Boross: It’s high time we rethink Hungary’s interwar regime

December 14, 2014


Speaking on state radio on Sunday, former prime minister Péter Boross (MDF, Hungarian Democratic Forum) repeated his assertion that generally speaking Hungarians were not anti-Semitic during the interwar period.  Boross told the radio program Vasárnapi Újság (Sunday Paper) “those who would like to present the era as the fertile ground of Hitlerism either are uninformed or intentionally want to misrepresent it”.

Boross added that in his experience anti-Semitism was not a core element of the system before 1945. “Fascism was not built in the Horthy regime.  It was built in Germany’s Weimar Republic, as this was the system where it was born”.

(He is mistaken. Fascism was born in Italy in the 1920s under Benito Mussolini.  Furthermore, to claim that National Socialism was “built in Germany’s Weimar Republic” is misleading.  National Socialism spelled the end of Germany’s inter-war experiment with liberal democracy. -ed.)

According to the former prime minister, the present understanding of the Horthy era as a fascist dictatorship comes from the Stalinist times, and for this reason “it is high time to rethink Hungary’s interwar regime”.

Explaining what he meant, Boross added that “our spirit in the countryside was free of anti-Semitism. In Budapest of course, there were the Arrow Cross pro-Nazis, Zionists, Conservatives, but I should emphasize that Budapest is not the same as the whole country”.

Boross chairs the advisory board of the Veritas Institute for Historical Research, a government-funded institute devoted to historial revisionism, led by controversial military historian Sándor Szakály.   A conference hosted by Veritas on 5 December presented the history of the 1920s and 1930s primarily in light of Hungary’s successful economic recovery.   Almost no mention was made of the systematic political anti-Semitism characteristic of the Horthy regime, ranging from the 1920 numerus clausus act limiting the number of Jews that could attend university, to the 1941 Kamenets-Podolskiy massacre of some 18,000 Jews deported from Hungary along with local Ukrainian Jews.

While he acknowledges that “there were certain crimes committed under Horthy”, in Boross’ opinion “this does not allow for a generalization of a whole era”.

Most historians of Hungary’s interwar period agree that anti-Jewish attitudes played an integral part of Horthy’s economic thinking and domestic policy, as well as his personal worldview.  Previously, Szakály argued that the Hungarian Jews’ personal safety and the security of their property “were assured” before German troops invaded Hungary in March 1944, and he dismissed the Kamenets-Podolskiy massacre as “a law enforcement procedure” not motivated in the least by anti-Semitism (even though the Hungarian interior minister issuing the order was a rabid anti-Semite).

Yale historian and Hungarian Spectrum blogger Éva Balogh believes Boross’ claim that Marxist historians deliberately distorted the history of the interwar period to be baseless.  According to Balogh:

“(v)ery little was written on Jewish topics during the socialist period. Holocaust studies, for example, didn’t really exist. So I don’t know what Boross is talking about. It was only in the last twenty or so years that historians began to focus on topics related to Hungarian Jewish history. Since then there has been a real flowering of historical research into this aspect of modern Hungarian history. Boross’ problem is that the research is not to his liking.”

Balogh says there is no basis for Boross’ claim that there was “a clear division between the moderate and extreme right”, adding that “most historians proved that it was actually the opposite”.  Balogh believes Boross finds recent works about the nature of the Horthy regime and Hungarian anti-Semitism “unacceptable” because “they do not agree with his own ideas about Hungarian hsitory between the two world wars”.