Hungarian pop music icon János Bródy has been a member of the populous and elite ‘Orbán and the right are leading Hungary into disaster’ club for quite some time. A fierce critic of the sitting government and of the ‘system,’ he likes to claim the moral high ground, which is interesting for someone who was in the ‘supported’ category as a successful and prolific artist in the state socialist era. As opposed to many, who were non-conformist or brave enough to speak up and were branded enemies of the regime, and who were therefore placed in the ‘tolerated’ or ‘banned’ category by the omnipotent cultural tsar of the Kádár era, Endre Aczél, he could release as many albums as he wanted, hold concerts galore and travel abroad when he pleased.
Most recently, he gave an interview in which he commented on the war in Ukraine. Bródy, probably accidentally and involuntarily, agrees with Viktor Orbán that the conflict in Ukraine is essentially a ‘war between America and Russia,’ and opined that ‘the world is again on the brink of a third world war.’ He also stated that all the nations of Europe are ‘on America’s side, except one’ that lost two world wars already and that he would not want to see ‘finding itself on the losing side again.’
I find such sweeping comments irritating in themselves, but there is a bigger issue here, as Attila Demkó, security policy expert, head of Mathias Corvinus Collegium’s Centre for Geopolitics pointed out in his response to Bródy. In an op-ed published on Index, Demkó argued that what Bródy said reflects a widespread way of thinking in Hungary about the country’s role in the two world wars and Trianon.
According to Demkó, the idea that it looks like we’re on the brink of World War III, and Hungary is ‘on the wrong side’ again is a view of history primarily characteristic of the left of the Hungarian political palette. In Demkó’s opinion, this way of thinking ‘shows a high degree of inability to understand the historical facts and the reality of our time, even when interpreting Hungarian history and the current situation.’
In any world war, the best ‘side’ is neutral
Demkó went on by stating that in any world war, the best ‘side’ is neutral, meaning that the country in question ‘does not get involved in the killing’. It follows that the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and the Hungary of 1941 would have done best if they had managed to stay out of both world wars. For which a miracle would have been needed, Demkó stressed.
The author noted that there was hardly any ‘bad side’ in WWI, to begin with. ‘How was the side that included Czarist Russia “better” in the first world war?’, he asked the rhetorical question. The Monarchy and Germany were both ‘far above Russia in every measure of freedom’. Demkó reminded that a few years earlier in Serbia, the country’s king was massacred in brutal circumstances. As far as ethnic tolerance is concerned, the Austro-Hungary was incomparable with Russia, too. There were 2,170 Romanian-language public schools in Hungary. As opposed to that, in Russia, in the Romanian-majority Bessarabia occupied by the Russians in 1812, there was not a single Romanian school. In addition, both Romania and Serbia were light years away from ‘oppressive’ Hungary in terms of nationality rights, not to mention other parts of the Monarchy. Demkó conceded that there was indeed ‘Hungarianisation’, and the Hungarian electoral system and the structure of the Monarchy could have been more ideal, but he nailed down that there was no ‘moral superiority on the Romanian, Serbian and Russian sides.’ He added that such superiority was hardly characteristic of the Western powers either. ‘We could also talk about France, or we could ask the Irish and many other peoples what they thought of the British Empire,’ Demkó noted. So the ‘other side’ was definitely not better morally, just proved to be stronger militarily.
Demkó also rebutted the claim that the Hungarian elite could have stopped WWI from happening. ‘Hungary stood where it could stand as part of the Monarchy, there was no choice. This is the biggest illusion, freedom of choice…. Anyone who thinks that the Hungarian elite of the time would have been able to prevent the First World War greatly overestimates the Hungarian possibilities.’
In the author’s opinion, just as it is a myth that it was the Hungarian ‘right’s’ fault that Hungary was involved in the war, it is also a myth that Trianon was caused by the Hungarian ‘left’, as there were much greater forces at play at the time, and all of Hungary’s leaders could only choose between bad and worse options.
‘The man of that time was in the “fog” and the top of the Hungarian political elite was not exactly insightful’
Demkó stressed that while WWII is a ‘simpler formula’, as it was Hitler’s Germany that ‘unleashed unimaginable horror on Europe.’ However, this is only clear now, he added, from a historical perspective. ‘The man of that time was in the “fog” and the top of the Hungarian political elite was not exactly insightful. But it must be noted that ‘even the most insightful people of the time had strong doubts about the moral aspect of Stalin’s Soviet Union, especially before the most serious Nazi crimes. At the beginning of the war, not only in Budapest, but also in Helsinki, the occupied Baltic States and Eastern Poland, the greater evil was seen in the East,’ Demkó highlighted. In his opinion, Hungary, crippled by an unjust peace treaty and torn apart by the ‘international order’ was ‘less inclined to defend’ that same order. Not to mention the fact that Hungary had almost zero choice at the time. Even if Hungary had stayed out of the war in 1941, by 1943 the latest it would have been forced by Germany to do so. The real choice was between immediate German occupation or the much criticised ‘swing politics’ of the Horthy regime which actually resulted in ‘three more ‘freer’ years,’ as opposed to what the country would have fared like under German or possibly Romanian occupation. In Demkó’s opinion, it was not ‘revisionist politics or moral blindness or evil that led Hungary to war’, but it was coded in Hungary’s geographical position that it would be a part of the war. Those who were left out of the Second World War in Europe lived on the margins: the Portuguese, the Spaniards, the Swedes, the Irish.’
Although fortunately a third world war is unlikely to break out, the question of where Hungary should stand should that happen arises. ‘Well, clearly and very definitely not on Russia’s side,’ Demkó nailed down. ‘The West is not perfect. Neither is Ukraine, which harshly oppresses its nationalities, is very corrupt, but is now fighting hard and heroically for its life, especially not through Hungarian lenses. But here Russia is the aggressor, quite clearly in 2022, and in terms of its traditional forces, it is far from being as formidable a machine as Nazi Germany was. To side with it would not only be a moral failure, but also a strategic mistake,’ Demkó explained. He added that in fact, Hungary is not on ‘Russia’s side’ even today, that is ‘simply not true’. ‘We are part of eight sanction regimes, many billions of forints in aid have already reached Ukraine, we have offered medical treatment for soldiers, and the list goes on.’ The author stressed that negotiating gas supplies with Russia is another matter, because a government is ‘responsible for the functioning of the country’, while clearly ‘no one wants to be a prisoner of Russian gas in the long term’.
At the same time, Demkó stated that it is the only right thing to do for Hungary to do everything in its power to prevent the Ukraine was from escalating. He repeated that the best side is the neutral side, that is staying out of the killing. ‘Anyone who disputes this and spouts moral arguments has never seen war,’ Demkó warned.
‘We are not an equal nation in Europe, nor can we be until Europe changes a lot’
The author also reacted to Bródy’s argument that Hungary has been given a chance by the EU ‘to become an equal member of the [alliance of] European nations’. Demkó nailed down: ‘We are not an equal nation in Europe, nor can we be until Europe changes a lot. Two million Hungarians live as second-class citizens, at the mercy of other European nations. Ukraine proved this yesterday (Editor’s note: On 14 October, the ‘turul’ bird statue that adorned the Munkács (Mukachevo) Castle was removed by the local municipal council, to be replaced by a Ukrainian coat of arms) but our other neighbours are constantly proving it. No, we are not equal, our interests have been ignored in this Europe for 102 years, and the EU has only brought about a minimal resolution of very deep injustices, not to mention the double standards that big Western nations apply to the Eastern member states. Not just us, everyone.’
Demkó concluded: ‘It is a myth that the Hungarian “right” led the country to two wars, and it is also a myth that the Hungarian “left” is the cause of Trianon.’ ‘While there are small elements of reality at the core of these topoi’, there are ‘much larger forces at play’ that have tied the hands of the past and present leaders of Hungary. ‘We cannot change the big processes; the current political elite can only make the most of the limited opportunities. No more, no less.’