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Nov 28, 2019 - Zoltán Kovács

Brookings Institution: Partisan mudslinging OK, “audi alteram partem” not so much

The re-construction of a monument honoring the victims of communism - that was, by the way, torn down by hardline communists in 1945 - counts as an act of “historical revisionism,” according to the distinguished scholars at the Brookings Institution. But it’s not. And, by the way, we stand by our decision.

In an article published on Monday, Brookings Institution authors Meilin Scanish and Norman Eisen claim that the relocation of a statue of Imre Nagy, one of the few Hungarian communists who took a stand for the 1956 Revolution, is actually the next step in Prime Minister Orbán’s “insidious mission to revise Hungary’s history.”

While this claim obviously doesn’t square with reality, to make things crystal clear, I sought a right of reply. Here’s how they responded:

“(W)e don’t publish noncommissioned, outside pieces (i.e. pieces by non-Brookings authors), including reaction pieces such as the one you describe here.”

Following a November 5 panel discussion (see blog entry here) on Brookings’ latest “Democracy Playbook,” our embassy in Washington, DC, reached out to Norman Eisen and asked for an opportunity for a representative of the Hungarian government to state our position at the next event. He never responded.

According to their playbook, it seems, uninformed mudslinging is OK, but allowing the other side to be heard is not.

In the article, cited above and entitled “History in the (un)making: Historical revisionism in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary,” Scanish and Eisen demonstrate a poor understanding of Hungary’s history.

Let’s be clear about Imre Nagy. Hungary’s conservatives and right-of-center do not denounce Imre Nagy, the prime minister who was condemned to death and executed under the communist regime. On the contrary, despite his own communist past and actions, we count him among the martyrs of the Hungarian nation.

“Orbán has decided that the leader of the failed 1956 Hungarian Revolution against Soviet domination, former Prime Minister Imre Nagy, ought to be forgotten,” write Scanish and Eisen. In fact, the move had a completely different reason.

Long before the Imre Nagy statue was erected in 1996 on Vértanúk tere (they refer to it wrongly as Freedom Square, Szabadság tér in Hungarian), between 1934 and 1945 the same spot was home to a memorial honoring the victims of the short-lived, 1918-19 communist dictatorship known as the “Council Republic.” In 1945, when communists seized power, the memorial was torn down.

Even our political adversaries would have to agree when we say that the victims, the real heroes of communist oppression, are the ones who should be honored. And it’s not like the Nagy statue was removed; it was merely relocated roughly 900 meters to another prestigious square north of the parliament.