After the regime change in Hungary between 1989 and 1991, and to this day, a sorcerous coup has been taking place: a criminal executioner is now an innocent victim. The first step was liberation from the «bad memories» of World War II. The criminal Miklós Horthy (1868–1957), the regent has become the victim. Being Hitler`s „best” ally Horthy supported and enabled Nazi Germany’s project for the annihilation of Hungary’s Jews, passing antisemitic legislation similar to the infamous Nuremberg Laws. In 1941, Hungary deported around 22,000 Jews to Ukraine, where they were killed by German and Ukrainian collaborators. In 1944, Hungary deported 437,402 Jews, mostly to Auschwitz, where the vast majority were exterminated. In total, 568,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.
Everything is being treated as relative including the Holocaust. A campaign in Budapest emerged before the 2016 elections, where posters of pro-government forces depicted the famous American capitalist George Soros as the epitome of world Jewry and universal evil, supporting refugees against Christian Hungary and Europe. And Soros is controlling the big political players pulling the strings of various agents of the enemy just like Goebbels’ famous poster portrayed.
A monument to the victims of German occupation in Budapest’s Freedom Square opened in July 2014, opposite the only preserved monument to Soviet liberators, and depicts Hungary as a victim of Nazi Germany during the war. On the other hand, in the process of establishing the Center for the Study of the Holocaust, PM Viktor Orbán’s historians are trying to sanitize Horthy’s regime saying: If there had been no Nazi Germany, there would be no Holocaust in Hungary. Their concept does not mention that Auschwitz was liberated by the Red Army; the USSR is only mentioned as the «Stalinist dictatorship,» whose arrival marks a new sad page in the history of Jews. At the same time, anti-Semitic discourse, from the new cult of Horthy to the «Soros Plan,» from mythologizing the Treaty of Trianon to relativizing the Holocaust, is accompanied by pro Israel propaganda in the foreign policy of the same Hungarian government. All these symbolic elements of Hungarian, and Eastern European politics of memory rests on the ideological basis that officially, not only in Hungary or Poland but also in the region as a whole, «fascism and communism» are considered inherently equivocal in the spirit of the old «theory of totalitarianism.» They pretend not to understand that the two authoritarian regimes were very different.
Keeping with the equivocation of fascism and communism, according to the socalled theory of totalitarianism, it is inconsequential that under the Kadar regime racism, and specifically anti-Semitism, were banned, and under the Horthy regime of 26 years, before the arrival of the Red Army, there was official anti-Semitism, not to mention Nazi racial laws against Jews from 1939 to 1941 and the Holocaust in 1944. In this respect, there is silence about the approximately one million Hungarian citizens killed under Horthy and the fact that Hungarian occupation forces took part in the murder of more than 200,000 Soviet citizens, including Jews, in the territory of the USSR. Society did not seriously resist the appearance and existence of the cult of Horthy. Only with this in mind can we understand the series of similar phenomena described in the entire Eastern European region. The notion of «communism» as the «original evil» has long been clear to the ruling Fidesz party.
In the end, the following is not only about the Hungarian, but also about the inherently Eastern European phenomenon, the political meaning of which is to destroy anti-fascist discourse after 1989 under the banner of democracy and, in particular, to remove from the public sphere the very possibility of mass movements against the system. Since 2014, a classic example of such development is the model of «decommunization» in Ukraine, where the national heroes were officially the leaders of pro-Nazi organizations, whose members took part in the extermination of the Soviet population, including and primarily Jews. And, of course, we know that this is not an isolated case, the rehabilitation of Latvian and Lithuanian pro-Nazi collaborators is happening. There is no place for humanism, anti-fascism, and enlightenment in the spiritual baggage of the new mainstream nationalist groups. As a result of the criminalization of the history of «communism,» there are no humanistic forces that could counter the ideological and cultural consequences of authoritarian power.
The cementing ideologies of the new authoritarian FIDESZ regime are, of course, nationalism and Christianity in its official interpretation, which excludes atheism, materialism, and non-religiosity. As part of the spiritual neo-Horthyist revisionism, they permeate all of daily life, from the changing of street names to education. Nationalist populism has reached the point where the Hungarian army, which participated in the Nazi genocide taking place in 1941−1944 on the territory of the USSR, is directly represented as heroes. To solve this ideological problem, a special state institutional apparatus has been created for proclaiming the «truth» on historical matters. The goal of all these institutions is to sanitize the war crimes of the Horthy occupation forces committed on the territory of the USSR and promote the universal spiritual neoHorthyist revisionism in broad circles of the intelligentsia and the depths of society. In addition, in the context of the permanent «Kulturkampf,» the spread of ethnic nationalism aimed at race-protection throughout society, the pseudo cultural kitsch of «Great Hungary,» ultimately like in the post 1919 Horthy era, meant the suppression of the social issue and the ideological triumph of the authoritarian regime. The «new» neo-Horthyist «culture» is eliminating the anti-fascist tradition with each step. This is how the spirit of the era of official anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust is being restored on a symbolic basis.
It is time we reflect seriously on these historical contradictions. Where are we headed?
* Tamás Krausz, Historian, Professor of ELTE University Budapest/Hungary
Remark: The above text was read by Matyas Benyik at the WSF Webinar on The Holocaust, Global Relations and rewriting of History on 27 January 2021