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Political horror journalism

June 5th, 2011

Heti Válasz carries an angry reaction by András Stumpf to comments by the veteran Hungarian-Austrian columnist Paul Lendvai in the Vienna Standard, on the dismissal of the director of the Budapest Holocaust Memorial Centre.

The Centre was set up by the first Fidesz-led government (1998-2002) but the leading members of staff were appointed by the Socialist-liberal administration which followed. Now, one year after coming to power, the government has appointed a new director in the person of historian Szabolcs Szita, one of the main authorities on the Holocaust. Paul Lendvai thinks the real reason is that the government wants to impose its own vision of history.

In fact, in March – in an interview that has been conspicuously downplayed by officials ever since – state secretary András Levente Gál, did criticise the Museum for presenting the (re)occupation of Northern Transylvania in 1940 and the deportation of  Hungary’s Jews to Nazi concentration camps four years later as parts of one and the same process.

The Preamble to Hungary’s new Constitution says in fact that the country lost its sovereignty in 1944 when it was invaded by Nazi Germany (and the deportations took place in that year).

Stumpf fiercely rejects Paul Lendvai’s analysis, according to which the government is trying  to whitewash the inter-war right wing régime, while introducing authoritarian changes to Hungary’s own legal system – despite the widespread criticism this has attracted, and which has overshadowed its EU presidency.

He recalls a recent OMG survey in which the far right FPÖ ranks as the most popular party in Austria. And he refers sarcastically to German and Austrian news reports which depict Hungary as the land of the revival of the extreme right, on the basis of the presence of paramilitary units which sympathise with the radical right-wing Jobbik party that got over 16 per cent of the votes last year.

“Perhaps I should disguise myself as a correspondent, travel to Vienna and start screaming for democracy there. I could remind everyone that it was Austria that gave Hitler to the world, and is still unable to free itself of his demons…. But I do not intend to write a Nazi horror story about Austria. I leave the job of fiction-journalism to my Austrian colleagues”.

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