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Andrea Peto: The Illiberal Memory Politics in Hungary

The erection of statues of Horthy, Hungary’s controversial interwar leader, demonstrates that a paradigm shift successfully reshapes memory discourse, our Research Affiliate Andrea Peto writes in her article published in Journal of Genocide Research.

A few months ago, the mayor of a small Hungarian village unveiled the statue of Admiral Horthy, praising him as a democrat who “fought equally against communism and fascism.” However, waste oil had been poured over the statue the night before.

“This statue is not the first of the controversial Admiral Horthy (1868–1957), leader of interwar Hungary who, as an ally of Nazi Germany, was also responsible for the swift deportation of 430,000 Hungarian Jews after 19 March 1944,” Andrea Peto writes, adding that “there have been several attempts to erect a monument for Horthy as a symbolic act to re-evaluate his life, responsibility and, more importantly, his legacy. Unlike previous attempts though, where the statues ended up on private property after lively public debate, this one in Hajdúbagos remains standing on public property.”

According to the article, “in the past few years, Hungary has been portrayed as a negative example of memory politics in both mainstream and academic press, charged with being the “ground zero” for a paradigm change in World War II memory politics that was echoed in Poland when the right-wing populist PiS government passed its infamous law on criminalizing certain perspectives in historical research.”

This paradigm change in Holocaust memorialization includes “nationalization of a hitherto transnational narrative, de-Judaization, competing victimhood, establishing new terminology, double speak, and anti-intellectualism,” the article continues. “These elements are present in different contexts but nowhere else are they exhibited so prominently as in Hungary,” Andrea Peto concludes.

Read the full article here.