In the dark shadow of history

by Eszter Hargittai on February 17, 2014

I was born and raised (for the most part) in Budapest, my parents and other family and friends still live there, but I rarely comment on its politics. I couldn’t stay silent on a particular aspect any longer, however. Please read this piece I wrote, one that is very political, but also very personal. The place is a mess and the world needs to know. And it needs to care.



stevenjohnson 02.17.14 at 3:01 pm

Democracy is incompatible with the evil empire of Communism. As a stalwart fighter against the monster Stalin, Horthy, despite his excesses and imperfections, is still on the side of modern democracy. (As is, for that matter, Viktor Orban.) Modern Ukrainians who similarly admire the Nazi collaborators in their past are the bravest fighters for democracy. Shinzo Abe visits the Yasukuni shrine and is the most admired Japanese politician. (Paul Krugman approves!)

Stalin was worse than Hitler and murdered far more people. You can read about this in Robert Conquest and Rummel and White and Applebaum and Snyder and Tony Judt and Stephen Pinker. There’s a long series of blog posts by Ta-Nehisi Coates contemplating the nature of evil as displayed in the Communist horror.

The sorry truth is that I agree with you. But the consensus of opinion does not. I do not see how it is possible to single out Horthy for special condemnation without radically challenging fundamental ideas about democracy that are pretty universal in serious opinion.


philofra 02.17.14 at 3:25 pm

I was in Budapest 1n 20012 and visited the shoe display on the Danube, representing Jews who had lost their lives to fascism. And now I read from you that the leader behind this crime is now honoured with a bust to himself.

After reading your eloquent piece my desire of visiting Budapest or Hungary again has vanished.


AcademicLurker 02.17.14 at 3:31 pm

The histories of both Hungary and Romania in the 30s and 40s are pretty sorry. They vigorously competed with each other to curry favor with the Nazis. Not that that got them much in the end, of course.


ProgGuy23 02.17.14 at 3:40 pm

It’s interesting that the Hungarian Right is anti-Semitic. In much of Europe (e.g., Netherlands, France, Norway) the Right goes out of their way to be pro-Likud!


MR 02.17.14 at 3:54 pm

Thanks for linking to this. It’s very sad. Budapest stands out in my memory as probably the most beautiful city I’ve ever visited. I’ve been trying to learn more about the current political situation and decide if it should influence my travel plans: I’m an American academic, possibly going to a conference in Budapest this summer. On the one hand, I doubt that even a sizable number of travelers canceling visits to Hungary would have any effect on its internal politics. On the other, the prospect of visiting a state that seems to be in the process of reverting to fascism is discomfiting.


Sumana Harihareswara 02.17.14 at 3:54 pm

Thank you for bringing this to further attention. Sometimes the uses of history are horrible, aren’t they.


Vance Maverick 02.17.14 at 4:21 pm

stevenjohnson, I’m not sure what you’re on about. (One small example: Krugman has praised only Abe’s economic policy, explicitly avoiding comment on the rest of his politics. And he has published long and severely critical pieces on Orban and Hungarian politics by his colleague Kim Lane Scheppele.)

This is genuinely scary, and I do wish ambassadorships weren’t mere rewards for domestic party politics.


Henry 02.17.14 at 4:31 pm

Scheppele has been very good on this. Steven Johnson (who I should make absolutely clear is not Steven Berlin Johnson, author and occasional CT commenter) would seem to be a rather disgusting human being. Shipping off 400,000 Jews to the control of the Nazis could not be described as mere “excesses and imperfections” by anyone with even a minimum of human decency.


Vance Maverick 02.17.14 at 4:37 pm

Henry @8: insert a “not”. I think stevenjohnson is accusing Eszter of belated antifascism, or something. There may have been moments in Central Europe when there was a choice between two world-historic evils — but this is not the moment, this is historical retrospect.


rm 02.17.14 at 4:42 pm

Stevenjohnson seems to be taking the Jeane Kirkpatrick line, that any atrocity is forgivable if done by an anti-Communist. Beyond that, he’s suggesting that democracy and fascism are somehow inextricably linked — WTFF? WTFGS is that nonsense?!? — which is indeed disgusting and insane.

For the last six months or so my browser has had a problem displaying Crooked Timber, and now that I can read it again, it seems to me there are more trolls of the extremist-political-crank variety than there used to be, or maybe I just forgot what they smell like and am a little nauseated.


Eszter Hargittai 02.17.14 at 4:43 pm

Henry, I considered deleting that comment, but then I realized it’s actually important for people to know that random folks out there hold such insane positions.


MR – It is a beautiful city that I love visiting. Many friends have told me this as well. I think you’re right that Orban et al probably couldn’t care less about the effects of their actions on tourism even though they should.


Donald Johnson 02.17.14 at 4:52 pm

Apart from the general insanity of Steven Johnson’s comment, he’s also wrong to claim Timothy Snyder’s support for his contention that Stalin killed far more, as Snyder doesn’t in fact think this–

Hitler vs. Stalin Who Killed More?


godoggo 02.17.14 at 5:16 pm

Oh, the irony!


godoggo 02.17.14 at 5:17 pm

I mean, I thought he was being ironic. Was I wrong?


Ronan(rf) 02.17.14 at 5:23 pm

Yeah, I thought stevenjohnson was being ironic and certainly didnt read it as pushing the Jeanne Kirkpatrick line. Pretty much the opposite, afaics.


novakant 02.17.14 at 5:30 pm

As a member of the European Left I would like it to be noted that I am not anti-Israel – in fact I’m not quite sure what the term is supposed to mean, unless we’re talking about downright eliminationism. I oppose some policies pursued by the government of Israel, but there are plenty of Israelis who do that and I also oppose some policies of the US/UK and just about any other government I happen to know enough about.


P O'Neill 02.17.14 at 5:36 pm

Eszter, what is the impact of EU-level measures such as (at the very least) raising the noise level about the political climate in Hungary and the impact on minority rights? Sometimes it seems that the relevant domestic factions thrive on foreign disapproval. One would hope that 3 weeks after International Holocaust Memorial Day, you’d get more than just sonorous VIP speeches about history and some real contemporary commentary about current threats.

I know it’s off-topic but can I second rm (#10) comments about browser problems. Across different computers and browsers, CT often does not load. I have to use a search engine and click on its links to CT. rm is also correct about the commenter population composition during that time.


godoggo 02.17.14 at 5:42 pm

Yay, someone mentioned Israel! Now we can get down to some serious commenting here.


krippendorf 02.17.14 at 5:46 pm

I don’t mean to thread derail, but crookedtimber no longer loads for me if my browser or the link from the access site includes the leading “www.” So “” works, “” does not.

Eszter: thanks for the link to your essay. I had no idea. It’d be fascinating to put this in the context of the rise of other right-wing political movements in other parts of Europe.


Theophylact 02.17.14 at 6:00 pm

It should be pointed out that being pro-Likud and being anti-Semitic are not necessarily incompatible, any more than being Jewish and being anti-Likud are.


Hix 02.17.14 at 6:04 pm

Gert Wilders isnt anti jew.


rm 02.17.14 at 6:05 pm

I have only heard anything about current events in Hungary from Scheppele’s guest posts on Krugman’s blog. American news outlets have told me exactly zero about this in all the years it’s been developing. Without Eszter’s and Krugman’s posts, I would know nothing.

It might be nice if they would have news on TV again.


Ronan(rf) 02.17.14 at 6:11 pm

Geert Wilders isnt a member of the ‘traditional’ far right though. Afaict a lot of the current West European right are primarily anti immigrant, which is manifesting itself as anti Muslim, hence the alliance of convenience with the Israeli right.
Wilders is still a classic liberal though afaik, and sells his anti Muslim rhetoric in those terms. This is what my Dutch cousins tell me anyway. Also he’s completly daft, apparently.


lurker 02.17.14 at 6:21 pm

‘Not that that got them much in the end, of course.’ (Academic Lurker, post 3)
Define ‘them’.
Estonia co-operated with Stalin. Of the 8 heads of government Estonia had between the wars, one made it to Sweden, one was forcibly placed in a psychiatric hospital (for persistently claiming to be the president of a sovereign nation) and died there, one managed to kill himself when the MGB came for him, five were killed. That’s the kind of deal Stalin offered to Eastern European political classes. I’d say Horthy did better with Hitler.


js. 02.17.14 at 6:32 pm

Stevenjohnson seems to be taking the Jeane Kirkpatrick line, that any atrocity is forgivable if done by an anti-Communist. Beyond that, he’s suggesting that democracy and fascism are somehow inextricably linked

stevenjohnson @1 is (quite clearly I think) performing and criticizing this position. See the last para.


js. 02.17.14 at 6:36 pm

And thanks for linking to your piece. It’s horrifying and depressing.


stevenjohnson 02.17.14 at 6:37 pm

Vance Maverick: One of Shinzo Abe’s Three Arrows is military Keynesianism. Abe himself is bundling it with the rest of his economic policy. I think Samuelson’s silence is embarrassment, not disagreement on fundamental principle. Abe’s role in the pivot to Asia, and the whole pivot to Asia, is not extraneous to US economic policy either. I think Krugman’s silence is an explicit refusal to criticize.

Donald Johnson: Snyder explicitly makes the judgment that Stalin was worse prior to WWII (which he apparently believes began in 1939 instead of 1937…What’s the point of history if not take advantage of hindsight?) He even adds the (dubious I think) point that Stalin was killing in times of “peace” for the same reasons as Nazis. The article finishes making a case for assigning mutual responsibility for Hitler and Stalin to share. For example, the responsibility for appalling treatment of Soviet prisoners of war is shared by Stalin because he would not allow them to retreat! I think that’s nuts. The old idea that Nazism=Communism(=”totalitarianism, also, I presume?) has never managed to explain why such similar systems could not make a deal.

Snyder also writes, “Apart from the inaccessibility of archives, why were our earlier assumptions so wrong? One explanation is the cold war. Our wartime and postwar European alliances, after all, required a certain amount of moral and thus historical flexibility.” He does not mean that reputable scholarship was nevertheless lying in the service of national policy (which is what makes it reputable, after all.) If that was what he meant, he surely would have said so. That’s good, because if reputable scholarship was lying then, we have to worry whether it’s lying now. We dodged a bullet there!

I don’t think this link shows what you think.

godoggo, Ronan (rf): I forgot that irony is a firearm that should only be used by the certified mentally healthy (aka conventional.)

Eszter Hargittai: Let me rephrase. The US government officially supports fascist sympathizers in a struggle against the government of Ukraine. How can you justify worrying about a mere statue when it contradicts national policy? (Personally I despise Horthy and his statue, Viktor Orban, the Ukrainian opposition, Shinzo Abe. But I’m insane.)


AcademicLurker 02.17.14 at 6:49 pm

@24That’s the kind of deal Stalin offered to Eastern European political classes.

From wikipedia:

On 23 November Romania joined the Axis powers. On 27 November, 64 former dignitaries or officials were executed by Iron Guard in Jilava prison while awaiting trial (see Jilava Massacre). Later that day, historian and former prime minister Nicolae Iorga and economist Virgil Madgearu, a former government minister, were assassinated.

Doesn’t sound like the Axis offered Eastern European leaders a sweet deal either. As you say, it depends on how you define “they”.


LFC 02.17.14 at 7:11 pm

From the linked Snyder piece:

Today, after two decades of access to Eastern European archives, and thanks to the work of German, Russian, Israeli, and other scholars, we can resolve the question of numbers. The total number of noncombatants killed by the Germans—about 11 million—is roughly what we had thought. The total number of civilians killed by the Soviets, however, is considerably less than we had believed. We know now that the Germans killed more people than the Soviets did. That said, the issue of quality [i.e., the nature of the killings, as opposed to the numbers killed] is more complex than was once thought. Mass murder in the Soviet Union sometimes involved motivations, especially national and ethnic ones, that can be disconcertingly close to Nazi motivations.

This passage is reasonably clear to anyone who can understand English, which steven johnson apparently has some trouble doing.


Christiaan Hofman 02.17.14 at 7:26 pm

It is not true that the European left is (generally) anti-Israel or anti-Jew, nor is it true that the European (far) right is pro-Israel or pro-Jew. There are many different combos of any of these in different European countries and even different parties within European countries. Also, anti-Israel is most definitely not the same as anti-Jew, and most certainly anti-Likud is may not be anti-Israel. I think there should be no question that Likud is far right in any sense comparable to European parties. So it is natural (and a fact) that the European left are anti-Likud. They are also generally against the current Israeli stand, which is basically that of Likud. That has mostly to do with the treatment of Palestinians and the territories. But that does not mean they’re anti-Israel, in the sense that they want the country gone. They’re certainly not anti-Jew, at least I can’t think of a single example that is. I’d say that generally the European left is very much in line with the Israeli left. As for the European (populist) far right, they come in all kinds of stripes. For instance in The Netherlands they’re strongly pro-Likud pro-Israel pro-Jew, but that has IMHO more to do with the very strong personal preferences of Geert Wilders (he has also spent some time in a Kibbutz). But for instance in France they’re more anti-Semitic, but that is also because of personal preferences of the former leader Jean-Marie LePen, though his daughter is trying hard to get rid of that image. So while the European far right is generally anti-Muslims, which is basically because they’re anti-immigration, their stand on Jews and Israel is really all over the map. This BTW is also one reason why it is so hard for them to set up alliances amongst themselves in the EU.


Jerry Vinokurov 02.17.14 at 7:29 pm

Democracy and freedom are incompatible with a totalitarian dictatorship?! Who coulda thunk it? What brave truths will stevenjohnson share with us next?


john c. halasz 02.17.14 at 7:33 pm

“The old idea that Nazism=Communism(=”totalitarianism, also, I presume?) has never managed to explain why such similar systems could not make a deal.”



rm 02.17.14 at 7:36 pm

Stevenjohnson, I’m greatly relieved to learn that you meant us to read ironically. The relative poverty of context that surrounds blog comments sometimes makes it impossible to distinguish parody from sincerity. Also, often people have trouble with the very concept of tone, and they present their sincerely held beliefs with the volume turned slightly up as “irony” or “parody,” but not really. Glad that’s not you. But you really need to put more painstaking effort into crafting your blog comments in order to make yourself more clear if you want to earn the big blogcommenting dollars.


someguy88 02.17.14 at 7:41 pm

After a quick reading of history – Google Horthy Holocaust

It looks like Jobbik is using Horthy as a tar baby.

He really doesn’t seem to have been a holocaust war criminal anymore than anyone else forced at gun point to commit crimes was a war criminal. His cooperation might have saved lives by delaying transportation at various points. Not a moral exemplar or even a particular laudable or effective head of state. But it really looks if he had the choice he would have stopped the Hungarian holocaust and he did what he could to delay it at various junctures.

By attacking Horthy as complicit in the holocaust [I am presuming he might be a somewhat worthy national symbol to some folks outside the Jobbik. I would guess re-asserting pre-Soviet nationalism is popular with more than just vicious anti-Semites] you prove your un Hungarian nature to those folks. Tar baby.


john c. halasz 02.17.14 at 7:57 pm

Some historical footnotes:

Hungarian anti-semitism had a few wrinkles. As Hungarian nationalism arose in the 19th century, a peculiar difficulty emerged: ethnic Hungarians, Magyars, were not an actual majority in their own kingdom, (which included Croatia and Slovakia among other territories). So a kind of implicit deal was struck: if Jews would assimilate to Hungarian language and culture, they would be accepted as “regular” Hungarians. (This didn’t involve religious conversion; some remained observant, some converted, and many simply assimilated as secular agnostics). Hence there arose a fairly large cohort of assimilated Hungarians of Jewish origin, who were the “good Jews”, subject to only mild “country club” anti-semitic snobbery, whereas the unassimilated Yiddish Jews, mostly in the east, were considered “bad Jews”. The population of Budapest before WW2 was 25% of Jewish origin and a good many famous Hungarian “names” in science and culture came from that group.

Admiral Horthy came to power in the white terror that crushed the 1919 Hungarian communist revolution, and ruled officially as regent, (despite the fact that he refused to let any members of the former Hungarian royal family return to the country), an admiral without a fleet ruling a kingdom without a king. It was an phalangist type regime, not fascist, though in the 1930’s pro-German and pro-Italian tendencies grew. Hitler cultivated the Horthy regime by awarding it territorial concessions, undoing the Treaty of Trianon and then, when the War broke out pressured it into signing a treaty allying Hungary with the Axis in Nov. 1940, after which Hungarian troops participated in the invasion of Yugoslavia, in exchange for some territorial awards, though Horthy was wary of being dragged into further military involvements, until the invasion of the U.S.S.R., when he succumb to Nazi demands and declared war, (resulting in the loss of tens of thousands of Hungarian troops at Stalingrad and elsewhere).

However, Horthy refused Nazi demands to deport any Jews, *who were Hungarian citizens*, (as opposed to from some outlying territories). In 1944, foreseeing the impending outcome of the War, Horthy initiated secret contacts with the British and the Soviets, seeking a deal to surrender or switch sides to best advantage. When the Germans got wind of this, they invaded and occupied Hungary, though leaving Horthy as regent and having him appoint pro-German ministers. Only then did the deportation of Hungarian Jews begin. However, Horthy was rather resistant to the deportation of Hungarian Jews and refused any deportation of Budapest Jews, eventually firing the pro-German ministers. The Germans then overthrew Horthy in Oct. 1944 and put the local fascist party, The Arrow Cross, in charge, and deportations from Budapest commenced until the Battle of Budapest in Jan.-Feb. 1944.

400,000 Jewish deaths is a bit of a low estimate. There were probably 800,000 Hungarians of Jewish origins, (though it’s a bit hard to say, because of mixed marriages), and likely something more than 300,000 survived the War. Many of the survivors, of course, emigrated. And it would surprise me if Budapest has the largest Jewish population of any European city. There are 30,000 observant Jews according to surveys. (Hungarians nowadays are not very religious and only about half report a religious confession). Hungarians of Jewish origin might number 60,000.

Orban’s Fidesz won a super-majority in the 2010 (post GFC) elections, with even supporters of the Social Democrats voting against them, because of disgust with the corruption and incompetence of the prior government. And then Orban began consolidating power in a way not announced during the campaign. But the really disturbing result was that the neo-fascist Jobbik party, the direct descendants of the Arrow Cross, won 16% of the vote. Everything is the fault of the Jews and the Gypsies! And while there aren’t many Jews left in Hungary, Gypsy/Roma people are a sizable minority, perhaps 7-8% of the population, especially concentrated in the rust belt regions in the east and south of the country.

Eszter’s article omits what a basket case the Hungarian economy is. Before the crisis, many were encouraged to take out low interest mortgages in Swiss francs. Then the franc skyrocketed and the forint crashed…


Donald Johnson 02.17.14 at 8:04 pm

Steven Johnson–I have no idea what you think I think the Snyder link shows, so I’ll tell you. I think it shows

A) That archival evidence suggests that Stalin killed fewer than he was said to have killed by Cold War historians. However, Stalin killed more than Hitler before 1939.

B) That Stalin’s motives in some cases, however, were genocidal. The famine in the Ukraine was intended to kill Ukrainians and was not just insane agricultural policy.

C) I think the historical flexibility line that you cite is irony. He’s saying that people claimed Stalin was worse because Stalin became our enemy–to me that sounds like a polite way of saying that people made claims about death tolls according to political convenience.


Donald Johnson 02.17.14 at 8:15 pm

Of course Snyder says a lot more than that, and I understated his first point–he doesn’t say the archival evidence “suggests” that Hitler killed more. He says unequivocally that the old estimates for Stalin’s numbers were inflated and that Hitler killed more civilians. But the whole piece is worth reading and I’d encourage people who are interested to read it and not rely on my inadequate summary.


Sacha Sokoloski 02.17.14 at 8:16 pm

Thank you for your well written article, although I am aware of what’s going on. As an expat Canadian living in Germany with a Jewish Hungarian girlfriend, it’s certainly worn at my natural optimism to see what is happening in Hungary.

I’ve become somewhat connected with a small (Hungarian) expat community based in Berlin, and have visited Budapest a number of times. On one hand, I feel the need to say that racism is racism, hatred is hatred, and there are many peoples around the world who’ve carried far more than their share of suffering.

That being said, and being somewhat close to this community, it shocks me that, although Hungary has had the fortune of retaining a vibrant Jewish population after the Holocaust, the the political will of the country, after all this time, would seek to drive them out in spite of their love of language and culture. Moreover, even though many countries have benefited from the incredible talents and productivity of Jewish peoples, this is no where more out of proportion than in Hungary, which is legendary for the scientific productivity of its Jewish community.

Of course, the sorts of people who would be impressed by this one are not the ones driving the forces at work in Hungary at the moment. I sincerely hope that this is only a passing phase, and that Hungary may retain its Jewish community, for both their sakes.


Vanya 02.17.14 at 9:31 pm

Snyder explicitly makes the judgment that Stalin was worse prior to WWII (which he apparently believes began in 1939 instead of 1937…What’s the point of history if not take advantage of hindsight?) He even adds the (dubious I think) point that Stalin was killing in times of “peace” for the same reasons as Nazis. The article finishes making a case for assigning mutual responsibility for Hitler and Stalin to share.

Yes, Snyder is actually factually correct on all those points, and Horthy was also a nasty fascist whose memory needs to be excoriated – there is no contradiction. Stalin and Hitler were both evil monsters motivated mostly by a lust for power and megalomania. The only reason to try to prove that one of these bastards was “worse” than the other (which seems to me like a choice between execution by hanging or execution by firing squad) is to use the deaths of millions in the 1930s/40s to score cheap political points today, which is reprehensible no matter which political side you’re taking.


Alex 02.17.14 at 10:23 pm

If Orban is an anti-semite, why was he invited to give the opening address at last years WJC?

There’s a very interesting piece that could be written about the decline of democracy in Europe; and not just Orban and Zeman and Ponta, but also Papademus and Monti. But this certainly isn’t it. To call Hungary an autocracy and say Orban aspires to emulate Horthy’s regime is just ignorant.

Orban is anti-fascist. But he’s also anti-German. Orban’s horrified German banks by being anti-austerity, introducing a Tobin tax, and taxing multinationals. Perhaps Horthy’s role in preserving Hungarian independence from Germany may be the reason for Orban’s refusal to condemn the Horthy statute, rather than a desire to murder Jews and insitute a dictatorship? It’s kind of telling that you call the guy with a 2/3 majority an autocrat, but you can’t connect the dots to the people who are actually kicking out elected governments.


Chaz 02.17.14 at 11:09 pm

I request the people arguing Hitler vs. Stalin do a few things:

A) Explain to me why “starting WW2” does not count against Hitler in your summations.

B) Explain why civilian deaths are the only deaths that count.

C) Explain how you jumped from “worse” to “killed more people while he happened to be in power”. (I’m pretty sure the common cold has killed more people than ebola, and Barack Obama has killed more people than Newt Gingrich.)

or just, D) Talk about Hungary.


Anderson 02.17.14 at 11:34 pm

“If Orban is an anti-semite, why was he invited to give the opening address at last years WJC?”

Uh, because it was meeting in Budapest? Your Orban apologetics should be reserved for people not smart enough to use a search engine.

40: “Hitler vs. Stalin” is like “Alien vs. Predator.” Or should be.


Warren Terra 02.17.14 at 11:39 pm

There was a series of guest-posts on Paul Krugman’s blog last year that was deeply revealing and very scary, about the destruction of constitutional liberal democracy in Hungary. I always thought it was a travesty those stories were buried as a curiosity in the idle-musings blog of a columnist, limited to those who sought it out on the internet, and not on the damned front page of the paper. Even if you neither know anything about Hungary nor care about the country or its people, it’s a terrifying cautionary tale.


Davis X. Machina 02.18.14 at 12:03 am

Even if you neither know anything about Hungary nor care about the country or its people, it’s a terrifying cautionary tale.

For a lot of people who own newspapers, it might not be. I mean, what’s the ROI on constitutional liberal democracy?


JW Mason 02.18.14 at 12:35 am

“Hitler vs. Stalin” is like “Alien vs. Predator.” Or should be.

Here you go.


Alex 02.18.14 at 12:51 am

There was a series of guest-posts on Paul Krugman’s blog last year that was deeply revealing and very scary, about the destruction of constitutional liberal democracy in Hungary.

Yeah, why did these stop? There was an amazing series of posts about how Orban had set up TEK as his secret police. This was really scary Orwellian stuff, these guys were tapping phones and collecting emails and using the courts to force companies to hand over data. They’d turned the place into a surveillance state. Then, round about the middle of last year, the NYT suddenly lost interest and started backpeddling on quite how horrendus this reign of terror was. Any idea why that was? It’s awful. I really need to be condescendingly lectured about how democracy is ending in Europe, but Americans don’t seem to have their heart in it anymore.


Ronan(rf) 02.18.14 at 1:19 am

“Yeah, why did these stop? ”

Yeah. To my mind Krugman continually exaggerated how dire the political situation ‘in Europe’ was during this time to help push a general position against austerity. How good Scheppele’s analysis was I dont know, but I still remember it being less alarmist and more sophisticated than Krugmans interpretation.


Chaz 02.18.14 at 1:53 am

Schepelle’s stuff had a good bit of nuance, but the thesis was alarmist. All Krugman ever wrote was a couple sentences of introduction, and naturally he mentioned the thesis in that space without all the details.

If Krugman was trying to play up the direness of Hungary’s situation to fit into his “austerity is killing Europe (and the US and Japan)” meme then he would still be doing so, because he is still pushing that meme. Also Hungary doesn’t fit into that meme super well because they’re not using the euro and Orban hasn’t been very austerianish. That meme is better pushed by focusing on Greece, which is a genuine disaster zone both economically and politically.

Also, if you find yourself agreeing with a post that alleges that Paul Krugman is engaged in an NSA conspiracy, that should be a warning sign.


Chaz 02.18.14 at 1:55 am

By alarmist I mean that she described the situation as being dire, not that she was exaggerating it. I may have chosen the wrong word.


Ronan(rf) 02.18.14 at 2:05 am

“Also, if you find yourself agreeing with a post that alleges that Paul Krugman is engaged in an NSA conspiracy, that should be a warning sign.”

I have no idea where that was alleged, fwiw. Scheppele did write about TEK (perhaps correctly) in the terms Alex claims. Im not sure s/he’s claiming any ‘NSA conspiracy’ though.


Donald Johnson 02.18.14 at 2:30 am

“I request the people arguing Hitler vs. Stalin do a few things:”

What argument? Steven Johnson pretended to believe that Stalin killed far more than Hitler–Snyder disagreed, Steven Johnson then said–well, I’m not sure what. Others responded to that. A good thing I’m not arguing too, because I have no idea what point you’re making with your questions either. Snyder’s article was clear and interesting and that’s why I linked to it.

As for Hungary, I had a late friend who visited there and told me about the rising anti-semitism he saw there. It has been reported in the NYT as well.


Donald Johnson 02.18.14 at 2:36 am

The NYT is apparently working on some major story or series of stories on antisemitism in Hungary that should be coming out this year, based on what this link says from late last December–



Alex 02.18.14 at 2:49 am

* The criticism stopped because post-Snowden it turned out the US is a liberal democracy engaging in very very heavy surveillance. This showed up as completely ridiculous and totally insincere the idea that Hungary engaging in much much milder activity marked then out as an autocracy.
* Again, Orban is not an anti-semite. People seem keen to throw dark accusations around, but don’t seem willing to back it up with anything. He was a guest at the WJC. One of the things which has offended the human rights lobby is his attempts to ban the swastika. The worst thing that can be said about him is he seems keener to blame the Hungarian holocaust on the Nazis than is fair. But realistically, when his opposition are actual fascists, thinking the Nazis were a bit worse than they really were is hardly a damning indictment.
* Lastly, Orban has pissed a lot of people off through very sensible policies. He’s anti-austerian, he’s taxed big business, he tried to make students funded by Hungary work there, he introduced a finance tax. He’s fiercely critical of German domination of the EU and the Troika – which is an *actual* proven threat to democracy in the periphery. That why he’s a target for these sort of hatchet jobs.


Chaz 02.18.14 at 4:27 am

Oh sorry, I thought you were saying Krugman got coopted. But I still don’t think your point is fair. The concerns were about a lot more than surveillance. The biggest concern was that they had given the government control over the judiciary, and stacked the judiciary with Fidesz loyalists. I believe there were also changes to the election law to entrench Fidesz? Now I’m forgetting the rest . . . he really should bring Schepelle back for a summary.

The other stuff you say sounds good, and I agree that a leader would be unjustly persecuted by EU elites for doing it, and I agree that the official reasons the EU identified for criticizing Hungary were ridiculous (violating deficit targets, are you kidding me?!). But the bad stuff I said in the last paragraph is still very important and totally unacceptable.


Tabasco 02.18.14 at 5:07 am

Doesn’t the EU have some leverage here? The Hungarians must be in breach of a lot of EU laws.


hix 02.18.14 at 6:50 am

There is a danger to engage in true scotsman thinking with regard to the new right parties and anti-semism. They are not more moderate by default because they stand in no Hitler adoring facist tradition. Probably better to look at former communist block xenophobia and western European one in seperation.

Dont think “leverage” tactics, in which the EU already did engage in are helpfull. They are basically a form of rule breaking to make Hungary stick to other rules. A realpolitik aproach that never was the strenght of the EU. Rather the way is through transmission of norms, which the EU did undermine with the previous leverage approach. Hungary is not obviously in breach of more EU laws than others. The biggest problem with Orban is that hes undermining liberal democracy with many small measures. Thats not obviously in breach of EU law. Where he gets there, hes turning a bit back and moves 3 steps forward on a more opaque front. And even when he oversteps, this is not an area of EU responsibility. The EU does not have formal sanction mechanism to enforce shared (and to some extend codified) norms.

Btw, Orban does look very austerian to me. Hes just not a liberal (econonmic/traditional/european use of the word).


Keith 02.18.14 at 7:03 am

Trying to score points by claiming one homicidal dictator is worse than another is un attractive and unhelpful.

The limitations of the EU are shown by the ineffectiveness of the organisation when confronted by states that disrespect civil Liberties. Orban may not be a Natzi but he certainly has clear dictatorial tendencies and the obsession of the EU with being big business friendly means it is unable to advance “European values”. The tight money euro system means that the EU is less able to argue for any moral values. The euro project seems to have made every issue subordinate to keeping the euro.

The situation in Hungary is reflected to some degree else where in eastern Europe.

The soviet oppression has been used by Politicians to avoid any responsibility for the crimes of the Nationalist rulers during and before the second world war. As if Stalin being a big cunt made all the errors of the pre war regimes ok. In fact the rulers who took over when the first world war ended made many errors and embraced oppressive policies and economic policies that failed to work. The whitewashing of past failures is the real problem and no good can come from such a lack of insight. It is not so far from Putin trying to whitewash the soviet regime and also use Russian orthodoxy in a contrived synergy to act as the basis for his Government. It is not a constructive approach and it just encourages prejudice and stifles creativity and thus is bad for economy and society in the long run.


Ze Kraggash 02.18.14 at 8:06 am

Hungarians are a weird bunch. They remind me of those turned alien in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (the ’78 version, of course). If you see people on a street who are alive (and not foreigners) – laughing, talking to each other, being emotional – those are called Gypsies; they are universally hated and blamed for everything. Jews not so much, although I heard rumors that there are Israelis who bribe government officials to take control of various properties or lucrative businesses or whatever.


Alex K. 02.18.14 at 8:18 am

@john c. halasz (34): What about German-speaking Jews in Hungary?

Obviously, I’m thinking about Theodor Herzl – or was he one of a kind?


Deleted 02.18.14 at 9:59 am

[Deleted – holding space so numbering doesn’t get messed up.]


GW 02.18.14 at 10:02 am


there’s nothing austerian about Orban’s policies. In aggregate, they represent a massive and non-transparent transfer of state and private wealth into the hands of favored associates and partisans while seeking alliances with non-democratic countries. Many new security units — complete with tacky regalia and swat-team hardware — have been created, some for “anti-terror” usage, including a unit built out of Orbans’s own private security team, some assigned directly to the control of the prime minister or the speaker of parliament, thus without democratic oversight. Without open bidding, his government has assigned long-term agricultural land leases with EU subsidized perks throughout the country to a handful of Fidesz cronies, most now absentee landlords, in most cases leaving the people who actually work the land worse off than during the soviet block era collectivization and very close to landless and indentured peasantry status, for which, of course, Fidesz appears to have great sympathy in their program of restoring an older class system. Tobacco monopolies were taken away from the small shop keepers who held them and reassigned, again in a non-competitive and non-transparent way, to Fideszniks, putting hundreds of small business people out of work. The private retirement funds of the Hungarian people were confiscated and, though Orban promised they would be untouched, they have in fact been drained. A airport is given a 30 year least to a Chinese interest, contract terms unknown, labeled a “state secret.” A Russian-held interest in MOL, the state oil company, was repurchased, over the market price and terms unknown (and held as a state secret), a massive transaction that has been costly to Hungary and certainly an opportunity for market manipulation by the — unknown actors — who made the deal. Victor Orban’s tiny hometown has had the bulk of its land assets placed into Orban family control while a world class soccer facility has been built there. And finally, let’s not forget, that an Azeri, who went out and bought an axe with which he killed a Georgian, while both were attending a NATO program in Hungary, was summarily removed from prison by the Orban government and sent by to a hero’s welcome in Azerbaijan, a nation with which Hungarian suddenly enjoyed very friendly economic relations.


GW 02.18.14 at 11:26 am

Also, let’s make it clear that Orban’s transaction tax is an extremely regressive tax, not focused on financial transactions (i.e. on sales of securities, currencies, commodities or their derivative produts), but a tax on _all_ banking transactions. In Hungary, the volume of real investment-oriented transactions is very limited, and the need for controls is in the oversight and transparency area (see the MOL sale above, or the recent deal with Russia to build a nuclear power plant.) This instrument was not introduced as a control on financial transactions but a tax on banking, plain and simple, and the vast bulk of income collected comes from average citizens, directly out of their pocketbooks. In Hungary, all utility bills, for example, are paid by transfers via the Post Bank, and all salaries and taxes are paid by transfers as well. Each of those transfers is subject to this transaction tax, so that a tax is collected when a customer pays his phone bill, and the telephone company pays a tax when it receives that payment (which it turns around and charges its customers for), making it a real and flat surcharge for all consumers. Let me be clear, I support a world-wide financial transaction tax, but what Hungary has introduced is not that.


GW 02.18.14 at 11:34 am

john c. halasz wrote:

“However, Horthy refused Nazi demands to deport any Jews, *who were Hungarian citizens”

This is not true. Just consider the thousands of Jewish Hungarian citizens who perished in the Ukraine in Kamenets-Podolskii in 1941, shipped there by a cabinet decision of the sovereign Hungarian state under the regency of Horthy. Further, there is considerable evidence that immediately after the German entry into Hungary, it was Hungarians who pushed for removal of Jews from Budapest against a German military which was reluctant, if only because of immediate resource and timing issues.


Ze Kraggash 02.18.14 at 1:03 pm

Tobacco monopolies were taken away from the small shop keepers who held them and reassigned, again in a non-competitive and non-transparent way, to Fideszniks, putting hundreds of small business people out of work.

They probably took licenses away from some small businesses, but mostly from large companies, like ALDI and CBA. You can’t buy a pack of cigarets at a supermarket or gas-station anymore, only at one of these new tiny tobacco shops. So, the reform must’ve added some jobs and some small business owners (Fideszniks or not). Plus, these tobacco shops are getting robbed at an incredible rate: redistribution!


GW 02.18.14 at 1:39 pm

Ze Kraggash,

The bulk of the licenses were taken from small tobacco shop owners, whose livelihoods have largely been ruined; this was a large part of the Fidesz design as these concessionaires were viewed as legacies of the old era, even if many of these businesses had changed hands in-between. The new licenses were fewer in total and many if not most new licensees were awarded multiple concessions (for example, András Kulcsár, a top manager at the Continental Cigarette company — a firm hearvily involved in writing the new law — who was awarded 84) so there was a net loss of jobs and small business owners and a Fidesz-typical transfer of wealth to cronies. Yes, there have been robberies (many of the new shops were built quickly, without proper security and with no management experience in the field), but the greater damage has been caused by the fact that cigarettes in Hungary have become a black market good, with cheaper Ukrainian products outselling the inflated prices and heavy taxes of the licensed Hungarian cigarettes. Cigarette consumption appears not have gone down, tax income from cigarettes has collapsed, old business were destroyed and many of the new businesses have already failed.


Ze Kraggash 02.18.14 at 2:56 pm

GW, they are robbed in day time, held up. Most of them are very small (one 10-15 sqm room), and (by regulations, I believe) have non-transparent doors and no windows. One clerk in this room and no one else. So, she is held up at knife-point and then the robber escapes on a motorbike. In and out, clean and easy. No “proper security” or “management experience” is going to help.


Randy McDonald 02.18.14 at 3:46 pm


“Perhaps Horthy’s role in preserving Hungarian independence from Germany may be the reason for Orban’s refusal to condemn the Horthy statute, rather than a desire to murder Jews and insitute a dictatorship?”

How does not condemning a wartime dictator complicit in genocide do anything to preserve the contemporary independence of Hungary? If anything, by diminishing foreign sympathy for Hungary while not doing anything concrete to help the country, it makes things worse.


john c. halasz 02.18.14 at 5:32 pm


The massacre you mention took place during Operation Barbarossa, in a very ethically mixed area of the Ukraine, which was never part of Hungary, and the Jews deported to there, where they were murdered by the Germans, were from Ruthenia, another very mixed region, which had been ruled over by a number of different states and had only been returned to Hungarian rule in 1939. So note the * emphasis and the fact that Jews from outlying areas were murdered before 1944. The group of Jews that was deported then were not considered Hungarian citizens.

As for the rest of your comment, of course, there were Hungarian collaborators, (as in most occupied nations), and pro-German factions in the government. But that doesn’t make for a singular unified agency and the Nazi pose of reluctance as others did their business was often feigned, part of their M.O.

I’m not interested in whitewashing anything. But historical accuracy is important, insofar as history is relevant to contemporary issues. Creating a blur out of the past, in the interests of whatever contemporary party or position, doesn’t help to clarify the present situation.


I.G.I. 02.18.14 at 6:34 pm

Thank you to you all for the interesting information concerning Hungary past and present. As a Bulgarian I have to say with regret that the Hungarian history is not much dissimilar from the Bulgarian. A staunch German ally in the two WWs; and ruled by an autocratic king since the beginning of the 1930s who changed governments at will, and personally approved the election lists during the farcical parliamentary elections. According to a rare – in terms of frankness – contemporary interview with a Jewish historian the Kingdom of Bulgaria was given as an example to emulate at the Wandersee conference attendees due to it’s harsh anti-Jewish legislation. In addition, since the 1930 Bulgaria traded almost exclusively – over 70% – with Germany thus contributing to the Axis war effort both with man-power and in terms of supplies and logistics. And, surprise surprise, since the political reversal in 1989 the past has been officially rehabilitated , and all the involved white-washed. Today – of course – the Roma and the Turks are to blame for everything; and in the media regularly get regurgitated plenty of fascistic “scientific studies” about how great were the proto Bulgarians and their pure descendants; how fabulous were their genes; and how everything good in this world is due to them. Such nonsense inevitably carry informal political approval because media, big monies and politicians are operated by the same circles. Therefore those above, including the OP, who think that the US and/or EU aim at upholding moral standards and values are either somewhat naive or a wee delusional.


Maria 02.18.14 at 6:35 pm

Hi Eszter, thanks for writing and linking to your article. It must have been hard to write. I was in Budapest a couple of summers ago visiting an old Jewish friend and he told some alarming stories about Hungary’s increasingly rightwing politics, skinheads and antisemitism. I don’t think my friend was alone in just wanting to leave. I applaud anyone who has the stomach to keep re-fighting this fight, generation after generation.

The EU seems to have laid off reminding Hungary of its legal requirements and commitments, publicly at least. Or that’s the impression I have. It lessens us all.


Jerry Vinokurov 02.18.14 at 6:44 pm

very ethically mixed

Indeed. Very.


Scott P. 02.18.14 at 7:08 pm

“The histories of both Hungary and Romania in the 30s and 40s are pretty sorry. They vigorously competed with each other to curry favor with the Nazis. Not that that got them much in the end, of course.”

Romania at least managed to come out of the war as the only Axis country to gain territory.


john c. halasz 02.18.14 at 7:51 pm


Oops! Typo.


And yet Axis Bulgaria refused to deport its own Jewish citizens, (while willingly collaborating with the deportation of Jews in the military zones of occupation that were granted to it by the Nazis beyond their pre-established borders.)

Anti-semitism doesn’t automatically equate with exterminationism. At the risk of raising some hackles or encouraging disputes between petty nationalisms which I abhor, I would cite the case of occupied Poland.


Jerry Vinokurov 02.18.14 at 8:34 pm

Oops! Typo.

But an especially appropriate one :)


AcademicLurker 02.18.14 at 9:03 pm

At the risk of raising some hackles or encouraging disputes between petty nationalisms which I abhor

Let’s just agree that Canadians are the worst of all, and call it a day.


I.G.I. 02.18.14 at 9:16 pm

@73 “And yet Axis Bulgaria refused to deport its own Jewish citizens…”

Or so say the self-congratulatory myth… in any case this is heavily exploited nowadays. Other, perhaps more realistic accounts, estimate that the non deportation might have been merely the result of coinciding circumstances: the bureaucratic procedure set on stages (Jews from the big cities were exiled in the country) to obfuscate and sway the public opinion; followed by the sudden demise of the omnipresent King, and the panic that resulted from that; and the growing disquiet among the ruling circles due to the country more and more evident head-on crash course. In any case it doesn’t make sense for a Government that set up a special Commissariat for Jewish Affairs, and whose consecutive administrations were consistent in their policies (Bulgaria had for instance much harsher anti-miscegenation law than the Third Reich) to suddenly revert, and take a humane stance.


Roy 02.18.14 at 10:54 pm

Not to trash the Bulgarians, who have almost zero non Russian or Bulgarian defenders. But few Jews had worse survival statistics than those in the chunk of Greece that Bulgaria occuppied.

Of course given the situation it really wasn’t up to them, but it realky wasn’t up to Horthy either. The amount of self congratulation on this issue where literally no one except the Danes distinguished themselves in the basic humanity departmnt, and even the Danes would have probably behaved very differently if they had been treated the same as the Poles, is incredibly false and self serving. Italy has as much to brag about as anyone, yet they gave the world fascism.


Tabasco 02.18.14 at 11:12 pm

Not wishing to up the ante, but my father-in-law, who was a Romanian Jew, said (from experience) that Romania was the second most anti-Semitic European country between the wars and during the war.


Anderson 02.18.14 at 11:31 pm

“Romania was the second most anti-Semitic European country between the wars and during the war”

I have always been chilled, tho I read it many years ago, by Arendt’s account (following Hilberg, I suppose) of the Rumanian approach to deporting Jews.

The silly Germans wanted to ship the Jews off in boxcars a great distance and gas them. The pragmatic Rumanians were all, “why? just drive them around the countryside in locked boxcars for a week – problem solved!”

This, I recall, struck the Germans as deeply uncivilized and inhumane, and indicative of the boorish un-Aryanism of their Slavic allies.


john c. halasz 02.19.14 at 12:04 am

Umm, that was kind of my point. Motives don’t have to be “humane”, only quite mixed. Did the Bulgarian collaboration in the deportation of Greek Jews derive from anti-semitism or irredentist claims going back to the 2nd Balkan War? (Thessaloniki, the main Greek Jewish city, however, wasn’t under Bulgarian control). Likewise, a mixture of nationalist self-assertion and a sense of a limit, “thus far and no farther”, might be sufficient to prevent collaboration in such atrocities. (Contrary to @77, my understanding was that there was domestic political opposition to the deportation of Jews from Bulgaria proper). The Danes were helped by small numbers, (about 3000), their “model prisoner” status during their occupation and, most of all, the Swedes, who had been obstructing, finally relenting.

The case of the Polish nationalist RC writer, who was notably anti-semitic, Zofia Kossak-Szczucka, is a baffling case in point. She was recognized as one of the “righteous Among Nations” by the Israelis after her death, presumably because it would be a bit too problematic to do so, while she was still alive. The horrifying complexities under extreme pressures of the matter don’t lend themselves to easy post hoc judgments which necessarily clarify and counteract recidivist tendencies. (I would tend to point to the unenlightened bureaucratic despotism of the neo-liberal EU, as much as to power-hungry politicians instrumentalizing “Greater” chauvinisms, in analyzing the current resurgence of such atavistic tendencies).


john c. halasz 02.19.14 at 12:16 am


Romanians aren’t Slavs.


I.G.I. 02.19.14 at 12:32 am

@77 Yes, tragically, there are many accounts about the Bulgarians, who were responsible from the administrative paperwork until physically loading the deportees from the occupied territories on the trains, for being especially brutal.

And interestingly, while it is universally acknowledged that historically anti-semitism was never strong among bulgarians (I gather that’s due to the Ottoman heritage) many bulgarian officials were reportedly overzealous and cruel in the implementation of the anti-Jewish legislation in the Bulgaria proper. I suppose that’s on the one hand the eager to conform bureaucrat, and on the other the intoxicating sense of empowerment over the fate of others.


Ronan(rf) 02.19.14 at 12:39 am

And they have beat up on the Roma, the Hungarians, afaict. Consistently. Just to note.


Andrew F. 02.19.14 at 12:39 am

The resilience of ancient bigotry is both saddening and alarming.

This article, from The Economist, seems to take the view that the silence from some high ranking Hungarian officials reflects political pragmatism rather than mere bigotry, and that Horthy seems to be a symbol of contested meaning within Hungary.

If the meaning of Horthy is contested, but the evil of anti-Semitism is not, then the Jobbik party may simply be using the statue to shift debate on to more favorable ground. In that case, by remaining somewhat silent on Horthy perhaps the Fidesz seeks to deny Jobbik a means of chipping additional votes for itself from those on the right who are tenuous Fidesz voters.

Personally, I have no idea how Horthy is actually viewed in Hungary, aside from a few small news articles. Based on his record alone I don’t see why condemnation of him should be in the least bit controversial, but populations can hold strange views of their own history.

Would there be any negative electoral consequences from a full condemnation of Horthy from the Hungarian PM? I think Horthy deserves wholehearted condemnation, but if doing so enables a blatantly anti-Semitic party additional power in government, perhaps a tactical silence is not the wrong move. But I have no idea whether the possibility of such consequences is significant.


maidhc 02.19.14 at 12:51 am


I.G.I. 02.19.14 at 12:51 am

@79 “The silly Germans wanted to ship the Jews off in boxcars a great distance and gas them. The pragmatic Rumanians were all, “why? just drive them around the countryside in locked boxcars for a week – problem solved!”

I am afraid the Germans were not silly at all, but as pragmatic then as now: deportees were expected to pay handsomely for their own deportation. From the occupied territories of Macedonia and Greece the Germans demanded 250 Reichsmarks per person, something which the Bulgarian authorities thought as excessive. Just out of curiosity I tried to find some comparative values for the Reichsmark in 1943, but without much success.


Ronan(rf) 02.19.14 at 12:52 am

“I would tend to point to the unenlightened bureaucratic despotism of the neo-liberal EU, as much as to power-hungry politicians instrumentalizing “Greater” chauvinisms, in analyzing the current resurgence of such atavistic tendencies ”

What does ‘neo liberal’ mean here ? Is there some description of the mechanisms by which ‘EU neo liberalism’ leads to rising ‘authoritarianism’ in Hungary (accounting for alternative paths to economic stability/non EU growth plans) ? Or should we stop using the moniker ‘neo liberal’ as a catchall for everything we don’t like ?
Yes economic dislocation leads to growing opposition to minorities, but it seems EU institutions have put a brake on that opposition so far.


Tabasco 02.19.14 at 12:59 am

The French collaborators and Petainists were also, shall we say, very enthusiastic in the way they went about denouncing, rounding up anD sending to their deaths their fellow countrymen who happened to be Jews.


Anderson 02.19.14 at 1:10 am

81: doh, of course not. Sorry, Slavs.

86: are you suggesting no one would rob the victims if they didn’t really get a trip to Auschwitz?


Alain G 02.19.14 at 2:45 am

Thanks for this, Eszter.

A substantial number of Hungary’s surviving (post-Auschwitz) Jews fled in 1956, many to Canada, which had been notoriously hostile to Jewish refugees before, during and even after WWII – “none is too many”, in the infamous words of a Canadian official. Indeed, the feeling is that they were only welcomed to Canada after 1956 for Cold War political – as opposed to humanitarian – reasons. In any case, I am privileged to have had several as my colleagues. I recently spoke to two of them about the situation in Hungary and they were concerned for remaining family. Apparently, many are preparing once again to leave… some, if they are allowed, to Canada or the US, and others to Israel. And there are echoes in other European countries, especially France, where the Toulouse murders and the Dieudonné-quenelle affaire has the Jewish population very uneasy. It seems that anti-semitism has returned to Europe… did it ever leave?


Bruce Wilder 02.19.14 at 5:48 am

Ronan(rf): Is there some description of the mechanisms by which ‘EU neo liberalism’ leads to rising ‘authoritarianism’?

It is all in Polanyi, isn’t it? The Euro a new gold standard, a free market globalization and financialization driving civilization’s sheepherd over the cliff.


Bruce Wilder 02.19.14 at 5:55 am

The viciousness in antisemitism is almost a relief from the irrationality.


Ze Kraggash 02.19.14 at 8:43 am

I would tend to point to the unenlightened bureaucratic despotism of the neo-liberal EU, as much as to power-hungry politicians instrumentalizing “Greater” chauvinisms, in analyzing the current resurgence of such atavistic tendencies

More generally, some of the EU effects (mass immigration in the central states, perceived loss of sovereignty in the periphery) give rise to nationalist sentiment. Where sentiment exists, politicians will show up and amplify it. Inevitably, nationalism will turn against ethnic minorities: some of them are presumed to have dual loyalties, others are lacking nationalist awareness or have a parasitic culture or whatever. And voila, there you have it, the Jobbik movement.

Besides, Hungary is a special case: having lost more than half of its territory in the last hundred years, and with almost a half of them living outside the borders, nationalist victim complex is not a big surprise. Soviet-controlled authoritarian governments suppressed it, but in a democratic system it becomes a force to reckon with. And to exploit, of course.


Roy 02.19.14 at 11:12 am

#80 & #82

I was not actually trying to be anti Bulgarian here, honestly Bulgarian institutions, particularly the Bulgarian church did distinguish themselves in this. John Halasz is right that reactionary institutions that were in this case actual anti-semites turned out to be among the few who stood in the way of evil. I think this is not at all surprising, because people motivated by strong moral feeling are generally more independent of social pressures. It is important to note that morality is pretty much relative, after all it was the racialist morality of the Nazi’s themselves that led to such restrained reaction to Danish defiance.

#84. I have to think that Andrew is right, Horthy is a complicated figure. His crushing of the Hungarian Soviet has long made him a figure of justifiable hate to the left, but to most Hungarians he was a patriot who tried to restore Hungary after the disaster of Trianon. That every regime between Horthy and the 1980s was objectively worse for a significant chunk of the educated Hungarian population only makes this nostalgia understandable. He is a far less controversial figure than the current government, so it is sound politics to try and associate themselves with him.


stevenjohnson 02.19.14 at 2:23 pm

Donald Johnson doubles down on Snyder, and Vanya basically bets the farm. I still think Snyder is nuts on the most charitable interpretation. If he’s a highly reputable historian, so much the worse for reputable history.

His phrase “historical and moral flexibility” is not irony, but euphemism. As I said, he only needs to be polite about “historical” flexibility because he wants to avoid admitting that reputable history was propaganda, to imply we’re getting the real goods now. Frankly I think he only admits the truth about the inflated numbers because he can’t get away with it.

The phrase “moral flexibility” unpacks as a discreet claim that the democracies should never have allied with the monster Stalin. Make of that what you will. I myself make very bad things of it. I don’t believe that the famine was any more genocidal than the Irish potato famine or the Indian famine during WWII. (And you can make of this what you will.) This claim is a major ideological justification for Ukrainian opposition, including real live fascists.

And this brings us back to the point I was trying to make, which is that the modern democratic struggle is connected to the rehabilitation of old versions of fascism. My crazy, vicious original post predicted claims that were actually made in this thread: Horthy is objectively better than socialist Hungary; Viktor Orban is a democrat; Shinzo Abe is a great economic leader, and we can slyly ignore his militarism. It wasn’t explicitly stated but the fascists in the Ukrainian opposition aren’t a matter of interest in this thread.

Let me suggest again that confused notions about the classlessness of democracy or that there really is something like “totalitarianism” have rendered most so-called discussion an exercise in muddying water.


Alex K. 02.19.14 at 3:05 pm

” I don’t believe that the famine was any more genocidal than the Irish potato famine or the Indian famine during WWII.”

More genocidal in terms of the enablers’ intent, or in terms of the number of victims?


Roy 02.19.14 at 3:49 pm

I don’t know if that helps. The Bengal famine was no different from the Ukrainian famine, well actually it was, but only because thr British didn’t have the manpower or stomach for what Stalin did, the intention was the same after all they were dangerous fascists there, inspired by the arch Nazi MK Ghandi…

As to the Irish famine, I would say that was a lesser crime, and I say that as an Irish Catholic descendent of immigrant washerwomen, there was already a famine and Lord John Russell decided to make the most of it, like the good Whig he was. Of course this same logic can be used to defend all sortsof evils, but Ireland in the 1840s was just the apotheosis of the clearances. Mere oportunism. Unlike Churchill or Stalin, or Ulysses S Grant and the plains indians he didn’t actually intentionallycreate the famine in the firstplace. He just took advantage of it.

Of course if there is a hell he should probably burn in it, but probably only in the fourth circle or so.


Vanya 02.19.14 at 4:05 pm

“Fascists in the Ukrainian opposition” – What does that even mean in 2014? Yes, you will find vicious anti-Semites among the Ukrainian opposition – you will also find plenty of equally vicious anti-Semites among the pro-Government faction, and in the Russian pro-Yanukovich media. Both the Yanukovich and Putin governments are certainly skating along the edge of fascism, if they aren’t there already – and it is no accident that Putin is increasingly beloved by deranged Paleocons and “white nationalists” here in America. If you spend any time in Ukraine, whether in Donetsk, Lviv, Kharkiv or Kiev, it becomes pretty obvious on which side people who believe in tolerance, human dignity and equality before the law feel they have to stand. If they have to make a devil’s bargain with unpleasant nationalists to get rid of Yanukovich and his criminal cabal, I can’t blame them.

stevenjohnson’s point that “the modern democratic struggle is connected to the rehabilitation of old versions of fascism” is utter nonsense in any case. 1930s style revanchist German, Italian or Hungarian fascism is mostly the costume drama of society’s losers, as irrelevant to modern life as civil war reenactments. Where old versions of fascism are being nominally rehabilitated, like Hungary, it appears to be a completely cynical move by failing elites who have nothing else to offer, a way to keep elements of the lower middle class and pensioner class angry and off-balance (much like the Tea Party movement in the US). But in reality there is no desire at all among a globalized and increasingly mobile elite to support any sort of Hitler or Horthy style eliminationist, ethnocentric land grabs. Today control is all about resource control, and the elite have realized that using corporate power is far more effective, and less visible to the electorate, than state power. Certainly the redistribution of wealth from financial elites and unwanted ethnic groups to the middle and working classes, a key element of Hitler and Mussolini’s political strategy to buy support, doesn’t seem to be on the table in any Western democracy. So where is the “fascism”? Refighting the street battles of the 1930s is not very productive at this point.


Anderson 02.19.14 at 4:35 pm

Sorry, bad tho the 1943 Bengal famine was, I call b.s. on comparing it to the Ukraine famine, which I last read about in Snyder’s “Bloodlands.” Even the Wikipedia article on Bengal’s famine shows that it was a complicated event with debatable causes, much closer on the spectrum to the Irish famine than to the government’s going out and confiscating food from people.


Bruce Wilder 02.19.14 at 4:37 pm

there was already a famine

An Act of God, was it?


Luke 02.19.14 at 5:07 pm

Having just finished Mukerjee’s ‘Churchill’s Secret War’, I’m inclinded to agree that the Bengal Famine was closer to the Holdomar than is normally thought. One striking thing is just how clear it was made to the senior British war leadership that there was an emerging famine situation, how easy it would have been to solve, and how frequently and emphatically Churchill and his senior advisors refused to solve the problem.

There is also a hint that some in the apparat felt that famine was not such a bad thing, since it helped to (temporarily) defuse Indian nationalism, but it’s hard to say how far this opinion went — partly because some crucial official records have disappeared or been redacted. Churchill himself stated at one point that he felt India should be able to carry on so long as the army and munitions workers were fed, and damn the rest.


Roy 02.19.14 at 5:10 pm

Well actually it had to do with the nitrate trade from South America hitting a politically suppressed ethnic group that had become dependent on a recently introduced crop with almost no genetic variation. This was caused by incipient capitalist exploitation couple with pre capitalist good old fashioned ethnic and religious hatred.

So we could just blame it on early stage capitalism, or imperialism, or just the fact that England has a much higher population carrying capacity and has easier internal connections and would thus likely dominate the British Isles, yet Ireland is far enough away that it has historically had a different culture.

So Yeah Capitalism and Whiggery


Anderson 02.19.14 at 10:30 pm

But, Luke, the Irish famine was “easy to solve” too. (Step one: quit exporting food from Ireland.)

It’s like the difference between refusing to help a city devastated by a hurricane, and bombing a city so that it looks like a hurricane hit.


roy belmont 02.19.14 at 11:06 pm

“If they have to make a devil’s bargain with unpleasant _____ to get rid of _____.”
Words fail me.
Except, “the nitrate trade from South America”.
That would be bat shit.
So, words.


Luke 02.19.14 at 11:20 pm


Not exactly, because the violence inflicted against the people and the countryside (including the firing of grain stores, as well as the destruction civilian water transport essential for fishing and moving commodities locally), first as part of the ‘scorched earth’ policy to thwart possible Japanese invasion, and then as retaliation for rebellion, were contributing factors.

It wasn’t just that Bengal was hit by a storm and needed food aid: it’s that it was occupied by a hostile army that was eating all the food, confiscating and destroying local food stores, destroying local transport networks, and, incidentally, shooting protesters and raping whole villages at a time. It’s the difference between failing to feed the hungry, and taking their food by force and beating them into a bloody pulp, then failing to feed them.


Chris Warren 02.20.14 at 12:49 am


So who killed more?

Hitler, Stalin or the British?

Who invaded more nations?

Hitler, Stalin or the British?

Where did dire poverty reign as a principle of life?

Hitler, Stalin or Britain?

Who established huge plantation slave-labour camps across the America’s?

Hitler, Stalin or the British?

Who built their domestic economy on child labour?

Hitler, Stalin or the British?


john c. halasz 02.20.14 at 1:10 am

As that ancient hippy said, let the dead bury their dead. Why would anyone think to gain unmerited competitive advantage, in argument or anything else, from unimaginable sufferings they’ve never experienced?


Chris Warren 02.20.14 at 2:40 am

Ah capitalism, don’t you just love its “democracy”?

Maybe Michael Kirby should ask for the records?

British capitalist empire – 1950’s

The inmates were used as slave labour. Above the gates were edifying slogans, such as “Labour and freedom” and “He who helps himself will also be helped”. Loudspeakers broadcast the national anthem and patriotic exhortations. People deemed to have disobeyed the rules were killed in front of the others. The survivors were forced to dig mass graves, which were quickly filled.

Interrogation under torture was widespread. Many of the men were anally raped, using knives, broken bottles, rifle barrels, snakes and scorpions. A favourite technique was to hold a man upside down, his head in a bucket of water, while sand was rammed into his rectum with a stick. Women were gang-raped by the guards. People were mauled by dogs and electrocuted. The British devised a special tool which they used for first crushing and then ripping off testicles. They used pliers to mutilate women’s breasts. They cut off inmates’ ears and fingers and gouged out their eyes. They dragged people behind Land Rovers until their bodies disintegrated. Men were rolled up in barbed wire and kicked around the compound.


john c. halasz 02.20.14 at 2:41 am

B. W. @91:

That was a strange comment. Are you suggesting something like Arnold Gehlen’s “disburdenment”?


LFC 02.20.14 at 3:21 am

Following on what Ronan said @87, I also have doubts about the statement by john c. halasz that:

(I would tend to point to the unenlightened bureaucratic despotism of the neo-liberal EU, as much as to power-hungry politicians instrumentalizing “Greater” chauvinisms, in analyzing the current resurgence of such atavistic tendencies).

This seems to me to get the balance of blame perhaps not quite right. Acknowledging that EU economic policies prob. haven’t helped at all, my inclination wd be that the primary blame for Hungarian neo-fascism lies with the leaders of that mvt and their followers.

Also, small correction — from jch’s (informative) post @35:
The Germans then overthrew Horthy in Oct. 1944 and put the local fascist party, The Arrow Cross, in charge, and deportations from Budapest commenced until the Battle of Budapest in Jan.-Feb. 1944.
Jan.-Feb. 1945, it would have to be.


LFC 02.20.14 at 3:23 am

I saw after typing the above comment that Ze Kraggash addressed this @92.


LFC 02.20.14 at 3:29 am

Vanya @97
Certainly the redistribution of wealth from financial elites and unwanted ethnic groups to the middle and working classes, a key element of Hitler and Mussolini’s political strategy to buy support…

Did Hitler and Mussolini actually do much redistribution from financial elites to the middle and working classes? (This is an actual, not a rhetorical, question.)


Roy 02.20.14 at 6:13 am

Roy belmont

Not that you should care, but it is my field

The blight, like the Potato itself was native to S. America, when the potato was introduced it came without the blight but was introduced intermittently by improving commercial farmers who began importing guano from Chile.

The thing no one remembers is that the blight was not unique to Ireland, it struck all of N. Europe killing thousands and was a spur to immigration to the US. However only in the Scottish Highlands and Ireland was it socially devastating. But relief was actually properly provided in Scotland, where many cleared crofters were provided with passage to N.America, while in Ireland it killed a million.


lurker 02.20.14 at 7:10 am

@LFC, 111
IIRC the German masses barely felt the war financially, but the rich and the propertied were heavily taxed. (source: Götz Aly, Hitler’s Beneficiaries)


JW Mason 02.20.14 at 7:46 am

Re redistribution under fascism, Milward’s War, Economy and Society 1939-1945 is also good. His conclusion is the same as lurker’s: The standard of living for working-class Germans rise under Hitler and was maintained at a high level almost to the end of the war.


Bruce Wilder 02.20.14 at 8:06 am

john c. halasz @ 108

Arnold Gehlen is not someone, whose coinages I’m familiar with.

I appreciated your informative comments, and the effort you made to attain factual clarity and moral ambiguity. It is too easy, and too common, to do the opposite.

I don’t know that I can explain my strange comment, except to say that it was a product of a visceral reaction to the too easy and too common.


Alex 02.20.14 at 10:53 am

I think a lot of the famine comments are lacking the links, citations, and references that would strengthen their respective cases!

On 115, financial repression was a big part of the Nazi economy; the financial sector was basically given no choice but to suck up all the bonds (actually, usually short t-bills) the government could issue and either sit on them or post them for rediscount at the central bank, which would be delighted to print you some cash. Corporate profits were pretty high, but dividends would be taxed heavily. Capital controls kept you from moving your money out of the country, so your choices were to buy government bills or leave it and submit to the inflation tax.

The government finances worked, pretty much, up to 1944 when the funding roll broke down and the printing press took over. Before that, starting in mid ’43, there’s a run-up in retained profits and internally financed investment within companies, said to represent repressed inflation/flight from the currency.

The analogous pattern in the household sector was strong wage growth vs rationing; you got paid but there wasn’t much to spend money on, so you put it in the sparkasse which put it in the landesbank that had to buy bonds.


Random Lurker 02.20.14 at 11:34 am

@JW Mason 115
seems nice, I’ll look at it.


LFC 02.20.14 at 2:52 pm

114-115: thanks


stevenjohnson 02.20.14 at 6:26 pm

And Vanya loses the farm. Right Sector is today’s fascist streetfighting. And they are not one bit more humane than the Roma-bashing democrats in Kosovo or the Czech Republic. The greatest single indicator of Yanukovych’s depravity is the way he has repeatedly tried to placate the filth in Svoboda et al. (And yes, that means Udar too, servitude to German bankers is no sense decent.) He can’t appeal to the genuine humanity of the people because he’s just another modern democrat who only wants to make a deal.

Chris Warren: Yes, it appears that Stalin has the smallest body count, even trying to allow for the oddity of comparing a beloved institution like the British Empire and one man’s personal dictatorship. (It’s like comparing the military achievement of Genghis Khan and Alexander.) And it’s true that of the three Stalin was by far the least aggressive. But there is one are in which Stalin is by far the hands down champion: Stalin killed far more of his own party and his own country’s elite than Hitler or all the British Prime Ministers. (It is well-nigh universally agreed that this line of blood traces the continuity from Marx down to Stalin, and through his successors as well.) I’m not sure what your point is? As an historical figure, Stalin is analogous to Cromwell or Napoleon, neither of whom get good press but neither of whom are commonly held to refute “democracy.”


roy belmont 02.20.14 at 6:46 pm

Roy at 6:13 am:
I was using the bat (seabird?) guano to color in the blanks in the first sentence there. Sorry if that wasn’t clear. I’ve got no quibble with the causative diagram you’re presenting.
The biological specifics of the Great Famine aren’t super interesting to me, though I’d be glad to read up on them.
What interests me far more is the destructive hammer brought down on Irish culture, Gaelic/Celtic cultures generally, and indigenous cultures globally.
Something I view pretty much the way medieval peasants viewed the workings of Satan, in their world.


Donald Johnson 02.20.14 at 7:34 pm

I have yet to understand Steven Johnson’s animus against Timothy Snyder. It seems to be based on some weird notion back in the beginning that Snyder was the same as someone like Rummel. Oddly enough, given the argument we seem to be having (about something or other), having read “Late Victorian Holocausts” I’m inclined to lump the British Empire in with Mao’s China and Stalinist Russia and the Stalinist regime as one of the world’s worst violators of human rights, at least in terms of sheer numbers, and it’s likely that Stalin is number four on the list. Add Leopold II and it would be possible Stalin is number five.


Donald Johnson 02.20.14 at 7:37 pm

Forgot to mention Hitler–that’s how the Stalinist regime gets to be number four or possibly five on the list of history’s greatest killers, behind Mao, Hitler, the Brits, and maybe Leopold.


I.G.I. 02.20.14 at 8:57 pm

@112 LFC

I can’t recall the source where I read that much of the Third Reich standard of living was funded by the massive looting of the occupied territories – even some of their allies like the Vichy regime were alarmed by the rate of it. Otherwise AFAIK the Nazi, and Fascist regimes in general, lacked any coherent economic policy. The economy of the Third Reich was left to the experts; a concept much in vogue in the inter-war Europe perhaps as a reaction to the Great Depression; and not unlike today’s EU.


Chris Warren 02.20.14 at 11:40 pm


Your comment makes no sense. There is no difference between killing one person than killing another.

There is no greater licence to kill others, than to kill your own.

If you want to differentiate Stalin’s regime from eg. American Colonial frontier indigenous deaths and slave shipping deaths of Africans, you may like to look at causal factors.

Stalin and his predecessor suffered extraordinary foreign subversion and multipoint military interventions. Many deaths arose from resulting paranoia. America and colonial Britain massacred for economic benefit. Many deaths resulted from racism.

America massacred hundreds of thousands in Vietnam purely as an act of paranoia.


Vanya 02.21.14 at 12:07 am

@122, I have yet to understand Steven Johnson’s animus against Timothy Snyder. stevenjohnson appears to just be a desperate apologist for Stalin. He still hasn’t refuted any of Snyder’s claims with any, you know, facts, just ideological posturing.


LFC 02.21.14 at 1:33 am

“America massacred hundreds of thousands in Vietnam purely [sic] as an act of paranoia.”

“As an historical figure, Stalin is analogous to Cromwell or Napoleon, neither of whom get good press but neither of whom are commonly held to refute “democracy.””

Is there a competition going on to see who can make the most bizarre, ludicrous remark?


Chris Warren 02.21.14 at 4:57 am


You easily win that prize.


lurker 02.22.14 at 4:12 pm

‘Stalin killed far more of his own party and his own country’s elite than Hitler or all the British Prime Ministers.’ (stevenjohnson)
There is that to be said in his favour. Wiped out most of my country’s communist party, too. Buggers had created a quasi-state in exile, with an army and everything. Potentially quite dangerous to us but good old JV took care of them.


Rakesh Bhandari 02.22.14 at 5:37 pm

In his Origins of Nazi Violence Enzo Traverso shows that roots of Nazism can be found not in the German reaction to Bolshevism or in the specificities of German history but in Western modernity itself–in the rationalization of death from the guillotine to the gas chamber, the rise of bureaucracy, the violence of colonialism and the rise of social Darwinist racism against the disabled and many ‘racial groups’, the experience of total war in the Great War, and in anti-modern revolt against abstraction and formalism (later personified in the Jew). At the same time Traverso insists that the rational and largely indifferent production of corpses represents a break in human history.

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