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Culture war over István Tisza’s statue

June 11th, 2014

A left-wing columnist criticizes the government for claiming historical continuity with István Tisza, an early 20th century conservative statesman. A pro-government commentator, on the other hand, believes that left-wing and liberal politicians are still failing to come to terms both with Hungary’s past, and her national heroes.

As part of the reconstruction of the square in front of the Parliament building, a monument to István Tisza (1861-1918) statue was unveiled by PM Orbán on Whitsun Monday. The statue, originally erected in 1934, was destroyed in World War II. In his speech, PM Orbán praised István Tisza for trying to rebuild a strong nation after an era of failed liberal rule. PM Orbán suggested that the nationalism often despised by liberals and socialists is an important ideology that helps to strengthen solidarity across classes. The MSZP in a press release said that István Tisza was a politician opposed to progressive ideas, and thus cannot represent the unity of the nation.

By rebuilding the Tisza monument, PM Orbán is sending the message that he stands for a brand of  conservative, aristocratic rule which defends the privileged upper classes, Miklós Hargitai comments in Népszabadság. Hargitai writes that Tisza ardently opposed any democratic reforms and under his rule Hungary “came close to a complete breakdown” in World War I. Instead of setting up Tisza as a role model, the left-wing columnist proposes that Hungary should follow the heritage of the conservative liberal István Bethlen, who led Hungary’s recovery after the First World War.

In Magyar Hírlap, editor István Stefka writes that the left “cannot stomach the nation’s past.” Stefka likens contemporary Liberals and Socialists to aggressive Communists, who protested against any commemoration of the national past, and tried to popularize the ideological leaders of international Socialism instead of national heroes. In conclusion, the pro-government columnist maintains that Hungarians are fed up with “a tiny and aggressive minority” who want to tell Hungarians whom to commemorate.

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