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History as the main battlefield of the culture wars

June 15th, 2012

A leading conservative journalist calls for a peaceful assessment of 20th century Hungarian history, and blames the left for refusing to face the negative heritage of the Communist past.

In Hungary symbolic issues play an important part in political discourse. During the last few weeks alone, the erection of Horthy-statues (see BudaPost May 22nd, 2012), the hundredth anniversary of Kádár‘s birth (see BudaPost May 28th), the failed festive reburial of József Nyirő (see BudaPost June 7th, 2012) and the government’s insistence on banning the red star (see Budapost, June 9th, 2012) have all sparked political debates in and out of Parliament.

We have been putting our past at the service of shallow political and economic interests for several decades,”  Heti Válasz editor-in-chief Gábor Borókai complains, about the use of history in Hungarian politics. He accuses the left of building its own identity on the denial of right-wing idols, instead of putting forward its own. He acknowledges that the pre-war élite ended up committing war crimes in World War II, but blames the left for denying the positive aspects of the inter-war era. Leftist intellectuals, he continues, refuse to admit the faults of the Kádár regime, which was constructed on the ruins of the 1956 revolution. As long as Hungarians are in denial concerning their history, the culture wars will continue to rage. Borókai suggests that the opposing sides should recognise each other’s historical merits, rather than denigrating each other. “Turning towards the past makes sense if it is used to strengthen our collective identity, rather than to frustrate ourselves. The present is quite enough for that,” – he concludes.

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