It’s been a busy weekend for those overly concerned with Hungary’s academic and research freedom. Somewhat magically, The Guardian’s Shaun Walker and Federigo Argentieri in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera had exactly the same idea: let’s take advantage of the occasion of the re-dedication of the Imre Nagy statue in Budapest to come up with a story about how Prime Minister Orbán is ‘tightening his grip’ on freedom in Hungary.
Their reporting, unfortunately, scores high on sensation but struggles with facts.
“Hungarians remember Imre Nagy, hero of '56, as Orban tightens grip,” Walker’s headline reads in The Guardian. Then he gives us this little gem:
“Nagy, a communist reformer, had wanted to implement a less hardline version of communism, but Moscow sent in tanks in 1956 to crush the revolt.”
Walker’s revisionist version of the 1956 Revolution suggests that it was about Nagy and his reforms. It wasn’t.
We remember Nagy as a martyr of the Revolution, and Prime Minister Orbán has been explicit about the ultimate price that Nagy paid in service to Hungary. But the real heroes of 1956 were the everyday Hungarians who showed enormous courage in their fight for freedom, taking to the streets of Budapest to stop Soviet tanks from suppressing the revolution and thousands of them paying with their lives. Although they could not defeat Soviet Red Army tanks and airplanes, they shook the communist regime and paved the way for the change of regime in 1989.
On Sunday, the statue of Imre Nagy was rededicated at its new location a short walk north of the Hungarian Parliament. But that in itself isn’t enough of a news story for the international press, so they contrived Prime Minister Orbán’s ‘tightening grip’ on freedom in Hungary, including the research of our national history. The thoughtful reader may want to know what really happened.
On Saturday, the Veritas Research Institute and Archives, a historical research body tasked with studying the events of the last 150 years – Corriere della Sera in a fit of baseless hyperbole calls it the government version of the Marxist Leninist Institute – announced that it will take over the supervision of the 1956 Institute – Corriere della Sera couldn’t even get the name correct, called it the Imre Nagy Foundation – a small research organization that currently belongs under the National Széchényi Library.
Yes, that’s about as interesting as it gets. It’s a minor administrative change to make research more efficient by integrating related fields into the same structure.
But not for The Guardian. The author makes a number of ungrounded claims, accuses PM Orbán of “trying to rewrite Hungarian history to whitewash the rightwing interwar government of Miklós Horthy” – what? – and goes as far as to name Imre Nagy an “inconvenient hero.”
Of course, none of this is true. And it’s more than a little audacious for foreign correspondents, who clearly know little about our history, to stand in judgment on the way we commemorate the nation’s fallen heroes…