Cult Springs Up Around Hungary’s WWII Leader
They came in droves — war veterans and far-right politicians, Hussars on horseback and guardsmen in camouflage. About 1,000 people gathered in this village over the weekend to unveil a bronze bust of Admiral Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s ruler between 1920 and 1944.
Most Hungarians view Horthy as an authoritarian who dragged Hungary into a disastrous alliance with Adolf Hitler and was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews in the Holocaust.
But as Hungary struggles to fend off recession and nationalist sentiment rises, there is a growing movement to recast Horthy as a patriotic hero who stood up to the Soviet Union and only reluctantly threw in his lot with Hitler. And critics say the populist government of Viktor Orban is doing little to stop the cult that has sprung up around the wartime leader.
The Horthy era began with Hungary trying to recover from the trauma of losing much of its territory after defeat in World War I. It ended with Hungary’s troops fighting on Hitler’s side in World War II. Admirers see in Horthy a leader who tried to find space for Hungary to maneuver between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, and cracked down on domestic fascists and communists alike.
“We want to clarify Horthy’s role in history. He was a conservative, patriotic Christian politician,” said Gyorgy Furesz, the mayor of Csokako. “Horthy’s message to us is that even in the most impossible situations we have to persevere for the interests of the nation and the country.”