Days of protest, but the “Nazi” monument will stand in Budapest

I have been so preoccupied with the election results that I have neglected the recent tug-of-war between the Orbán government and a small group of people who desperately want to prevent the erection of a monument to commemorate the “occupation” of Hungary by German troops on March 19, 1944.

The monument depicts Hungary in the guise of the Archangel Gabriel as an innocent victim of German aggression when, in fact, Hungary was an ally of Nazi Germany. By extension, the present Hungarian government puts the blame for the Hungarian Holocaust entirely on Germany, although they do admit that some civil servants shamefully collaborated with the commandos of Adolf Eichmann. But the Hungarian government is not to be blamed because, with the occupation, Hungary lost its sovereignty. Most historians who are experts on the subject, inside and outside of Hungary, see it differently. So does the Hungarian Jewish community, whose representatives have been trying to have a dialogue with Viktor Orbán: they proposed more appropriate ways to remember the seventieth anniversary of the Hungarian Holocaust. At the end of February there was a short reprieve in the “war of words” between Orbán and the Jewish community when Orbán promised to postpone the erection of the monument and offered to engage in a dialogue sometime after the Easter holidays.

But then came the election, whose results Viktor Orbán described as a resounding victory, and he was again full of energy. Two days after the election workmen appeared on Szabadság tér (Freedom Square) and started building a barrier around the designated site of the monument. Soon enough activists gathered and swore they would take it down. And indeed, in the morning the workmen constructed the wall and in the afternoon the demonstrators took it down. By the second day the demonstrators had the right kind of equipment to do quite a professional job disassembling the barrier. By yesterday, the barrier had gone up six times and come down six times. Someone compared the situation to the famous Hungarian/Romanian folk ballad in which the walls that are built one day by the masons at the Fortress of Deva/Déva are destroyed by the next morning.

While this was going on, about 20 policemen stood idly by until April 14, when several of the organizers were ordered to appear at the police station and charged with defacement of property. The defacement consisted of using spray paint to write messages on the canvas that covered the metal barrier. Included among the people so charged were Zoltán Lovas, a newspaper man; Fruzsina Magyar, wife of Imre Mécs who as a young man was condemned to death after the failed revolution in 1956; and Alice Fried, a Holocaust survivor, whose “graffiti” read: “I survived the Shoa. I still want to live!” Since then Imre Mécs, who “willfully” wrote messages on the canvas, was also charged.

History falsification / spiritual well-poisioning The first on the right is Fruzsina Magyar

History falsification / Spiritual well-poisoning
Fruzsina Magyar is on the far right.

Meanwhile tourists keep inquiring what’s going on and the participants tell them that “the government wants to erect a Nazi monument and the people are protesting.” Of course, it would be far too complicated to explain to these people what is at stake here. The game of erecting and taking down the barrier will go on for a while, but meanwhile the foundation for the enormous statue of Archangel Gabriel is being built. Yes, it must stand just as ordered by the imperious Viktor Orbán. His announced deadline is May 1.

Opponents say that as soon as Viktor Orbán and his government are gone this statue will join the statues erected during the Rákosi and Kádár periods, which are now  in a kind of statue cemetery in Memento Park. Others are certain that the new monument will have to be guarded day and night because it is likely that opponents will deface this monument that they find so objectionable.

The English-language media doesn’t seem to have taken much notice of what’s going on in the heart of Budapest. I discovered only one opinion piece, by András Simonyi, former Hungarian ambassador in Washington, who finds Viktor Orbán “deaf to the uproar by the Jewish community and other decent Hungarians. He fails to show leadership and magnanimity. He is missing the opportunity to behave like a statesman.”  Statesmanship? Magnanimity? From Viktor Orbán?

By contrast, the German press has been covering the story of the monument from the beginning. After all, Germany is implicated in this story. But the Germans, unlike the Hungarians, faced up to their own past and were ready to take the blame. They also know, as do most historians, that the Germans had eager accomplices in the Hungarian Holocaust. German public radio had a segment on the controversy, “Proteste gegen Nazi-Bezatsungsdenkmal.” Yes, the description of it as a Nazi monument is spreading. In it the journalist responsible for the text accurately described the situation that awaited the German troops in Hungary. Junge Welt ran an article entitled “Orbán in the role of the victim.” Perhaps the writer who claimed that Hungarians never quite got over the fact that they lost World War II is right. Seventy years after the fact. It would be high time to do so, but self-examination is impossible as long as the Hungarian government prevents any kind of honest look at Hungary’s role in the Holocaust.


    “The Prime Minister’s Office does not purchase, does not rent, and does not maintain its own box in any sport facility.The said Box is not for the Prime Minister, but for the Ferenc Puskas Football Academy’s founder, who happens to be the Prime Minister of Hungary.”
    said the head of the Prime Minister’s press office when explaining the sign on one of the private boxes.
    You can take a look on the sign affixed, and on the modest private box here:
    You can than

  2. So Orbán has this private box for life …

    Maybe it will even be taken over by his crown prince, aka son ???


  3. I would like to call your attention that Hungarian Spectrum is quoted and linked in yesterday’s New York Times article on Matolcsy. Some of the stories about Matolcsy should also sound familiar to the readers of the Hungarian Spectrum.

  4. Istvan :
    Well wolfi here in the USA the rich and even the moderately wealthy need the tax breaks that come with the gifts to not for profit entities. Our tax code promotes this and its one of the more progressive features of it. The other big difference is the level of wealth in the USA as compared to Hungary. For example the estimated net worth of Bill Gates is $75,007,873,548, Sándor Demján is Hungary’s richest man, with assets of HUF 260 billion (USD 1.45 billion), according to the list of the country’s 100 richest people compiled by Napi Gazdaság. According the data I have seen the USA has 371 individuals worth more than 1 billion dollars.
    There is no comparison between the rich here and the rich in Hungary.

    Don’t be daft: where did you get the figures for Demjan? I’d wager that 95% of his wealth is hidden.
    Anyway, how can he be the wealthiest Hungarian? Did he own any Azeris?

  5. Andras Boros-Kazai :
    Those were the times when one of the brightest philosophers of the past century wrote Nazi pieces, the cream of French intellectuals sipped champagne with occupying German officers in Paris, and the brilliant American poet broadcast Fascist exhortation from Rome.

    … and why it’s OK to have prominent nazis like Jozsef Nyiro in the Hungarian national curriculum. Right? But wait? How come that neither the French or he Germans or the Americans lie about their own? Hungaricum?

  6. tappanch :
    As I noted in a January 19 blog note here, the selected sculptor, Peter Parkanyi Raab had already made a memorial to the Nazi writer Albert Wass, who was condemned to death in absentia for the 1940 killing of two Romanian men and two Jewish girls.
    [Let me add, Wass died in comfortable exile in Florida]
    Do you think that it is a coincidence that the promoters of this memorial selected such sculptor for the job?

    Besides being politically tainted indeed, Raab isn’t that bad sculptor – as I browsed after his works I can tell. I even dare to say that this hideous composition which is about to be assembled by any time now not his independent creation: Imre Kerényi’s helping hand and kitschy taste feels all over on this project. Obviously there is a price.

    And yes, this is bad art, this is a visual pollution on a high grade, over on the obvious ideological implications.
    Worth every word of protest, even if it couldn’t be stopped, it’s a shame in many levels!
    No civilised person should even accept, let alone support it.

    I hope, the Archangel resembles Orbán, at least a little bit…

  7. tappanch :
    Matolcsy spends 90 billion forints of the money of the Hungarian National Bank on purchasing real estate.
    see p.24
    The Board of Outside Directors [is this the right term?] criticizes this and other programs [like buying a Guarneri violin] as outside the scope of the Bank.
    p. 25
    Mr Rona, a member of the board gives an interview on television.
    He tells the audience, that the Bank, chaired by Matolcsy goes ahead
    with the programs in spite of the Board’s objections.
    Internet portal reports details with the headline
    “National Bank gives money to friends without control”
    National Bank indicates it will sue the portal

    Seems pretty much to me that someone will pimp up the/a Palace to the coming coronations-ceremony – or the orbanist equivalent of such. Somehow the purchase and/or relocation of works of art and artefacts point to the same direction too.

  8. spectator :
    Besides being politically tainted indeed, Raab isn’t that bad sculptor – as I browsed after his works I can tell.

    Not a single international exhibition in 15 years. No major exhibition, in Hungary or abroad, ever. Come on…

    A memorial by I don’t know, Szabolcs Kisspál? Gyula Várnai? That may have had both profile, cultural ambition – and complex meanings. Not that kind of cheap, closed 19th Century allegory. But then, Fidesz wouldn’t be Fidesz I guess.

  9. Marcel, you may wish to take another look at my comment to get things straight.
    I said that Raab isn’t that bad sculptor – an I ment it.
    The quality of his work quite good, even if the subjects can be questionable. However, I never stated that he is a famous or recognised artist, but I dare say that he is a decent professional as a sculptor.

    Once more: I didn’t stated, that he is a “good artist” or something of this respect. Being a good sculptor means tha someone good at his/her profession, but not anything more.
    However, knowing of his education and his previous work I fairly certain, that the concept of the memorial isn’t his brainchild.

    Think about it: someone can be quite good professional, even without artistic ambitions, while the great artists can be quite clumsy sometimes. Once Ihave had friends, when the artist of the family – the man – couldn’t sell a thing, while his wife who never had any own idea but could paint just about anything sold everything and earned he income to the family.
    So, life is more complicated as it seems.

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