Tamas Krausz is professor of history at Elte University, Budapest. Here is an interesting account of how history is being rewritten in Hungary.
Wednesday March 22, 2006
Sixty-two years ago this week, Hitler's Wehrmacht began its blood-soaked occupation of Hungary. The country soon turned into a battlefield in defence of the Third Reich. The authoritarian regent, Admiral Miklos Horthy, appointed a Nazi-friendly prime minister, but real power was in the hands of Edmund Veesenmayer, Hitler's resident in Budapest. The deportation of half a million Hungarian Jews to death camps was set in train.
But these facts seemed to escape the notice of the supreme court of Hungary this month when it rehabilitated Laszlo Kristof, who in July 1944 was involved in the killing of an antifascist resistance leader, Endre Sagvari.
Sagvari, a member of the then illegal Communist party and also one of the leaders of the Social Democratic party, died a hero when he was shot in a fight with gendarmes at a cafe in Buda. He had been organising antifascist demonstrations since the 1930s, and became a legendary leader of the anti-war underground.
Apart from being a communist and a Jew in Hungary under Nazi occupation, Sagvari's bad luck was that after 1945 he was one of the very few real heroes to remember. He was made an icon of communist history. As a result, after 1990 his bust was removed to Budapest's now-famous Statue Park. However, for Hungary's hard right - and apparently for the court - this was not enough. They decided to turn the celebrated hero of the Kadar regime into a political scapegoat, insisting that Sagvari's use of a gun against those who wanted to arrest him was unlawful - as if the rule of law existed in Hungary in 1944.
On March 6 the supreme court overturned the conviction of one of the gendarmes involved in Sagvari's killing. The verdict states that the 1959 show trial in which the gendarme was sentenced to death had been used to legitimise the crackdown in the wake of the 1956 uprising. It's true that the gendarmes' superiors were the main war criminals (for example, Dome Sztojay, the prime minister, and Peter Hain, the leader of the political police) and they were hanged after the war. True, the gendarmes did not want to kill Sagvari, or at least not in the cafe. But they could have had no doubts that he would have ended up in the hands of the Gestapo and been tortured and probably murdered.
The court's decision has far greater implications than simply overturning the judgment of the 1959 trial. The verdict is based on the assumption that the rule of law was in force when the pro-Nazi regime sent gendarmes to liquidate a leader of the antifascist resistance. The court said the gendarmes "legally used their weapons against Sagvari, who resisted the arrest". By making such a claim, the court has defined Hitler's puppet regime as a constitutional state.
As the philosopher Gaspar Tamas argued in the daily paper Nepszabadsag, it has also broken with the second Hungarian republic, founded in 1946. That was based on the acceptance that all democratic tendencies, from communists to conservative Catholics, belonged together in as much as they were all antifascists and anti-Hitler. Even after 1989, anti-Stalinism never amounted to an open rejection of antifascism or the rehabilitation of authoritarian and racist politics. The question has now been raised whether the new "democracy" will turn its back on these antifascist principles.
The political message of the court's verdict has been well understood by the extreme right. Jobbik, an organisation that follows racist and irredentist traditions, wants to remove Sagvari's memorial tablet outside the cafe. Zoltan Balczo, Jobbik's leader and a former MP, said: "He was not a hero; he did not die as a martyr, but as a murderer of a lawfully acting gendarme; in other words, as a terrorist."
There has been a leftwing demonstration to save the memorial plaque, but it will have no effect on the legal judgment legitimising the fascist dictatorship controlled by the Nazis. This extraordinary decision reflects a wider tendency across eastern and central Europe to rehabilitate those who collaborated with the Nazis and prewar fascists, and criminalise those who resisted them.
Hungary is in the midst of an election campaign, and the ruling Hungarian Socialist party is silent over the Sagvari affair. But our politicians need to be reminded that no country which calls itself a democracy in a Europe built on the ashes of Nazi tyranny can brand as criminals those who sacrificed their lives in the struggle against fascism.·
Rewriting History: Hungary and Fascism
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