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Row over “totalitarian street names”

April 26th, 2013

A left-wing columnist believes that the government wants to entrench the political divisions in the country by reopening the symbolic debate around the names of public spaces.

In 2012, the government enacted a law which stipulates that public places named after individuals or concepts associated with 20th century dictatorships should be renamed by the end of 2013. (Twenty-three years after the regime change, streets in several minor settlements still carry the names of Communist personalities or concepts, from Lenin to the Republic of Councils.) When in doubt, local councils are advised to consult the Institute of History of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, which has published a long list of historical figures and common names in order to help local authorities decide which names are unwanted according to the new law. As Heti Világgazdaság reported, several Socialist, left-wing intellectuals and artists who had no direct involvement with the past dictatorial regimes were considered undesirable, while their right-wing counterparts were given the green light. Interestingly, the names of some of the favourites of the Communist régime (Marx and Michurin) were termed “acceptable”, if not “recommended”. A couple of common names were also deemed undesirable by the Institute of History. These include “the liberation,” literally meaning ‘the release of the country’, which refers to the liberation/occupation of Hungary by the Soviet Army from Nazi Germany in 1945), “kisdobos” (‘little drummer’), “úttörő” (pioneer) (both Communist versions of boy-scouts) and ‘partisan’.

In Népszabadság, Judit Kósa contends that by reopening the culture war around street names, Fidesz wants to further polarize Hungarian society. She writes that the symbolic battle around public places was concluded in the early 1990s, when hundreds of streets named after Communist leaders were given new titles. The left-wing pundit suspects that the government wants to divert public attention from more important issues. As a result of the procedure, the historians of the Academy must bear the humiliation of being forced to participate in the government’s culture war, Kósa concludes.

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