Back in January, Prime Minister Viktor Orban, taking valuable time from his busy schedule of building himself a personal football stadium in his backyard, announced the erection of a monument in Budapest's downtown Kossuth Square to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the "Occupation of Hungary" that led to some 700,000 Jews being deported to the Nazi death camps in a matter of months. Except, if you are Hungarian Jewish (and about 100,000 of us still are) you may not remember History in exactly that manner. As in "What occupation?" Hungary was not an occupied country, it was an Ally of Nazi Germany. This was seen by members of the Jewish community, as well as most literate Hungarians, as a whitewashing of the role of Hungary in the Holocaust. Orban said he could not discuss the matter while busy
|"Dialogue, not doubletalk!"|
|This was a Star house. Remember on June 21."|
For a while the site was the scene of protests by Jewish organizations and their supporters. Nonetheless protesters were detained by the police and the right wing news cycles went into overdrive painting the events as disruptive left wing violence. Now the monument itself is under wraps, literally, guarded by police awaiting the day - soon - when Prime Minister Orban will dedicate the completed statue.
In the meantime, the area around it has become something of a spontaneous shrine to the victims of the holocaust. People have left mementos of lost family members, or objects symbolic of those murdered in the Holocaust, marked by piles of stones in the Jewish cemetery custom.
For years I have spoken defensively when asked about "antisemitism in Hungary." I still stand by it: it is not the Hungarian people that are markedly antisemitic - it is the Hungarian political system, whether right or left, communist or "Christian", that can't exist without the rhetoric of the antisemite. It is the Hungarian political system, with its stubborn addiction to hair-brained "third road" schemes and creative economics combined with bad bookkeeping (and too many hungry poltical in-laws waiting in line to be fed) that sends the ping pong ball of Hungarian history on its eternal trip bouncing off the table. Blaming nationalism or the hangover of communism is a bluff. Hungarians have been locked out of a participatory role in politics by their ruling class ever since King Arpad arrived in the 9th century. The PR machine that keeps Orban's government going believes it can revise history in its image with an humongously ugly statue. The problem is: its image is just as ugly as that history.