One statue comes, another one goes. Maybe

Let’s start with the one that most likely will come unless Mazsihisz, the organization of Hungarian Jewish communities, really means what it threatened: to boycott the 70th anniversary memorial year of the Holocaust.

In its litany of complaints Mazsihisz wrote that it finds the erection of a statue commemorating the German “occupation” of Hungary on March 19, 1944 highly objectionable. To the current Hungarian government’s way of thinking, this date marks the beginning of a more than 45-year period during which Hungary was deprived of her sovereignty. The intention of the present regime is clear. They want to disassociate Hungarian governments and the nation from all acts associated with the Holocaust. It was only the Germans’ fault. The preamble to the new Orbán constitution makes that clear. The erection of this memorial will be an “artistic” depiction of the appropriate passages in the preamble.

So, how do the current rulers see those events? What was Hungary’s role in that fateful year? The statue, whose plans were made public by an MSZP member of the District V city council yesterday, is a perfect representation of this government’s ideas on history. Or rather their attempt to distort history in such a way that Hungary and the Hungarian people will not have to face the brutal facts: that Hungarian governments had a large share, perhaps the major share in what happened to almost half a million Hungarians of Jewish origin.

The statue depicts Hungary as Archangel Gabriel, completely powerless, being attacked by the German eagle. Naturally, this is an unacceptable interpretation of the facts.  As Magyar Narancs ironically summed up this falsification of history in a headline: “Hungary, the angelic axis power.” Archangel Gabriel, according to the Legend of Bishop Hartvik (1095-1116), intervened on Stephen’s behalf with the pope who originally wanted to send the crown to Mieszko I of Poland. The Hartvik legend cannot be correct, even if Gabriel’s alleged intervention is excised, because by 1000 Mieszko I was already dead. However, Hungarian Catholic tradition kept up the myth, and therefore a statue of Archangel Gabriel was erected at the time of the millennial celebrations in 1898. It stands in the middle of the statues depicting Hungarian kings and heroes on Heroes’ Square.

So, the main figure of the statue is not at all new. It goes back to the same Christian legend and naturally has wings as an archangel should. But if one compares the two, the old and the new, there are great differences in the depictions of the same figure. The 1898 statue is a self-confident and powerful figure, in one hand holding the Holy Crown and in the other the double cross. The new one is beaten and powerless, at the mercy of his enemy. His arms are uplifted in supplication, presumably praying to God for help as his wings are being attacked by an eagle, representing the Reich. A pitiful, sad, blameless figure. A victim.

German occupation

And the statue will be big. Very big. It will be 7 meters tall, and the spread of the eagle’s wings will be 4.5 meters wide. Yes, I think the statue is hideous, but this is the least of its problems. Much more worrisome is the message it conveys.

And now let’s move on to the statue that might be going away. It is a not too attractive statue of Karl Marx, currently still in place at Corvinus University, which used to be called Karl Marx University. Until now the statue didn’t bother anyone. In fact, it is a favorite with the students. It is almost obligatory to have a picture taken with Marx as a memento before graduating. Well, Bence Rétvári, deputy chairman of the phantom Christian Democratic Party and undersecretary of the Ministry of Administration and Justice, decided that it was a disgrace that Marx’s statue adorns the main hallway of the university. He decided to act. He wrote an open letter to the faculty and students of the university and asked them to remove the statue because Marx was a racist and an anti-Semite who hated the Slavs and who wanted to herd women together and force them to be prostitutes. He also approved of slavery. In addition, he was a Social Darwinist and thus a forerunner of Nazism. In addition, of course, to all his other sins, including the 100 million victims of communism.

Sound unfamiliar? You wouldn’t quite recognize Karl Marx from this description? I’m not surprised. Most Hungarian commentators made fun of Rétvári’s ignorance, including a few who actually know something about Marxism because they had to study the works of Marx and Engels. Rétvári, who was ten years old at the time of the regime change, most likely never read Marx. Júlia Lévai, who wrote an excellent piece about the nonsensical nature of his accusations, thinks that Rétvári only acts as if  “he were that stupid.” As opposed to Lévai, I am convinced that this guy really is that ignorant. We mustn’t forget that he attended the famous Piarist Gymnasium in Budapest. Later he received a law degree from the Péter Pázmány Catholic University. I doubt that at either place he had much reason to read Marx.

Rétvári or his staff dug up some lesser known works of Marx and Engels which they didn’t quite understand and came up with bizarre interpretations. Mind you, in the case of Marx’s alleged anti-Slav prejudices Rétvári is actually quoting from an article written by Friedrich Engels. Engels? Marx? Who cares. Rétvári is also not quite familiar with the meaning of the verb “to prostitute” in the sense of “to degrade” and therefore he decided that Marx wanted women to become prostitutes. One doesn’t have to be too familiar with Marx’s work to know that he considered the marriages of his day a kind of prostitution in the sense that women were completely subjugated to their husbands. Since Marx’s ideas on socialism or communism were based on the alleged equality of all, it is hard to imagine therefore that someone would think that Marx promoted the exploitation and oppression of women.

As for Marx’s anti-Semitism, it is not exactly Rétvári’s discovery. However, Marx’s views on Jews are not as simple as the learned undersecretary thinks. Marx talked about Jews as a synonym for capitalists. When it comes to Marx’s approval of the slave trade, Rétvári or his assistants misunderstood the passage which, according to Mihály Kálmán, is actually a critique of the simplistic dialectics of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Some of the works Rétvári mentions can be found on the Internet: Friedrich Engels: “The Magyar Struggle” (Neue Rheinische Zeitung, January 1849) and Karl Marx, “Forced Emigration” (New York Tribune, 1853).

As for precedent, Rétvári began his letter by saying that if after the change of regime the statue of Georgi Dimitrov, the Bulgarian communist leader between 1945 and 1949, could be removed and the square in front of Corvinus University could be renamed, how it is possible that Marx’s statue is still inside the building? As if the intellectual weight of Dimitrov and Marx could be compared. It’s no wonder that Rétvári’s open letter was received with derision in certain circles. But again, I’m not surprised. Most members of this political “elite” are profoundly ignorant, yet they feel free to pass judgment on anyone whose views are different from theirs. For example, István Tarlós, currently mayor of Budapest and an engineer who is very proud of his technical approach to problems, said the following about Marx in 2007: “Marx as a philosopher is a duffer [antitalentum] where the ‘anti-‘ doesn’t signify his lack of talent but tells us about the direction of his activities which is the opposite of normal.”

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79 comments

  1. Orban The Compassionate govt. position :

    The Government Information Centre said in a statement that “disputes surrounding the memorial are understandable since it is about an important issue…But we very much hope that nobody raises any doubt that victims of the events after March 19, 1944, deserve to be commemorated in a compassionate and honourable way..We ask everyone to resist turning this compassionate commemoration into a political issue”

    http://www.politics.hu/20140121/govt-says-memorial-marking-german-occupation-shouldnt-become-a-political-issue/

  2. The largest Jewish denomination, MaZsiHisz reiterated its demands:

    1. The government should not erect the Occupation Memorial
    2. Mr Szakaly should be dismissed as the head of the “Veritas”
    3. The new House of Fates should not be used as a tool for distorting the history of the Holocaust in Hungary.

    THey also emphasized that this is not an “ultimatum” towards the government.

    http://www.mazsihisz.hu/2014/01/21/mazsihisz–a-szavak-mar-kevesek,-lepjen-a-kormany-6734.html

  3. @Ovidiu: Sure, because only Fidesz has the right to turn these things into political issues. The Fidesz government is noble and compassionate, and everybody else is a political manipulator Machiavellian style.

    Don’t you just love that they always accuse their political opponents with what they themselves are actually doing?

  4. And they are going to be compassionate, whether anybody likes it or not. That’s Orban’s type of compassion 🙂

  5. Trivial correction: What I meant to say was “if, say, 40% of the population voted MSZP and 70% of the population were anti-semitic. Then at least 10% of those who vote MSZP would have to be anti-semitic.”

  6. @An -“because only Fidesz has the right to turn these things into political issues”

    It has become a grotesque game of double-talk and deceptions.But it will be interesting to watch how it will unfold.I wonder if Orban has calculated this properly or it will fire back badly on him in a big scandal.There is no guarantee since he has miscalculated before as in the case of Nyiro’s burial.

  7. This is Hungary today: “A Kertész utcában lopták el a világjáró japán bringáját.”

    For five years he toured the world: on his first night in Hungary his bike was stolen.

    So, there’s a whole lot more wrong in this god-forsaken society than the politics. In fact,
    more and more I see that Orban is exactly what these people have earned….and now deserve.

  8. tappanch :

    The largest Jewish denomination, MaZsiHisz reiterated its demands:

    1. The government should not erect the Occupation Memorial
    2. Mr Szakaly should be dismissed as the head of the “Veritas”
    3. The new House of Fates should not be used as a tool for distorting the history of the Holocaust in Hungary.

    THey also emphasized that this is not an “ultimatum” towards the government.

    http://www.mazsihisz.hu/2014/01/21/mazsihisz–a-szavak-mar-kevesek,-lepjen-a-kormany-6734.html

    They added that it is not an ultimatum because they didn’t give a deadline.:-D

  9. tappanch :

    The MaZsiHisz communique was issued at 1:07 PM, the government’s (mentioned by Ovidiu) at 2:50 PM.

    http://www.kormany.hu/en/prime-minister-s-office/news/a-statement-by-the-government-information-centre

    So this is a negative answer to MaZsiHisz. This means that Orban will intend to force through the Occupation Memorial at the local council meeting (5th district) tomorrow.

    I agree with Ovidiu. If Mazsihisz carries through it will be an international scandal of huge proportions. It may have been a big mistake.

  10. Tappanch thanks for providing the link to the MaZsiHisz statement. I thought the statement as it related to Regent Horthy was very disappointing, on one level the statement was critical of not placing any blame for crimes against Hungarian Jews at the door of Horthy, but on another level the statement seemed to try to create space between the “Hungarian government” and the Regent using the escape phrase “historians have different views Miklós Horthy as a governor.” For MaZsiHisz to show any deference at all to Horthy who without any question sent thousands upon thousands of Jews to their deaths in labor battalions just shows how the current rightwing interpretation of Horthy’s role in relationship to the holocaust has had a pervasive impact on all of Hungary.

  11. “This means that Orban will intend to force through the Occupation Memorial at the local council meeting (5th district) tomorrow.”

    Orban, the very sick person he is, invites, indeed, revels in the most outrageous actions for the adrenaline effect it gives him…And the hell with the country–

  12. Petofi: “In fact, more and more I see that Orban is exactly what these people have earned….and now deserve.”

    I object to the often heard opinion that the Hungarians have got the government they deserve. It is not the fault of the common man that he does not know anything else than the single story he has been told. The opposition politicians have miserably let down the Hungarians by not speaking up against demagoguery.

    Unenlightened democracy works the same way as unenlightened despotism.

  13. whoever :
    In Vienna they have a Karl Marx Square, a Karl Marx Street, a Karl Marx estate.

    There are statues of Lenin in New York City, Seattle, Atlantic City and Las Vegas. So what? My guess is that If the US would have been under a totalitarian system for decades, system that was named after Lenin (and Marx), there would be no Lenin statues.After all what good resulted in Eastern Europe from Marx’s theory? In my book statues are erected to honor those who did good things or whose work resulted in good things (unless those statues are erected for themselves or for the glory of some dictatorship, in which case they end up in places like the statue park in Budapest).

  14. petofi :
    This is Hungary today: “A Kertész utcában lopták el a világjáró japán bringáját.”
    For five years he toured the world: on his first night in Hungary his bike was stolen.
    So, there’s a whole lot more wrong in this god-forsaken society than the politics. In fact,
    more and more I see that Orban is exactly what these people have earned….and now deserve.

    I would not draw conclusions from a piece of news like this. My son moved from the East Coast to the West Coast. One day after his arrival his (very expensive) bicycle was stolen. FIDESz wasn’t in charge there. Very few Hungarians live there.

  15. @gdfxx: “After all what good resulted in Eastern Europe from Marx’s theory? ”

    The same as for the US. Labor movements, banning of child labor, minimum wage… these were also influenced by Marx’s ideas, as well.

    Now, my main issue with removing Marx’s statue from Kozgaz is that it is really a non-issue. The university considers him part of the history of the university, not its ideological forefather. The current government reads a lot more into this statue being there than there is to it.

    I graduated from that university, and if I remember correctly, there were plans to remove it in the early 90s, but students grew to like it, as part of the place, as a physical object in the main hall of the building…. it gives character to the place. Students were against removing it, so they didn’t. We (students at that time) also looked at it as a kind of survivor of the big purge in the 90s, when all public “communist” statues were taken to the Statue Park outside Budapest (which was a neat idea, by the way). It was kind of cool having this Marx statue staying there, as a piece of history, as a piece of reminder. It’s not like it’s in the middle of the city in a park comemmorating Marx… it’s a memento left over from the earlier history of the university.

  16. One nation.
    Many failed generations.
    Hardly possible to find decent people among the Hungarian political and religious leaders.
    Heisler is showing some signs of waking up.
    I trust Karsai, but the rest of the Jewish community must make an effort to stay firmly intellectual in light of the anti-intellectualism of the balog-orban-finkelstein-kover-tarlos horror show.
    We have to bring back David Baer, too.

  17. Historian Karsai said at the MaZsiHiSz press conference today that

    “appointing M. Schmidt to lead the House of Fates is like asking moral advice from the madam of a brothel.”

    “The Jewish leadership in 1944 failed because they did not try to resist. If the current Jewish leadership collaborates with the falsification of history, then it will share responsibility in Holocaust denial.”

    http://index.hu/belfold/2014/01/21/botrany_a_mazsihisz-sajtokonferencian/

  18. gdfxx :

    petofi :
    This is Hungary today: “A Kertész utcában lopták el a világjáró japán bringáját.”
    For five years he toured the world: on his first night in Hungary his bike was stolen.
    So, there’s a whole lot more wrong in this god-forsaken society than the politics. In fact,
    more and more I see that Orban is exactly what these people have earned….and now deserve.

    I would not draw conclusions from a piece of news like this. My son moved from the East Coast to the West Coast. One day after his arrival his (very expensive) bicycle was stolen. FIDESz wasn’t in charge there. Very few Hungarians live there.

    As much as I know one single Hungarian quite enough to steal a bicycle, so the “very few” qualifies just nicely.

    Otherwise, if I read you right: “In my book statues are erected to honor those who did good things or whose work resulted in good things (unless those statues are erected for themselves or for the glory of some dictatorship, in which case they end up in places like the statue park in Budapest).” all the Horty statues should be moved to the statue park too?
    Gonna get quite crowded there pretty soon, since hardly goes a day recently without a new version of the late Admiral unveiled somewhere.

    However, you are definitely right in this respect, and I sincerely hope that the authorities will take pervasive steps toward expanding the park’s area sufficiently.

  19. Historian Karsai : “The Jewish leadership in 1944 failed because they did not try to resist. If the current Jewish leadership collaborates with the falsification of history, then it will share responsibility in Holocaust denial”

    Actually the Jewish leadership in 1944 collaborated with the Nazi in deceiving their fellow Jews about the fate which was awaiting them.The Jewish leadership knew (they were informed by Rudolf Vrba, one of the few escapees from Auschwitz, Vrba-Wetzler) yet choose not to tell their fellow Jews what ‘deportation’ meant for them and thus there was no opposition and no attempts to escape from the ghettos.
    The Nazi were able to deport so easily the Hungarian Jews to their extermination by the help of the Hungarian Jewish leaders themselves.

    Karsai speaks out of a guilty conscience.Oh boy, if this is what he has in mind (and likely this is) then a big fight is in the making.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudolf_Vrba#Vrba.27s_allegations

  20. Orban could not care less about critical voices until there is at least one single Jewish organization anywhere in the world which will support him.

    If there is a will among the righteous conservatives to erect a beautiful, artistic memorial then where do Jews take their courage from to interfere in that project? From where? Yet again? If they think that these god-fearing conservatives will dance as the Jews play the fiddle, then I guess they will get sorely disappointed.

    If Tamas Deutsch (or whichever Jewish Fideszniks) will support Orban and he quickly sets up an organization then that will be absolutely enough for Orban, he can then say the even the ‘Jews’ support him and despite some disgruntled (faksznis) ‘Jews’ (and there are always some, you know) he has clear support for his plans.

    In fact the best outcome would be for Orban if he could succeed in divide the ‘Jews’ and still erect the memorial. Once erected, there will be no political will to tear it down (just like with the Turul in district XII which was erected without any licenses) and the more controversial it becomes the better. A great leader is after all always controversial.

    The more outraged ‘Jews’ become, the better he can show to hard-core right wingers that he is tough on ‘Jews’, as opposed to Jobbik which outside the internet, where it continues to be pathologically antisemitic, restrained itself lately.

    This is now mostly about the elections, about firing up a lot of sentiment among the antisemites,

    But lest we forget of course Fidesz supports the memorial in substance too and based on principles — which support in light of Mr. Ungvary’s short professional oped, which hits its reader with a sledge-hammer, is indefensible and clearly antisemitic.

  21. @Hunglish-“This is now mostly about the elections, about firing up a lot of sentiment among the antisemites”

    I suspected that too.
    In the year 2014 everybody in Hungary is battling the shadows and the demons of the 1930s/1940s and anti-semitism is again on the agenda.Doesn’t look bizarre ? It is as if living in a SF movie where people go back in time.
    The kulturkampf led by Fidesz : the emphasis on the 1930s, Horthy, Nyiro, conservatism, religion etc., has induced this retro-mania to the Hungarian society.
    Let’s hope that Marx was right with his “history repeats itself, the first as a tragedy then as a farce”

  22. planned

    Ovidiu :
    @Hunglish-”This is now mostly about the elections, about firing up a lot of sentiment among the antisemites”
    I suspected that too.
    In the year 2014 everybody in Hungary is battling the shadows and the demons of the 1930s/1940s and anti-semitism is again on the agenda.Doesn’t look bizarre ? It is as if living in a SF movie where people go back in time.
    The kulturkampf led by Fidesz : the emphasis on the 1930s, Horthy, Nyiro, conservatism, religion etc., has induced this retro-mania to the Hungarian society.
    Let’s hope that Marx was right with his “history repeats itself, the first as a tragedy then as a farce”

    Ovidiu,I believe Marx saying about History (18, Brumaire) related to Hegel.
    Orbán does not care what the Jewish community is saying. And so everything will go on as planned by Orbán and his ilk. The demons of the 1930/1940ies and antisemitism were
    frozen up until the late 1980ies and came out after 1990 by thawing thanks to the liberals who advocated liberty of speech even for the nazis.

  23. As I see it, they tried to deliver a master-stroke: please the far-right with the possibility to cheer at the eagle and the Reich, while feeding the Jewish community with the lie – the memorial is to honour the victims, – in order to harvest votes from both sides.
    If – during this “noble” process – they even manage to divide the Jewish community it’s an added “bonus” – can you expect more for that money, what it cost?

    And yes, I believe that this is a premeditated, deliberate event, with precise timing. There is precious little left to chance, believe me.

  24. @Karl Pfeifer—“The demons of the 1930/1940ies and antisemitism were frozen up until the late 1980ies and came out after 1990 by thawing thanks to the liberals who advocated liberty of speech even for the nazi”–

    That un-checked freedom of speech helped, I agree, yet does not quite explain.You don’t see this nostalgia for the interwar period in other european countries, it is a specific-Hungarian phenomenon.

    Hungarian people hate the present.They are frustrated and disappointed by the changes brought by globalization, economic liberalism and integration in the EU.They want their country “back”, want back their sense of national identity and political community, want back their existential comfort/security that was taken for granted during the Kadar-times.
    It is anxiety and anger that which drives them these days but they don’t have a vision on how to change things, no vision for the future.
    Going back to the Kadar times is not possible (what was the he point of changing things in 1989 ?) so they go for this “alternative vision” of the conservative 1930s Hungary of Horthy.

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