups in Washington.

    The former minister argued that the Hungary Initiatives Foundation is in compliance with IRS rules and would not risk losing its non-profit status. He went on to say that all members of the organization’s board of trustees do not depend on the Hungarian government for their livelihoods and do not receive financial benefits for their role in the foundation. He explained that his own annual salary $155,000 from the Hungary Initiatives Foundation is justified both due to his role as the head of the organization and the need for him to qualify for a work visa in the US.

  8. Next to Sandor Szakaly, I expect Michaly Takaro to be added to Un-Veritas..

    PS I am listening to the generation that grew up under the Soviet supported Rakosi rule, and they talk about an almost unbearable trauma. It is a medicine for them, to listen to the praise dished out on the Horthy era, which was the time of freedom for them. They are generously ignoring its dark sides.

  9. If anybody else will feel too the passing sensation of déjà vu, it certainly not unfounded: just look up the word “Ahnenerbe” – or the whole title, like “Forschungs- und Lehrgemeinschaft das Ahnenerbe e.V.” – which is “Research and Teaching Community of the Ancestral Heritage, registered society” – and you’ll get your feelings verified.

    I did.

    Time-travel, anyone..?

  10. The owners of the CBA retail chain sent a letter to their employees asking them to participate in the pro-Orban march on October 23rd.

    “It is important for us, the true patriots of volkisch [or national] feeling to support our most significant politician, the prime minister of our ethnicity [or nation], Viktor Orban”.

    Viktor, would you give us a few more billions in tax breaks, please?

    http://nepszava.hu/document/6/original/Felhivas%20Oktober%2023-ra.pdf

  11. The owners of the CBA retail chain sent a letter to their employees asking them to participate in the
    pro-Orban march on October 23rd.

    “It is important for us, the true patriots of volkisch [or national] feeling to support our most significant politician,
    the prime minister of our ethnicity [or nation], Viktor Orban”.

    http://nepszava.hu/document/6/original/Felhivas Oktober 23-ra.pdf

    Viktor, would you give us a few more billions in tax breaks, please?

  12. The fabrication of “correct” history for taxpayers money is criminal. The qualification required for a job in Veritas is a talent for Verisimilitude. Any historian who joins the institute will fall with Orban.

  13. The owners of the CBA retail chain sent a letter to their employees
    urging them to participate in the
    pro-Orban march on October 23rd.

    “It is important for us, the true patriots of volkisch [or national]
    feeling to support our most significant politician,
    the prime minister of our ethnicity [or nation], Viktor Orban”.

    http://nepszava.hu/document/6/original/Felhivas Oktober 23-ra.pdf

    Viktor, would you give us a few more billions in tax breaks, please?

  14. Whatever this institute is going to be, Szakály is a very respected historian with numerous publications and solid academic background. Much better than “Prof.” Balogh, I must say.

  15. What about the owners of the CBA food chain urging their employees to participate in the pro-Orban march on October 23?

  16. Johnny Boy :
    Whatever this institute is going to be, Szakály is a very respected historian with numerous publications and solid academic background. Much better than “Prof.” Balogh, I must say.

    Johnny Child you’re showing again for everybody to see that you’re a total idiot – thank you for confirming what I knew before!

  17. Johnny Boy :
    Whatever this institute is going to be, Szakály is a very respected historian with numerous publications and solid academic background. Much better than “Prof.” Balogh, I must say.

    Our hero, who entirely familiar with the works of the two historian with adequate education and qualifications to make a learned evaluation and a judgement thereupon.
    So sweet!
    It’s OK, just take it easy.. good boy….!

  18. Today, the Fidesz-appointed super majority of the National Election Commission forbade holding a referendum on restricting the tenure of a prime minister to 2 consecutive terms, i.e. 8 years.

    Orban wants to rule for decades.

  19. Our hero, who entirely familiar with the works of the two historian with adequate education and qualifications to make a learned evaluation and a judgement thereupon.
    So sweet!
    It’s OK, just take it easy.. good boy….!

    It is very easy – you can find traces of Szakály’s academic background. And only his.

  20. Johnny Boy :

    Our hero, who entirely familiar with the works of the two historian with adequate education and qualifications to make a learned evaluation and a judgement thereupon.
    So sweet!
    It’s OK, just take it easy.. good boy….!

    It is very easy – you can find traces of Szakály’s academic background. And only his.

    It took me a few minutes googling Eva S. Balogh to disprove your statement.

    Hungarian Foreign Policy, 1919-1945
    Eva S. Balogh. In:
    THE HUNGARIANS: A DIVIDED NATION 
    Edited by 
    STEPHEN BORSODY
    NEW HAVEN
    YALE CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL AND AREA STUDIES 
    1988 
    http://www.hungarianhistory.com/lib/bors/bors07.htm

    ISTVAN FRIEDRICH AND THE HUNGARIAN COUP D’ETAT OF 1919: A REEVALUATION  1976 (Slavic Review)
    by Eva S Balogh (Author)
    http://www.amazon.com/ISTVAN-FRIEDRICH-HUNGARIAN-COUP-DETAT/dp/B008S6S3AC/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&

    Eva S. Balogh, “Nationality Problems of the Hungarian Soviet Republic,” in Iván Völgyes (ed.), Hungary in Revolution, 1918–19: Nine Essays. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1971; pg. 96.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Pepper

    Hungary Between Wilson and Lenin, by Peter Pastor
    (Review) by Eva S. Balogh 
    In The American Historical Review, October 1977, p. 1020
    http://www.unz.org/Pub/AmHistoricalRev-1977oct-01020

  21. Johnny Boy :

    Our hero, who entirely familiar with the works of the two historian with adequate education and qualifications to make a learned evaluation and a judgement thereupon.
    So sweet!
    It’s OK, just take it easy.. good boy….!

    It is very easy – you can find traces of Szakály’s academic background. And only his.

    Johnny Boy, I cannot confirm your non-observation. Within two minutes googling Eva S Balogh and sifting her HS entries I found the following. Looks pretty academic to me and not just traces:

    Hungarian Foreign Policy, 1919-1945
    Eva S. Balogh. In:
    THE HUNGARIANS: A DIVIDED NATION 
    Edited by 
    STEPHEN BORSODY
    NEW HAVEN
    YALE CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL AND AREA STUDIES 
    1988 

    ISTVAN FRIEDRICH AND THE HUNGARIAN COUP D’ETAT OF 1919: A REEVALUATION  1976 (Slavic Review)
    by Eva S Balogh (Author)

    Eva S. Balogh, “Nationality Problems of the Hungarian Soviet Republic,” in Iván Völgyes (ed.), Hungary in Revolution, 1918–19: Nine Essays. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1971; pg. 96.

    Hungary Between Wilson and Lenin, by Peter Pastor
    (Review) by Eva S. Balogh 
    In The American Historical Review, October 1977, p. 1020

  22. The omnipresent extenuation of Communist crimes, purely on political grounds – of which all her work is about – does not qualify as “academic”.
    In contrast to this, Sándor Szakály’s work is, excluding all of his numerous awards and memberships in academic bodies:
    Szakály Sándor. Volt-e alternatíva? Magyarország a második világháborúban. Ister (1999. november 14.)
    Dr. Szakály Sándor. A MAGYAR TÁBORI CSENDŐRSÉG TÖRTÉNETE/1938-1945. Ister (2000. november 14.)
    Dr. Szakály Sándor. HONVÉDSÉG ÉS TISZTIKAR 1919-1947. Ister (2002. november 14.)
    Dr. Szakály Sándor. A MAGYAR KATONAI FELSŐ VEZETÉS 1938-1945. Ister (2003. november 14.)
    Dr. Szakály Sándor. Kik voltak, honnan jöttek?/Katonákról, történelemről, önmagunkról. I.. Ister (2003. november 14.)
    Dr. Szakály Sándor. SZÁZAD VAGY EZRED?/KATONÁKRÓL, TÖRTÉNELEMRŐL, ÖNMAGUNKRÓL II.. Ister (2004. november 14.)
    Dr. Szakály Sándor. MÚLTUNKRÓL – KRITIKUSAN?/KATONÁKRÓL, TÖRTÉNELEMRŐL, ÖNMAGUNKRÓL III.. Ister. ISBN 963924385X (2005. november 14.)

  23. Johnny Boy,

    All of the items listed in the bibliography for Dr Balogh were published in journals with international peer review. There is absolutely no ‘extenuation of Communist crimes”, let alone an “omnipresent” one to be found in her writings. You have obviously not read one word of the word of this scholar whose life was literally torn apart by her opposition to the Communist government.

    On the other hand, your bibliography for Szakály Sándor conveniently omits his extensive publications in Hungary during the Soviet Block era, beginning most notably with his doctoral dissertation of 1982 which was graded “Summa cum Laude” and the stead stream of state-approved publications under his which appeared during his socialist-era career at the Military History Institute and Museum.

    Why do you hate Hungary so much?

  24. GW :

    On the other hand, your bibliography for Szakály Sándor conveniently omits his extensive publications in Hungary during the Soviet Block era, beginning most notably with his doctoral dissertation of 1982 which was graded “Summa cum Laude” and the stead stream of state-approved publications under his which appeared during his socialist-era career at the Military History Institute and Museum.

    Why do you hate Hungary so much?

    I happen to have a copy of Szakály’s first book: A magyar katonai elite 1938-1945. It consists mostly lists, numbers, facts and figures. But I will take a look at it tomorrow and I will report.

  25. Please don’t invest so much time and energy in the silly troll Johnny – he’s a wonderful example for all those logical fallacies and diverting tactics. In fact that’s the best thing about people like him:

    They’re so easy to see through and to refute …

  26. Johnny Boy followed the Fidesz script: When you are caught in a slanderous lie, for God’s sake don’t retract or apologize. Talk about something else.

    However, his choice of something else to talk about was inept. It boomeranged and turned the attention to Szakaly’s past fealty to the communist regime. I hope Eva will expand on it.

    Here is some good advice for Johnny Boy:

    http://voices.yahoo.com/the-dos-donts-after-being-caught-lie-381359.html?cat=72

  27. GW :
    this scholar whose life was literally torn apart by her opposition to the Communist government.

    Yes, sure. Her life was so torn apart by “her opposition” that she is most probably one of the undercover Communists who were sent out by the regime to subvert and disorganize dissident groups.
    She never opposed Communist, she is one of the biggest Communists ever.

  28. I think now it’s time to throw Johnny out – he always was an idiot, but now he’s gone too far.

    Of course Eva might think that he can stay as a “Nützlicher Idiot” aka useful idiot – useful to show some people’s crazy ideas …

    It’s up to her!

  29. Wolfi, the whole thing is so ridiculous that it is not worth talking about it. I suggest to Johnny Boy to take a look at university student Imre Lukács’s testimony on the propagation of an underground paper entitled “Október 23.” I should add that this paper’s editor was Miklós Gimes who was sentenced to death and killed together with Imre Nagy and reburied on July 16, 1989.The testimony can be found in “Diák- és ifjúsági mozgalmak, 1956-1958: Forradalom–ellenállás–megtorlás ,pp. 558-563.

  30. Dear Eva!

    Why don’t You come home and give these guys lecture ?

    Could You please give them the list of Your works? Maybe they could borrow or buy them online.

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