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István Bethlen’s statue unveiled by PM Orbán

October 11th, 2013

Commenting on the Prime Minister’s speech during the inauguration ceremony of István Bethlen’s statue in the Buda Castle district, left-wing analysts stress that the interwar prime minister was no democrat and left office in the midst of a full-blown financial crisis. A right-wing columnist believes he was a historic figure who should be appreciated by all sides.

Writing in Magyar Narancs, Zoltán Borotányi suggests the government is looking for idols in the past. István Bethlen is just the latest of a series, he believes, which show the political right-wing identifying one iconic figure after another, only to discover one by one that their democratic past does not stand up to close scrutiny. There have already been attempts to “canonise” Admiral Horthy, Hungary’s interwar Regent, then Pál Teleki (his Prime Minister in 1920-21 and 1939-41), as well as a series of right-wing writers who turned out to be anti-Semites or outright pro-Nazis. (On one of the latter, József Nyírő see BudaPost, May through July, 2012.) Bethlen is different, as he was an opponent of the Nazis and of the Holocaust, although he also supported the view in the 1920s that there was a “Jewish issue”. All in all, however, he was also opposed to general suffrage and supported an authoritarian kind of parliamentary system ruled over by one and the same conservative party. Borotányi accuses PM Orbán of embracing his heritage for that particular reason.

On Galamus, economist Péter Mihályi thinks PM Orbán was wrong in saying that during István Bethlen’s term as prime minister (from 1921 to 1931) “order was re-established and the economy became strong”. Mihályi remarks that Bethlen’s investments in the economy were financed thanks to a huge credit-line from the League of Nations, but eventually he had to resign because the economy was in a tragic state and in fact a few months later the government defaulted on its debt.

In Magyar Nemzet, Zsuzsanna Körmendy admits that Bethlen’s decade as Prime Minister ended with a financial breakdown, but remarks that this was caused by the Great Depression. She admits that it may be futile to try and find traditions and historic figures that could symbolise a common denominator in public life at a time so close to the next elections, but Bethlen should nevertheless be acceptable to all sides, she believes. His conservatism led him to reject all forms of extremism, and he managed to revive the country after the post-war and post-revolutionary chaos. During his term in office, industrial output rose by 70 per cent and “we became one of the developed countries of Europe”. Apart from his record as an opponent of Nazism, Körmendy also mentions that Bethlen’s health insurance scheme (for public employees) was more advanced than the contemporary British one. The only question is whether Hungary needs “a cohort of national historic figures appreciated by all sides”. If the likes of Bethlen were duly appreciated, she concludes, Hungarians could find it easier to distinguish between positive and negative actors and deeds in today’s Hungary.