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No end in sight for World War Two controversies

February 10th, 2014

In the increasingly polarized debate over the commemoration of the Holocaust and the Nazi occupation of Hungary, a left-wing and a liberal pundit call for a boycott of government sponsored events. A moderate conservative commentator, on the other hand, fears that the lack of compromise on the memorial will only serve anti-Semites and those interested in entrenching ideological cleavages.

On Thursday, János Lázár state secretary responsible for the Prime Minister’s Office met with Jewish organizations, including the Alliance of Hungarian Jewish Faith Communities (Mazsihisz) to discuss controversial Holocaust related issues. These include comments by the historian Sándor Szakály (see BudaPost January 23), the planned World War II memorial and the House of Fates (see BudaPost January 31). No agreement was reached, and Mr Lázár said he will confer with the Prime Minister. According to Népszabadság, the government remains determined to erect the World War II memorial, but is also willing to involve historians recommended by the Jewish organizations in the team working on the planned House of Fates museum. In the meantime, Mazsihisz has announced its decision to boycott the Memorial Year unless the government sacks Dr Szakály, freezes the House of Fates project, and abandons its plan to erect a statue to mark the occupation of Hungary by Nazi Germany.

This ‘hysterical and ideological’ attack on the government’s policy to mark important events from the country’s pastpast suggests that the majority of the Hungarian population were collaborators, Tibor Löffler writes in Magyar Nemzet. The pro-government columnist recalls that Nazi Germany was not only opposed by those on the left, but by many on the moderate right as well, including Magyar Nemzet, which was closed down immediately after the occupation, while some of its columnists were sent to death camps. Thus Löffler believes that it is legitimate to erect a memorial to all victims of the Nazi invasion. Critics of the government are politically motivated, he adds. While the Orbán government considers it an important task to confront Hungary with its history through the commemoration of past suffering, left-wing liberal governments have so far failed to make a comparable endeavour, Löffler concludes.

In Magyar Hírlap, Zsolt Bayer contends that there is no need for the Hungarian government to apologize again for the crimes committed during the Holocaust. The pro-government columnist, known for his highly opinionated pieces (and often accused of anti-Semitism by the left) recalls that since 1990, successive Hungarian governments and the Christian churches have on numerous occasions acknowledged and apologized for the involvement of the Hungarian authorities in the Holocaust. Despite this fact, Jewish organizations have again and again demanded that right-wing governments and Hungarian Christians bow their heads in shame, Bayer contends.

Despite widespread interpretations put forward by hostile international propagandists, Hungarians have throughout the 20th century acted in the name of a noble cause: our ideals were based on freedom, brotherhood, justice and humanity. But it is also true that we were often too weak, inept or sometimes even too opportunistic to act accordingly,” the former Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) politician György Csóti asserts in the same daily. The right-wing commentator points out that the biggest catastrophes in Hungarian history occurred invariably under foreign occupation. Before the March 1944 occupation by Nazi Germany, Hungary was a refuge for Jews and despite the anti-Jewish laws “everyone in the country could live in physical security,” Csóti claims. He adds that Regent Miklós Horthy stood up to Hitler in order to save Hungarian Jews from deportations. Hungarians “in the past millennium have contributed to the protection of the continent’s Christian values” as well as to the protection of human rights and social justice, Csóti concludes.

Népszava‘s János Dési speculates that the roundtable assembled by János Lázár, the state secretary responsible for the Prime Minister’s Office is an effort to divide Hungarian Jewry. Through offering funding and other perks, the Hungarian government wants to lure some Jewish organizations into supporting the planned World War Two memorial and the House of Fates Holocaust museum in order to pre-empt an international outcry over these projects. In another article, Dési notes that although the Orbán government is not itself anti-Semitic, it wants to secure the votes of anti-Semites without creating an international scandal.

In Népszabadság, Sándor Révész calls not only on Jews, but on all “self-conscious Hungarians” to boycott the official Holocaust commemorations. The liberal commentator accuses not only the planners of the World War II memorial, but also the House of Fates museum of relativizing the crimes committed by the Hungarian authorities. Rather than seeking a compromise “in the hope of getting financial support”, he urges Mazsihisz to cancel any talks with the government, unless it not only cancels all its previous decisions but also publicly apologizes for them.

In its weekly lead article, Magyar Narancs contends that the Jewish organizations which agreed to meet with the government are caught between a rock and a hard place. If they decide to boycott the controversial commemoration celebrations, the Jews will be blamed for the likely international outcry, the liberal weekly remarks. If they broker a compromise and participate in the commemorations, the author believes they will legitimize what he calls the government’s efforts to whitewash the Horthy regime.

In Mandiner, Gellért Rajcsányi also assumes that Hungary’s Jews will be the first to suffer if the commemorations are boycotted by Jewish organisations. The moderate conservative columnist criticizes Sándor Szakály’s statement that the 1941 deportations of Jews from the country were carried out as an immigration office procedure (see BudaPost January 23). Rajcsányi also finds it problematic that the government made its decisions about the controversial World War II memorial in a hasty procedure without appropriate deliberation. He finds it understandable that seventy years after the Holocaust, which was committed with the active participation of the Hungarian authorities, Jewish organizations have reacted so firmly. Nonetheless, Rajcsányi calls for a reasonable comprise, fearing that by boycotting the events, Jewish organisations would only play into the hands of those who are not interested in historical reconciliation but would rather choose to entrench the ideological conflicts of the present. In such a case, not only will the anti-Semitic discourse be strengthened, he warns, but efforts by moderates to build a common historical narrative will also be stranded.

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