Sunday, March 19, 2017

Hungary’s Ugly State-Sponsored Holocaust Revisionism

Via Tablet (h/t glykosymoritis):

Does it matter if a country consciously lies about its past? An excerpt from the new book, ‘The End of Europe' By James Kirchick
Why does it matter if a country consciously lies about its past? Inculcating in future generations a litany of myths about national innocence, perpetual victimhood, and lost honor grants license to irresponsible and dangerous behavior. Today’s fight over memory politics in Hungary echoes the mid-1980s German Historikerstreit, or historians’ controversy. That dispute centered on whether the crimes of Nazi Germany were singular evils or comparable to other mass atrocities, in particular, those of Stalinism. The intellectual combatants of the Historikerstreit brought no new facts to bear but only argued over how to interpret what was already widely known. In the words of the German essayist Peter Schneider, so heated was the argumentation, so deeply did it impinge on Germany’s understanding of itself, that the fusillade of polemics in the feuilletons attracted “a level of curiosity among the general public normally aroused by photos of the British royal family in swimsuits.”


After much back and forth, Nolte and his confrères were soundly refuted in the court of German public opinion. Among Germans today, it is a consensus view that the Holocaust was a singular event and that Germany has a duty to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and impart it to future generations. Germans have so thoroughly imbibed the awful lessons of their history that their country is one of the more immune in Europe to far-right populism.

Hungary, by contrast, has undertaken no such reckoning. In the same way that Ernst Nolte wanted ordinary Germans to feel a straightforward patriotism, uncomplicated by guilt over the Nazi past, Viktor Orbán and Mária Schmidt wish to muddy the distinctions between victim and perpetrator in order to present a simplistic view of Hungarian history. Nolte’s complaint that preoccupation with the Holocaust served “the interests of the persecuted and their descendants in a permanent, privileged status” sounds indistinguishable from Schmidt’s allegation that the progeny of the victims of Hungarian fascism “would like to consider their ancestors’ tragic fate an inheritable and advantageous privilege.” It is inconceivable that a German chancellor today would express a desire to “preserve Germany for the Germans.” Yet this is precisely the sort of language, redolent of the 1930s, that Viktor Orbán uses today about Hungary. Convinced that Hungarians are perennial victims of global machinations—abetted by his “evil” domestic opponents—and unencumbered by comprehension of, or a sense of humility about, where heedless nationalism has taken his country in the past, Orbán feels emboldened to advance a chauvinist political agenda.
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