“Carl Schmitt would be very proud of Viktor Orbán,” said Donald Tusk in a recent interview in the German Der Spiegel, which happened to be published on the Hungarian Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Mentioning someone in the same sentence with the scholar who contributed to the establishment of Hitler’s legal order is not exactly the most subtle way of calling that person a Nazi.
The smaller problem with that is that it has nothing to do with reality. Orbán – and it’s starting to get boring writing it now for the hundredth time – has never made any statement that would support such a claim. At the same time, he noted on numerous occasions that he employs a “zero tolerance” policy for anti-Semitic behavior. In fact, Jewish life in Hungary is enjoying a renaissance, a fact supported by the testimony of many proud, Hungarian Jews, including me.
But the real reason that Tusk’s remark causes such immense pain is that it humiliates and invalidates the suffering and death of the victims of the Shoah.
If Carl Schmitt would be proud of Orbán, it would mean that there is a similarity between the two worlds of Nazi Germany and modern-day Hungary.
Would it mean that my grandmother, an Auschwitz survivor, my grandfather who was killed in Budapest, his brother who was hanged in Szabadka, my great-grandfather who was beaten to death on his way from Szabadka to Bor – all of them victims of the Shoah, including my surviving grandmother – would it mean that they all lived in a system that is comparable to today’s Hungary?
If Tusk suggests that he finds parallels with the German era leading up to the genocide, then I recommend he read Sebastian Haffner’s brilliant Defying Hitler: A Memoir and then report back on the parallels he finds.
I am alive today because, miraculously, my grandmother was among the few that returned from Auschwitz and because my father was already conceived before my grandfather was killed. My son attends a great, Jewish school, right here in Hungary. The Hungarian state supports in a thousand ways the cultural life of Jewish communities. Over the last decade, the state has provided more funding for Jewish culture than we’ve seen in a millennium.
There are so many ways to criticize Orbán (or whoever) without insulting the memory and descendants of the survivors and those murdered by the Nazis or by our fellow Hungarians who collaborated with them.
This is how Miklós Radnóti [Hungarian poet who was killed during the Hungarian Holocaust] continued to hope just a few months prior to his death:
“And an end-of-summer stillness would bask in the drowsy garden,
Naked among the leaves would sway the fruit-trees’ burden,
And Fanni would be waiting, blonde, by the russet hedgerow,
As the slow morning painted slow shadow over shadow –
Could it perhaps still be? The moon tonight’s so round!
Don’t leave me friend, shout at me: I’ll get up off the ground!”
The reunion with his spouse never happened. They shot him dead.
Today’s Hungary is full of life: trees are blossoming; the spring is beautiful; the coronavirus is raging; we watch exciting museum and theater programs online from home; the parliament is in session; the government (which will be reelected or replaced in 2022, based on the will of the voters) is making decisions; and there is a prime minister who is neither an anti-Semite nor has anything in common with any supporter of the Third Reich.
I remember traversing Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse border crossing in 1986 with my father, who was on a Stipendium Hungaricum Scholarship at the time, and how East German border guards subjected me to a strip search at the crossing. I was terrified all the while that we were in “Berlin – Haupstadt der DDR” and only began to slowly calm down as we walked to the apartment on Horn Strasse.
The Hungarian Nobel Laureate Imre Kertész wrote at one point that “Eastern European life prepares you for death.”
We are beyond fascism and communist dictatorship.
The living may now lead a cheerful, normal life filled with challenges in a world that is – thanks to Donald Tusk – loaded with profanities and moral relativism.