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Andrea Peto: The Illiberal Memory Politics in Hungary

“The erection of statues of Horthy demonstrates that a paradigm shift is taking place without recourse to original ideas and yet is nonetheless successfully reshaping memory discourse,” our Research Affiliate Andrea Peto writes in her chapter in Patriotic History and the (Re)Nationalization of Memory.

In June 2021, the mayor of a Hungarian village unveiled the statue of Admiral Horthy, “praising him as a democrat who “fought equally against communism and fascism.” The unveiling celebration was followed by a quick re-veiling because waste oil had been poured over it the night before,” she writes. 

“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. 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 Hajdubagos remains standing on public property, albeit under the radar of national and international observers, following the examples of other small villages,” she argues.

“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,” she continues.

According to her, the elements of the paradigm change in Holocaust memorialization include: “nationalization of a hitherto transnational narrative, de-Judaization, competing victimhood, establishing new terminology, double speak, and anti-intellectualism. These elements are present in different contexts but nowhere else are they exhibited so prominently as in Hungary.”

Learn more about the book here.