A messed-up Holocaust anniversary, another shitstorm in the international media, tense German-Hungarian relationship, an inauguration cancelled to avoid further trouble and mockery, huge extra costs due to the (likely permanent) security measures… the list of the collateral damage caused by the German occupation monument is still not final.
While the negative aspects of the monument are quite clear, it is still a mystery what were the “good intentions” that the government wanted to realise with the statue in District V’s Szabadság tér. There are many theories and interpretations though. Even if we take a closer look we cannot find any reason that would justify all the damage that the project has caused. Let’s take a critical look at the reasons that are most commonly mentioned:
1. Whitewashing Hungarian history
This explanation, which is most commonly stated by opponents of the monument, sounds reasonable, but if this were the real intention of the ruling Fidesz party, the prominent representative of the government and the party should not express contradictory opinions, as President János Áder did recently on his visit to Auschwitz. Although consistency and predictability are not the core competences of this government, if Orbán had the intention to put all the blame on the Germans, then it is not logical why his people are always talking about the responsibility of Hungary.
2. Winning the favours of Jobbik voters
This argument was also quite often mentioned before the elections. It is commonly assumed that Jobbik voters are generally ashamed of what happened to Hungarian Jews in 1944, and they would be grateful if someone could put all the blame on the other offenders, so that they can enjoy the confiscated Jewish property without feeling guilty. Neither would they need to accuse their own grandparents of having a part in what happened any more. Even if we cannot rule out that some Jobbik voters really prefer pushing all the responsibility onto the Germans, we cannot conclude that this would make them become Fidesz supporters just like that. When someone is playing such a game, they must consider the counter-effects as well. Namely there are also opinions that would not agree with the monument’s presentation of Germany, which was a partner during the Second World War and practically the liquidator of the hated Trianon Treaty.
3. Fortify the cohesion within their own camp
This is a popular explanation, especially if its proponents want to justify Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s open and emotional conflict with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. Perhaps this explanation also applies to these conflicts. However, it is a strange reason to set up a remarkable monument only to anger the rest of the world, and not least the Jewish organisations again… There must be some simpler and more beneficial solutions from a social point of view to build a great patriotic image for yourself and earn some extra points among your supporters.
4. The logical next step on the chosen path
Already when the new Constitution was published there was a lot of anxiety about the statement announcing that Hungary had not been sovereign between 19 March 1944 and the peaceful political turn in 1989/90, so the country is not responsible for all that happened on its territory during the period in between. At that time the leaders of Fidesz could already experience that this statement irritates a lot of people. However, finally the stirring died away. This part and some others that can be also interpreted in several ways have been regarded as a special Fidesz folklore. With that the issue was explained and ticked off. Society did not expect at that time that the myths illustrated in the new Constitution, such as the total loss of sovereignty, should be illustrated by a monument at some point in the future. The government could have just let this topic be without taking any further action.
5. Counterpart of the Soviet monument
Many people reject the Soviet monument at the other end of Szabadság tér due to its historic core statement, and many Hungarians would like to see it in the Statue Park just like the other relics of the communist era. However, it is quite questionable whether setting up another monument at the other end of the square with an equally doubtful historic core statement will counterbalance the Soviet monument’s effect. Attaching a small plaque on the Soviet monument explaining its historical background and the circumstances why it was set up, and why it still remains there, would probably be more effective.
6. Reminding Germany of its historical responsibility
Surely a well-intended idea, but even if one single German would feel addressed by this interesting-looking unlucky fellow (which is supposed to represent the German imperial eagle), the last ally of Nazi Germany is really the last one who should be lecturing the present Germany.
Since these six more or less rational reasons have not proved to be right on closer examination, there is a danger that possibly there were also some irrational reasons for which this monument was created.
Maybe the Hungarian leadership really just wanted to express the importance of freedom and remember the victims of the world war, and the whole thing somehow just “slipped out from their hands” and then they did not make any corrective measures because they are too stubborn.
Anyway, with all this excitement going on around the occupation monument, we should not forget that we are only speaking about a small heap of stones and metal, which is not even noticed by most of the Hungarians due to their everyday worries and probably will not be noticed by them at all. Orbán and his people can leave it as it is, or they can make it even cheesier or even paint it Fidesz-orange if that is what makes them happy! The only thing that matters is that they make no mistake in fighting poverty in an effective way, just like the high debt, the nepotism, the migration to abroad and all the really urgent current problems of this country.
If Fidesz will perform brilliantly in all those areas, it is sure that the unfortunate slip with the monument will be forgiven at some point of time.