Hungary’s Memorial Wars

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Another piece of travel writing for Souciant, likely a jumping-off point for more thinking about the new Cold War-without-communism, potentially emerging as a battle between Liberal Democracy and “National” Democracy.

 

This improvised memorial, a guard told me, was a protest. “To what?” I asked. “To that—“ and he pointed to tall scaffolding covered in white netting a few feet from the stones. The scaffolding finally came down on August 1st, revealing a massive statue depicting an eagle, a symbol of imperialism, snatching a mound that symbolizes Hungary out of the hand of the Archangel Gabriel, another national symbol. Sculptor Peter Parkanyi Raab said the work is meant to honor all victims of the Nazis and their Hungarian counterpart, the Arrow Cross party. On the 70th anniversary of the deportation of Hungarian Jews to death camps, he hoped the sculpture would be a work of “reconciliation.”

Instead, the massive monument has caused deep division. Many in Budapest see the statue as propaganda tool for the far right, symbolizing Hungary’s innocence in the execution of the Holocaust, romanticizing Horthy’s regime, and calling for a return to authoritarianism. Prime Minister Viktor Orban revealed another controversial landmark in August—a major speech announcing his intention to turn Hungary into an “illiberal democracy” (political analyst/Fidesz mouthpiece Tamas Fricz said “National Democracy” would be a better way of putting it) in the mold of Putin’s Russia or Erdogan’s Turkey. Not to be caught sleeping like the hapless archangel, Orban hopes to snatch Hungary away from our generation’s fascists and Stalinists who rob Hungary of its sovereignty—the European Union and international banks.

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