Hungarian WWII leader sparks new emotions
The renaming of a small town square after Hungary's wartime leader and Adolf Hitler ally is stirring emotions, with critics denouncing it as evidence of the country's drift to the far right.
Fifty-five years after his death, Miklos Horthy will once again have a park in his name when part of leafy Freedom Square in Gyomro, some 30 kilometres (20 miles) east of Budapest, is renamed on Friday.
Supporters of Horthy, who ruled as dictator from 1920 to 1944, say the renaming of the park is a small recognition of a leader misjudged by history.
Critics, on the other hand, say the former admiral was responsible for the deaths of 1,000 Hungarians killed for holding left-wing views, backed anti-Jewish laws and closed his eyes to the deportation of some 500,000 Jews and Roma before he was ousted in 1944.
"Horthy's image was distorted by the communists and left-wing propaganda," Gyomro's deputy mayor Attila Mezey told AFP, adding he was surprised by the controversy the decision caused.
The town's political turbulence began last year, when a council member from the far-right Jobbik party proposed that Freedom Square bear Horthy's name as it did from 1937-1945.
Local opposition prompted officials later to decide that only the park within the square would take Horthy's name.
"This is such a cynical compromise," said Janos Hallama, a leading local activist.
"It is like saying: 'Okay, instead of a three-metre (10-foot) Horthy statue we will raise a two-metre one."
The move was also surprising, coming from Gyomro's generally liberal-minded leaders.
"We can't put our finger on (whether the decision) is politically motivated: is it business or real right-wing ideology," said Hallama.
But critics point to a resurgent "Horthy cult" that is spreading well beyond far-right circles.
A life-size statue of Horthy was erected recently in Kereki, a village near Lake Balaton, and in the city of Debrecen a marble plaque honouring the former leader was restored at a school from which it was removed in 1947.
Detractors accuse the government of stirring nationalist sentiments and reinterpreting history to lure voters away from the ultra-nationalist Jobbik.
Earlier this month, two deputies from the ruling Fidesz party attended a ball organised to raise money for another statue in Budapest.
"There is a Horthy renaissance, he is now in fashion," Agnes Vadai, a member of the new Democratic Coalition party founded by former Socialist prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, said Tuesday in parliament.
"I think not only Jobbik members but those in the government are trying to rehabilitate him."
Horthy's advocates say he restored pride and patriotism to a country wounded by the 1920 Treaty of Trianon that saw it lose almost two-thirds of its territory, and by the atrocities of the short-lived 1919 Hungarian Soviet Republic.
They argue Horthy tried to protect Budapest's Jews and prevent the Nazi occupation of Hungary, seeking an armistice with the Allies despite his loathing of the Soviets.
Deemed an untrustworthy ally, he was ousted in 1944 when Hitler's forces invaded Hungary, and lived until his death in Portugal in 1957. He was never convicted of war crimes.
Officials in Gyomro say that "for the time being" there will be no ceremony to mark the renaming of the square.
The only planned celebration is the opening of a bar in the park named -- nostalgically -- Bekebeli Sorozo (Peacetime Pub), an expression that for many Hungarians conjures up the "good old days" before the loss of vast swathes of land to its neighbours after World War I.
"The spirit of Trianon is still kept alive today," said Hallama, who fears for the future of his quiet town.
"A respectable Hungarian these days is supposed to hate the French, the Romanians and the Slovaks," who are blamed for the Treaty of Trianon that carved up the defeated Austro-Hungarian empire.
"Those who don't are considered traitors."
Source: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/ar ... 00af47.491 (AFP, 31st May 2012).