„Holy Turul, Help Us!“


Hungary’s Völkisch-ethnic-national Turn and the Sacralization of the Nation…

by Magdalena Marsovszky

On June 30, Hungary’s EU presidency ends. The last elections resulted in a two-thirds majority for the ethnic-national parties. Magdalena Marsovszky, cultural scientist and publicist, outlines the background of this development and gives an insight into current political and cultural conflicts.

In Hungary the Fidesz Civic Alliance (Fidesz-MPSZ) and the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP), which according to their self-definition represent the „national“ or „national-minded“ but in reality the völkisch-ethnic-national camp ((M. Marsovszky, Neue völkische Bewegung u. Antisemitismus in Ungarn: in: http://buecher.hagalil.com/studienverlag/marsovszky.htm.)) – have in April 2010 won the parliamentary elections by a two-thirds majority. The right-wing extremist party Jobbik gained entrance into Parliament by 17 percent and makes up now the opposition – also in the ethnic-national camp. In the eyes of the ethnic-national camp, the former governing party of the Socialists (MSZP), which came into parliament by about 19 percent, represents the „nationless“ cosmopolitan side, and is bitterly criminalized and fought by them. The hatred is above all focussed on the small progressive social democratic group around former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány. Also the former turnaround party [Wendepartei] of the liberal SZDSZ (Alliance of Free Democrats) is criminalized. Its origins lie in the illegal Democratic Opposition under the communist rule. However, now it has become politically insignificant and at times even disappeared from the political scene.

Since the Social Democrats and the Liberals have become an insignificant factor of political life in Hungary, the continuing bitter struggle against them proves to be a phenomenon that has to be examined from the viewpoint of cultural history and social psychology. The central question here is why a political direction that has become insignificant must be fought so hatefully and bitterly. One has even the feeling that the battle is waged against a phantom and has elements of a collective paranoia. This is further supported by the fact that the new government created the post of „accountability commissioner“, which will review retroactively all „corruption scandals“ of the former Social-Liberal government and circles associated with it.“ While he turns a blind eye to the ethnic-national camp, he prejudges the „nationless“. An example is the now internationally known attack against critical philosophers, for whom Jürgen Habermas and Julian Nida-Rümelin asked for solidarity ((Appeal by J. Habermas and J. Nida-Rümelin: Protect the philosophers!, in: http://www.sueddeutsche.de/kultur/aufruf-von-habermas-und-nida-ruemelin-schuetzt-die-philosophen-1.1050449.)).

The fight against the socialists, social democrats and liberals – i.e. the „nationless“ or „international“ camp – is not at all a new phenomenon in Hungary. It could be observed already in the period around the turnaround of 1990.

Since those years, the communication of the „patriotic“ media is to a large extent and that of the public media to some extent based on the mobilization against this construct of an enemy ((M. Marsovszky, Antisemitische Semantik im öffentlich-rechtlichen Kossuth Rádió Ungarns, in: www.hagalil.com/2005/07/ungarn.htm.)). The prejudgments come here from the highest political level of the ethnic-national side and aim at the highest circles of the „enemy“ (social-liberal) camp. In 2005 Viktor Orbán said as opposition leader e.g. that the left-wing parties as successors of Béla Kun (Code for Bolsheviks) would attack their „own kin and nation“ ((The Leader of Fidesz thinks that the Left had repeatedly destroyed its own nation: See www.nol.hu/ archivum/archiv-371110.)).

Regarding the overall communication of the ethnic-national camp since many years, one can definitely speak also of a demonization of the Social Liberals, and especially of the small circle around Gyurcsány. Before the elections, in his capacity as Chairman of the Party Committee of Fidesz, today’s Speaker of Parliament László Kövér repeatedly spoke – in the context of the former social-liberal government – of „gigantic satanic forces aiming for Bolshevism“, namely „Ferenc Gyurcsány and his accomplices“, who „mow us down in our own homeland.“ And Zsolt Semjén, the current Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the KDNP grew never tired of emphasizing that in the social-liberal government appeared „the real anti-Christ – sometimes as a Bolshevik, sometimes as a Liberal“ ((M. Marsovszky, Völkisches Denken, antisemitische Mobilisierung u. drohende Gewalt in Ungarn, in: www.hagalil.com/2010/03/01/ungarn-3/.)).


According to research, the last mentioned catchwords can definitely be assessed as antisemitic codes. Antisemitism can not only be understood in the narrower sense as enmity towards a particular religious or cultural group, namely the Jewish, but rather as an ideology ((See K. Holz, Nationaler Antisemitismus. Wissenssoziologie einer Weltanschauung (Hamburg 2001).)), or as a cultural code ((See S. Volkov, Antisemitismus als kultureller Code (München 2000).)). It has a lot to do with the definition of the nation and its concept of culture. If the nation is understood as a völkisch-ethnic homogeneous community, then everything that calls the supposed homogeneity of the national character into question is interpreted as „Jew-ridden“ or as a „Jewish infiltration“ of a nation.

After the turnaround of 1990 in Hungary – as in other post-communist countries – the conception of the ethnic-völkisch cultural nation became dominant. Also the respective cultural and educational policy has been – dependent on social-liberal or ethnic-national governments – sometimes more, sometimes less intensely based on this concept of culture and automatized the trend of exclusion in society – because the ethnic-nationally conceived nation is dependent on enemy stereotypes in order to define itself.

The reason for the, in comparison to other post-communist states, far advanced radicalization in Hungary has likely to do with the great national trauma „Peace Treaty of Trianon“ in 1920.

As a result, Hungary had to cede two-thirds of its territory to neighboring countries. Like the Peace Treaty of Versailles for Germany after the First World War, this treaty is still seen as an unjust peace diktat. Since in Hungary after the turnaround the concept of culture and cultural policy were not democratized, the national-narcissistic victim myth is time and again kept alive by means of the topic „unjust peace diktat“ ((Newest example is the movie series „I am a Magyar“: in: http://www.magyarvagyok.com/videok/29-Oktato/24803-Verzo-Magyarorszag-2.html.)). This encourages the constructs of enemy stereotypes, because one is always looking for those who are to blame for the plight of the country ((S. Salzborn, Antisemitismus u. nationaler Opfermythos, in: Psychosozial 29 (2006) issue 2 (No. 104), 125­ 136.)). In Hungary, these „guilty“ are especially the Social Democrats and the Left Liberals.

In Hungary, one hears „Jewish“ when „socialist / left / communist / liberal“ is said. The myth of the „Bolshevik as a Jew“ is absolutely alive and is applied to today’s socialists. Also the Liberals, resp. the thinking in liberal categories are experienced as an „infiltration“ of the nation. As a result, the Leftists and Liberals are insulted as enemies and destroyers of the nation – even by members of the government ((M. Marsovszky, „Die Märtyrer sind die Magyaren“. Der Holocaust in Ungarn aus der Sicht des Hauses des Terrors in Budapest u. die Ethnisierung der Erinnerung in Ungarn, in: Die Dynamik der europäischen Rechten. Geschichte, Kontinuitäten u. Wandel, edited by C. Globisch, A. Pufelska and V. Weiß (Wiesbaden 2010) 56-74.)). The message of this communication is: These degenerated people must be defeated. The hate speech is not only not curbed but even encouraged: On January 21, 2010, the journalist Zsolt Bayer, known for his antisemitic writings, was awarded the Madách Prize ((As regards the Madách prize of the county Nógrád, the award winners were nominated by the by Fidesz dominated provincial parliament. Zsolt Bayer works for the daily newspaper Magyar Hírlap, which is closely related to Fidesz.)).

Closed Society

The outcome of the parliamentary elections was thus structurally predictable. It might mean the provisional end of the development in a transformation process where people had hoped they could speak of democratization. But the opposite has happened: Instead of a steady democratization towards an open society, an ongoing völkisch-ethnic closure could be observed actually since the turnaround of 1990. With the elections of 2010, it has now been sealed also parliamentarily.

The engine of this development was and is the völkisch-ethnic-national culture of the country. If one knows the structures of völkisch-ethnic-national thinking, one knows the reason for its immensely powerful attraction: in it the belief in the ethnically homogeneous, „pure“ (sinless) Nation promises – as earthly metaphysics – the „deliverance from evil“ and thus virtually the alleged heaven on earth.

The ethnic closure of society and the thus implemented transformation into a fully „closed society“ happens primarily by the fact that the Hungarian national victim narrative is emphasized. The national victim myth is an important component of the in Hungary dominant völkisch-ethnic-national thinking. In it we see an ultimately antisemitic implemented identification with the Magyar nation (nation means here, in the völkisch-ethnic-national sense, community of ancestry).

It originates in the feeling of fear of forfeiting old traditions and forms of faith as well as in the fear of the loss of traditional social bonds through modernization and reforms, and in a psychologically determined perception, namely, an allegedly peripheral position ((See the concept „In-between Peripherality“, shaped by: S. Tötösy de Zepetnek, Comparative Cultural Studies and the Study of Central European Culture, in: Comparative Central European Culture, ed. by S. Tötösy de Zepetnek (West Lafayette 2002) 1-32, 8.)). One fears the loss of „national unity“ and ultimately „the death of the nation“ and feels as victims of modernization and European integration, and of Western liberalism.

However, „victim myth“ means also warding off guilt and memories, and projecting crimes on „others“, „foreigners“, and ultimately substitutionally for them on „Jews“. By means of the national victim myth one tries to deny one’s role as perpetrator, which finds expression in one’s own guilt. It is nothing else but a reversal of guilt, where the persecutors‘ fear to be accused as collective perpetrators is projected on the persecuted. Research identifies the reversal of the perpetrator-victim relation as a typical manifestation of Antisemitism ((See e.g. Th. Haury, Antisemitismus von links. Kommunistische Ideologie, Nationalismus u. Antizionismus in der frühen DDR (Hamburg 2002) 115 ff. (Antisemitic reversal of perpetrator and victim).)).

Perpetrator-Victim-Reversal – anti-communist and anti-liberal Antisemitism

Klaus Holz even describes the perpetrator-victim-reversal as „democratic Antisemitism“ ((K. Holz, Demokratischer Antisemitismus, in: the same, Die Gegenwart des Antisemitismus. Islamistische, demokratische u. antizionistische Judenfeindschaft (Hamburg 2005) 54-78, 56; see also the same, Brückenschlag. Die antisemitische Verbrüderung der europäischen Rechtsextremen (Online).)), because it is less associated with the „radical fringe“ of a society. It is rather the „democratic“ political center that often tries to accomplish the so-called „coming to terms with the past“ by means of the perpetrator-victim-reversal. The victim myth is an element of perpetrator-victim-reversal: Its virulence is due to the experience of the sufferings of one’s own, ethnically conceived nation, and is motivated by warding off one’s own guilt. This is accompanied by arguments in which the historical fact of the Holocaust is admittedly not denied but instead of it the time dimension is emphasized, and the accusation of a „continually recurring presentation“ of disgrace and its exploitation is made. Profiteers of this „instrumentalization“ of shame are ultimately the Jews, who thus even illegitimately benefit from the Shoah. In further arguments a part of the guilt of the perpetrators is denied, whereas the victims are no longer so innocent.

It is typical of the construct „Jewish perpetrator“ that it compares Jews with Communists or presents communist actions as „Jewish.“ This is the so-called anti-communist Antisemitism. Its basis is the „myth of Jewish Communism“ ((A. Gerrits, The myth of Jewish Communism. A historical Interpretation (Brüssel 2009).)). Here the spectre of „Jewish Bolshevism“ is always „enriched“ with historical facts. Usually key words such as „Russian Revolution“, „Soviet Republic“ and „Bolshevik agents“ (as Leon Trotsky, Béla Kun, or „the Hungarian Stalin“ Mátyás Rákosi) are found in the argumentations.

The world revolution becomes thus a „Jewish Revolution“, and Soviet Communists and Jews are here tacitly used synonymously. This form of argument is part of the traditional antisemitic demagogy, which ultimately led to the Holocaust ((W. Benz, Zum Verhältnis von Ideologie u. Gewalt, in: Antisemitismus. Geschichte u. Gegenwart. Netzwerk für Politische Bildung, Kultur und Kommunikation e. V., ed. by S. Salzborn (Gießen 2004) 33-50, 45, 46.)).

In Hungary, the perpetrator-victim-reversal plays not only an huge role in the so-called coming to terms with the past or in the politics of memory but in the entire political life. One could even argue that even the victory of völkisch-ethnic-national parties in parliamentary elections in spring 2010, which I together with Fritz Stern call „conservative revolution“ ((F. Stern, Kulturpessimismus als politische Gefahr. Eine Analyse nationaler Ideologie in Deutschland (München 1986) 5 ff. (Original: The Politics of Cultural Despair, Berkeley 1961).)) or „völkisch-ethnic-national turn“, is largely based on the principle of the described perpetrator-victim-reversal: the (völkisch conceived) nation, represented by the ethnic-national parties Fidesz and KDNP, as well as the right-wing party Jobbik, thinks it frees itself from the supposed yoke of the (Jewish) post-communists and the (Jewish) Liberals.“

Thus, in a movie of the current ruling party Fidesz in the election campaign for the 2010 parliamentary elections, the „anti-communist Antisemitism“ was expressed in the following sentences (spoken by a stage director):

„The Magyar statehood is a thousand and one hundred years old. The Hungarian Left is one hundred years old. On April 11 we choose! Saint Stephen or Béla Kun, that is the question! On 11 April, Saint Stephen will recapture the country from Béla Kun and his followers.“ ((HírTV, Lifeübertragung, 8. 4. 2010, 15.10 clock.))

In Hungary the „anti-communist Antisemitism“ is combined with another variant, which could be called in the same way „anti-liberal Antisemitism.“ The Hungarian Antisemites are in agreement that the greatest danger for Europe is not only the (Eastern) Bolshevism, but also the (Western) liberalism, both had been invented by „Jews“. They think that what the communists (in the Real Socialism) could not spoil was accomplished in the past 20 years by the Liberals. Both – the communist and the liberal way of thinking, resp. the thinking in the categories of liberal democracy – are regarded as „Jewish infiltration“ of the people’s community.

Also in the Hungarian version of the perpetrator-victim-reversal the victim myth is particularly important, where the (völkisch conceived) nation is permanently and without any self-reflection presented as the victim of historical events. The antisemitic construct „Jewish perpetrator“ is above all applied to the alleged Communists (in fact there are hardly any) and to the Liberals.

In Hungary in recent years the „anti-communist“ and „ant-liberal“ Antisemitism found expression on the one hand in the aggression and attacks on „communist“ or „liberal“ monuments or busts.

Thus, the Soviet monument in Budapest has often been damaged ((M. Marsovszky, Die fremde Besatzung ist weg, doch der „Freiheitskampf“ geht weiter. Und wo ist der Feind?, in: Osteuropa – Schlachtfeld der Erinnerungen, ed. by Th. Flierl u. E. Müller (Berlin 2010) 71-90.)). Also the bust of Sir Winston Churchill in Budapest was repeatedly sprayed with red paint and smeared with the Star of David ((T. Bárkay, Churchill vörös arccal várja a költségvetést (Churchill waiting with a red face for the budget decision), in Népszabadság (daily newspaper), 22. 4. 2009 (See www.nol.hu/kult/lap-20090422­20090422-31).)). In recent years, the hatred of the Communists and Liberals found repeatedly expression also in concrete attacks against socialist and liberal politicians ((M. Marsovszky, Völkisches Denken, antisemitische Mobilisierung u. drohende Gewalt in Ungarn, in: Jahrbuch für Antisemitismusforschung No. 18 (Herbst 2009) 183-211, and in: www.hagalil.com/2010/03/01/ungarn-3.)).

Sacralization of the Nation

On the other hand, for special occasions stages are set up throughout the country. They function as „national altars“ und have – e.g. by taking an oath on the so-called „Holy Hungarian Crown“ ((http://hvg.hu/itthon/20080630_nemzeti_erok_szovetsege.)) – a significant affinity to religious, pagan and national rituals. In recent years, more and more monuments or sculptures were erected in public places, which also glorify the nation. Such a monument is the „Hymn“ ((http://geocaching.hu/poiimages/2006-07/801_20060730_170320.jpg.)), inaugurated in 2006. Its goal is to elevate the nation above all through Christian themes (but also runes) in „heavenly“ heights. The message of this glorification of the nation corresponds to the ethnic-national collective narrative of the victim myth, where the Magyars appear as a morally pure nation: It had to suffer from terror but has not actually participated in it and also remained immaculate during the Holocaust.

To go into detail about the contradictions – whether it is about a „substitute religion“ or merely about a „religious dimension“ of the National – would go beyond the scope of this contribution. It is perhaps not even necessary to work out an explicit distinction. One thing is certain: In recent years, the structural analogies between religious and national stagings, and thus the tendency toward a sacralization of the nation are clearly on the rise. Sometimes the ethnic-nationally conceived nation is praised, sometimes religion is nationalized in church sermons, then – as in the case of the 2010 inaugurated „Temple of the Carpathian Homeland“ ((See www.karpat-haza.hu/karpat_haza_templom.)) – the nationality of the Magyars is summoned.

The for the ethnic-national thinking typical search for the „original people“ and for the „original religion“ leads increasingly to new constructs of history ((A. Gerö, Képzelt történelem. Fejezetek a magyar szimbolikus politika XIX-XX. századi történetéböl (Constructed History. Essys from the History of Hungarian Symbolic Politics in the 19th and 20the Centuries) (Budapest 2006).)) and to an increase in symbolic politicization, which finds its expression both in civil initiatives and in the cultural and educational policy of the government.

The in 2005 inaugurated „Turul“ statue in the 12th district of Budapest has its origin in a mythical creature in the shape of a falcon or an eagle from the Hungarian pagan sphere of myths ((See http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turul.)). But the so-called Turul cult emerged only around the millennium year 1896, due to the search for myths of the thousand-year history of Hungary.

Before the Holocaust the so-called Turul Association played an active role in the antisemitic agitation, and so the symbolic nature of the „Turul“ is burdened by the Hungarian fascism. This becomes clear by a bird’s-eye view: the walls are like stylized arrows, i.e. the symbol of the „Arrow Cross Party members“, the Hungarian fascists ((See http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pfeilkreuzler.)). This interpretation is also confirmed by the color of the stairs. The individual steps are alternatingly paved with red and white stones. This corresponds to the colors of the red and white striped Arpad flags (Fig. 1).

Nevertheless, the setting up of the statue, without the approval of the social-liberal municipality of Budapest, was initiated by the former Fidesz borough mayor, in order to commemorate the victims of World War II. In subsequent years, the municipality of Budapest has repeatedly attempted to remove the illegally erected statue. However, the „Hungarian Guard“, which was founded in 2007, repeatedly marched up, in order to defend it – as it was said – with the lives of the guardsmen. Since the Turul bird in August 2008 was blessed by representatives of Christian churches, it is called „Holy Turul“ in the speeches of right and right wing extremist politicians.

One of the first activities of the Fidesz government, which was sworn in 2010, was to legalize the status quo of the bronze figure by the „parliamentary bill for setting up sculptures in public places,“ the so-called „Lex Turul.“ This decision fits perfectly into the overall context of the völkisch-ethnic-national cultural policy of the coalition parties. But it is extremely problematic, because through it not only the community of fate with the fascist Hungary – though not explicitly – is declared, but also because it is an example of the above mentioned perpetrator-victim-reversal and thus explicitly antisemitic.

For the guilt-reversal is combined – as in the House of Terror ((See note 10.)) – with a victim-reversal, where the status of Holocaust victims is applied to Magyarism, i.e. the history of suffering of the Holocaust victims is applied to the Magyars‘ history of suffering. However – as in the House of Terror – this is done iconographically and not by words.

The famous motif „memorial wall of victims“ with the lists of names, which is also known from the Holocaust Memorial Center, was adopted by the creator of the Turul and stamped into metal straps on the side of the socket (Fig. 2). The response to a performance by the British artist Liane Lang, who in July 2009 photographed the Turul with a severed plastic hand in its beak ((http://galeria.index.hu/kult/2009/06/11/turulszobor/?current_image_num=2&image_size=m.)), shows that the statue has a for everybody understandable antisemitic connotation. The very next day, the Holocaust memorial at the Danube bank in Budapest was promptly desecrated by unknown perpetrators who stuck pigs‘ knuckles in the individual shoes ((http://republikschilda.blogspot.com/2009/06/schweinshaxen-im-holocaust-denkmal.html.)).

A revealing art project ((L. Khoór and W. Potter, Singular Hungary (46 min color video and mixed media installation, 2006).)) has shown that the message is understood also by passer-bys in the sense described – although both the local administration and the present government reject every antisemitic connotation.

Figure 1: A bird’s-eye view of the „Turul“ statue © Lilla Khoór / Will Potter

Figure 2: „Memorial wall of the victims“ © Magdalena Marsovszky

In the documentation, most respondents say that Turul is an ancient symbol of Magyardom, regardless of what it was used for before and during World War II. Its task is to defend the nation, and it shows that the nation is also alone capable to do it:

„When right-wing extremists use the icon,“ says a woman in the movie, „then it is up to historians to solve this problem. But those who may not even feel belonging to Magyarism have not the right to take Turul away from the here living civilization. … When the here living members of the SZDSZ (Liberal Party) think that we are not entitled to the symbol of the Turul, then they do probably not feel belonging to the people’s community and do not need to live here. They can live somewhere else, where other symbols are venerated. For every (host) nation has its own history and tradition, to which those who live there have to bow.“

If one knows that the Hungarian Liberal Party in everyday usage is simply called „the Jewish party“, then the thoughts of the interviewees are clear. To put it plainly, the „Jew-ridden“ Liberals should disappear from the country and at best move to Israel. Just this context appears, as described above, in the overall communication of the government.

The fact that today the democratic conflicts are seen as chaos and diversity as disorder is the result of this long-standing völkisch-ethnic-national striving for „cultural whiteness“ („whiteness“ is understood as a racial cultural category), which is supported by large sections of the population. The Hungarian population was and is still not able to make use of the individual offer of democracy and prefered to choose security and the Well-known, the supposed „nest warmth“ – the path to collective coercion.

German Version: Stimmen der Zeit, 6/2011, P. 390-400, Englisch translation by con-spiration.de