New York Times Shows Softer Side Of Hungarian Authoritarianism
In 2013, the Hungarian government announced its intention to establish a museum called the House of Fates, which was meant to memorialize the country's experience during the Holocaust. Although it was initially slated to open in 2014 — the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust — it did not open until last year, as a result of a torrent of controversy that eventually led to the Hungarian government transferring ownership of the museum to the United Hungarian Jewish Congregation (EMIH). The controversy was the fact that one Dr. Maria Schmidt had been tapped to run it.
Schmidt, a government-appointed historian and long-time acolyte of Hungary's strong man Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, is known to have a penchant for rewriting the Holocaust. Like many right-wing Hungarians these days, Schmidt has been known to diminish Hungary's complicity in the persecution of Hungarian Jews, portraying the country as an innocent victim. This, obviously, runs contrary to the experiences of the Hungarian Jews who were actually alive during the Holocaust and clearly remember being persecuted by Hungarians. These groups were already pretty upset about a statue erected by the Hungarian government (pictured above), which Schmidt endorsed, in which Germany is portrayed as an eagle attacking an angel representing Hungary. When it was announced that Schmidt would be in charge of the museum, Jewish groups protested and refused to be involved if she was going to have anything to do with it.
Yesterday, The New York Times ran an op-ed by this same woman, extolling the virtues of Orbán's neo-fascist regime, as though she were some kind of normal person.
Via The New York Times:
In 2014, Mr. Orban proclaimed that Hungary was breaking with the kind of early 21st-century liberalism that had been bankrupted so spectacularly in 2008. Instead, he declared a desire for a nonliberal society — he called it "illiberal" — based on community, Christianity and solidarity. He understood that the West was suffering from a systemic crisis, in economic terms and within the liberal order itself.
The gist of the op-ed is that Communism was bad (and, surprisingly, lasted until 2010, the year Orbán became Prime Minister for the second time), Viktor Orbán is the greatest human person to have ever lived, and that everyone in Hungary prefers his far-right policies to the liberalism of Western Europe.
Sadly, instead of treating us as potential allies who were finally joining the free world, the nations of Western Europe treated us as vanquished losers of the Cold War who had to defer to their wisdom. They used economic power to gain control of our markets, then kept us waiting in the antechamber of the European Union for 15 years. We did not experience a genuine reunification with Western Europe. Instead, we were forced to adapt ourselves to the West. It never occurred to the West that perhaps it should adapt itself to us.
Hungarians on Twitter were not all too thrilled by this, as you might imagine. This thread from Anita Komuves was particularly insightful.
In case you haven't figured out exactly what kind of person Maria Schmidt is yet, she recently did an interview on The Gateway Pundit in which she claimed that "George Orwell said the meaning of 'fascist' is that liberals do not like you." It should come as no surprise that George Orwell did not, in fact, say that. She also said that Orbán and Trump were basically "twins." In this, she is correct.
Oh, and both she and Orbán routinely freak out about George Soros. So, you know, she's that type.
Most Americans have probably never heard of Schmidt. I know I hadn't! Most Americans don't generally have an in-depth knowledge of what is going on in Hungary, or any other country for that matter. Thus, publishing something like an op-ed from this woman with literally no context whatsoever doesn't help anyone. It's the equivalent of a Hungarian newspaper publishing an op-ed from a pro-Confederate historian, explaining why all of America loves Donald Trump so very much.
Context matters. It would be one thing for a reporter at The New York Times to write an article in which Schmidt was quoted as a supporter of Orbán's regime, with an explanation of who she is and what her deal is, alongside perspectives from those who oppose Orbán. It is a very different thing to have her write an op-ed herself. Let us hope that the next time the Times solicits an op-ed from someone in another country, they take a moment to Google first.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse