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Hungary’s “New Truth”

Author:  John R. Haines
September 30, 2014

Hungary’s “New Truth”

In the September 2014 E-Note Hungary: Going in the Wrong Direction?” I referenced Jobbik’s sponsorship of an October 2014 “Identitarian Congress”[1] in Budapest organized by a United States-based white supremacist organization, the National Policy Institute.

On Sunday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán finally had something to say about the conference, which has been scheduled for several months.  Three days before its opening, Orbán issued a press release stating that he had “instructed the Hungarian authorities to use every legal means at their disposal to bar an ‘extremist and racist’ conference from taking place in Budapest”. While Sándor Pintér, Hungary’s interior minister, on Monday reportedly barred conference participants from entering Hungary, it remains to be seen whether the order is enforced.

Late, it is sometimes said, is better than never.  Or perhaps not.  Rather than trying to divine Orbán’s sincerity in denouncing the long-scheduled Identitarian Congress, one should take note of another, less noticed conference held Monday in Budapest by the Orbán-founded, government-funded “VERITAS Historical Research Institute” (VERITAS Történetkutató Intézet).

Orbán established VERITAS by decree[2] on 25 October 2013 to take a “multidisciplinary approach…to support the development of a realistic, well-established national and historical consciousness” and “social and political aspects of contemporary history in the Carpathian Basin countries.”  The objective? “To reveal the formation of the system of parliamentary democracy,” regarding which, as one commentator noted sardonically, “If you think this mandate doesn’t make sense and perhaps it is only a bad translation, you are wrong.”[3]  Under the watchful eye of Orbán’s chief of staff, János Lázár, controversial historian Sándor Szakály was appointed in January to direct VERITAS as it crafts its revisionist history.

Szakály is long associated with Orbán’s Fidesz party, and has an equally long record of execrable utterances.  Perhaps his most outrageous— and ill timed— came within days of being named VERITAS’s director, when he reinterpreted Hungary’s 1941 Kamenets-Podolskii deportations as an “immigration action” (in Hungarian, idegenrendészeti eljárás).

His so-called “immigration action” is in fact something altogether different.  In the summer of 1941, three years before the Nazi occupation, Hungary began deporting foreign Jews (mostly Poles and Russians, but also Slovaks, Germans and Austrians) along with Hungarian Jews who could not quickly evince Hungarian citizenship.  This eventually extended to the en masse deportation of entire Jewish communities in Transcarpathia, then under Hungarian control.  In all, some 23,400 Jews were deported in three months to Kamenets-Podolskii in western Ukraine, where most were murdered by detachments of Einsatzgruppen troops under the command of SS General Friedrich Jeckeln, whom the Soviets hanged as a war criminal in 1946.  In just three days, from August 26-28, 20,000 persons were murdered.  The remainder were confined in a new ghetto, to be murdered serially through 1942.  (Nonrevisionist) historians of the period consider Kamenets-Podolskii the first large-scale mass murder of the Shoah.

Bloodied but nonetheless unbowed, Szakály, who continues to direct VERITAS, last week promised a “new historical truth” at today’s conference, “From Occupation to Occupation,” which was held in Hungary’s Parliament.  A “new truth” indeed: one of the keynote speakers, former Prime Minister Péter Boross, said the “historical truth” of the period under examination— World War II through the fall of Hungary’s Communist regime— has been “misinterpreted” since 1989.  One “misinterpretation”, he said, is “claims” about “Nazis and their Hungarian collaborators”, something he called an example of “the spiritual trend that enjoys destroying Hungarian national consciousness.”[4]

The Speaker of Hungary’s National Assembly, László Kövér, set an unambiguous tone for the one-day conference: “The primary role of Hungarian leaders is to represent national interests, especially in times of crisis.”  In the words of one report from the conference, “Paralleling historical scenarios with Fidesz’s recent crackdown on NGOs, which it has called ‘foreign-paid activists’, Kövér added that ‘Hungarian leaders from time to time, for example in 1919-20 or in the first half of 1944, forgot that their duty is to represent the interests of Hungary abroad, not to represent foreign interests at home’.”[5]

“We should not be blamed for crimes that we did not commit.”  That effort at national self-acquittal was offered by Boross, the former Hungarian PM who heads VERITAS’ supervisory board.  In tone, it echoes another Hungarian revisionist historian, Mária Schmidt, whom Orbán appointed to direct Hungary’s new “House of Fates” Holocaust memorial museum:

“We are now at the point where certain groups of victims want to transform their ancestors’ tragic fate into a hereditary privileges, and to extend ‘victim status’ to generations that did not suffer atrocities.”[6]

This surely cannot be the same people of whom Albert Camus wrote, “Hungary conquered and in chains has done more for freedom and justice than any people in the last twenty years”?[7]

A realist might think Orbán’s belated denunciation of the Identitarian Congress had more to do with giving cover to whatever “new historical truth” emerged from today’s VERITAS conference.  Last week, his government summoned our chargé d’affaires to complain: President Obama’s critique of Orbán’s idealized illiberal state, it said, “lacked any factual basis”.  That standard, it might be suggested, is one with which the Orbán government has an unhealthy familiarity.


[1] http://www.npiamerica.org/identitarian-congress.  The “Identitarian Congress” [sic] was organized by the United States-based conservative and white supremacist National Policy Institute (http://www.npiamerica.org), a self-described “independent think-tank and publishing firm dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of European people in the United States and around the world.”

[2] The full Hungarian text of Orbán’s decree is available at http://www.kozlonyok.hu/nkonline/MKPDF/hiteles/MK13176.pdf.

[3] “VERITAS Historical Research Institute: State Ordered History.” Hungarian Spectrum [online English language edition, 11 November 2013]. http://hungarianspectrum.wordpress.com/2013/11/11/veritas-historical-research-institute-state-ordered-history/. Last accessed 29 September 2014.

[4] That view stands in stark contrast to an anecdote offered by Hungarian military historian, Krisztián Ungváry, viz., when German General Marshal Maximilian von Weichs was asked how much time his troops would need to occupy Hungary, he answered, “Twenty-four hours.”  When the puzzled questioner asked how long it would take in case of resistance, Weichs replied “12 hours, because in that case the welcome speech would not be held.” See: Krisztián Ungváry  (2014). “Statue is propaganda to serve national self-acquittal.” The Budapest Times [online English language edition, 2 February 2014]. http://budapesttimes.hu/2014/02/02/statue-is-propaganda-to-serve-national-self-acquittal/. Last accessed 29 Septembner 2014.

[5] Daniel Nolan (2014). “Kövér: ‘State’s duty is to represent the interests of Hungary abroad, not foreign interests at home’.” Budapest Beacon [online English language edition, 29 September 2014]. http://budapestbeacon.com/public-policy/kover-states-duty-represent-interests-hungary-abroad-foreign-interests-home/. Last accessed 29 September 2014.

[6] Interview with Mária Schmidt [Hungarian language video, 1 July 2014]. http://www.atv.hu/videok/video-20140701-schmidt-maria. Last accessed 29 September 2014.  See also: CSABA TÓTH (2014). “Hungary struggles with dark heritage of Holocaust.” Budapest Beacon [online English language edition, 3 July 2014]. http://budapestbeacon.com/public-policy/hungary-struggles-dark-heritage-holocaust/. Last accessed 29 September 2014.

[7] Albert Camus (1957). “The Blood of the Hungarians” [October 1957 speech]. http://www.magtudin.org/Albert%20Camus%20Eng.htm. Last accessed 29 September 23014.

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