István Tisza and the National Party of Work revived

On Monday, on the newly reconstructed Kossuth Square another old/new statue of István Tisza (1861-1918) was unveiled by Viktor Orbán. Few people were curious enough to stand in 40ºC (104ºF) heat to witness the great moment but Viktor Orbán, about half an hour later, delivered another ringing speech.

Tisza, who was prime minister of Hungary twice, once between 1903 and 1905 and again between 1913 and 1917) was not a popular man while he was alive. Already before he became prime minister, Endre Ady as a young newspaperman in Nagyvárad/Oradea, wrote an article in which he described Tisza as the most unpopular politician in Bihar/Bihor County. Tisza was assassinated on October 31, 1918 by roaming armed soldiers, and prior to that time there were three other attempts on his life. Ady, in one of his famous poems, called Tisza “the madman of Geszt,” Geszt being the center of the Tisza family’s landholdings in Bihar.

The Tisza statue that now graces Kossuth Square is a reproduction of the statue that was erected on April 22, 1934 and that was damaged during World War II. (The 5m tall István Tisza was not damaged, but his later “admirers” toppled it and not surprisingly the new regime after 1945 did not restore it.) The statue is monumental, and here the word “monumental” does not imply greatness. On the contrary, artistically speaking the general consensus is that it is a singularly worthless, if not outright hideous, work of overwhelming size–17 m tall with a huge lion on top. It is the work of  György Zala, who created the original Archangel Gabriel statue on Heroes’ Square.

The original statue / Source Magyar Hírlap

The original statue / Source: Magyar Hírlap

Since István Tisza was murdered on the very first day of the 1918 revolution, the “counterrevolutionaries” soon came to adulate him. István Deák, the well-known American-Hungarian historian, described him as “steadfast, cunning, intelligent, cautious, and tolerant if necessary, but just as often ruthless. A pessimist by temperament, he was nevertheless imbued with a fanatical belief in the divine mission of the nobility which, in his eyes, was identical with the nation.” Others have viewed him as a social reactionary who stubbornly opposed the breakup of the large landed estates as well as even the most modest reform proposals–for instance, one that would have granted suffrage to soldiers fighting at the front. At this time approximately 10% of the population was eligible to vote in Hungary as opposed to the Austrian part of the Monarchy where there was practically universal male suffrage.

Today István Tisza is regaining the popularity he enjoyed during the Horthy period. I discovered a hospital named after him, and there is an István Tisza Association whose members describe him as a great liberal. His admirers usually point out that he was the only politician of the Dual Monarchy who initially opposed the war. What they neglect to tell is that once he decided that the Monarchy must take part in the conflict, he became its strongest supporter until, in 1917, he announced in parliament: “Gentlemen, we have lost this war.”

Tisza Istvan2

And in living color today / Source:

So, let’s see what Viktor Orbán had to say about István Tisza and his “message” for our own age. (Politicians always discover messages sent from bygone days to the present!) Well, Tisza’s message seems to be that after a disastrous liberal period, Hungarians can now build a successful “national period” which has been prepared for by Viktor Orbán’s government in the last four years. The toppling of statues usually signals the end of a regime, while the erection of new statues signifies a regime’s beginning.

Orbán often finds a fleeting theme in the life of a historical figure and out of it creates an entire political philosophy for the man. In this case, it occurred to him that the name of the party István Tisza established might come in handy to help define his connection with Tisza. Tisza’s party was called the National Party of Work. As we know, one of Orbán’s favorite themes is that society should be based on work as opposed to financial speculation; moreover, he stands solidly on a national platform. He emphasized in his speech that a party that stands for work does not have to be communist or socialist, it can also be national. According to Orbán, Tisza knew and fought against liberalism and socialism in the name of the nation. Just as he himself had to rebuild the country after a disastrous liberal period.

Oh yes, those liberals and socialists. They gave the Hungarian political elite of Tisza’s time a lot of trouble, and today these “self-appointed democrats attack us in the name of some foggy notion of European identity.” But he can tell them what Tisza told his liberals and socialists. “We admit that we stand on a national basis. According to some super modern critics we are nationalists … and they talk about nationalist prejudices. We don’t care about the flourishing of mankind if it is not connected to the progress, flowering, greatness of the Hungarian nation.” Tisza explained that the destiny of the Hungarian nation was assured by taking over only certain “healthy buds of western culture” which were then stamped with the Hungarian national character and the special conditions existing in the Carpathian Basin.

As usual, Orbán’s speechwriters culled the writings of István Tisza to find the perfect quotations. But there is a serious problem with all that gazing at the past. Getting inspiration from a bygone day and quoting nationalistic speeches uttered a hundred years ago does not justify an anachronistic worldview. And it certainly does not justify an attempt to recreate a one-party system. As Freedom House correctly noted, another year of Viktor Orbán’s rule and Hungary will no longer be considered a democracy.

A one-party system is a one-party system quite independently of its ideology. Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, the Soviet Union, the countries of the Soviet bloc after World War II were all dictatorships of various degrees of harshness. Viktor Orbán is now building a “national” dictatorship and unveiling the appropriate statues to mark his new regime.


  1. Statues will not save this regime.
    Poor Horthy tried to decorate Hungary.
    All he did, he ruined a country.
    Something, beyond the statues, is wrong with wide segment of population.
    Straight, healthy thinking must be taught and the future can be bright without the useless fidesz/jobbik etc. figures.

  2. “in 1917, he announced in parliament: “Gentlemen, we have lost this war.” His resignation followed.”

    Of course, this is a typo. He announced this on October 17, 1918 – only two weeks before the collapse and breakup of the Monarchy.

  3. “As we know, one of Orbán’s favorite themes is that society should be based on work as opposed to financial speculation” We could only wish he would show us how it should be done. As he said it before “do not listen to what I say”. Exactly.

  4. “He opposed even the ideas of the new king, Karl I, and so he resigned on 23 May 1917. However, he retained great political influence, and was able to delay the enactment of universal suffrage.”

    Tisza was an acting premier until June 15, 1917.

  5. The sight of all the bald pates and blue hair in the audience is telling. In twenty years this statue will be back in storage, regardless of whether the government is red, brown, or something else all together. Istvan Tisza is past his “sell by” date.

  6. What is the story with Orban’s “Homage to Hungarian Nazism” in Szabadsag ter. All work on the monstrosity appears to have stopped? All we are left with is various poems and life stories and the Fidesz Stormtroopers *protecting* the site in case the Jewish OAPs go on the rampage

  7. “Few people were curious enough to stand in 40ºC (104ºF) heat to witness the great moment but Viktor Orbán, about half an hour later, delivered another ringing speech.”

    The Hungarian press was informed about the inauguration ceremony literally couple of hours before the event.

    One can guess about the motivation behind the secrecy…the most obvious explanation is probably to try to avoid having demonstrations during the event.

  8. @D7 Democrat: the Szabadsag Ter monument was supposed to be ready back in May …

    But now Szabadsag Ter is being taken over by large screens showing the World Cup matches, and all the accompanying beer tents. Might be a bit odd to unveil a momument to ‘Hungarian suffering’ in the midst of all that.

  9. Did nobody tell Orbán that Hitler’s NSDAP had a very similar name:

    National Socialist German Worker Party

  10. Pester Lloyd‘s evaluation, my translation:

    “But also Tisza has one major drawback: His footsteps might be too small for Orbán’s ambition. A nation-builder like Orbán should not sell himself at a lower level than a Széchenyi, if it should not rather be a saint István. But the final decision on this post-historical personification may not yet have been made.”

  11. We gained new relatives.
    The Iraqis had never had luck.
    Their Baath (Renaissance) leaders governed against the nation.
    Poor Bush tried to give the Iraqis democracy.
    Our nation can not be in opposition.
    But our government can act against all of us.
    We must be related.
    Our extended family can list such relatives as:
    (only failed nations need to apply)

  12. “RTL Klub “will be Hungarian one way or another” says Orbán.”

    Maybe so but not before they have given the Mafia Regime a few kicks (and democrats a lot of laughs along the way).
    First that idiotic moron of a Felcsut Mayor, then Papa Orban and not forgetting good old Gergely.

    Who is next in their firing line you reckon? Plenty of potential targets.

    Enjoying the anticipation?;)

  13. I heard yesterday this gossip in Budapest: The Monument on Szabadság tér will be erected in June. Orbán wants a swastika on the eagle. Should anyone complain, he could argue that both the five pointed red star and the swastika are forbidden to show in Hungary, but there is a five pointed red star on the monument on Szabadság tér honoring those soldiers of the Red Army who lost their lives fighting for the liberation of Budapest.

  14. The star on the Soviet monument is not red, but gold. The red star is more prominent on the bottle of Heineken beer that is sold widely in Hungary, as well as on the “india pale ale” brewed in Burton-on-Trent and “surrounding area,” that unfortunately hasn’t made it yet to the local market, nonetheless, is proudly sporting the incriminated star as its logo. Not to mention the Red Star brewing company in the American mid-west. The protesters of red star will also be amused by the mention of the Red Star Line ferry service that shipped the immigrants from Antwerp to New York in the early XXth century, or the Red Star brand of yeast, used to make counterfeit wine. All are using the ominous red star logo. Obviously they overlooked somehow the strict rule of the Orban government, whom, by the way, was overruled itself by the European Court and was forced to pay a fine for applying such illegal rule.
    On the whole, we must recognize the historical justice manifest in the fact that the red star, more often than not, is associated somehow with the making and drinking of alcoholic beverages. And if that is the case, and it clearly is, then perhaps it isn’t so odious after all.

  15. London Calling!


    “Istvan Tisza is past his “sell by” date.”

    This ‘statue moving’ is like moving deck chairs on the Titanic. I’ve lost count of all those statues.

    It is such an irrelevance and low priority – or should be – compared with the rest of Hungary’s problems and must be consuming vast amounts of Hungarians’ (and my) tax revenues.

    If only Orban would just get on and run the country in a fair and equitable way (some hope) and with integrity (an even bigger hope) and stop looking back then he might make a better fist of finding those 1,000,000 promised jobs (some hope… Oops I’ve started again).

    And the Forint has flopped to 384 to 1GBP (from a recent range of 370 to 374). Slowly slowly economy flops.

    Statues moved and resurrected, refurbished opulent castle residences, football stadiums – does Orban play the hegedu?

    I am just reading an excellent book by Tomek Jankowski called ‘Eastern Europe!’ Which covers its subject in an amusing and sometimes irreverent way. (Have you read it? What did you think?)

    At the beginning he quotes from the forward to “The Essential Guide to Bring Hungarian” as follows:

    “Faced with the question ‘What are Hungarians like?,’ the respondents [to an essay contest held for non-Hungarians] observed, among other things:

    Hungarians devote a staggering amount of attention to the past; indeed they pour out into the streets, flagrantly and loudly, several times a year in an effort to conjure up notable events. ”

    Amen to that – from an Englishman too!



  16. It took for me several minutes to identify István Tisza on this monument,cca one week ago

  17. Never mind that “professor.” In actual fact he is a mere deputy of Rozsa Hoffman, the “redeemer” of the Hungarian education system. Starting from there, you can be sure we are dealing with a really odious narrow-minded ideologue. What he knows, or doesn’t know, is really no importance. He will say what is expected of him and nothing else. The only thing he must know is which side of his bread is buttered and that he obviously does know.

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