GYOMRO, Hungary — The renaming of a small town square after Hungary’s wartime leader and Adolf Hitler ally is stirring emotions, with critics denouncing it as evidence of the country’s drift to the far right.
Fifty-five years after his death, Miklos Horthy will once again have a park in his name when part of leafy Freedom Square in Gyomro, some 30 kilometres (20 miles) east of Budapest, is renamed on Friday.
Supporters of Horthy, who ruled as dictator from 1920 to 1944, say the renaming of the park is a small recognition of a leader misjudged by history.
Critics, on the other hand, say the former admiral was responsible for the deaths of 1,000 Hungarians killed for holding left-wing views, backed anti-Jewish laws and closed his eyes to the deportation of some 500,000 Jews and Roma before he was ousted in 1944.
“Horthy’s image was distorted by the communists and left-wing propaganda,” Gyomro’s deputy mayor Attila Mezey told AFP, adding he was surprised by the controversy the decision caused.
The town’s political turbulence began last year, when a council member from the far-right Jobbik party proposed that Freedom Square bear Horthy’s name as it did from 1937-1945.
Local opposition prompted officials later to decide that only the park within the square would take Horthy’s name.
“This is such a cynical compromise,” said Janos Hallama, a leading local activist.
“It is like saying: ‘Okay, instead of a three-metre (10-foot) Horthy statue we will raise a two-metre one.”
The move was also surprising, coming from Gyomro’s generally liberal-minded leaders.
“We can’t put our finger on (whether the decision) is politically motivated: is it business or real right-wing ideology,” said Hallama.
But critics point to a resurgent “Horthy cult” that is spreading well beyond far-right circles.