Impromptus

Freedom Fighter, Part III

by Jay Nordlinger

Editor’s Note: In recent weeks, Jay Nordlinger sat down with János Horváth, a distinguished Hungarian: a fighter against the Nazis, and a prisoner of them; a fighter against the Communists, and a prisoner of them; a leader of the 1956 revolution; an economist and free-marketeer; an exile in the United States for more than 40 years; now the oldest member of the Hungarian parliament, as he was the youngest after World War II. For the first two parts of this interview series, go here and here.

We have been talking about Nazism and Communism (those twins). I ask Horváth a question that has long been asked, often in frustration: Why is it that Nazism has been stigmatized — thoroughly stigmatized — but Communism has escaped such a stigma? He says, “There are many answers, long ones, but let me give you a quick one: The Communists were lucky enough, or smart enough, not to get destroyed in a war. Hitler was stupid enough to get destroyed in a war. The Communists were able to avoid his fate.”

(It occurs to me that one of the very best thinkers and writers on this subject is another Hungarian who fled to the United States: Professor Paul Hollander.)

I say, “I understand that the Czech Republic has done a better job of coming to grips with the Communist past than other countries have. True?” True, he says.

He goes on to describe some of the differences between the formerly “East Bloc” states, historically. The Czechs, he says, have always been good at adapting to the situation, no matter how adverse. In the Habsburg Empire, for example, they became “the generals, the bureaucrats, the entrepreneurs, and so on.” The mentality of the Poles and the Hungarians has been more like, “Freedom, rain or shine, win or lose!”

I say, “I have what may be a painful or awkward question: Did Hungary do worse by its Jews than other countries did?” Horváth says no — the opposite, in fact.

He then talks about society before the war. There was discrimination against the Jews, he says — resentment, envy, and discrimination. For instance, a university student body was limited to 20 percent Jews. I’m afraid I have to chuckle at this: The limit at Yale, I understand, was 10 percent.

And what have been the limits on Asian Americans, in the past 30 or so years? Back in the mid 1980s, a Harvard professor told me that, if things were done fair and square, the incoming freshmen would be in the neighborhood of 80 percent Asian.

I say, “I gotta ask you about George Soros [another Hungarian-American refugee]. How do you explain his leftism? His pro-Communism? His anti-Israel feeling? What’s the matter with him?” Now it’s Horváth’s turn to chuckle. I say, “Have you ever met him?” “Oh, yes, yes,” says Horváth.

He then says, “It would take long analysis to explain George Soros — analysis of various types: psychological, economic . . . But let me tell you this, in a quickie way: He likes to be different. He’s the kind who says, ‘I’m going to show the neighbors something. I’m going to show the world something!’ He is of that mentality, and he can afford it.”

We talk about the ex-Communists, or post-Communists, in Hungary today. At heart, they are not very “ex-” or “post-.” Horváth explains that they were in place, when the transition came — the transition in late 1989 and the early 1990s. They occupied all the offices. So with whom did the Americans and other investors deal? Quite naturally, with them. Today, these Communists, or “post-Communists,” are the oligarchs of the country. And they have very good connections around the world, including in the United States.

These Communists, if I may use what I think is a British expression, landed with their bum in the butter (the bastards).

You sometimes hear that there is a danger of a right-wing or fascist resurgence in Hungary. “Is it true?” I ask Horváth. It is not true, he says. “There is a right-wing temptation among, say, one-sixth of the population. These people are insulted that Americans call them anti-Semitic. ‘We are not,’ they say. ‘Probably we ought to be,’ or something like that.”

Horváth continues, “The right wing is not right-wing in the Hitler or Mussolini sense. It’s Monsieur Le Pen. There are Monsieur Le Pens in Hungary and many other countries.” It is in the interest of the “post-Communists,” Horváth says, to convince the world that fascism is falling on Hungary. And the “post-Communists” get any number of hearings, in America or elsewhere. They certainly have the ear of the American elite.

This is a source of great frustration to Horváth. “I sat through a panel of the German Marshall Fund on this, and it was maddening.”

I ask about Putin, over in Russia. What is he? Basically, the chief oligarch, says Horváth — a man who is riding two horses: the economic and the political. He lords it over the country economically, as the chief oligarch, and he lords it over the country politically. He is at the top of every national institution.

This state of affairs is unstable, says Horváth — which doesn’t mean it won’t last a long time. But the longer it lasts, the greater will be the collapse of it.

And our president, Barack Obama? What is he? Horváth says, “I think he is a curious man trying to understand himself. I’m a man of good will, and I like to think that he, too, is a man of good will. But he is stumbling, and he is doing certain things in areas that he doesn’t know enough about.”

János Horváth has many interesting things to say about America — past, present, and future. I will wrap up this series tomorrow, mainly with subjects American: Obama, health care, decline (or not), Ronald Reagan . . . (There may be a speck of music, too.)