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In Budapest, you can feel the pressure of a dictatorial, nationalist regime, who tries to alter the past to its own benefit.
But there are activists who don’t give up on keeping alive the respect for the victims of the history of a country who seems to have forgotten its legacy.
We stayed at a friends’ place, a couple who has been working in the city for a year. They are both Portuguese, working at a multinational firm with some compatriots, and have a sponsored trip home once a month.
The place where they live seems straight out of a classic Italian movie set. As we go through a worn-out wooden gate, a huge terrace circled by imponent balconies with plants on the eaves, give it a sublime touch that, from the outside, make it look like the entrance to an old house.
With huge vertical pillars, you could see the blue skies on top, indicating that we are lucky with the weather in Budapest as well.
After refilling our energy supplies, we head to the House of Terror museum, whose objective is to immortalize the victims of the fascist and communist regimes. The museum, opened in 2002, is massive, endless, and exhaustive. The enormous rooms are designed and thought to the detail so that visitors feel the discomfort of a building that witnessed uncountable tortures and deaths of the victims of inhuman systems. However, to someone who has a deeper knowledge of History, it’s easy to note the effort to alter the contexts and political scenarios in favor of a nationalist government.
This is what the Hungarian activists claim, mainly from older generations, because “the young cannot show they are against the system, or they lose their jobs”, as we are told later on.
Consider the museum an attack to Hungary’s history, an attempt to minimize the country’s participation in the ethnic cleansing practiced during World War II.
Maria Schmidt, the director and curator of the museum, has been accused of manipulating History and ignoring the Holocaust, by focusing instead on the Soviet occupation of the country, and dismissing Hungary’s participation in the horrors of the war.
“She is one more ally of Orban’s system, she’s part of his government – the same person that considers Schengen the end of the country’s sovereignty, who states that European Human Rights Court is the biggest cause of the European crisis by putting Human Rights first, and not border control.”, can be read in one of the documents of protest against the “falsification of History”.
“When they rose to power, 7 years ago, the first thing they did was re-write the Constitution and change the first paragraph, as if 60 years of History didn’t happen. As if my existence didn’t happen.”,
tells us, Andrew, calmly, crossing his arms. He is a History professor and has two kids. The white hair doesn’t stop him from showing up at his protesting shift every week, even though he has to travel from out of town. Born in 1957, Andrew witnessed the Soviet dominance, his parents were victims of the Nazis, and his grandma shot in the head at the shores of the Danube – because they were Jews.
The memorial is called “Memorial to the Victims of the German Invasion”. It was supposed to honour the Holocaust victims, and it all seemed fine until, after it was built, a part of the population realized that “it was all wrong – the statue shows Angel Gabriel with the royal apple on his hand, and the German eagle ready to attack, when History has proven over and over that Hungary was a German ally. This is not right. We were not occupied.”, says Andrew.
The electoral system was also altered as soon as they took power, from the geographic organization to the number of voting rounds. This leads to this government being able to be in power with only 44% of votes, as they were able to get two-thirds of the seats in parliament.
In front of the angel and eagle statue is a group of objects left by the activists, as a reminder of the victims of the Holocaust.
“My mother died in Auschwitz”, says one of the posters.
There are translations in many languages of the document explaining to everyone who visits the monument the severity of what it represents.
“What worries me the most is the younger generations. The educational system is so bad that they have no idea of what’s going on, they don’t know the History, don’t have a political opinion.”, explains Andrew. “My sons, who are older than 20 years old, constantly disbelieve the danger of this pseudo-democratic dictatorship and don’t even understand populism.
It’s scary that the majority of the extreme-right supporters are young people.
How can they have so much hate at such a young age, if they didn’t even go through the regimes that we did?”, questions Andrew.
In his opinion, the complex of inferiority contributes to the growth of a sexist, racist, xenophobic, and homophobic society. It spreads an idea of sovereignty and power of a country that, in truth, is in constant collapse.
Photo by Diana Tinoco