Thursday, 7 June 2012

Horthy & Pilsudski

So, the Hungarians are putting up statues and plaques to honour nagybanyai Horthy Miklos. This may not be quite as significant as it seems; every other building in Budapest bears a blue plaque to a poet, playwright or statesman probably unknown beyond their own tenement, certainly unknown outside Hungary - no-one else speaks Hungarian - and the parks are full of statues to the terminally obscure. Social-democratic Europe, though, sees this as further evidence of right wing tendencies; as Der Spiegel notes
Miklós Horthy was a notorious anti-Semite and the leader of the White Terror, a wave of post World War I, anti- Communist violence which claimed many Jews as its victims. As head of state in 1944, he was responsible for the mass deportation of 400,000 Hungarian Jews who were murdered in Auschwitz.
Hmm. To a point, Lord Copper. 

Horthy anti-semitic? Yes. Bela Kun's Red Terror was disproportionately Jewish in membership, and Horthy maintained a lifelong mistrust of 'Jewish-Bolshevik' subversion. Leader of the White Terror? No. Although he was tardy in suppressing the organisation. Jews to Auchwitz? Well, he was nominally head of state when it happened, but had previously fought hard to exempt Hungary's Jews from the excesses of the Nazi regime - Hungary's 800,000 Jews remained largely safe until 1944, when Hitler occupied Hungary and Horthy was titular Regent only. The deportations in 1944 were organised by Eichman. Horthy was not prosecuted at Nuremberg, and lived in retirement in Portugal until his death in 1957.

So Horthy is perhaps better remembered for the balance of achievement of his regency over the period 1918 - 1944, largely nationalistic in character and largely concerned with keeping Russia and Communism at bay. I can imagine Horthy and that other old warrior of the era, Josef Pilsudski, scowling at eachother over a map under haunched eyebrows. Pilsudski's leadership of Poland from 1918 - 1935 included an attempt to form  a middle European federation, including Hungary, to combat the threat from soviet Russia.

Pilsudski's tomb under Krakow's cathedral remains a chamber of hushed reverence. Groups of Polish schoolkids, as noisy and badly behaved as any as they chuggle past Sikorski, Jan Sobieski and even the recently interred Kaczynskis, are in contrast silent and revential as they file around Pilsudski's riveted bronze casket. It is the eastern European affirmation of 1945 - 1989 as an aberration, a discontinuity, with normal history resumed on the falling of the Wall. Hungary is no different, and Horthy, like Pilsudski, is not whiter-than-white, but he's about the best they've got. 

No comments: