Rongyos Gárda

Jobbik-Fidesz cooperation: The case of the Western Hungarian Uprising of 1921

In a way I’m continuing the same topic as yesterday–the Orbán government’s appeasement of Jobbik and its supporters. Actually, it may be imprecise to talk about appeasement. There is a partially shared ideology that on quite a few occasions has brought the Orbán government and Jobbik together on the same platform, working hand in hand. Fidesz politicians would like to keep this cooperation quiet. Openly they refuse to associate themselves with Jobbik, but under cover they are more than ready to pick up and support Jobbik’s ideas.

One such endeavor seems to run into difficulties year after year. I’m talking about the restoration of the statue of a young man that adorns the grave of Tibor Vámossy, a nineteen-year-old engineering student who died in the so-called Western Hungarian Uprising of August 28 – October 13, 1921. Before 1920 Western Hungary was the official name of that part of Greater Hungary called Burgenland today.

Austria, in the name of self-determination of nations, laid claim to the territory, including the city of Sopron, on November 17, 1918. The Allied and Associated Powers approved the transfer of territories in the September 10, 1919 Treaty of Saint-Germain. The Hungarian government did not expect such an “unfriendly act” from the “in-laws,” as Hungarians often refer to their former Austrian partners, but the Austrian claim was well founded. The territory’s population according to the 1920 census was about 350,000. The vast majority were German-speaking (72.4%). Croatians (13.8%) and Hungarians (12.3%) made up the rest.

This territory–as opposed to those in the north, east, and south–remained under Hungarian administration after the military collapse, which gave the Hungarian government some hope of retaining it. Budapest tried to come to a separate understanding with Vienna, but these negotiations not surprisingly were unsuccessful. At this point “independent” armed groups decided to prevent the entry of Austrian gendarmes. Eventually 2,000-3,000 quite well armed men were involved on the Hungarian side; the Austrian policemen were no match for them. After a few people died on both sides, the Austrians withdrew. Eventually a peaceful solution was found at the Conference of Venice with Italian moderation. The Hungarians asked for a plebiscite in Sopron and in nine villages nearby. Although the plebiscite produced a Hungarian majority in only three villages, the inhabitants of Sopron voted for Hungary so overwhelmingly (72%) that eventually the whole area remained within Hungary. This was the only negotiated settlement between Hungary and her successors.

In the last few years the statue of Tibor Vámossy in the Farkasréti Cemetery has become a gathering place for Jobbik supporters who, flanked by members of Magyar Gárda, commemorate Vámossy’s death on October 6, 1921. Young Vámossy was the only son of  upper-middle class parents who were rich enough to hire a well-known artist to sculpt a statue of their son and who were patriotic enough to make sure that everybody would know that Tibor died for “Western Hungary.” The Latin words “Pro Integritate” were chiseled into the base of the statue. Vámossy, Jobbik contends, was a member of the so-called Rongyos Gárda (Ragged Guard), one of the many paramilitary organizations that took part in the uprising. Jobbik–and Magyar Gárda–consider it a precursor of sorts.

By the time members of Jobbik and Magyar Gárda discovered the grave site, it was neglected and crumbling. But it had not been completely ignored. Earlier, in 2004, a government organization looking after places and objects that have some national significance (Nemzeti Emlékhely és Kegyeleti Bizottság/NEKB) decided to include the grave on its roster. The president of this organization is Péter Boross, prime minister of Hungary for a few months after József Antall, who in my opinion is very much to the right on the Hungarian political spectrum. So when Jobbik came up with the idea of restoring the crumbling statue they had to turn to NEKB for permission. On September 12, 2012 the organization gave Jobbik permission to go ahead with the project.

At this point members of the Vámossy family raised objections. They refused to have anything to do with Jobbik and its efforts at reconstructing their ancestor’s grave. They announced that, contrary to Jobbik’s claim, Tibor Vámossy was not a member of the Rongyos Gárda; he was a simple patriotic engineering student who decided to fight for his country. The Rongyos Gárda’s reputation is pretty bad in Hungary: it was a murderous anti-Semitic group. So, it is understandable that the Vámossy family refused to endorse the project.

The Vámossy relatives, most of whom live abroad, were right. Young Vámossy was not a member of this unsavory group. According to Andor Ladányi, who wrote a book on the role of university students in the first years of the counterrevolution, there were two recruiters at the engineering school: István Friederich, former prime minister between August 7 and November 25, 1919, and EKSZ (Etelközi Szövetség), an irredentist group active in universities. According to Ladányi, about 50 students were recruited from the engineering students by Friederich, some of whom were described by contemporaries as “all very stylish and well-educated boys.” They even had a “uniform” of sorts: green hunting caps and brown “sporty outfits.” Vámossy was one of these. He and a friend of his, Antal Lossonczy, died while writing postcards home along a roadside near Kismarton. An Austrian patrol opened fire on them.

So, Jobbik came up with an idea which was then approved by the Boross-led organization in charge of national monuments. When the family objected to the presence of Jobbik, the Ministry of Defense decided to take upon itself the cost of the restoration. That is what I meant when I said that Jobbik and the Orbán government often work hand in hand. As Előd Novák, vie-chairman of Jobbik, reported in August 2013, it was on Jobbik’s initiative that the project received the nod from Csaba Hende, who wrote to him that ” although Tibor Vámossy did not die as a soldier on October 6, 1921, he sacrificed his life in defense of the integrity of our country.” Apparently, Hende added that “naturally the government and the ministry acknowledge the merits of the Rongyos Gárda” as well.

The restored tomb and statue

The restored tomb and statue

In August 2013 the whole project was almost ready and Jobbik was preparing for the official unveiling of the statue sometime in October. Naturally, the Magyar Gárda and Jobbik wanted to be present. After all, it was their idea, and they would have been ready to pay for the restoration if the family hadn’t objected. But this was exactly what Csaba Hende, the minister of defense who planned to deliver the speech at the unveiling, did not want. So, according to Jobbik sources, the ministry decided to unveil “the statue of Tibor Vámossy who was a member of the Rongyos Gárda in secret” on October 11. As soon as the ministry discovered that Jobbik knew about the “secret” event and that they intended to participate, Hende’s ministry “postponed the ceremony” again.

Jobbik was outraged and began to attack both the ministry and the Vámossy family. In Novák’s opinion, the ministry is using the family as an excuse. They simply don’t want to be seen with Jobbik. Jobbik also began questioning the right of the Vámossys to speak on the issue at all. After all, they said, Tibor was unmarried and had no direct descendants. Yes and no. I happen to know that Tibor Vámossy had a sister who was married to someone whose family name was Mikecz. At the request of his father-in-law Mikecz changed his name to Vámossy in order to carry on the family name.

Another year has gone by and the anniversary of the uprising’s beginning, August 28,  is approaching. There is still no resolution to the unveiling even though by now the restored memorial is in place. According to Jobbik, the government must decide whether it recognizes the heroism of the Rongyos Gárda in the Western Hungarian Uprising that resulted in a negotiated settlement in Hungary’s favor or not. Előd Novák wants the government not to hide anymore and instead to come out openly and bravely. Hende cannot say one thing to Novák and another to the general public or the Vámossy family. The members of the Orbán government must choose. I agree with Novák.