In the June 26 issue of Válasz, formerly Heti Válasz, a fairly lengthy article entitled “In the captivity of the past” appeared. It was written by Mária Schmidt whom I earlier described as the “chief ideologist of the current government’s very controversial views on history.”
In this latest article Schmidt, the official historian of the Hungarian “Jewish question” in Viktor Orbán’s regime, does not even try to hide her aversion toward the Hungarian “left-liberal” intellectual elite. Moreover, a careful reading of the article reveals that in that hated group the Jews play a prominent role. The whole article is basically an attack on those “infallible,” mostly Jewish intellectuals who have been keeping Hungarian public opinion “under intellectual terror” for decades. Singled out for especially vituperative attack is the older generation of that intellectual elite.
It is hard to understand Schmidt’s vehemence against this aging group since at the very beginning of the article she confidently states that “since the 2014 election the influence and intellectual terror of the left liberal elite has slowly dwindled to nothing.” The election proved that “these clever ones” simply don’t understand the twenty-first century which, according to Schmidt, “began in 2008.”
What kinds of people are these old-fashioned liberals who understand nothing of the present because they are locked in the intellectual framework of 1968? They are, according to the court historian of Viktor Orbán, anti-Christian, anti-Hungarian, Marxist internationalists who talk about a future beyond nations. They are accused of launching a hate campaign, and “in our country only atheistic, intolerant, Marxist groups” are capable of such a hate campaign. These people are unable to understand the very concept of “Hungarian interest.” Instead, they talk about progress and internationalism while actually “they become servants of foreign interests. While there was the Soviet Union, they represented Soviet interests, now they serve the West, that is, the United States, the European Union, and Germany.” She continues: “Every member of this group is against the nation.” For them the nation is dangerous, repugnant, old-fashioned, pre-modern. They like to talk about “the preferred topics of the empire,” meaning the European Union: Holocaust, racism, Roma, homosexual marriage. And where can these people be found? “In the new SZDSZ, the Demokratikus Koalíció.”
Once she sets the stage she moves on to a specifically Jewish topic, or at least what she considers to be a topic that elicits opposition only from the Jewish community. Of course, this is not the case; about half of Hungarians consider the monument the government intends to erect to commemorate the occupation of Hungary by the Germans on March 19, 1944 a falsification of history. Schmidt’s tirade against those who oppose the depiction of Hungary as an innocent victim of German aggression begins with a side swipe at the United States. She says that some people find the proposed statue aesthetically inferior, but after what “the U.S. Embassy did with one of the most beautiful public places of Budapest” one should refrain from such criticism. This is a reference to the alterations made to the building after 9/11 for security reasons.
Then Schmidt embarks on listing the arguments that were brought against the erection of the monument, finding all of them bogus. Naturally, according to her, it mattered not that although the German army did move into Hungarian territory, it came not as a foe but as a friend, an ally.
The second argument that the memorial’s message blurs the distinction between victim and perpetrator also receives short shrift from Schmidt. Monuments often do that. There is, for example, the Soviet Memorial standing on the same square. It is a memorial to the soldiers who died in Hungary in the course of the war, but, adds Schmidt, they were the same soldiers who raped 100,000 Hungarian women. (I don’t want to be irreverent, but surely in this case the perpetrators of the rapes were not the ones whose death is memorialized by the Soviet Memorial.)
The third argument is that Hungary cannot be depicted as an innocent victim because “there were Jewish laws and Hungary deported some people who couldn’t prove their citizenship.” But this doesn’t make the occupation any less of a tragedy. The victim becomes a victim not because he is innocent but because of the aggression of the stronger. It happens often enough that “some of the victims later become perpetrators.” Because I am familiar with other writings of Mária Schmidt, I know exactly whom she has in mind: some Jewish survivors who later became willing supporters of the Rákosi regime and whose activities are so vividly depicted in the House of Terror, whose director is Mária Schmidt herself.
With this introduction about “victims” and “perpetrators” Schmidt specifically addresses the Hungarian Jewish community. She claims that “in the last couple of decades the status of the victim became absolute. We got so far that there are groups that would like to look upon their ancestors’ tragic fate as an inherited privilege and expand the victimization to generations whose members have not suffered any atrocity.” In her opinion this view, held by some members of the Hungarian Jewish community, has “serious consequences” because if the status of victim can be inherited then so can the status of perpetrator. “We lived through two dictatorships. We are full of former perpetrators and their descendants.” Schmidt claims that the soon to be erected monument was created to be “the monument of reconciliation and propitiation.”
As if this were not enough, Schmidt goes on attacking the Hungarian Jewish community. “Those very people who laid the foundations of and represented the historiography of the dictatorship want to prevent us now, seventy years after the tragedy, from placing the flowers of reverence before all the Hungarian victims. They still want to prescribe whom we can mourn and whom we cannot; for whom we can cry and for whom we cannot. They prescribe empathy from us every day of the year, while they remain blind and deaf toward other people’s sorrows. … With this act they exclude themselves from our national community.”
Well, this is at least straightforward talk, not the usual coded anti-Semitic discourse. This is the real thing from the chief ideologue of the Orbán regime. And a threat. At least the members of the Hungarian Jewish community now know what they can expect from the Hungarian nation, from which they just excluded themselves.