Removing a statue of a philosopher? You may expect something like this to happen in Nazi Germany in the 1930s but not in Budapest in 2017.
A couple of weeks ago the Budapest City Council decided that the statue of György Lukács will be removed from a Budapest park in the 13th district. The renowned philosopher’s statue is currently in Szent István Park, a peaceful urban park in an area that once served as the International Ghetto where many Jews survived World War II in “protected houses.” It will be replaced by a statue of Saint Stephen, the founder of the Hungarian state.
I’m familiar with the statue; my wife and I walk by it daily when we visit Budapest.
Lukács died in 1971. Imre Varga, a well-known sculptor and winner of the Kossuth-prize, was commissioned to make the bronze figure in 1985. The project was sponsored by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. At the statue’s inauguration János Szentágothai, a respected researcher and President of the Academy, praised Lukács for his contributions to philosophy and in the last 32 years the statue has become an integral part of this beautiful park.
The idea of its removal came from a young nationalist, Marcell Tokody, a neo-Nazi Jobbik party councilor of Budapest. His proposal received support from the Council dominated by ruling Fidesz party politicians and was approved with 19 votes in support, 3 against and one abstention. Jobbik brought up Lukács’s “distractive” Communist past and even cooked up a bogus accusation that he ordered the execution of Hungarian soldiers in 1919. (Read more about the accusation in Hungarian here.) Even Hungary’s right-wing media was baffled and didn’t understand the removal. (Read the Magyar Nemzet article in Hungarian.)
Lukács was one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century. His book Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein (History and Class Consciousness) remains mandatory reading for those studying philosophy. Thomas Mann was inspired by Lukács and portrayed him as Naphta in The Magic Mountain. Lukács had a major influence on forming the philosophical foundations of the New Left, both in Europe and America and his works are taught in major universities all over the world.
Why does Jobbik want to remove the statue? The fact that Lukács was a Marxist and Communist has little to do with it. Today several prominent Communists (e.g. Zoltán Komócsin) have streets named after them in Hungary.
Likely Jobbik’s trouble with Lukács is with his Jewish roots. Born Löwinger, his father József changed the family’s name to the Hungarian-sounding Lukács in the late 1800s when György was a toddler, and the family was fully assimilated into Hungarian society. They even obtained the status of Hungarian nobility and were part of the country’s rich and educated class.
Although Lukács had nothing to do with Judaism, Jobbik calls him Löwinger to emphasize his background and they even connect him and other Hungarian cultural and political figures with Jewish roots to the blood libel of Tiszaeszlár of 1882! Jobbik-controlled publications often publish lengthy anti-Semitic tirades (only in Hungarian) similar to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Jobbik politicians claim that Hungary’s culture and the “nation’s soul” have been poisoned by Jews like Lukács. This “pollution” must be “cleansed” and the ruling Fidesz party seems willing to assist the Kulturkampf to rid the country from this “Judeo Bolshevik menace. “
The removal of the Lukács statue is part of an effort to please Jobbik’s and Fidesz’s anti-Semitic voters. It is disguised as an anti-Marxist campaign and as usual in today’s Hungarian politics, Jobbik and Fidesz work tightly together as a carefully choreographed tag team.
Hungary under Viktor Orbán is marching down on a dangerous road somewhat similar to Germany’s in the 1930s. It is sliding into a bizarre right-wing nationalist dictatorship with strong anti-Semitic tendencies. The Lukács statue removal is just another step.
(For those who speak German I recommend Joel Berger’s piece about Lukács from the Allgemeine – click here.)