'Creeping Cult' Hungary Rehabilitates Far-Right Figures

Hungary's right-wing extremists are becoming increasingly self-confident. They are now openly paying tribute to Miklós Horthy, Hungary's anti-Semitic regent during the interwar period, erecting a statue and renaming a town square in his honor. Even some members of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's Fidesz party support the new trend.


By in Budapest

Hungary's controversial new constitution, in force since the beginning of the year, evokes the spirit of a long-past era: the thousand-year-old Hungarian state that is represented by the Holy Crown of Saint Stephen I. The constitution pledges to "protect" the unique Hungarian language, Hungarian identity and national culture. It is a thinly veiled throwback to the spirit of the interwar period, when the country was ruled by Miklós Horthy, who established an authoritarian, ultraconservative nationalist and revisionist regime.

Now, under the leadership of conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, this spirit is more or less taking concrete form. In mid-May, a statue of Horthy was erected in Kereki in southwestern Hungary. It was something of a first in post-communist Hungary. After all, Miklós Horthy was a notorious anti-Semite and the leader of the White Terror, a wave of post World War I, anti- Communist violence which claimed many Jews as its victims. As head of state in 1944, he was responsible for the mass deportation of 400,000 Hungarian Jews who were murdered in Auschwitz.

A few days after the dedication of the Horthy statue, the reformed bishop Gusztáv Bölcskei unveiled a restored marble Horthy plaque at the Debrecen University of Reformed Theology in eastern Hungary. Then on Friday, June 1, Freedom Square in the town of Gyömrö, southeast of Budapest, was renamed after the right winger. More Horthy statues are set to be erected, also in Budapest -- even though Horthy despised the city, calling it a "Jewish Bolshevik cesspool of vice." A dedication is being in planned in October for a larger-than-life-size statue of Horthy on horseback in Budapest's Castle Hill district. Journalist Gábor Czene says that there is a "creeping Horthy cult" on the rise.

But it's not just the former regent who is being honored in Orbán's new Hungary. The Hungarian Parliament is pushing for the reburial of the writer József Nyírö, who was once sought after as a war criminal, in his homeland of Transylvania in Romania at the request of the Hungarian minority party there. Nyírö was a prominent cultural ideologue under Horthy. He later served as a member of parliament during the reign of terror of the national socialist Arrow Cross Party from October 1944 to March 1945, a time when tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews were sent on death marches or massacred. Nyírö fled to Franco's Spain after the war.

Smuggling an Urn

Nyírö's reburial was originally planned for May 27, Pentecost Sunday, but the Romanian government banned the ceremony. So in place of the reburial a small ecumenical service for the writer took place instead at his birthplace of Odorheiu Secuiesc. In addition to the leadership of the right-wing extremist party Jobbik, Hungary's powerful State Secretary for Culture Géza Szöcs attended the service along with the speaker of the Hungarian National Assembly, László Kövér, formally the second highest official in the country. Kövér behaved as if Transylvania had become a part of Hungary after World War II instead of being returned to Romania. He complained that the Romanian government is "uncivilized," "paranoid," "hysterical," and "barbaric," because they banned the reburial ceremony. He announced that they will bury Nyírö one way or the other on that spot. Kövér concluded that the people "who had a son whose ashes were feared" would be "victorious."

A few days after the ceremony, State Secretary for Culture Géza Szöcs told the Hungarian news website index.hu that the urn with the ashes of the Arrow Cross Party writer had been smuggled into Romania. It required a plot, he said, because transporting the urn "was not exactly easy." However he did not take part in the smuggling activity, he added, saying he didn't know where the urn is. The reburial of Nyírö will take place soon, he said. Szöcs appeared at the service with a large bag which he placed under a portrait of the author as he delivered the eulogy. Szöcs did not want to "either confirm or deny" whether the urn was inside.

The new Horthy cult and the attempted Nyírö reburial are part of a populist-nationalist renaissance in Hungary, which right-wing extremists have successfully been promoting in the country for years. Now Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his right-wing conservative Fidesz party are also eagerly pushing it.

Some observers are appalled at the development. "Why is Fidesz associating itself with members of Arrow Cross? Is this how far we've come?" asks political scientist Zoltán Somogyi. "Kövér and Szöcs should resign immediately," he says, otherwise Hungary will be saddled with the reputation of having a government "that supports the Nazis."

Such demands are, however, rejected by the government camp. Some moderate Fidesz politicians and functionaries may feel uneasy with the populist-nationalistic course of the party, but no criticism is made in public. In Orbán's party, loyalty is prized above all else. As a result, official interviews with government representatives often turn into exercises in relativizing. For example, Gergely Pröhle, deputy state secretary for European affairs in the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, says that he "can understand" that the rhetoric of "some political statements" by the Orbán government sound "a bit pre-modern to Western ears," but he says that Hungary is a different country with a different language. He rejects what he calls attempts to "conflate" the conservative government with right- wing extremism and its ideology. "That is a well known tactic of the left in international history," Pröhle says.

Ketchup on the Constitution

One of these leftists is the Budapest lawyer and opposition activist, Péter Dániel. In 2008, he was one of the initiators of proceedings to ban the far-right paramilitary Hungarian Guard movement. He accuses the Orbán government of obsessively pursuing revisionist policies and cultivating an "innuendo-laden, socially acceptable anti-Semitism" that permanently blames "Zionists and Jewish Bolsheviks" for all of Hungary's problems.

Dániel has become known in Hungary for his provocative stunts. For example, he smeared a copy of the new constitution, which was displayed in public, with ketchup. He also wants to take a stance against the Horthy cult. On May 16, he traveled to the town of Kereki, doused the Horthy statue with red paint and hung a sign around the statue's neck reading: "Mass Murderer - War Criminal."

For a few days, the stunt dominated headlines in Hungary. Since then, Dániel has become enemy number one for right-wing extremists. Threats against him have been circulating on numerous far-right Hungarian websites. At one recent public appearance, he received police protection because a right-wing extremist mob had gathered. In response to Dániel's stunt against the Horthy statue, several Holocaust memorials in Budapest were desecrated.

Although groups in the democratic extra-parliamentary opposition reject the new Horthy cult, Dániel's actions are also controversial. "As you can see, this only leads to a war over statues," says Péter Juhász, a leading activist who launched a successful Facebook initiative for more press freedom in the fall of 2010. Juhász says that Hungary needs to thoroughly examine its past and calls for a social dialogue about the limits of tolerance in the country's remembrance culture. "Unfortunately, such a dialogue is not taking place at the moment," he says with resignation.

Indeed, the reality is quite the opposite. Recently, the government adopted a new national core curriculum for Hungarian schools. Required reading will include, among other works, the writings of Arrow Cross author Nyírö and his contemporary Albert Wass, a writer who was sentenced to death in absentia in Romania for war crimes and died in the United States in 1998.

When some teachers' associations protested against the inclusion of far-right and fascist writers in the core curriculum, education minister Rózsa Hoffmann curtly replied that it involved authors who had had a big impact in their own time. "They have now received a worthy place in the core curriculum," she said.

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chiguy31 06/06/2012
"As head of state in 1944, he was responsible for the mass deportation of 400,000 Hungarian Jews who were murdered in Auschwitz." Not strictly accurate. Horthy protected Hungarian Jews until 1944 when German troops occupied the country and imposed German policies on Hungary. Horthy attempted to make peace with the Russians, until his son was kidnapped and Skorzeny led troops to arrest Horthy (October/1944). It was after German troops deposed Horthy that the Arrow Cross movement started the murder of Jews - something Horthy had previously prevented. Please know your history if you are going to write historical analysis.
easylaj 06/07/2012
Chiguy31 has managed in a paragraph to destroy the polemics presented by the author. The times between the two world wars was a difficult era anywhere in Europe, especially in Hungary. Horthy may have been an antisemite, there were the anti jewish laws partially restricting entry into professional fields, bur but the physical security of jews has not been threatenned until the german occupation and the installment of the far-right arrocross. Horthy was a right winger, but not far-right. Similarly Orban is not far right. He has been elected by two thirds of Hungarians and he seems to take advantage of it. But if he keeps misbehaving he will be voted out at next election. Hungarian are free and proud people and can govern themselves.
GDF 06/08/2012
Zitat von chiguy31"As head of state in 1944, he was responsible for the mass deportation of 400,000 Hungarian Jews who were murdered in Auschwitz." Not strictly accurate. Horthy protected Hungarian Jews until 1944 when German troops occupied the country and imposed German policies on Hungary. Horthy attempted to make peace with the Russians, until his son was kidnapped and Skorzeny led troops to arrest Horthy (October/1944). It was after German troops deposed Horthy that the Arrow Cross movement started the murder of Jews - something Horthy had previously prevented. Please know your history if you are going to write historical analysis.
The time line of the deportation of Jews from Hungary is as follows: April 29, 1944: Kistarcsa, Hungary; The first deportation from Hungary to Birkenau takes place. April 30, 1944: Topolya, Hungary; The second deportation from Hungary to Birkenau takes place.2,000 Jews are transported. To fool the remaining Jews, the SS has the deported ones write postcards to their family back home. May 15, 1944: Hungary: Trains from Hungary begin crossing Slovakia and Southern Poland containing carloads of Jews. Their destination was Birkenau. Within a few days the pace would accelerate to the gassing and cremation of 12,000 Jews a day. May 24, 1944: Auschwitz; The deportations from Hungary to Berkenau average 13,000 Jews per day. May 25, 1944: Budapest; German representative, General Edmund Veesnmayer reports that 138,870 Jews have been deported in the past 10 days. May 31, 1944: Budapest: German representative, SS General Edmund Veesnmayer reports that 60,000 more Hungarian Jews have been deported in the last six days. The total for the past 16 days stood at 204,312. This day 42 dead bodies were removed from the Berkenau bound trains. June 17, 1944: Budapest; SS General Veesenmayer notifies Berlin that the 340,000 Hungarian Jews had now been deported. All since April 29. July 8, 1944: Budapest; Due to international pressure by the Pope, King of Sweden and the Red Cross (all who have only recently learned the extent of the Hungarian tragedy), this day saw the halt of the deportation of the Hungarian Jews. By now some 437,000 Hungarian Jews were deported. 170,000 still remained. Eichmann had other plans for them. Please note that all the events above occurred before October of 1944.
Anna-Anitra 06/09/2012
4. All this is very disturbing
The message of the Hungarian authorities is very telling indeed: they demonstrate that they are not afraid of the diplomatic pressure from abroad. And why should they, really, if nazi parades are absolutely common in other european countries for decades already. I don't remember when the German officials or MassMedia drew attention to this ghastly things. Hungary hasn't suffered much neither during the war, nor afterwards. The Germans aquired all the responsibility and paid and pay and will pay endless compensations for war crimes. Hungary used to be the most well-off state of the Soviet Block and managed to avoid serious repressions and economic troubles. Now they have all the advantages of the EU and nevertheless violate the EU legislation. The wave of populism and nationalism is gaining ground across Europe and tear the EU apart. Hungary is now the fifth country in Europe after Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and Ukraine which dare to openly glorify the nazi criminals. Who will be the next?
AlexanderChurchill 06/11/2012
5. We must say no to German historical revisionism
Der Spiegel should stop trying to revise German and European history by erroneously blaming the leaders of other nations in Central and Eastern Europe for the Holocaust. Germany bears full responsibility for the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust because GERMANY oversaw the construction of the concentration camps (with their gas chambers), the transportation of millions of Jews to these camps, and their actual mass murder in the death chambers. The Jews of Hungary were safe until the occupation of the country by GERMAN troops in March 1944. No Hungarian Jews were transported to Auschwitz or any other concentration camp before that date. Der Spiegel's reckless approach to 20th-century European history is particular unhelpful at a time when - for the third time in a century - Europeans are facing the specter of German insensitivity, dominance and (potential) aggression.
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