Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Hungary’s Future is all in the Past



Auntie Angela Merkel, in the fashion of an earnest and humourless German Leherin, is in habit of lecturing us all on the dire consequences of the collapse of the European Union.  The alternative is the past, the alternative is German history, and we all want to avoid that! 

The thing is, you see, Auntie and the others who believe in the benighted European ideal have a kind of Marxist view that history has been surpassed and superseded; that the past, so to speak, is all in the past.  I can assure you that it’s not; modern Hungary, the Hungary of the European Union, is example enough to dispel that comforting illusion. 

Just imagine how Europe and the world would react if Germany repudiated the Treaty of Versailles which followed the First World War, the Versailles ‘Diktat’ which so enraged Hitler and the other German nationalists.  Ah, but that is a history too deeply buried.  Who now cares about that distant past?

Hungary does, oh, not about Versailles but about the Treaty of Trianon, its own post-war settlement, concluded with the Allies in 1920.  By this the old Greater Hungry was reduced to a rump, a land-locked central European state, a kingdom without a king ruled by one Miklos Horthy, an admiral without a navy in a country without a coast. Horthy later went on to form an alliance with Hitler, repudiating Trianon and recovering some of the lost territory before the whole dream went belly up.


Ah, but Hungary is such stuff as dreams are made on and its little land is rounded by…places it wants back!  Now I feel sure that Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose conservative Fidesz party came to power in the election of 2010, would not dream of going to war with Austria, Slovakia, Romania, the Ukraine, Serbia and Croatia to regain in whole or in part what was lost, at least not all at once.  But that has not stopped him repudiating the treaty and inaugurating a ‘national day of mourning’ on the anniversary of its signing. 

Viktor is a decent man.  He has declared himself firmly opposed to monuments for such dictators as Lenin, Stalin and Hitler.  Well, they are all foreigners, are they not?  He’s a bit more ambivalent when it comes to Hungary’s Horthy. 

The Admiral is making something of a comeback in a country still traumatised by a ninety-three year old treaty.  Last month a bust of the old boy was unveiled in Csokako in the north of the country by the paramilitary Hungarian Guard, a movement closely allied to the right-wing Jobbik Party.  It’s nothing to do with me, says the prime minister; it’s a matter for local government which monuments are erected or not.  Just as well, I suppose, that it was not Lenin, Stalin or Hitler. 



“Viktor Orban is a man of the past,” Socialist party president, Attila Mesterhazy, said in his annual address in parliament in March. “He wants to bring back a Hungary that’s long gone. That’s why they’re always citing politicians from the beginning of the 1900s. That’s why they’re trying to fashion the state after the Horthy regime, the public law configuration, even parliament.” 

The thing is, though, in Hungary the past is very much the present, with Orban moving the country back into an uncertain future. How I love history; how I love her sense of irony.  

10 comments:

  1. Interesting, is it not, how dreams have more power to persist than tyrants?

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    1. Not just interesting, Calvin; it's altogether fascinating. It's the power of myth, I suppose.

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  2. Hi Ana,

    Recently I read about an incident which took place during the 1956 Olympics. It was water polo semi finals event and Hungary was the water polo super power at that time. Russia had occupied Hungary 7 years prior and 1 month before the olympics, Russia crushed an uprising there. The semi final between Russia and Hungary drew a highly charged crowd with some political sentiments. Game was coming to the end and Russia was trailing 0-4.Emotions boiled over and a Russian player suddenly whacked a Hungarian player in the face. He was bleeding. That caused the Hungarian supporters to jump over the barriers. That was a dark spot in the Olympics history.

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    1. Zunnur, many thanks. I must look in to that, a possible basis for a new article, to coincide with the opening of the London games. Oh, welcome to my blog. :-)

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  3. Who is responsible for the breakup of the Austro/Hungarian Empire? The greedy English and French.

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    1. Actually, no, Anthony. I admire the old Habsburg Empire, a civilizing influence compared with what was to follow. But by the twentieth century the whole rickety structure was an anachronism and an impossible dream. It wasn’t a nation at all, simply a collection of family estates accumulated over the centuries. In the end the centrifugal force of nationalism, accelerated by defeat in war, could no longer be contained. The Empire disintegrated, like a rotten husk, from within.

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  4. My interest in Hungary has been sparked by one of your excellent posts. Currently I'm reading Ravensbruck (in french) by Germaine Tillion. She points out that the Hungarian Jews were the most likely NOT to survive the German concentration camps. I still cannot figure out why Hitler was so determined to eliminate them. Can you shed some light on the subject? Do you have a suggestion for a book about Hungary...so I can grap the basics?

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    1. Thank you, ipsofacto. I’ve just read your excellent post on Ravensbruck. The thing is that Hitler was determined that all the Jews in his sphere of influence were to be murdered. However, a lot depended on local circumstances. People are inclined to believe that the Nazi state was all powerful. It was not. In practical terms the Final Solution depended on the co-operation of other governments, even in occupied territories, when they continued to exist. It’s worth contrasting the Vichy authorities in France with the government in Denmark, co-operative in the first, wholly un-co-operative in the second.

      The position was even more complicated when it came to Germany’s allies. Italy was at best lukewarm, while Bulgaria and Finland were actively hostile. Hungary is an interesting case. It was largely a free agent until the spring of 1944, when, fearing that Admiral Horthy, the head of state, wanted to pull out of the war, German forces moved in. By this time the country had the largest remaining Jewish population in Europe. It also had its own deeply-rooted anti-Semitic tradition. The fact is by the summer of 1944 the Hungarian Jews had no defenders.

      So far as books are concerned David Cesarini touches on the subject Eichmann, his biography of one of the main implementers of the Hungarian genocide. There is also the novel Fateless,which I reviewed here in the summer of 2009. (http://anatheimp.blogspot.com/2009/06/fateless.html) More generally there is Martin Gilbert’s book The Holocaust: the Jewish Tragedy

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  5. Thanks you for the compliment about my post on Ravensbruück. I am working hard to absorb and understand more of history. Your blog to use a cliché ( which I know you will enjoy..) is a guiding light for me. I only wish I had started my journey into histoy deacades ago. I dare not mention our age difference ( never ask a lady her age...) but I remember in grammar school ( now you know) a few boys who had written Eichmann with a swastika on their school bags. Impressionable not knowing what it meant, you can imagine how the Eichmann trials even reached the 6th grade at St Joseph's School! I have made notes about the suggested reading and hope to delve into Hungarian history. Just like Algeria....I know next to nothing about it.

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    1. Ipsofacto, I'm so glad to be of help.

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