Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Sebastian Gorka’s Hungarian Ties and a Growing EU Split

As the White House trembles lest Sebastian Gorka, the second in a far-right trio to be booted — or having ‘resigned’ from the White House, again gain access, here’s his backstory.
Gorka was born in London to Hungarian parents who fled during the 1956 uprising against Soviet occupation. Unlike most of his peers, however, he came to Hungary as a college student, and subsequently worked there. He claims that the fascist medal he wears was given to his father for bravery against the Soviets https://www.nbcnews.com/https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/sebastian-gorka-made-nazi-linked-vitezi-rend-proud-wearing-its-n742851A. The above linked article, however, suggests that the medal is having a second -  or even a third life. (The caption on the photo showing Gorka sporting the medal at Donald Trump’s inauguration ball fails to point out that the suit to which the medal is pinned is a black, embroidered tunic typical of the outfit that had traditionally been worn by upper-class officers of the Hungarian military).  
Hungary is a small country in the heart of Europe that has managed to maintain a reputation for uniqueness, starting with the fact that the Huns, who arrived from somewhere beyond the Ural mountains in the eighth century, spoke a language seemingly unrelated to any other. Centuries later, Hungary was the junior partner in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy that succeeded centuries of wars and occupations by the Ottomans that left Eastern Europe under semi-feudal regimes. It was a Hungarian, rather than a German or an Italian, who first elaborated the doctrine that became known as fascism. 
In 1919, inspired by the Russian Revolution, Hungarian Communists set up a Government of Councils (or Soviets). It was rapidly put down by  Admiral Horthy, who then became the regent of Charles IV - a king destined to never sit on the throne. One of the first things Horthy did was to found the Vitezi Rend for heroism, and in line with the country’s long-standing tradition of anti-Semitism that brought thousands of Hungarians to the US, including my paternal grand-parents, he set up quotas for Jews in the professions long before Hitler condemned them to death. Toward the end of the war, the Hungarian government, in alliance with Hitler, killed or deported to concentration camps thousands of Jews, Roma and Serbs.  Under the Communist government that came to power with Soviet Liberation, fascist leaders were tried as war criminals, but anti-Semitism never completely died out. 
In the late sixties, as the country was undergoing rapid modernization, letters from listeners of English language short-wave programs suggested, as one of my colleagues put it, that most foreigners believed the Hungarians “still cooked meat under the saddle”. In 1968, the government took the daring step of loosening central control of the economy, and began to  dream of Hungary as a bridge between East and West. (1968 was also the year of the Paris Spring against De Gaulle and Czechoslovakia’s “socialism with a human face”, which was put down in a bloodless Soviet intervention.)
Hungary’s dream came true in 1989, after Gorbachev visited the embattled East German Communist leader Erich Honecker, and discretely let it be known that he would not oppose a peaceful reunification of Europe. In August, as thousands of East Germans were vacationing at Hungary's Lake Balaton, the government quietly opened its frontier with neutral Austria, through which thousands promptly fled. By November, the Berlin Wall was being dismantled. 
In 2004, Hungary joined the European Union, but instead of bolstering  the country’s liberal values, this association led, in 2010, to a victory of Viktor Orban’s right-wing Fidesz Party, bolstered by a parliamentary majority four years later. Fast forward to NBC’s reporters, who were able to interview members of the revived Vitezi Rend, proud of the organization’s heritage. 
Until now, the Western press has focused on Prime Minister Orban’s refusal to accept the country’s mandatory quota of refugees from the war-torn Middle East and Africa, building fences and corralling those who managed to slip through onto non-stop trains to Vienna. Few Americans are aware that the Hungarian Prime Minister also supports Vladimir Putin — and vice versa. This would seem to suggest that the Russian President is a fascist; but as with Marine Le Pen in France and other right-wing European parties, Putin’s support is about traditional values and thus purely tactical, the far-right’s politics of hate are anathema to him. From what I can glean from exchanges with my ex-husband, however, a US-style media campaign has resulted in anti-Orban Hungarians lumping the two together, which is unfortunate. 
One thing, however, is certain: the European Union failed to overcome the  psychological separation between East and West that began with four hundred years of Ottoman occupation and should have ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall.  During the Cold War the countries of Eastern Europe longed to become part of the West, but after the fall of their Communist regimes, Western Europe dragged its feet. At a EU conference in Brussels in February 1990, three months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, I was one of the few speaking up for rapid integration. The following year, Hungary, Poland, and the Czech and Slovak Republics, formed a political and cultural alliance known as the Visegrad Four (after a town on the Danube), to boost their chances. 
They did not succeed until 2004, and by 2015, when massive African and Middle Eastern immigration into Europe began, they had still not internalized the EU’s lofty principles. Viscerally incapable of welcoming Muslims, they defend their Christian faiths (whether Protestant or Catholic) with much greater determination than Western Europeans. In 2016, they formed the Three Seas Group, that includes all the countries from the Baltic to the Adriatic and the Black Sea, to boost economic cooperation — and oppose a common front against immigrants. Recently, faced with threats of fines by Brussels, they raised a counter demand, as  follows:
 The heavy reparations demanded from Germany after World War I having led to the rise of Hitler, after World War II, the Allies had taken a different approach, betting on the inculcation of democratic ideals to ensure that Germany would never threaten its neighbors again. The Germans became the wealthiest and most virtuous people in Europe, as illustrated during the Cold War by Chancellor Willy Brandt’s overtures to the east (known as the Ost-politik) and by the population’s consistent anti-war stance. Now, the beneficiaries of that Ost-politik are demanding German reparations for World War II! 

Aside from their questionable rationale, seventy years after the fact, with Sebastian Gorka gone, I wonder how President Trump will react to the demands against formerly fascist Germany from today’s fascist-leaning East European governments.


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