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14 March 2014

Editorial Note

Some years ago Simon Green, the English cultural critic, wrote a paper on the evolution of war monuments in Britain. Earlier monuments tended to be local and narrow in their ambit of concern. They memorialised the men of the village who had fought and died. And that was it.

Over time, however, monuments were designed to express wider sympathies geographically and socially. Initially it was the men of the nation or the Empire who were commemorated. Even today it is moving for an English visitor to see the war monuments in small south Australian towns listing the names of those who died far away under the words: “They answered the Empire’s call”.

More recently women have joined the ranks of the departed, as they are also joining the ranks of fighting soldiers. Individual women had already received such recognition. There is a statue in Charing Cross Road in London, just above Trafalgar Square, to Nurse Edith Cavell who was executed by the German occupation authorities in Belgium in the First World War for helping allied soldiers to escape. On it are inscribed her most famous words: “Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone”.

A similar sentiment, but one going even beyond that, is expressed on one of the most famous war memorials: that erected above the bay of Gallipoli commemorating both the Turkish and Allied dead, the latter mainly Australians and New Zealanders in the ANZAC force. Written by Kemal Ataturk who had commanded the victorious Turks, it seeks to comfort the mothers of the fallen:
Wipe away your tears, your sons are now lying in our bosoms and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they become our sons as well.
This generosity succeeded to the degree that Australia has erected an ANZAC monument with the same words (also incorporating a bust of Ataturk) in its capital Canberra, and New Zealand has placed its own monument inscribed with Ataturk’s tribute above a local bay with a likeness to Gallipoli. In the 1980s the Turkish government renamed Gallipoli ANZAC Bay”. Ataturk’s magnanimity has forged a remarkable (and rare) bond between Turkey, Australia and New Zealand.
Ideally, that spirit of reconciliation should animate monuments and memorials where it can. It seems to us that something like this sentiment originally inspired the proposed monument to all the Hungarian victims of the German Occupation of 1944. But it has run up against the fact that different historical interpretations of the German Occupation and of Hungary’s role in the Second World War still divide Hungarians. A monument intended to reconcile thus risks becoming a further cause of division.

The fact that its unveiling has been postponed gives everyone the opportunity to consider how to restore its original purpose. Simon Green’s work tells us that the solution may be simply a matter of words. For, as Ataturk demonstrated, words can heal as well as hurt.
Historical controversies over major events will never cease, of course. But they can be refined down to precise and careful formulations of difference. Clemenceau was once discussing the 1914–1918 war with a young scholar who pointed out that future historians would doubtless form judgements of the war somewhat different from those held by the statesman and his generation because they would be writing from different perspectives.

Yes”, replied Clemenceau, “future historians will say many things that we today might disagree with. But one thing they will not say. They will not say that Belgium invaded Germany”. There is, in short, an irreducible minimum of historical truth that must remain immune to post-modernity.

This issue contains several articles that deal scrupulously in that spirit with Hungary’s role or perhaps fate in the Second World War. John Lukács, the distinguished Hungarian–American historian, reviewing the memoirs of Szent- Iványi (previously excerpted in these pages), underscores that there was “an other Hungary” in the wartime years that sought intelligently and honourably but without success to safeguard the country’s interests and its soul.

Szent-Iványi himself was of that other Hungary. So was Colonel Ferenc Koszorús, whose elite battalion, loyal to Regent Horthy, saved from deportation the 200,000-strong Jewry of Budapest. His son’s article in this issue reminds us that other prominent representatives of “an other Hungary” are commemorated in the Jerusalem memorial garden for the righteous.

Finally, Ambassador Géza Jeszenszky guides us carefully through the moral and strategic maze of foreign policy where Hungary’s leaders were doomed to wander and struggle in those years.
No summary can do justice to his careful reasoning and judicious but unsparing conclusions. We will attempt one nonetheless: Hungary and its leaders, including its pro-Western leaders, had no good choices in the war. Of the bad choices available, they did not choose the worst ones. But they did not choose the best ones either.
One thing, however, historians do not say. They do not say that Hungary occupied Germany.
Election campaigns are not the best occasion for a scrupulous and disinterested examination of either foreign policy or historical controversy. So the emergence of a debate about whether or to what extent the Hungarian authorities were responsible for the country’s occupation (and the monstrous crimes that followed it) by the Nazis in 1944 is likely to generate more heat than light – and maybe more darkness than light too.

Some of the more outlandish election rhetoric from the dishevelled Left seems to imply such a degree of un-coerced responsibility for those crimes on the part of Budapest that, indeed, Hungary may be said to have occupied Germany. Such wild and unrealistic accusations threaten, if recent polls are right, to drive undecided and floating voters towards the radical Right Jobbik party that has positioned itself as the main critic of political correctness.

Unless that trend is reversed, the Left’s orators may help Jobbik to become the second largest party in parliament. We do them the credit of conceding that this is not a result they (or many others) want.

But the one law that cannot be repealed by any parliament is the law of unintended consequences.
Edith Cavell’s statement that “patriotism is not enough” is true. Any religious believer must hold it second to love of God, for instance, and most thoughtful secularists would feel that it should be qualified by respect for other nations and other loyalties. That said, patriotism remains far better than its two most obvious rivals: exclusivist ethnic nationalism and allegedly “wider” political loyalties such as communism, fascism, and the many varieties of post-nationalism.

I won’t bother to make that case; history has made it for me.

But what makes patriotism different from – and superior to – even a decent civic- minded nationalism is that it is an expression not merely of political allegiance but of love. A patriot is someone who loves his country – not only his country’s institutions and its higher political values but also its scenery, it sights and sounds, its songs, its food (a love readily understandable in Hungary but heroic in the England of my youth), its characteristic architecture, its people.

When E. M. Forster said that given the choice between betraying his country and his friend, he would prefer to betray his country, he forgot that his country included his friends. And, of course, a great many other things of virtue and beauty worth protecting.

Thus a good number of the articles in any issue of the Hungarian Review celebrate the things that make Hungary a place of beauty and a worthy recipient of love. We especially commend in this issue the article by David Hill on the prominence of the peacock in the decorative arts of the world’s greatest Art Nouveau city.

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