A week in Hungary: worrisome developments

There is no silly season or “uborka szezon” in Hungary this year. In fact, I could easily write three or four times a day about not at all silly stories. Today I decided to catch up and offer a smorgasbord of “illiberal” news.

Let’s start with Zoltán Balog’s unfortunate statement about the Gypsy Holocaust on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the murder of thousands of Gypsies in Auschwitz. Balog, minister of human resources and a very close associate and spiritual adviser of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, has an uncanny knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.

On Sunday morning Balog was interviewed on the state radio’s program Vasárnapi Újság. This program, even during the socialist-liberal government, was known for its far-right tendencies, but it was a favorite of Viktor Orbán who often appeared there. Balog was asked to say a few words appropriate for the occasion. Instead of paying tribute to the Roma victims of the Holocaust, he began ruminating about the proper historical interpretation of the deportation of the Hungarian Gypsies while showing a total ignorance of the details. He said that there are a lot of uncertainties–for example, the  number of victims–and offered up the nonsensical excuse that “no Hungarian Gypsies were ever deported from Hungary. Only from Austria.” He also had some advice for the Roma. They shouldn’t dwell too much on tragic events because Gypsy culture is already prone to portray its members as victims, as people who are at the bottom of society. And such an attitude hurts their chances of success.

The reaction in opposition circles was uniformly negative to this latest Balog faux pas. A lot of people interpreted Balog’s words as Holocaust denial or at least a diminishing of its importance. Historians expressed their astonishment that the minister in charge of Hungary’s Roma strategy knows so little about the details of the events of 1944 and the fate of about 5,000 Hungarian Roma who perished and the tens of thousands who were deported.

As usual came the standard excuse: his adversaries misinterpreted his words, although this time he added that he could have expressed himself more clearly. Instead of admitting his mistake, however, he launched into an attack against his political opponents. It is not he “who has to explain himself but the Left under whose governance Gypsies were murdered in Hungary.” As if the Gyurcsány-Bajnai governments were responsible for the serial murders of several Gypsies.

Now let’s move on to another story that broke a few days ago. Some eagle-eyed journalist found an interesting picture on the front page of the publication of the Hungarian Medical Association. It was taken in the enormous study of Viktor Orbán in the parliamentary building when the president and the vice president of the association paid a visit to the prime minister. In the background a poster depicting the crown and the Hungarian colors reads: Győzelem (Victory).

A few telephone calls to historians revealed that the poster was designed by Sándor Légrády (1906-1987), who made quite a name for himself as a designer of Hungarian stamps. The poster Viktor Orbán so proudly displays in his office was done in 1940-41 to commemorate the Hungarian army’s entry into the territories Hungary received in the Second Vienna Award (August 30, 1940). I might add that Légrády was a politically committed person who in 1941 became an undersecretary in the prime minister’s office ( Bárdossy government, April 1940-March 1942) and who was later transferred to the ministry of defense. Because of his posters extolling the war he was briefly detained in 1945 but was acquitted two years later.

Viktor Orbán's study with the controversial poster in the background

Viktor Orbán’s study with the controversial poster in the background

What is such a poster doing in the Hungarian prime minister’s office? The official account is that he received the poster as a gift after the 2014 parliamentary election. A Fidesz politician explained the significance of the poster. Viktor Orbán began his infamous speech in Tasnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad by thanking the Transylvanian Hungarians for their support. Their votes gave Fidesz that one extra seat in parliament that ensured the continuation of the two-thirds parliamentary majority that allows Viktor Orbán to continue his rule unchecked. About 100,000 people who may never have set foot in the country decided the fate of Hungary for four years if not for longer.

This explanation is believable, but one must question the decision to display such an irredentist poster in the prime minister’s office. The year 1941 marked Hungary’s entrance into World War II. It was the year Germany attacked the Soviet Union. It was the year the United States entered the war. It is an affront to Romania, to Russia, and indirectly to all the countries who fought Nazi Germany and her allies–including, of course, Hungary. Just like his spiritual adviser, Orbán has no sense. A few years ago he proudly displayed a Greater Hungary decal on his car!

I would also like to mention that since leading American newspapers raised their voices in critical editorials against Viktor Orbán’s designs to transform Hungary into an illiberal state, the whole right-wing media has begun an anti-American campaign. At least three leading Fidesz opinion makers spoke out–István Tamás (Nemzeti.net, July 30), Tamás Fricz (Magyar Nemzet, August 4), and Zsolt Bayer (Magyar Hírlap, August 6). Soon I will devote a full post to the Orbán government’s anti-American propaganda campaign.

Here is another timely topic: the fate of some Roma families in Miskolc. On June 25 I wrote about the local Fidesz leadership’s plans to evict Roma families from their homes in order to make space for a new football stadium. The city was ready to pay 2 million forints to each family if they moved out of Miskolc altogether. Well, the evictions have begun. A young couple with a small child were the first victims. Then came an older woman who is disabled. Roma activists are trying to prevent the forceful removal of hundreds of families, but I doubt that they will be successful.

And finally, the situation of the NGOs. Viktor Orbán declared war on them in his speech and he was not kidding. Only yesterday papers reported that, although the Hungarian government made some concessions concerning the distribution of funds, the Norwegian authorities refuse to release the funds until the investigation of these NGOs stops. Viktor Orbán is not backing down. A criminal investigation of Ökotárs Alapítvány, the firm that distributes the Norwegian funds to NGOs, has begun. The charge is embezzlement.

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23 comments

  1. I’ll add to your list: according to Index, the official English translation of Orbán’s Tusnádfürdő speech leaves out the word “illiberal,” no doubt intentionally:

    Hungarian:
    “Amikor az Európai Uniót szóba hozom, nem azért teszem meg, mert azt gondolnám, hogy az Európai Unión belül ne lehetne egy illiberális, nemzeti alapokon álló új államot fölépíteni.”

    English:
    “The reason a dispute has now developed between the EU and Hungary is that we have changed this system and the Government has come to a decision according to which within this new state concept, this liberal state concept..”

    It appeared on the government’s YouTube channel(!). I had a very strong feeling this would happen. http://index.hu/belfold/2014/08/06/eltunt_az_illiberalis_szo_a_kormany_angol_forditasabol/

  2. Buddy, They were too late. Budapest Beacon’s translation was quoted by Fukuyama, for example. Everybody knows that the word “illiberal” was there. But perhaps it would be nice to call attention to the ruse!

  3. Re the poster in the prime minister’s office: “It is an affront to Romania, to Russia and individually to all the countries who fought Nazi Germany and her allies – including, of course, Hungary.”

    There are some inconvenient facts to consider here: the Second Vienna Award, with the Romanian government’s approval and signature, returned parts of Transylvania to Hungary where the majority of the population was Hungarian.

    The Romanians were allies of Nazi Germany. They fielded the second largest land army against the Soviet Union, allied with the USA. Romania only turned on its ally, Nazi Germany, in August 1944 when it became clear that they were on the losing side.

    So, what is the affront?

  4. According to the 1941 Hungarian census there were 1,330,500 people of Hungarian nationality and 1,029,000 of Romanian nationality. As far as languages went: 1,344,000 Hungarian speakers and 1,068,700 Romanian speakers.

    If you don’t like the word “affront” I can use another: “threat” which Romanian public opinion, already suspicious of Viktor Orbán’s designs on Transylvania, will take seriously and naturally antagonistically. Such provocations are senseless and very ill-advised. Unfriendly gesture that can bring only trouble to the country.

  5. @Eva

    Re: Northern Transylvania

    The Romanian census of 1930 found a Romanian plurality in the same territory:
    1.176 (49.1%) million ethnic Romanians,
    0.912 (38.1%) ethnic Hungarians
    0.139 (5.8%) Jewish people,
    0.069 (2.9%) ethnic Germans and
    0.100 other (4.0%) [Gypsy and Armenian].

    According to Romanian sources, 0.290 million ethnic Romanians fled Northern Transylvania after the Hungarian takeover in 1940, and almost 29 thousand were murdered.

    In addition, the Hungarian census in 1941 added 69% of the Jewish and most of the Gypsy population to the Hungarian column.

  6. tappanch: “In addition, the Hungarian census in 1941 added 69% of the Jewish and most of the Gypsy population to the Hungarian column.”

    I suggest a documentary about the Cluj/Kolozsvar Jewish High School. It shows that up almost the day of their deportation the Transylvanian Jews considered themselves to be Hungarian. After the war the situation changed drastically, most Jewish children born after 1945 in Transylvania attended Romanian language schools.

  7. Dear Éva, could you kindly give a reliable source to your statement about cigány
    >>and the tens of thousands who were deported.<>A cigánykérdés Magyarországon 1945-1945 / Út a cigány Holocausthoz<>Based on all this, the author estimates the number of Hungarian Gypsies interned, deported or enrolled into forced labour companies, to about 5.000 (five thousand). The number of Gypsy dead is a few hundred in his estimate, orders of magnitude less than, for instance, in Kenrick-Puxon’s monograph.<<

  8. Tappanch, Jews in Transylvania in great majority considered themselves Hungarians. The 1941 language breakdown shows that only 48,000 out of the 2.5 million considered themselves Jewish or Yiddish-speaking. That is very north-eastern corner of ultra-orthodox Jews.

  9. The story of those two films about Roma which will not be shown in Miskolc has reached the international media:
    http://www.spiegel.de/kultur/gesellschaft/ungarn-filmfestival-cinefest-streicht-kritische-filme-ueber-roma-a-984803.html

    Pál Schiffer’s classic “Cseplö Gyuri” from 1978 and a new film whose title is not to be published …

    “The films might disturb the local elections”?

    The article also refernces the Orbán regime’s politics against the media, homeless people and the LGBT community and the growing antisemitism in Hungary …

  10. “Only yesterday papers reported that, although the Hungarian government made some concessions concerning the distribution of funds, the Norwegian authorities refuse to release the funds until the investigation of these NGOs stops”

    Despite what the regime apologist claimed on here the other day, that more or less sums up the situation- actually the Norwegians have stopped more than this specific funding and the Lazar and Co are getting jumpy.

    “Viktor Orbán is not backing down.”

    Indeed although he now has a problem- neither are the Norwegians nor the NGOs (in fact they are refusing to collaborate with the functionaries and the brownshirts Orban is sending in to intimidate). The question now is what can the regime do if the indirect threats (eg football thugs hanging menacingly round the door, strange phone calls at 2 in the morning etc) are not working.

  11. @Karl Pfeiffer: Although in the previous thread I provided a reliable link, I must assume you missed it or you more rely on printed info. Although Karsai estimate is total 5,000 victim (not murderd), I tend to believe on conclusion reached by other scholars based on other datas. You certainly can believe one of the scholars, but you may want to look up date not under the Roam Holocaust, but under Pharrjimos. Now, here are some quotes from a book you can access.

    Pharrajimos: the Fate of the Roma During the Holocaust, edited by Janos Barsony, Agnes Daroczi
    The International Debate Education Association
    400th West 59th Street
    New York, NY
    @2008 Romedia Alapitvany / Romedua Foundation
    1011 Budapest Corvin ter 8.
    Printed in the USA
    ISBN 978-1-932716-30-6

    “There are different estimates regarding the number of Roma victims in Hungary. In the 1950s researcher Kamill Erdos put the number of victims at 50,000. In the 1970s, the Committee of the Victims of Nazism, responding to a request for data from international researchers, set the number of victims 28,00. In his work published in 1992, history Laszlo Karsai estimated the number of Roma victims from Hungary at 5,000, basing the number on archive data.”

    Now before anyone would jump into saying that it were the German Eagle who did this, here are some eye-openers

    1941 Nagyszalonta= Romas forced into ghettos, Transcarpathia= “Roma who could not prove their Hungarian citizenship were driven across the border, where most of them were murdered wit the Jewish victims at Kamanec-Podolsk.”

    1944 “A significant number of Roma were transferred to various extermination camps in Germany from Hungarian interment camps for “unreliable elements”.

    September 29-30, 1944 “The counter-espionage unit of the 1st Hungarian Armoured Division and members of the military police committed murders at Nagyszalonta.”

    October 5, 1944 “Using hand grenades and heavy machine-guns, members of the 1st Hungarian Armored Divison and local Gendarmes executed some 20 Roma-women and children included. In Pocsaj, hundreds of local Roma were herded into the the courtyard of the village hall. Their execution began, but was cut short by the Russian artillery barrage.”

    November 2-10, 1944 “Roma families from vicinity of Budapest were rounded up by local Gendarmes between November 2 and 6 and wet taken to the brick factory of Obuda. On November 10, they were put on trains in Budaors and travelling in cattle wagons, they were taken to Mauthausen and Dachau.”

    December 1944 From Csillagerod “some women and children set free”. In February “the inmates were forced to march toward the Third Reich.” “Hundreds of the victims of the internment camp at Csillagerod, mostly children and the elderly, were buried locally.”

    Early February 1945 “The Interior Ministry issued a decree calling for the roundup and internment of entire Roma families. THe Gendarmerie set up collection camp..” “Roma form Zala County were also taken to camps in Csaktornya and Draskovec. Many of them were murdered as the Russians approached.” [Some escaped, the rest] were transferred to Koszeg, then into concentration camps in Germany.”

  12. @Karl Pfeiffer: Although in the previous thread I provided a reliable link, I must assume you missed it or you more rely on printed info. Although Karsai estimate is total 5,000 victim (not murdered), I tend to believe on conclusion reached by other scholars based on other datas. You certainly can believe one of the scholars, but you may want to look up date not under the Roam Holocaust, but under Pharrjimos. Now, here are some quotes from a book you can access.

    Pharrajimos: the Fate of the Roma During the Holocaust, edited by Janos Barsony, Agnes Daroczi
    The International Debate Education Association
    400th West 59th Street
    New York, NY
    @2008 Romedia Alapitvany / Romedua Foundation
    1011 Budapest Corvin ter 8.
    Printed in the USA
    ISBN 978-1-932716-30-6

    “There are different estimates regarding the number of Roma victims in Hungary. In the 1950s researcher Kamill Erdos put the number of victims at 50,000. In the 1970s, the Committee of the Victims of Nazism, responding to a request for data from international researchers, set the number of victims 28,00. In his work published in 1992, history Laszlo Karsai estimated the number of Roma victims from Hungary at 5,000, basing the number on archive data.”

    Now before anyone would jump into saying that it were the German Eagle who did this, here are some eye-openers

    1941 Nagyszalonta= Romas forced into ghettos, Transcarpathia= “Roma who could not prove their Hungarian citizenship were driven across the border, where most of them were murdered wit the Jewish victims at Kamanec-Podolsk.”

    1944 “A significant number of Roma were transferred to various extermination camps in Germany from Hungarian interment camps for “unreliable elements”.

    September 29-30, 1944 “The counter-espionage unit of the 1st Hungarian Armoured Division and members of the military police committed murders at Nagyszalonta.”

    October 5, 1944 “Using hand grenades and heavy machine-guns, members of the 1st Hungarian Armored Divison and local Gendarmes executed some 20 Roma-women and children included. In Pocsaj, hundreds of local Roma were herded into the the courtyard of the village hall. Their execution began, but was cut short by the Russian artillery barrage.”

    November 2-10, 1944 “Roma families from vicinity of Budapest were rounded up by local Gendarmes between November 2 and 6 and wet taken to the brick factory of Obuda. On November 10, they were put on trains in Budaors and travelling in cattle wagons, they were taken to Mauthausen and Dachau.”

    December 1944 From Csillagerod “some women and children set free”. In February “the inmates were forced to march toward the Third Reich.” “Hundreds of the victims of the internment camp at Csillagerod, mostly children and the elderly, were buried locally.”

    Early February 1945 “The Interior Ministry issued a decree calling for the roundup and internment of entire Roma families. THe Gendarmerie set up collection camp..” “Roma form Zala County were also taken to camps in Csaktornya and Draskovec. Many of them were murdered as the Russians approached.” [Some escaped, the rest] were transferred to Koszeg, then into concentration camps in Germany.”

  13. Some1 has difficult posting and therefore she asked me to post her message:

    @Karl Pfeiffer: Although in the previous thread I provided a reliable link, I must assume you missed it or you more rely on printed info. Although Karsai estimate is total 5,000 victim (not murdered), I tend to believe on conclusion reached by other scholars based on other data. You certainly can believe one of the scholars, but you may want to look up date not under the Roam Holocaust, but under Pharrjimos. Now, here are some quotes from a book you can access.

    Pharrajimos: the Fate of the Roma During the Holocaust, edited by Janos Barsony, Agnes Daroczi
    The International Debate Education Association
    400th West 59th Street
    New York, NY
    @2008 Romedia Alapitvany / Romedua Foundation
    1011 Budapest Corvin ter 8.
    Printed in the USA
    ISBN 978-1-932716-30-6

    “There are different estimates regarding the number of Roma victims in Hungary. In the 1950s researcher Kamill Erdos put the number of victims at 50,000. In the 1970s, the Committee of the Victims of Nazism, responding to a request for data from international researchers, set the number of victims 28,00. In his work published in 1992, history Laszlo Karsai estimated the number of Roma victims from Hungary at 5,000, basing the number on archive data.”

    Now before anyone would jump into saying that it were the German Eagle who did this, here are some eye-openers

    1941 Nagyszalonta= Romas forced into ghettos, Transcarpathia= “Roma who could not prove their Hungarian citizenship were driven across the border, where most of them were murdered wit the Jewish victims at Kamanec-Podolsk.”

    1944 “A significant number of Roma were transferred to various extermination camps in Germany from Hungarian interment camps for “unreliable elements”.

    September 29-30, 1944 “The counter-espionage unit of the 1st Hungarian Armoured Division and members of the military police committed murders at Nagyszalonta.”

    October 5, 1944 “Using hand grenades and heavy machine-guns, members of the 1st Hungarian Armored Divison and local Gendarmes executed some 20 Roma-women and children included. In Pocsaj, hundreds of local Roma were herded into the the courtyard of the village hall. Their execution began, but was cut short by the Russian artillery barrage.”

    November 2-10, 1944 “Roma families from vicinity of Budapest were rounded up by local Gendarmes between November 2 and 6 and wet taken to the brick factory of Obuda. On November 10, they were put on trains in Budaors and travelling in cattle wagons, they were taken to Mauthausen and Dachau.”

    December 1944 From Csillagerod “some women and children set free”. In February “the inmates were forced to march toward the Third Reich.” “Hundreds of the victims of the internment camp at Csillagerod, mostly children and the elderly, were buried locally.”

    Early February 1945 “The Interior Ministry issued a decree calling for the roundup and internment of entire Roma families. THe Gendarmerie set up collection camp..” “Roma form Zala County were also taken to camps in Csaktornya and Draskovec. Many of them were murdered as the Russians approached.” [Some escaped, the rest] were transferred to Koszeg, then into concentration camps in Germany.”

  14. I remember a controversy between Karsai and Bársony/Daróczi a few years ago. The argumentation of the former seemed rather loose, considering the specific conditions of the population in question.

    Also, if I’m not mistaken Bársony/Daróczi mention that during the Hungarian occupation of Yugoslav territories, a number of Roma were deported to German-ruled Serbia.

    It seems Mr. Balog is in clear denial. Unless, of course, the ‘Szakály way’ has become the norm in Orbánistan.

  15. Balog should be critizised for his Anti-Gypsy racism.
    According to Karsai no cigány were deported from Hungary to German concentration/anihilation camps.
    I remember the lectures of Prof. Yehuda Bauer about subject matter, I heard during the early eighties in Jerusalem.
    Barsony and Daroczi are not historians. So I would prefer the work of bona fide Historians.
    But as long as there is no evidence that gypsies were deported to German camps I would be careful not to accuse him of Holocaust-Denial.

  16. @Karl Pfeifer:

    1) Hancock, Kenrick, Puxon are historians. And they have – in my opinion – strong arguments against Karsai… and many others, Bauer included, when it comes to the methodological approach on this particular subject.

    2) Balog didn’t say “deported to German camps”. He referred to “deported from Hungary” (by saying it wasn’t the case).

    It reminds me of a controversy in France a few years ago. A MP belonging to the former right-wing majority had spoken about “the legend of the deportation of the homosexuals” [from France, excluding the territories annexed by Germany]. Like Balog, he was factually wrong: the known figures in the French case are very low, yet cases exist, not to mention the distinction between France/German-annexed French territories was quite fishy from a political point of view, since these territories have become French again. As fishy as Balog’s reference to Austria… which belonged to Germany at the time.

    PS: the French MP’s party withdrew its endorsement, and he lost his seat at the next parliamentary election. I’m betting the Hungarian Minister will keep his portfolio.

  17. Janos Barsony is a historian! http://regi.sofar.hu/hu/node/48696
    Karsai’s main work lies in the research of the holocaust and he is one of the historians who feel the “Holocaust” can only apply for the Jewish population who perished. There are other historians out there who do not share this view. I guess many people just want to believe to the historian who represents their point of view not the other point of view.
    I for one believe that a person who’s life is lost under WWII because of the person’s sexual, ethnic or racial origin in fact were the victim of the Holocaust as they were part of the systematic extermination based on belonging to a racial, sexual or ethnic group . THen again, I am not a historian but a simple human being w/o to much of an agenda.

    Karsai in an article (Nepszabdasg) claims that there was no order for the gypsies to leave their residences, but in his own book the “Gipsy Question in Hungary,” he cites the order by the IV Hungarian Royal Gendarme Headquarters “Gypsies may not leave their permanent residence”. In the article he also claims that the organized persecutions of Gypsies did not start after a month following the Arrow Cross seized power on Oct. 15, but in his book he wrote that some of the gypsies were rounded up on November 4, 1944, but some of their names were already collected in April.

    As far as we must be careful not to accuse Balog wit the denial of Holocaust……
    “The deportation of the Sinti and Roma began in February 1943 and continued until July 1944. The Sinti and Roma imprisoned in the camp came primarily from Germany, Austria, the Protectorate of Bavaria and Moravia, and Poland, with smaller groups arriving from France, the Netherlands, Yugoslavia/Croatia, Belgium, the USSR, Lithuania, and Hungary. There is also mention of Sinti and Roma citizens of Norway and Spain.”
    I am not sure if it was historian who wrote the above lines, but it is from the official website of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp, where the registry of prisoners survived!
    http://en.auschwitz.org/h/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=11&Itemid=3

  18. Zoltán Balog made racist anti-Gypsy declarations. He is responsible for segregation in Schools; therefore, he should be criticized for that.
    @Some 1@ it is not a question of believing but of evidence. You wrote: “as they were part of the systematic extermination based on belonging to a racial, sexual or ethnic group”. Let us take for instance Italy. During the Republic of Salo (September 1943 – May 1945), there were orders to arrest Gypsies. With very few exceptions, the Prefects sabotaged the order. The Croat Ustasha sent the Gypsies to Jasenovac, a local concentration and annihilation camp and only a few survived. However, fortunately for the Hungarian gypsies there was no such systematic Extermination in Hungary. Moreover, there is no evidence that gypsies were sent from Hungary to Auschwitz-Birkenau after the German occupation of Hungary on March 19, 1944.
    The Gypsies in Austria were with very few exceptions sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. In one case where Gypsies could prove Hungarian citizenship, a family was according to Karsai saved by the Hungarian representants in Vienna.
    The victims of Holocaust in Hungary were only those considered by the Hungarian racial laws of 1941 as Jews. The Hungarian and German authorities were busy to “solve” the Jewish question in Hungary after the 19. March 1944. Some local authorities concentrated Jews in anticipated obedience [vorauseilender Gehorsam] even before an order arrived. Götz Aly and other historians believe that the main motive of the Hungarian Gov. was to finance the continuation of the war with Jewish property. Krisztián Ungváry has taken the same line.

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