Auschwitz

Dissonant government voices on the Hungarian Holocaust

The Orbán government’s efforts to falsify history are proceeding full steam ahead. The “madness”–as Imre Mécs, one of the heroes of 1956, called it–continues. It looks as if Viktor Orbán refuses to listen to reason and insists on erecting a monument that depicts suffering Hungary as Archangel Gabriel at the mercy of the German imperial eagle. The originally stated purpose of the statue was to commemorate the German occupation of Hungary on March 19, 1944. After the first outburst of indignation, the monument’s rationale was changed to a commemoration of the victims, both Jewish and non-Jewish, of German aggression. There is only one problem with the whole concept. Hungary was an ally of Germany, and it was a legitimate Hungarian government that handled the deportation of about 600,000 Hungarian citizens of Jewish heritage. Not without reason, critics of the whole idea of the monument suspect that the Orbán government wants to shake off any responsibility for the Holocaust and to shift the blame entirely to Germany.

The protest around the foundation being built for the future monument has been going on for two weeks. Today about twenty people were removed and taken to police headquarters. The two best known demonstrators who were taken away are Imre Mécs, a former member of parliament who was sentenced to death as a result of his participation in the 1956 revolution, and his wife Fruzsina Magyar, a well-known dramaturgist.

It seems unlikely that the “madness” will end any time soon. Not only will the memorial stand but Sándor Szakály, a historian with far-right political views, will remain the director of the newly created historical institute,”Veritas.” As far I as can see, this new institute will be the government’s vehicle for a revisionist interpretation of modern Hungarian history. And we can only expect more historical madness. Just wait until young historians affected by the extremist ideology of Jobbik begin writing their own revisionist interpretations of historical events.

Mazsihisz, the umbrella organization of Jewish groups, objected to Szakály’s appointment, but considering that Sándor Szakály just signed a document ensuring long-term cooperation between the Veritas Institute and the Holocaust Documentation and Memorial Center, we can be sure that Szakály’s appointment is secure. How could it happen, one might ask, that the Holocaust Documentation Center would ever sign such a document? The answer is simple. One of the first acts of the Orbán government was a personnel change at the head of the Holocaust Documentation and Memorial Center. The old appointees were fired and the new guard arrived. At that point it was clear that the Orbán government had plans for the Center. Since the Memorial Center is financially dependent on the government, Viktor Orbán thinks he has every right to run the place the way he likes. In his world there is no such thing as an independent foundation. So, while Mazsihisz stands against Szakály’s appointment, the Orbán-appointed head of the Holocaust Memorial Center, György Haraszti, signs an agreement of long-term cooperation with the head of Veritas. On the face of it, it might seem that Orbán managed to split the Jewish community, but my feeling is that most Hungarian Jews applaud Mazsihisz and have a rather low opinion of the new head of the Holocaust Memorial Center.

Last Sunday’s March for Life, a yearly gathering in remembrance of the Holocaust, was the largest ever, definitely more than 30,000 people. The crowd filled the streets between the Danube and the Eastern Station. Quite a distance. The government was represented by President János Áder, who then joined the International March for Life on a pilgrimage to Auschwitz. This year the Hungarians led the procession from Auschwitz to Birkenau because of the 70th anniversary of the Hungarian Holocaust.

The Hungarian group in Auschwitz-Birkenau

The Hungarian group in Auschwitz-Birkenau

Áder made a speech there that was welcomed by all those who are critical of the Hungarian government’s attitude toward the Holocaust. Áder emphasized that the Hungarian state didn’t resist “the diabolical plan of the German occupiers”; in fact, it became its enablers. He called Auschwitz “the largest Hungarian cemetery.” He went as far as to say that “in order to understand the tragedy of 1944 we will have to take a look at ourselves.”  He added that there is no “forgiveness when a state turns against its own citizens.”

János Áder in Auschwitz-Birkenau / MTI

János Áder in Auschwitz-Birkenau / MTI

These are very strong words. The strongest I have ever heard from a member of the Orbán government. I can’t quite decide how to interpret them. I have the feeling that this was Áder’s first visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, and I understand that the place makes an incredible impression on visitors. Perhaps the president changed his speech in the last minute to place greater emphasis on Hungary’s guilt than he had originally planned. Perhaps he was simply saying what he thought the pilgrims expected to hear. Perhaps he really does believe that the Hungarian government was complicit. In any case, Áder’s admission of Hungarian guilt stands in stark contrast to what Viktor Orbán, László Kövér, and Zoltán Balog think of Hungary’s anti-Semitic past. Áder didn’t look for excuses, he didn’t try to bury uncomfortable truths. Was this an example of what we call the good cop, bad cop syndrome or was it genuine? I don’t know whether we will ever be able to answer this question properly given the tight-lipped Fidesz leaders.

As for whether the Germans were true occupiers or not, here is an amusing story. A few days ago neo-Nazi groups also decided to demonstrate on Szabadág tér. Great was the panic among the anti-monument demonstrators. They were afraid of physical attacks by these skin heads. To their surprise it turned out that, just like the Budapest liberals, the neo-Nazis came to demonstrate against the monument. Why? Because, as they explained, the Germans did not occupy Hungary. How could they? Hungarians and Germans were comrades-in-arms who fought together against Bolshevism. No comment.

Advertisements

Viktor Orbán’s bad billing: From the World Jewish Congress to the European Parliament

Before I turn to the topic of today’s post I would like to call everybody’s attention to several documents that are now available in English concerning the latest amendments to the Hungarian Constitution. The first is the draft report of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (Rapporteur: Rui Tavares) on Hungary. This is the report that was the basis of today’s debate in the European Parliament’s LIBE Committe. The transcript of the debate is not yet available but let’s hope that it will be soon. You have to keep in mind that the European People’s Party (EPP), to which Fidesz belongs, has the majority. If the EPP delegation solidly supports Orbán, nothing will happen.

The discussion of the draft report already began in the Hungarian media. Magyar Nemzet described it as a “left-liberal ultimatum” and George Schöpflin, Fidesz EP MP, found the document “humiliating.” Népszabadság simply recounted the demands outlined in the document and came to the conclusion that, if accepted, the Hungarian government will be forced to withdraw practically all of the amendments.

Another document, also in English, can be found on the website of the Hungarian Foreign Ministry. It is an analysis written by three legal scholars who were asked by János Martonyi  to give their opinions on the fourth amendment to the constitution. The three scholars were Francis Delpérée, Pierre Delvolvé, and Eivind Smith. These are conservative legal scholars, and the Hungarian government hoped that they would fully support the Hungarian point of view. As you can see, this was not the case. They also found plenty to criticize.

tvlistings.zap2it.com

tvlistings.zap2it.com

And now let’s look at some reactions to Viktor Orbán’s speech at the World Jewish Conference. The speech is now available in English. Commentators critical of Viktor Orbán and his government found the speech no more than empty rhetoric while Magyar Nemzet not only praised his speech but also reported that yesterday Ronald Lauder apologized to Viktor Orbán because he was unaware of the Orbán interview that appeared in Yedioth Ahronoth, a Tel Aviv daily. In it, Orbán admitted that Jobbik poses a real danger. “We in Hungary must be especially careful to act as categorically as possible against this phenomenon. If we want to protect democracy, we must take a firm stand against Jobbik. Jobbik has developed a political ideology that quite obviously violates the human rights of Jews at both an individual and community level.” Well, I don’t think that Lauder had to apologize. It was easy for Orbán to say something specific about Jobbik in a Hebrew-language paper published in Israel. He was reluctant, however, to say a word about Jobbik in Hungarian in Budapest.

The foreign press was pretty hard on Orbán. According to Die Welt, Orbán’s words were only “half-hearted” and he refused to talk about any “tangible measures” he is contemplating to curb anti-Semitism in Hungary. The applause at the end of the speech “remained polite.” According to James Kirchick in Spiegel InternationalOrbán whitewashed anti-Semitism. “Orbán’s speech was notable more for what it left out than what it said.”

The reporter for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote that Orbán tried to minimize the problem in Hungary by pointing to the rest of Europe. The Austrian Der Standard carried an editorial by Eric Frey that was a strongly worded indictment of Orbán’s speech. Even the title was telling: “Anti-Semitism in Hungary: Orbán’s subtle complicity.” Frey argued that Orbán “plays on the same chauvinistic and xenophobic keyboard as the anti-Semites and gives them backing.” Frey extended his criticism by maintaining that “anti-Semitism is only one component–and certainly not the biggest–of the undemocratic, bigoted and anti-European masonry Orbán has built to secure his power for years to come.”

Naturally, everybody is waiting to see what will follow Orbán’s condemnation of anti-Semitism in general terms. Will they remove the name of the anti-Semitic Bishop Ottokár Prohászka from the streets and pack away his statues? Will they stop the ever-growing Horthy cult and direct local communities to get rid of the statues of Admiral Miklós Horthy? Personally, I very much doubt it.

There was, however, one interesting development yesterday. During the last three years it rarely happened that an MSZP suggestion to table a parliamentary discussion was ever accepted by the Fidesz majority. But, behold, yesterday it happened. MSZP suggested that the Hungarian government should make it possible for every Hungarian student to visit Auschwitz at least once. Earlier that proposal was voted down by the Fidesz caucus. Yesterday, however, Zoltán Pokorni, the chairman of the committee on education, announced that the government party would reconsider the proposal as long as such a trip would not be compulsory for the schools. It would only be a possibility.

Well, this isn’t much, but it is something. Although one can very well imagine that certain principals will simply refuse to participate in such a program. Even if it’s free.

Tomorrow will be a fateful day as far as Hungarian-European Union relations are concerned. One crisis after the next, but apparently the Hungarian prime minister thrives in such an atmosphere. So for a while he will be in his element. After this hurdle will come the question of the excessive deficit procedure. The Hungarian government is preparing for the worst.