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Interpretation wars around Hungarian history

June 18th, 2012

Commentators on the left and right trade accusations about hidden agendas and propagating half-truths concerning the charges of anti-Semitism, the heritage of Imre Nagy and the Strasbourg court ruling on wearing the red star in public.

The anniversary of the 1989 ceremonial reburial of Imre Nagy, the executed prime minister of the 1956 revolution, is commemorated in a Magyar Nemzet editorial. György Pilhál recalls the event, which was attended by a hundred thousand people, as the symbolic end to the communist regime. He also reminds the readers that only a year beforehand, Viktor Orbán was taken into custody at a small gathering honouring the memory of Imre Nagy. The Hungarian left have been trying ever since to claim Imre Nagy as their hero, he says, with former PM Ferenc Gyurcsány going as far as calling him the founding figure of the new left. Such attempts, argues Pilhál, fail to recognize that Imre Nagy became a hero because he eventually stood up for a neutral and independent Hungary and paid for it with his life.  It is not the reform communist, but the martyr of national independence that Hungary celebrates, whatever the claims of the Hungarian left might be.

In Népszabadság Sándor Révész condemns the governing forces for refusing to apply the “red star verdict” of the European Court of Human Rights (See BudaPost, June 9). He confronts House speaker László Kövér, who called the Strasbourg judges “idiots who have no idea what was going on in this country for 50 years”, with his stance 19 years ago when he abstained from approving the law banning the red star. Révész contends that the speaker not only forgets his own previous standpoint, but also misunderstands the ruling of the Strasbourg court. The court found that although the symbols of totalitarian regimes can rightfully be banned, the red star has multiple meanings; therefore to pronounce a “guilty “ verdict. it should be proven that wearing it was a signal of support for the oppressive regimes. The government, when it claims it has the right to disregard the ruling, is actively promoting an infringement of international law, Révész contends. It is also taking its own, orange symbol, one step further towards becoming the sign of yet another authoritarian regime, he concludes.

In Magyar Hírlap, right wing political analyst Tamás Fricz argues that the Strasbourg verdict is another example of double standards being applied in Europe. If wearing the red star is indeed a human right, the government should abolish the law forbidding the use of symbols of totalitarian regimes – an impossible requirement. Fricz believes the countries of Western Europe still cannot understand what Bolshevism meant for this region, despite evidence published in the so-called Black Book, proving that communism cost many times more lives lost, about a hundred million, than Fascism. He quotes secretary of state Bence Rétvári’s comment that in Hungary about one million people were unlawfully prosecuted, adding that hundreds of thousands were harassed for attending church or discriminated against on the basis of „class origins”.

Heti Válasz published „the last words as a political analyst” of the new government spokesperson Ferenc Kumin. Kumin says anti-Semitism is no real threat in today’s Hungary, despite the uproar around some recent events such as the Horthy statues (see BudaPost, June 15) or the reburial of József Nyirő (see BudaPost, May 31). The anti-Semitism charge is raised by Jewish organizations who mostly support the political left, while Hungarian citizens of Jewish descent do not necessarily feel represented by these organizations and may have their political sympathies elsewhere. In fact, anti-Semitic political platforms are not appealing to voters, Kumin writes. Nevertheless the moderate conservative establishment must resolutely condemn all anti-Semitic incidents, in order to make its position perfectly clear. This is what PM Viktor Orbán did in parliament, replying to a far right MP and this is what president János Áder did by visiting the former chief rabbi who had been insulted in the street by an unknown anti-Semite, Ferenc Kumin recalls.

An opinion piece, again in Heti Válasz, by Eszter Balla calls for a re-evaluation of what ordinary Hungarians stood for during the Holocaust. She says the Wallenberg-year, commemorating the Swedish diplomat’s effort to save Jewish lives, would be the perfect platform to enumerate those Hungarian citizens who in public office, or as private individuals, saved Jewish lives. If we miss this opportunity – she says – the gaffe of Barack Obama who mentioned „Polish” concentration camps, a slip the Polish government immediately protested against, may pass on to Hungary without any means at our disposal to fight the prejudice.

Népszava also carried two opinion pieces last week on cases of anti-Semitism, present or past. Iván Andrassew greets the decision by a Hungarian criminal court to rule in the spirit of restitution rather than retribution when it imposed on a Holocaust denier the penalty of visiting the Holocaust Museum in Budapest and writing an essay about his conclusions. He calls the ruling both exemplary and humane.

On the other hand, deputy editor János Dési, protests against a literary event, commemorating József Nyirő, organized under the auspices of a local Fidesz official, the mayor of a Budapest district, the venue of which was a cultural centre named after Miklós Radnóti, an eminent Jewish Hungarian poet murdered in 1944 by the guards escorting him and his comrades on a “death march” through western Hungary. Nyirő did not pull the trigger, argues Dési, but his Arrow Cross propaganda and whole-hearted approval of Nazi Germany to the very last, make him an accomplice to the murders.

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