The Offended Hungary. The House of Terror as a Demonstration of Objects, Memorial, and Political Rite (2002)*

Foreword to the 2019 Republication of “The Offended Hungary”

This essay was originally published in 2002 in Hungarian about the House of Terror in Budapest, which was established by the (first) right-wing government of Viktor Orbán (1998–2002). The set objective of the House of Terror was to portray the state terror of both the fascist (1944–1945) and the communist regime in Hungary (1945–1956/1957–1989).[1] The site of the House of Terror in Budapest, at Andrássy Avenue 60, is a building that was used by the Hungarian Nazi Party, where they kept and tortured their detainees. Then the building was used by the Communist Party’s secret police between 1945 and 1956 to detain, torture, and kill the enemies of the regime.

Already at its inauguration in 2002, the House of Terror elicited much outrage and criticism among historians and museologists. Our interest back then mainly embraced the rhetoric of social-political discourses around the opening of the “museum,” as well as the interpretation of the House of Terror in terms of museology and as a genre, and in general, with a view to analogies among the newly forming right-wing discourses of the time. Although back then the term “politics of memory”—which has since gained a completely negative connotation in Hungary—was not so widely used, it is featured in the text, and apparently, we were right to suggest that this manipulative ideological-legitimizing endeavor of “memory politics” that is tacit in the House of Terror is actually synonymous with the falsification of history without any regards to academic consensus. Today, more than seventeen years later, in the age of deliberate deception, the fake news industry, and mass propaganda—which is disseminated even more efficiently via digital culture—this is almost obvious, and as it has been revealed since, the far-right ideals spreading on a global scale have had a key role in this.

Although we were aware that the House of Terror was not an isolated museological venture in the field of memory politics in the Eastern Europe of the time, our essay “The Offended Hungary” still interpreted it as a local phenomenon, and endeavored to provide its detailed description and diachronic embedding. Yet, the historical-sociological studies that have been published since then, predominantly with a transnational scope, have shed light on the role that 20th century crimes committed against humanity play in the re-evaluation of the present, and on the political-ideological function of this identity-forming endeavor. Despite the thesis of the “myth of silence,” in a sociological sense, the interpretation still holds firm today that the unravelling and especially comprehension and awareness of the horrors of Nazism truly began in the 1960s-1970s, which also gradually narrowed down the events of the global war to the Holocaust (the term itself became frequently used at that time).[2] As the archives holding in Europe that house the written records of political decision-making had been under state supervision, and the elites of the even democratically elected European regimes had a lot to hide and keep secret, the uncovering of the past mostly relied on oral sources (oral history, interviews). However, as a result of this, it was inadvertently the individual who had experienced the past, and subjectively narrated this experience, who came into focus, and who was subsequently put into the role of the “witness,” then “survivor,” then “victim.”

It is not a coincidence that French historian of the Holocaust, Annette Wieviorka, has introduced the term “era of the witness” with regard to the 1980s.[3] It refers to how it was morally inappropriate to question the narratives of the witness, the survivor, or the victim, and thus the academic requirements of credibility and verifiability had become virtually irrelevant. As a consequence, however, as many pointed out in the second half of the 1990s, the purely moral approach to the past had begun to erode the critical potential of scientific investigations on the one hand, and on the other hand, it had inadvertently given rise to a moral-based social identity, which seemed “comfortable,” and in which—without regard to the actual events—more and more people wished to see themselves as victims.[4] It goes without saying that the researchers who criticized this purely moral approach did not mean to offend the dignity of Holocaust survivors. In fact, they wanted to point out precisely how the unrestricted use of the notion of the victim and its decontextualization from the Holocaust as a historical event, in order to transform it into a parable, jeopardizes the essence of understanding Auschwitz: history does have moral aspects, but history cannot be dissolved in the “moral universalism” of these oral narratives.[5] Jeffrey C. Alexander pointed out that trauma is an a posteriori social construct, which places human suffering and the quality of victimhood into the center of past events, thereby allowing in the neoliberal society emerging in the 1970s–1980s for the rise of a new kind of political representation that ignores class differences and inequalities.

This new political legitimation and social identity strengthened around the end of the 1980s, in the historical moment when the Berlin Wall came down, the Cold War ended, and not much later the Soviet Union collapsed, with so-called post-socialist states forming in the wake of regime changes in Eastern Europe. Hungarian sociologist Máté Zombory’s book Traumatársadalom (Trauma Society) convincingly points out that by the second half of the 1990s, new, already democratic countries had developed an increasing—and by the above logic, legitimate—demand to commemorate the “victims of communism” besides, or in fact, according to some, instead, of the victims of the Holocaust. Gradually strengthening in Eastern European countries, far-right endeavors formulated an alternative, strongly ideological social identity in opposition to the above-outlined moral universalism, although using a similar set of arguments, and its key attribute was anticommunism, adopted from the American neoconservative rhetoric. This discourse was also centered on the victimhood narrative, but instead of the Holocaust-survivor, its protagonist was, the Gulag internee imprisoned or wrongfully convicted for his or her anticommunism.[6] The neoconservative-neoliberal paradigm shift starting in the 1970s–1980s and dominating the discourse to this day, along with the regime changes of 1989, required and elicited fundamentally new narratives in Eastern Europe. Paradoxically, the intellectual ammunition needed for this was again imported from the “West,” from Western Europe, by the right-wing parties of the region, insofar as the master narrative was created by a group of French historians led by Stéphane Courtois in 1997: this was The Black Book of Communism.[7] In accordance with the political polarization, therefore, after 1990, on the one hand, the above outlined narrative, adopted from the West, emerged in Eastern European countries, linking human suffering to the Holocaust. On the other hand, another, politically backed rhetoric started gaining dominance, the first major appearance of which in Hungary was precisely the opening of the House of Terror in 2002. Of course, the political-ideological struggle for the past is never about the authenticity of the past or human pain and suffering, but rather, and above all, about present-day objectives: this is the essence of the politics of memory. If there is any intellectual curiosity to our study “The Offended Hungary”, finally published in English, it is how the two then young scholars perceived the museological foundations of a new ideology based on the politics of memory that was formulated via the interpretation of the past.

However, it would not be fortunate do dissociate this discourse of memory politics from the institutional role the House of Terror has been attempting to stabilize and institutionalize for the last seventeen years. Even if they did react to the criticisms levelled against their permanent exhibition, it was mostly with self-justifying rhetoric. For long, one of their explicatory principles has been citing the partial topics discussed in their temporary exhibitions, with which the “museum” endeavored to justify that it indeed had relevant insights with regard to the discussion of topics not unfolded in its permanent exhibition, which thus augment the grand narrative of the grand exhibiton. The truth is that the confusion of roles on which the permanent exhibition is based on—according to which the museum shall point out the “real” victims and “real” perpetrators remains the same. As they have never really intended to change this.

The House of Terror published a volume on the tenth anniversary of the institution and its permanent exhibition, titled Bátran és szabadon. 10 éves a Terror Háza Múzeum (Brave and free. 10 years of the House of Terror).[8] This is a rather peculiar book. The introductory text by the director and right-wing historian Mária Schmidt intends to outline the heroic work that gave rise to the museum. Identity formation and the reinforcement of identity are fundamentally built on primacy: in terms of this, Hungary was the first to uncover and present this “bitter recent past.” The back cover of the volume contains an array of pathetic blurbs from Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to Jeremy Irons. This approach is clearly meant to verify that what they do is all right, as it is certified by celebrities. There is no room for professional criticism, relevant diversions of controversy and scholarly thought are absolutely out of the question.

However, this peculiar inertness is also perceivable in the permanent exhibition. The fact that over time permanent exhibitions become worn out instead of developing a patina is commonplace in museology, not to mention the extent to which the visual culture providing the basic character of these works has become outdated. Intellectual inertness entails the inertness, or in fact, the exhaustion of the space.

The House of Terror has always received significant criticism from historians and museologists as to how as a museum it uses very few authentic objects and museological artefacts. The institution has barely responded to these criticisms, although as a thematic institution, it could have built a remarkable collection over these 17 years. Yet this kind of concept of the museum is not, and was, a never basic consideration, even at the time of its opening. This steers the institution, however, towards such anachronistic timelessness and insulation to which there seems to be no adequate answer thus far, even if the 10th anniversary volume suggests that there would have been ample workforce and financial resources to dedicate to this task. The fact that it has not been carried out indicates quite well that the institution has not learned much in the course of the past 17 years about what it means to be a museum.

However, the consequences and effects of this also impact the entire Hungarian museological infrastructure: not only on the institutions’, but also on the recipients’ side. If we take the mission of museums seriously, namely that they should not only inspire awe but also foster some sort of critical thinking, while also acting as caretakers of their collection, which they should expand, explore, and confront with the latest research results, then the fact that these functions can be substituted by a well-staged space—as it is the case in the House of Terror—will send a wrong and erroneous message. The question is what happens, if the House of Terror loses its political backing, to an institution that has never asked these questions as it has used its institutionality to legitimize its own operation. We will most definitely receive some answer to this question in the next 10-15 years, for the time has come to design a new permanent exhibition. Such a long time span cannot be overarched with a simple facelift. The House of Terror has reached its limits.


The purely moral question will remain a captive of the space, which is why it cannot be answered, not even if we submit ourselves to the moral categories that are always true. The crimes that were committed are so great that they cannot be comprehended by themselves (…).

Reinhart Koselleck

The view that the world of politics, economy, or society cannot necessarily be understood merely by exploring the structure, history, or even the changes of institutions, has become accepted across the majority of social sciences. In connection with this, the community of recipients and reception as an active practice have come to the fore, and thus, say, the world of politics and its events appear not simply as self-explanatory material ‘realities’ but as the mutual and complex products of institutions and the people engaging in interaction with them—whether individually or as a mass. The discursive approach gaining ground in social sciences has thus been placing increasing emphasis on symbols and symbolic political discourse arising at the intersection of politics and public life. In the present study, we conceive of this symbolic aspect of politics not merely as a strategy for party politics (as represented by texts in newspapers), but as a world of sense formed at the intersection of the world of decision-making politics and the public sphere, and the actions thereof as sense that is continuously taking shape. This world of sense, intentionally or not, incessantly keeps producing symbols and is interpretable in their network of meaning.

Although the study of political symbols, or more broadly, myths and mythologies used in the field of politics, has been a preferred activity in social sciences for quite some time, it is striking how much emphasis studies of the political field have placed on research related to creating a new political language to replace the state socialist grammar in Hungary (reasonably so), especially in the years following the regime change of 1989. In one of his writings, philosopher Márton Szabó argues that “the struggle between the political actors of the regime change is not ideological but symbolic and linguistic. The citizen has to choose from ‘rather small words’ ­instead of great ideological visions.” [9] Of course, it is indubitable that the political world is above all a producer of texts, but we find it more befitting to extend this to all of its expressions and representations of symbolic nature. For the years of the democratic transition—as many have pointed out—have also made room for other, not (exclusively) linguistic features of political self-expression besides the creation of a new political language: the act of reburial, the celebration of state holidays, the direct political protests, the replacement and relocation of state socialist symbols (street names, statues) are all inscribed into this process.[10]  The creation of symbols, and in close connection with this, the utilization of the past for political purposes, have become primary and equivalent characteristics of post-socialist countries in Central and Eastern Europe following the 1989-1990 regime change.[11] According to political scientist Máté Szabó, this series of ritual-symbolic expressions of the political field has been significant especially amongst underdeveloped democracies and dictatorial circumstances. Of course, this by far does not mean that this layer of political engagement would not be present in countries with stable democracies; rather, it means that it is an accompaniment – the assertion of political interests primarily takes place in an institutional framework, and less so in the symbolic field.[12]

We venture to state: following the emotionally heated period of the regime change, by the mid-1990s, political decision-makers deemed that the time had come to bring policy-making back to the only place they think it belongs: inside democratically established institutions. The way they began to understand the political field increasingly and ever so exclusively as an institutionalized process leads us to at least two conclusions: on the one hand, they conceived of the symbolic (cultural-social) aspects of political processes as a kind of ancillary decorative element, which merely prepares or augments institutionally made decisions. On the other hand, but closely related: they also failed to recognize the historical character of the local political set of symbols—at least this is implied by the assumption that the political symbols and their reinterpretations appearing in the course of state holidays, protests, reburials, street name-changes and symbolic occupations of public space “merely” refer to the emotional and psychological excess of the regime change without carrying a deeper meaning.[13]

The Past at the Intersection of Memory and History

Entering into office in 1998, the government coalition led by FIDESZ – Magyar Polgári Párt (Association of Young Democrats – Hungarian Civic Party, hereinafter: Fidesz–MPP), and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, was the first to attach strategic importance to creating new symbolic meanings as a brand image. While in 1990, the replacement of the monolithic rhetoric of the previous state party under socialism (the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party and its successor, the Hungarian Socialist Party) enticed both public opinion and the participants of the political field with the chance that after the previously established propagandistic or ideological techniques and equivocation, there would finally be an opportunity for substantive discourse, Fidesz–MPP was quicker than any other political force to respond to the newly emerging critical phenomenon: the lack of identity-forming symbolic political content. While the brand image of their most significant political rival, the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) partly hinged on pragmatism and the lack of ideology, the communication experts of the leading government party of Fidesz–MPP of the time recognized that a modern mass party cannot exist without efficient political symbolism that is built on an authentic problem and is easily consumable. This process was carried out on multiple tiers, often independent of each other, comprising several initiatives,[14] perhaps the most controversial gesture within these was the remodeling of the building at Andrássy Avenue 60 into the “House of Terror”—which was termed as “Museum of the Victims of Dictatorships” in the bill that established it. This brief delineation was necessary because the subject of this paper, the analysis of the House of Terror, cannot be understood and interpreted without consistently keeping the above outlined context in view.

The press had already reported on the “museum” a month before its opening on February 24—we shall discuss the reason for using the term museum in quotation marks—with special regard to the architectural design of the façade. The opposition press discussed the legal and aesthetic aspects of using totalitarian symbols in public space and the largest opposition daily issued a brief news report on how a citizen of Budapest pressed charges on reasonable grounds for violating the law of banning the use of totalitarian symbols.[15] Subsequent to the discussion of legal and aesthetic issues, as the opening day approached, historians and historically oriented journalists continued reviewing the House of Terror and its historiographical concept. Historian András Mink—refined by Holocaust historian László Karsai to the smallest detail—analyzed the concept of the respective proportion of the representation of the Hungarian Nazi party, the Arrow Cross period vis-á-vis the Communist era in Hungary. Mink rightly voiced the concern that the civilian losses of World War II were narrowed down to the brief transitory period of the Arrow Cross, without addressing the deportation of the Jewry from Hungarian the countryside after March 19, 1944, while the undifferentiated representation of communism got an extended signification: from the arrival of the Soviet Red Army in 1944/45 until as far as the summer of 1991, when the last Soviet soldier left.[16]

As a consequence, writes András Mink, “a parallel exhibition cannot represent one historical period just in order to strike down on the other with its entire arsenal and moral weight.”[17] No such controversy emerged in the pro-government daily Magyar Nemzet, except for a few articles and interviews discussing the establishment and underscoring its historiographical approach.[18] Well, this brief summary of opinions probably did not surprise the reader, but the questions is whether there is nothing more to it than what journalist László Seres indicated when summing up the situation as follows: “the press coverage of the project keeps conforming to the usual distribution of roles into two camps: the socialist-liberal media is frowning while pro-government and far-right outlets are praising it.”[19] Is it possible to overcome this summary, and if yes, how?

We can only agree with the writings and commentaries in daily and weekly papers that criticize the uneven representation of the past, and with good reason from a historiographical perspective, but our standpoint differs regarding one not quite insignificant circumstance. The cited opinions are all of critical nature—which is logical owing to the media carrying them—and they call the House of Terror to account for disregarding the historiographical consensus. However—and this is a unique characteristic of both represented periods—, neither the Holocaust, nor the communist era is a purely historiographical subject: since some of their survivors are still alive, both the Holocaust and communist persecution are positioned in the extremely complex and problematic intersection of memory (discourse based on the authority of survivors) and history (discourse based on the disciplinary exploration and criticism of resources), and thus academic consensus regarding any statement is much more malleable and fragile than, say, in the case of a problem regarding early modern fiscal history. As the title of the referenced article by László Karsai reasonably points out: “the truth is more complicated,” [20] in other words, the consensual truth of historiography based on the complexity of facts is always more complex and thus more difficult to convey to a larger audience than symbolic content with simplified meaning. [21] Not because there are less resources at the disposal of researchers of contemporary history (Zeitgeschichte, l’histoire du temps présent), impeding the progress of historiographical exploration (as several seminal works have been written about the Holocaust as well as the communist era), but precisely because the historian is confronted with too many, and at that, radically heterogeneous resources, not to mention the horizon of emotional expectations, into which the majority of survivors shifts interpretation— from their own perspective, with good reason. For instance, a person deported in 1944 or imprisoned in 1949 (and later released) can be designated today as a ‘survivor, ’a ‘witness’ or a ‘victim,’ which inevitably shifts the historian’s interpretation—beyond the academic systematicity of historical exploration—into a moral, aesthetic, but above all, political space that lifts the formulated standpoint—whether or not it is corroborated by evidence—out of the traditional role of historiography into a public-political context.[22] Of course we do not mean to suggest that the survivors of past tribulations should be denied such moral reverence, only that this constellation of history and memory, this dilemma is inevitably present from the historiographer’s perspective as well, and the historian is also implicated in this succession of traditions and has his or her share of the memorial space created by the political field.[23] “Nazism, therefore—as András Mink phrased in an article—is not over in a historiographical sense”[24], and this is equally true, mutatis mutandis, for communism  (socialism).[25] The House of Terror is, therefore—in our interpretation—to be analyzed in this not-purely-historiographical context; this is why our analysis predominantly regards the “museum” not as a tool for the manifestation of academic consensus, but as a memorial-historical  representation. The primary question is how the political field relates to such a memorial-historical representation. How it makes use (takes advantage) of the—for the above outlined reasons—ambiguous access to the past. And lastly, how the notion of the past produced in relation to the House of Terror can be connected to the historical perspective of Hungarian political symbolism. However, in order to answer these questions, we first need to systematically analyze our point of departure: the House of Terror’s interior display.

Objects and Representations at the House of Terror

It is generally accepted in museology that the museum object, the source is the main tool of knowledge acquisition and transfer. In the process of being acquired by collections and exhibited, museum objects get separated from their original context and go through several processes and procedures of transformation to be recontextualized. The original sociocultural environment of the objects and the interpretive (describing, processing, organizing, conserving and representing) procedures of the museum along with those endowing the object with new meanings may affect the object’s semantic field, but also its system of relations formed (and prone to be deliberately formed) with other objects. It is in the course of these procedures that an object is transformed into a resource, a document, and becomes suitable, for instance by way of exhibitions at the museum, for the interpretive representation of a selected subject.

In the above subheading we deliberately avoided using notion of the “museum” as—based on its collection and use of objects—the House of Terror does not comply methodologically with the institutional category of a museum or the criteria of a historical exhibition. The questionability of the categorization of the building and the exhibition is even echoed by historian István Ihász, employee of the House of Terror, who co-conceptualized the exhibition:

“The building of the House of Terror has become the museum of public discourse by now, although without the classic functions of a museum—collection, registry, storage, conservation—it is as yet difficult to classify it accurately into any of the categories of ‘memorial site – collection – exhibition space – museum.’  Its allure is still massive on account of the past attached to it half a century ago as well as the historical happening it accommodates today.”[26]

The rhetoric turn of phrase a museum of public discourse and the label historical happening are indeed more befitting of the exhibition constructed in the building than any of the institutional categories from museum to historical exhibition. The question is whether this is so solely on account of the lack of the classic functions of a museum or perhaps there are other aspects that a historical museum or exhibition should have kept in view. The lack of the classic functions of a museum in the case of a newly established institution should not necessarily result in an institutional and classificatory framework that is difficult to grasp.

House of Terror, Budapest
The Room of Denominations. It portrays the tensions between churches and political power. Source: Author: n1207, September 16, 2008, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

There was a moment also in the case of other museums that have a long established tradition by now, when the physical and academic foundations of the institution were laid down: when the collection, categorization, processing, and exhibition of the objects began. In fact, the establishment of modern museums was often linked to the successful exhibition of a collection, private collection or the “findings of an expedition,” which then paved the way to the establishment and strengthening of its institutionalization. On the basis of this, the House of Terror might as well be a newly formed academic institution that carries out a clear institutional strategy, and where exhibitions are organized to make the results of its research accessible to the broad public in a format that is easy to understand. However, in the House of Terror’s case, it seems thus far that beyond laying down the physical foundations, academic institutionalization has not yet taken place, although the last decade and a half provided opportunities for this, especially as we are talking about an institution that has close ties with the government and receives stable state financing, even though the fulfilment of professional criteria is not a basic requirement in its case. And as the House of Terror’s visitor numbers are unprecedented in a Hungarian context, this shortcoming is not to be ignored.

House of Terror, Budapest
The Room of the Gulag. On the map mounted on the floor, one can see vitrines with objects in the geographical locations of the work camps. Source objects and others objects used only for illustration (such as a piece of barbed wire) are mixed in the vitrines.
Source: Author: n1207, September 16, 2008, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

The basic professional problem is that the spectacular, although by today significantly worn-out installations, contain very few objects that could be appreciated from a historical aspect, and even these very few creditable sources receive inappropriate commentary and context, while they are blended inseparably into a multitude of illustrations and alibi objects that merely serve to create the illusion of an authentic experience.

Museum objects, sources, and documents have significant information content, the full and detailed unfolding of which is almost impossible without commentary. The “resources speak for themselves” approach ignores their fragmentary nature. The exhibition attempts to make objects, photographs, and videos, documents, and sound recordings express themselves merely by arrangement and juxtaposition, with the complete lack of always available text commentary and bits of objective knowledge providing a narrative framework[27]. This, in turn, magnifies the space for the representation of fictitious elements, stories, and interpretations, and thus stories are built on spectacularity, dramatization, and associations instead of objectivity. This approach, however, does not adhere to the objectivity of museum representation and its role of knowledge transfer. The dramatized representation that is not based on academic consensus results in fallacies and shifts in emphasis, blowing certain topics and approaches out of proportion on the one hand, and making others seem trivial or insignificant on the other. The problem is not when an exhibition allows for interpretations of various depths (as this is exactly what multiple layers of commentary serve for), but when the possibility of fallacies and misinterpretations is encoded into the exhibition display. 

The House of Terror, Budapest
The Room of the Obligatory Delivery System. After World War II, Hungarian peasantry was most affected by the obligatory delivery system that required that a certain amount of crops be sold to the state. Fat was as chosen as the room’s symbol, and the documents are exhibited on this wall of fat.

In our opinion, this is the case with the House of Terror exhibition. We are not suggesting that those responsible for developing the concept of the exhibition would lack the sufficient knowledge, merely that this knowledge is not conveyed impartially towards the visitors within the framework of the exhibition. The most important reasons for this are the ignoration of the framework and rules of the genre of an exhibition and the emphasis of formal features instead of the content. The exhibition thus represents the “pure” form of an in situ mode of representation in which the museum becomes a theatre and the real drama of historical events are turned into a dramatized story, and academic assertions are morphed into trivial commonplaces performed with theatre props. Instead of approaching the history of the period with the gravity befitting the subject and the site in its complexity and broader social-historical context. The lack of commentary continues in the external environment of the exhibition, as no catalogue has been published that would contain the explanatory texts missing (perhaps for aesthetic considerations?) from the installations of the exhibition, such as object descriptions, brief explanations, and perhaps longer analytical studies.

 “Statue of Terror”, “Memorial to the Victims”: Further Aspects

As we discussed above the House of Terror ‘internally,’ the institution implies yet another interpretation in terms of its exterior appearance. The House’s visual and architectural designer Attila Ferenczfy Kovács—known for his set designs for feature films and his own film titled Grail (Béla Balázs Studio, Budapest, 1977) and his affinity for mythology in these[28] —writes the following in the official press release of the House of Terror:

“Until now, the building has blended in with the row of tenement palaces along the Andrássy avenue. By being transformed into a museum, however, it no longer contains merely the exhibition dedicated to the memory of the victims, but its exterior also evokes its spirit. With its reconstruction, the House of Terror ceased to exist as a simple building. Andrássy Avenue 60 has become a building-shaped statue, in memory of the victims. Andrássy Avenue 60 is a statue of terror, a memorial to the victims.”[29]

Facade of the House of Terror, Budapest Source:,_2013_Budapest_(73)_(13229574453).jpg. Author: xorge, April 3, 2013, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

It is true that covered in grey paint and blind windows, the façade makes an unusually homogeneous impression, and the spectacle is encased in a unified frame by a contraption labelled as “blade wall” or “semi-eaves”, ornamented with both a cut-out arrow cross and a red star. Paradoxically, the House of Terror sticks out from the succession of tenement houses on Andrássy Avenue, and the aforementioned matte quality attracts the eye; all this is intensified by the blade wall protruding over the sidewalk, interrupting the unified plane and sight of the avenue.[30] Externally, the building indeed implies a unified, closed block, and so—as its designer also pointed out—it has become more of a public “statue,” more precisely, a memorial. This function is also underpinned by the fact that while the duty of a museum or an exhibition is interpretation and representation, the House of Terror, according to its director, historian Mária Schmidt, is meant to elicit emotions—instead of an interpretive understanding:

We want to evoke catharsis. We want to send shivers down people’s spines, we want them to feel the horrors of dictatorships, the misery of the victims. We want them to exit the House of Terror thinking: how great that these terrible times are over, how great that we can live in democracy and a free world.[31]

The Notion of the ‘Victim’ and the Fabrication of Political Associations

It is worthwhile to note that the erection of memorials is never a neutral act or a “purely moral question” in any context whatsoever, but instead, on the one hand, it implies a powerful creation of political identity and legitimation, and on the other hand, it has a fixed historical symbolism.[32] While prior to World War II, monuments and memorial days in Hungary were predominantly established for heroes, or if they were labelled as victims, the semantics of that referred to the sacrifice for something [victim and sacrifice are the same word in Hungarian—the trans.], in contrast, 1945 brought about a fundamental discontinuity: “sacrifice began to signify passive suffering”.[33] Having entered the space of morality vulgarized by the political field (though not necessarily deliberately), the notion of ‘victim/sacrifice’ remarkably expanded its formerly fixed meaning; first, after 1945, everyone became the victim of Nazism,[34] then after 1989, the same retrospective moralizing was extended to the victims of communism as well. Concealing and retouching personal and collective past according to various interests—all of which are actually the basic characteristics of the social frameworks of remembering[35]can give rise to tensions regarding interpretation in the long term: if everyone is a victim, no perpetrators remain. It is in this context that Resolution 58/2000 (Jun 16) of the Parliament of the Republic of Hungary, passed with 201 ‘ayes’, 24 ‘nays’ and 87 abstentions, starts to become intriguing:

The Parliament deems it necessary for secondary schools to hold an annual memorial day to commemorate the victims of communist dictatorships; proposes February 25 as the date for the memorial day; requests the Hungarian Government to take the necessary measures following the required agreements by July 31, 2000 in order to introduce the memorial day in secondary schools. This resolution is effective as of the date of publication.[36]

Opening the House of Terror on February 24 was explicitly related to the commemoration originally intended for secondary schools to commemorate the victims of communist dictatorships. An interesting fact: it was then, apropos of this event that the greatest number of articles were written by journalists about the House of Terror.[37] In addition to the opening and the political, symbolic occupation of Budapest’s public spaces—which we will address later on—at this point, we only wish to highlight the extreme extension of the notion of the ‘victim’ which process is of course not only related to the opening of the institution, but it was there that it manifested most obviously. The stance that is also implied by the House of Terror became cemented not only in the discourse of politicians, but also in public discourse in general: apart from the “perpetrators,” a few singled-out individuals in a collection of photographs exhibited in the basement, interpreted as an unfinished process,  (in many cases, not only the portrait is missing, but there are also instances where there are no names nor photographs; which suggests: we know who you are but we could not publish a photo of you owing to data protection laws), thus almost anyone can feel like a victim.  The role of the ‘victim’—as implicitly follows from the above—is a question of choice, and—due to the feeling of empathy, as Mária Schmidt phrased—may yield psychological relief.

In a political speech by two members of the Fidesz – MPP Party at the time of the House of Terror’s opening, the extension of this notion reached its most extreme point: not only those would count as victims who (a) were murdered, (b) persecuted / dispossessed / stymied in the past, but anyone could become a victim, even if they had not yet been born in the period in question.[38] This approach is represented in the House of Terror itself: ‘victims’ can be classified into two categories here. One is comprised by people known by name, such as Imre Nagy (prime minister between 1953 and 1956, who supported the 1956 anti-Soviet Revolution for which he was executed in 1958) or József Mindszenty (cardinal, leader of the Catholic Church in Hungary, who was imprisoned by both the Nazi and the Communist Party). Some of the known victims are featured in the cells of the basement prison with name, data, and portrait. Much larger, nameless masses of victims—owing to the aforementioned democratization—are also featured in this role here. Although the screens located in the exhibition do display unknown faces telling details of their own lives, these are tiny shreds, extracted details, testimonies devoid of context and interpretation. The victims who did not survive the recollected historical period and became casualties are represented in the exhibition in two—otherwise spectacular—places. In the courtyard of the building on a metal wall around the tank, several stories high (with faces, but without names), and in the Hall of Tears,[39] as victims of the period between 1944 and 1967 (with names, but without faces). Both are selections: selections of faces and names, and also the separations of faces and names, while the victims of two distinct authoritarian regimes are treated as one entity.[40]

Interior of the House of Terror, Budapest
Source: Fred Romero, August 11 2017, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
The Room of Justice. The folders allude to the large number of retaliations following World War II. The folders are a decorative element.

‘Perpetrators’ also appear in two places in the exhibition. First behind the ‘scenes’ of the Justice hall, the judges and prosecutors collaborating in the political trials of the period between 1944 and 1961 and passing death sentences, and then in the last hall of the exhibition, the Gallery of Perpetrators the portrait gallery of those serving the system. Perpetrators are not represented as a nameless mass—as we have seen with the victims—but individuals identified by their name, face, and most of the time, also by their date of birth. Displaying the perpetrators in the form of tableau establishes collective responsibility on the one hand, but on the other hand, it makes no distinction between the crimes perpetrated. Furthermore, these two sections of the exhibition also bring up moral issues, as we never learn whether their culpability was determined by an appointed court or perhaps this is a unique case of self-appointed jurisdiction.[41] As with the victims, the visitor is left in oblivion about the principles of ‘selection’ regarding how someone was labelled a perpetrator. But at this point, the central question is no longer the set of criteria for selection, but the appearance of the House of Terror as a tribunal, which is at once a moral and a legal question. If we browse through the House of Terror’s website, looking for supplementary information, we can come across a freely updatable database of victims and perpetrators,[42] with which we reach the point where an analysis that keeps the aspects of social science in view becomes slightly thrown off: who is a ‘perpetrator’ and who is a ‘victim,’ after all?

There were few counterexamples in public discourse, such as that of historian László Varga, for instance, who said the following on the occasion of the memorial day for the victims of communism: “The grand total cannot be measured by summing up the number of deaths and victims: statistically, by 1953 there was no family in Hungary that had remained unscathed by the dictatorship, which is what made it totalitarian,”[43] but we might add, this does not logically entail everyone becoming a victim. Consequently, the discourse about the victims, with a few exceptions, did not emerged as a purely moral problem; instead, entering the political space, it gained a new interpretation disconnected from former historical symbolism and was thus extended to the extremes, becoming the motto of the House of Terror memorial.

Although, as we pointed out above, in terms of its interior design, the House of Terror does show some similarity with exhibitions operating with installations, and (although less so) also with historical museums, but with respect to its general context, it cannot be considered anything more than a memorial. As referred to above: (1) The visual design by Attila Ferenczfy Kovács is consciously intended to evoke the appearance of a memorial and its associations, and the success of this is indicated by lampions, flowers, candles placed opposite the entrance to honor the victims, in other words, the site is treated even by its visitors as a memorial to the dead. (2) The communication of the House of Terror fundamentally differs from a traditional museum/exhibition space, as it does not comply with the requirements of these in terms of both context and content transfer. In contrast to a memorial, a museum has more complex functions, it has institutional structure, and its relation to objects, images, texts, spectacles and—most importantly—to the historical context is entirely different. (3) Lastly: the content displayed at the House of Terror is closely, in fact, inseparably connected to the strategies expressed in the rhetoric of governing parties, but especially Fidesz–MPP: to utilize the past for political purposes. This third instance is what makes the building’s memorial quality unequivocal, thus explicitly and ultimately relinquishing the option of (re)interpreting it as an ‘exhibition’ or ‘historical museum.’ While a museum is an academic institution, the mission of which is interpretation, a memorial—as also referred to by the director Mária Schmidt—is intended to portray  the field of references in an emotionally underscored manner instead of a ne. Memorials are visual signs appearing in public spaces used by the public, and as such, they (may) serve not insignificant political legitimation; the gesture of their erection, their establishment does not simply mean placement in a physical sense, but a ritual—public, in other words, demonstrative—opening.[44]

Negative Identity Inscribed into Passion Narrative: The Locus of Victims and Heroes

“With the radicalization of the revolution—writes Daniel Milo in his study about the street name changes following the French Revolution—everything that had belonged in the past became suspicious: per definition, the great people, the forefathers all bore the imprint of the ancien régime. This, therefore, is the ideal of the clean slate [in the original: ‘table rase’],” the goal of which—as Bronislaw Baczko phrased—is to “represent the revolution as if it was the ‘point zero’ of history.”[45]“The only memory that counts—continues Milo—is the memory of the Future.”[46]

The ideal of the ‘clean slate’ is adopted by the history and political rhetoric of the Hungarian regime change of 1989 in a peculiar manner. Continuity and discontinuity are inherent problems of every political, social, economic system undergoing a dramatically rapid change; the paradigm of this in the modern era is the French Revolution. What is worthy of being adopted and continued and what is doomed to be terminated? Although sociologically it is clear that most of the time, a complete and thorough change is unfeasible even in the elites, and the dilemma of radical break and careful continuation takes place with not insignificant stakes of power, therefore the solution also does not always take the most subtle direction. In the interpretation of leftist political scientist Ervin Csizmadia, the Hungarian regime change gave a lopsided answer to the problem; he believes that when Fidesz–MPP came into power as a government party in 1998—owing to its generational and political situation—it logically asserted its claim for the “further development” of the regime change. According to the prime minister of the time, Viktor Orbán, one of the most painful spots that remained unresolved was the replacement of the elite and the rehabilitation of the nation. [47]

As we have already mentioned above, at the inauguration ceremony of the House of Terror on February 24, 2002, Viktor Orbán expressed that “no thing of the past should ever be conclusively eradicated.”[48] The suggestion of the conclusive eradication of the past sides with the the desired radical break, while the prime minister’s speech implies a solution in between: the past is not worth forgetting, “because history is like an underground river, if we are not familiar with its nature, it might easily undermine our lives.”[49] How does the 1998 proclamation of national rehabilitation, declared by the government of Viktor Orbán,  relate to the partial break with the ‘past’? How did political meta discourse referring to ‘victims’ and ‘offences’ get such a central position?

In fact, these questions—even if not in this form and context—have already been placed under scrutiny by social scientists. “The collapse of Central and Eastern European communist regimes was a ‘regime change’ not only in the political, but also in the psychological sense. One of the manifestations of this was the transformation of the content, forms, and social framework of memory,” as psychologist Ferenc Erős assessed the correlation of the regime change and dealing with the past in 1992.[50]In those times, public commemoration was still diversified, it was impossible to hide its contents behind generally describable and assessable categories or to assign those to clear political orientations and beliefs. Well, the situation ten years ago was perfectly characterized by this statement, but, in our opinion, there have been significant changes by now (2002) The political canonization of the social framework of remembrance—as we have implied in the introduction—can for the most part be associated with the phenomenon of a strategic brand image making by Fidesz–MPP government coalition that originates from the insight that the post-regime-change Hungarian society lacked symbolic identity-forming political contents that would have been easy to decode.  The leading right-wing party of Viktor Orbán from 1993/1994, owing to the shifting of its orientation towards the right and the consequent transformation of its mass base, and by introducing the importance of political symbolism, found a “historical narrative” that seemed authentic while easy to communicate: this was the narrative of demonizing the communist (socialist) era. [51] This narrative was centered on the notion of the ‘victim’ and the notion of ‘offence’ accessible through it. As philosopher Márton Szabó writes, “Offence is the only point in which the private and official languages of remembering are capable of concurring today. Everyone was offended at one point, say the smart politicians, and the people nod, as they recall the fiascos and grievances that are part of all of our lives. Let us remember then, the grievances, offences, rejections, appropriations (…). There is no such thing as fair reparations—probably everyone knows that, but the symbolic meaning of the actions is much more significant; we are going to keep talking about the near past for many years as the time of suffering (…).”[52] The undifferentiated demonization of the communist (socialist) period and its actors in power, based on offences and related testimonies, is practically a constructed collective passion narrative, the ‘we’ of which, created in opposition to something/someone in the political space, is a negative identity. In the introduction we mentioned how the “ideological deficit” of the post-regime-change period and the diagnosis of the “end of ideologies” in the classical sense, emerging on a larger, European scale, have thwarted the self-definition of political actors and their devotees. It was to fill this void that the phenomenon, which was actually based on a real demand of the society, offered itself: dealing with the past. A diffuse form of this, having emerged in 1989/1990, was what manifested in a politically canonized form in this passion narrative.

Let us cross-check our diagnosis! It is clear that the greatest social drama of the regime-changing years was having to face the 1956 anti-Soviet Revolution and the ensuing retaliation by the Soviet imposed Hungarian regime (1957–1989). Let us notice, however, that the Revolution produced real (as opposed to the de-semanticized ones above) heroes and victims (martyrs). There indeed were individual achievements confronting the consensual moral, which classify as heroic from an ethical perspective (such as Imre Nagy), and the notion of ‘victim’ also stood for sacrifice for something instead of passive suffering, therefore its semantics became clear and fixed later on. Amongst the symbolic acts of the regime change, undoubtedly June 16, 1989 as (a point in) time, and the Heroes Square and the Rákoskeresztúr Cemetery as spaces were the most central. The martyrs of the 1956 Revolution were reburied June 16, 1989, in the form of a ceremony at the Heroes Square in Budapest, and then at the Rákoskeresztúr Cemetery in Budapest.  The decision that a monument would commemorate the martyrs of the revolution at Plot 301 of the Rákoskeresztúr Cemetery had already been made in 1989. The winning design submitted by artist György Jovánovics to the open call was a metaphysical “death piece” of complex meaning, inaugurated on June 15, 1992.[53] In this study, we shall only touch upon a single segment of this complex problem: the locus of ‘heroes’ and ‘victims’, their position in both physical and symbolic sense, and their layers of meaning implied by this. “The 1956 monument, Plot 301, made by  György Jovánovics —writes art historian András Rényi—uses a symbolic language to speak about the importance of place and time, and organizes the commemorative use of the social space.”[54] In this context of the places of memory[55]it is perhaps worthwhile to reiterate an evident fact: while the monument by Jovánovics, erected in memory of the heroes and martyrs of 1956, is located in Plot 301 of the Rákoskeresztúr Cemetery, and as such, its access from the city requires a long journey by car or public transport and a further kilometer on foot in the cemetery, the House of Terror memorial to the victims of dictatorships stands in the heart of the city, on the corner of the Budapest’s main boulevard, the  Andrássy Avenue and Csengery Street, a few minutes from Octogon, one of Budapest’s busiest junctions, attracting the attention of hundreds of thousands on a daily basis owing to its architectural solutions. It is a well-known phenomenon in memory research that evoking memories, mnemotechnical recollection and along with it the imprinting of memories on the mind will be the strongest where repetitiveness creates the most frequent impulses in the recipient. While Plot 301 unfortunately enters the focus of public attention only once a year, on October 23—on the commemorative day of the 1956 Revolution[56] the House of Terror in 2002 was in the focus of public attention, media, government ceremony, and live television broadcast for months. Of course, we should add that the reason that so much attention was devoted to the place by the media and the public is to be sought more in the circumstances of its conception; this will abate with the passing of time, but until then the memorial of ‘victims’ is located in the heart of the capital, and the memorial of the heroes of the revolution is—up until today—[57] located on the periphery of the city.[58] Thus, in a symbolic sense—and this was what the Fidesz-MPP government’s rhetoric confirmed—it was the victims and offences, in other words, the passion narrative that ended up in the center of self-interpretation through memory. All that remains to be clarified is the relation of the identity-basis of the ‘victims’ to the envisioned and proclaimed ‘future’ and how this can be linked to the program of “national rehabilitation.” What is incorporated into the teleology of of this political memory?

The preference of ‘victims,’ ‘offences,’ and ‘passion narrative’ points to external instances, and owing to their projective nature, they all have connotations of deflection and non-confrontation, and thus it is sufficient to point out and name the “enemy” in their rhetoric. The House of Terror’s interpretation, which starts the story with “foreign occupations,” suggests that the ‘Hungarian nation’ itself is a victim of external physical threat.[59] The quotation displayed in a part of exhibition that is installed as the room of one of the symbolic figures of the communist “perpetrator,” Gábor Péter, namely that the choice of the building at Andrássy Avenue 60 was not incidental, as this was the base of the Nazi Arrow Cross troops in the autumn of 1944 from where they went “raiding,” offers the following interpretation: the local instances of communist terror (for which the Soviets cannot be accountable) can be blamed on the Hungarian Jewry. That is, Hungarian Communism is actually a revenge for the Hungarian Holocaust. We are not presuming that the formulators of the concept would think so, but the text, the representation of objects and the installation, unfortunately allow for such interpretation. However, this condition of ‘being offended’ by external powers, the shifting of responsibility onto others, are the exact opposite of self-scrutiny. The unavoidable question in dealing with the Holocaust is exactly the ceaseless assumption of responsibility not only in a Hungarian, but also in a more general, European context. As historian Géza Komoróczy writes: “We are all responsible for the Holocaust, even those who had not yet lived in those years and even those, who—horribile dictum—did something against it. I stress that this is not a matter of criminal liability: this is the constraint of thinking responsibly.”[60] The French term, devoir de mémoire, remembrance as obligatory meditation, also refers to this recurring and irreconcilable ethical, historical, religious problem.[61] “The crimes that were committed,” says

Reinhart Koselleck, “are so great that they cannot be comprehended by themselves, (…)” and thus every form of human understanding “leads to a hopeless situation. And it is precisely this hopelessness that memory must preserve.”[62] However, the politics of memory outlined above is by far not in such a position of taking responsibility and being doomed to “hopelessness,” but on the contrary, it averts responsibility and in terms of its references, it has a teleological character: casting its eyes on the ‘future’ as the temporal horizon of hope—in the Luhmannian sense. However, the legacy of the communist (socialist) past is not the opposite of this outlook on the future, but a supplementary component that constitutes a constant counterpoint of “fear” to the ‘future’ that ensues from the ‘present;’ therefore, their relation is not contrary, but complementary.

The idea of the offended nation that suffers from something/someone is neither a 20th century, nor a specifically Hungarian invention; representations and conceptions of the oppressed, tortured, occasionally murdered nations—Polonia, Bavaria, Marianne, or Hungaria—are familiar across Europe. As art historian Katalin Sinkó notes, from the 1920s on “There is a peculiar long-term continuity among the depictions of horror images of the Hungarian nation’s torment and murder.”[63] According to art historian, the iconographic representation of the idea of the suffering nation which had undergone a peculiar continuity, resurfaced around 1989-1990. “Martyrdom-mythologies had a comeback around the regime change on political posters and newspaper illustrations;” the image of bleeding Hungary appeared with nails implying crucifixion (the work of Péter Pócs and László Haris), as well as a work by Miklós Kovács, also using nails, this time hammered into a map, or  Béla Kelényi’s Hungary spray-painted on shards of glass swept into a pile. There is no need to detail how each of these depictions represented the idea of the suffering nation in their own way. [64]

In the years following the regime change, however, such horrid and shocking representations of the offended, suffering, bleeding country, and consequently its self-interpretation as such, mostly abated in public thought. As mentioned already in the beginning of this essay, entering into office in 1998, it was the government led by Fidesz–MPP that implied already in the first half of its term that it endeavored to establish a new symbolic identity. In our assessment, one of the signs of this was, and which also could have been, the adaptation of the heritage-project; for instance, in France, the country that gave the example, the notion of ‘heritage’ successfully adopted the text of the “great national identity” established with the emergence of modernity, and changed it into “minor regional, local identities.”[65] This model, obviously for several reasons not to be detailed here, did not really prove viable. However, the above-outlined attitude of demonizing communism (socialism) that was eminently embodied in the House of Terror memorial and the related rhetoric proved especially suitable for filling this symbolic void. As right-wing conservative political thought after 1989 sought its points of reference and self-identification in the interwar period in Hungary, political symbolization was also oriented towards the iconography of this period. However, the generation of politicians in Fidesz–MPP—also owing to their generational position—were thinking in terms of a ‘modern,’ efficient symbolism; in our view, the political allegory of Hungary offended by communism was meant to serve this role. While the image, the self-definition and the narrative of the suffering, offended nation remained structurally intact, in terms of content, a number of elements were logically changed and adapted.

However, instead of the geographic consciousness of the motif of ‘Hungarian land’ this political symbolization is centered on ‘offence,’ but even more so on the aforementioned notion of the (passive) ‘victim,’ as a sort of peculiar “rehabilitation.” The ‘civil religion,’ religion civile was replaced by demonized communism—that offended the body of the Hungarian nation both physically and in its dignity—representing a system of thought that is easy to learn and identify with. The anthropogeography and cultural morphology of the interwar period as the scientific legitimizer of the idea, was replaced by a “historical” politics of memory, appropriate to the period. This all but transcendent anti-communist world view emerges as a new element in Hungarian national consciousness, while efficiently conserving the basic elements of this peculiar ‘we’-consciousness; for the ‘survivors’ build their identity on the ‘offences’ suffered by the ‘victims’. The House of Terror memorial erected at Andrássy Avenue 60 is an objectified symbolic memorial or memento of this.

As a particular characteristic of the element of transcended notions, the House of Terror, this very much mundane place, appears in the urban fabric of Budapest more and more as a sacral place since the opening on the February 24, 2002—this is well indicated by the almost constantly burning candles and lampions inside and outside the building and around the entrance, signs of a ceaseless commemoration. The exterior, the terrifying, iconic (“blinded walls”) display and spatial design (predominantly the “blade wall” protruding from the plane of the neighboring buildings), which is based on the moral supremacy of victims, clearly distinguishes the building from the tenement palaces of the Avenue, and day by day, its busy, central location becomes the memento of this new, mundane ‘religion of memory.”

Translated by Dániel Sipos

Note on the use of images:
The official photos of the House of Terror are copyrighted. Mezosfera magazine did not wish to request permission and pay for including these photos, on a matter of principle. Therefore, we have selected from photos that had been publicly shared by the visitors themselves on their blogs or other online interfaces, as well as from images published by Wikipedia, under the Creative Commons license. For more images, please use your search engine.

About the Authors:

Zsófia Frazon (PhD) is an ethnographer, currently working at the Museum of Ethnography Budapest. Since 2005, she has been organizing at the Museum of Ethnography Budapest the MADOK Research Program, which aims to set up and run cooperation between museums in Hungary for studying contemporary society and culture. She has curated various exhibitions and projects, including. Her research fields include contemporary consumerism, the role of objects in personal lifestyle, urban culture and subcultures, modern and post-modern everyday life and their representation in contemporary art.

Zsolt K. Horváth is a historian, former student of the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (Paris, France) and the Eötvös  Loránd University (ELTE, Budapest), he is an assistant professor at the Institute of Art Theory  and Media Studies at the ELTE. His work focuses on the social history of cultural forms and practices in the 20th  century in Hungary and Europe. He is the author of many publications, including The Patients of Memory. For a Socio-historical Morphology of Space and Time (Budapest, 2015, in Hungarian).

*This article has been published first in Hungarian under the same title:
Frazon Zsófia – K.Horváth Zsolt, “A megsértett Magyarország  A Terror Háza mint tárgybemutatás,emlékmű és politikai rítus”,


[1] It is important to note that already from the 1920s, Hungary had a right-wing conservative leadership that eventually led to Hungary’s alliance with Nazi Germany in the 1930s. At the end of the Second World War, Hungary—aligned with Nazi Germany and the Axis powers—was defeated by the Allies. Hungary consequently became a “satellite state” of the USSR until 1989, until the fall of the Berlin Wall. The period between 1949 and 1989 can be divided into two eras. The first was a Stalinist-type, regime that eliminated and killed its enemies (1949–1956), headed by Mátyás Rákosi, against which the 1956 Hungarian Revolution took place with the leadership of the reform communist Imre Nagy (Prime Minister between 1953 and 1956), who, with others revolting against the Stalinist system, was executed after the revolution. Following the defeat of the 1956 revolution by the Soviet Red Army, a new leadership was installed in Hungary by the USSR, headed by János Kádár, which was still totalitarian, and was supported by a secret police (1957–1989), yet it ensured a better life for the people, which was much better than in other countries in Eastern Europe.

[2] Cf. François Azouvi, Le mythe du grand silence. Auschwitz, les Français, la mémoire, Paris, Fayard, 2012., and After the Holocaust: Challenging the Myth of Silence, David Cesarani – Eric J. Sundquist (ed.), (London:Routledge, 2012)

[3] Anette Wieviorka, L’ère du témoin, (Paris: Plon, 1998)

[4] Michael Pollak, L’expéreience concentrationnaire. Essai sur le maintien de l’identité sociale, Paris, Métaillé, 1990.; Jean-Michel Chaumont, La concurrence des victims. Génocide, identité, survivant, Paris, La Découverte, 1997.

[5] Jeffrey C. Alexander, Holocaust and Trauma: Moral Universalism in the West, in Trauma: A Social Theory, Cambridge, Polity Press, 2012, 31-96.

[6] Máté Zombory, Traumatársadalom. Az emlékezetpolitika történeti szociológiai kritikája [Trauma society. A historical-sociological critique of the politics of memory.] Budapest, Kijárat, to be published. Also, Máté Zombory, Visualizing Revisionism: Europeanized Anticommunism at the House of Terror Museum in Budapest, in Museums of Communism. New Memory Sites in Central and Eastern Europe, Stephen Norris (ed.), Indiana University Press, under publication.

[7] Le livre noir du communisme. Crimes, terreur, répressions, Stéphane Courtois (dir.), Paris, Robert Laffont, 1997.

[8] Mária Schmidt – György Kerényi (eds.), Bátran és szabadon. 10 éves a Terror Háza Múzeum [Brave and free. 10 years of the House of Terror]; (Budapest: Közép- és Kelet-európai Történelem és Társadalom Kutatásért Közalapítvány,2012) 326.

[9] Márton Szabó, “A rendszerváltozás szemantikája,” [The semantics of regime change] Politikatudományi Szemle, 1993. No. 4. 167–181. The citation is from page 178. (Italics by us.) More on this in Márton Szabó, “A rendszerváltozás szemantikája és szimbolikája. Elemzések a politika nyelvi és szim- bolikus küzdelmeirõl,” [The semantics and symbolism of the regime change. Analyses of the linguistic and symbolic struggles of politics] In: Diszkurzív térben. Tanulmányok a politika nyelvérõl és a politikai tudásról. (Budapest: Scientia Humana, 1998.) 127–163.

[10] Cf. László Beck “Tüntetés és reprezentáció,” [Protest and representation] Mozgó Világ, 1989. 4. sz. 51–54.; Tamás Hofer,“Harc a rendszerváltásért szimbolikus mezõben.1989. március 15-e Budapesten,” [Struggle for regime change in a symbolic field. 15. March 1989 in Budapest] Politikatudományi Szemle, 1992. 29–51.; Éva Kovács“Terek és szobrok emlékezete, (1988–1990),” [The memory of squares and statues, (1988-1990)] Regio, 2001. No. 1. 68–91.

[11] Cf., e.g., Pál Tamás: “Átépítés alatt” [Under reconstruction] In: Átépítés alatt. Közép- és kelet-európai gazdasági és politikai közvéleménykutatás. [Under reconstruction. Central- and Eastern European economic and political polls.] Á. Fischer – Á. Levendel (eds.) Budapest, Magyar Hitelbank – Századvég Kiadó – Szonda Ipsos, 1992, esp. 21. ff.; and Péter Niedermüller “A nacionalizmus kulturális logikája a posztszocializmusban,” [The cultural logic of nationalism in the postsocialist period.], Századvég, 2000. No. 16. Spring, 91–109., esp. 96.

[12] László Bruszt – David Stark, “Remaking the Political Field in Hungary: From the Politics of Confrontation to the Politics of Competition,” In: Cornell Project of Comparative Institutional Analysis, Working Papers of Transition from Socialism, Ithaca, No. 90, 24. Cited by Hofer, op. cit., 44–45. About the “parallel actions” organized according to different orientations with regard to another March 15th, cf.: Péter Hanák,“1898. A nemzeti és az állampatrióta értékrend frontális ütközése a Monarchiában.,”1 In: A Kert és a Műhely. (Budapest, Gondolat, 1988) 112–129.

[13] There are many exceptional Hungarian examples of such research. Without striving for totality, we mention a few: Katalin Sinkó, “Az új kenyér ünnepe,” [Feast of the new bread] In: Szövegvilág. Írások a szimbolikus és diszkurzív politikáról. Márton Szabó (ed.) (Budapest: Scientia Humana, 1997.)263–271.; Gábor Gyáni, Fõvárosi zavargások a dualizmus évtizedeiben. [Riots in the capital in the decades of dualism] In: Rendi társadalom – polgári társadalom 3. Á. László Varga (ed.) Salgótarján, Nógrád Megyei Levéltár, 1991. 345–354.; Boldizsár Vörös, “Károlyi Mihály tér, Marx-szobrok, fehér ló. Budapest szimbolikus elfoglalásai 1918–1919-ben,” [Károlyi Mihály Square, Marx statues, white horse. Symbolic occupations of Budapest in 1918-1919] Budapesti Negyed, 1990. No. 29–30. 144–163. ; A. Zoltán Biró – Sándor Oláh, “Emlékmû – jelkép – identitás,”[Memorial – symbol – identity] In: “Jelbeszéd az életünk”. A szimbolizáció története és kutatásának módszerei [Our life is a language of signs. History and research methodology of symbolization] Ágnes Kapitány – Gábor Kapitány (eds.) (Budapest: Osiris–Századvég, 1995), 453–463.

[14] First, the “heritage” project adapted from the French model; the series of Millennial commemorations instituted by government resolution 1152/1998 (1. Dec.); Act I. of 2000 connected to the 1000 years state founding celebrations on the transfer of the historical crown and the coronation insignia of the Hungarians kings into the Parliament building; the establishment of a new cultural center, the so- called Millennium Park and the creation of the a big exhibition “Dreamers of Dreams” to emphasize the greatness of Hungarian scientists and artists during centuries “Dreamers of Dreams.”

[15] Tamás Szõnyei, “Árnyékvilág,” [Shadow world] Magyar Narancs, 24 January 2002, 10–12., andN. E., “Feljelentették a Terror Házát,”. [Charges pressed against the House of Terror] Népszabadság, 7 February 2002., 5.

[16] Please see footnote No. 1.

[17] András Mink: Alibi terror – egy bemutatkozásra. [Alibi terror – on an introduction] Népszabadság, 20 February 2002, 12.; László Karsai: Az igazság bonyolultabb. [The truth is more complicated] Népszabadság, 6 March 2002, 10. and also Vilmos Tartsay: Két éjszaka, nappal nélkül. [Two nights without day] Népszabadság, 6 March 2002, 10.

See also: Krisztián Ungváry: A káosz háza. [The house of chaos] Magyar Narancs, 7 March and László Seres: Andrássy Avenue 60. Élet és Irodalom, 8. February 2002., 6. and 8. Following Ungváry’s criticism, many people commented on the forming debate: Mária Schmidt: Rendet a káoszban! [Order in the chaos!] Magyar Narancs, 21 March 2002, 4.; Gáspár Miklós Tamás (TGM): Magyar Narancs, 28 March 2002., 4.; Balázs Wizner: A kollektív elhárítás háza. [The house of collective aversion] Magyar Narancs, 4 April 2002, 4.; Krisztián Ungváry: Válasz Schmidt Máriának és Tamás Gáspár Miklósnak. [Response to Mária Schmidt and Gáspár Miklós Tamás (TGM)] Magyar Narancs, 11 April 2002, 4.; Reader’s letter by Gáspár Miklós Tamás (TGM), Magyar Narancs, 18 April 2002, 4. and Pál Szalai’s comment on the same page. Subsequently the debate was considered concluded by the editors.

[18] Especially Péter Heinrich-Tamáska: Néma tüntetés. [Silent protest], Magyar Nemzet, 23 February 2002, 26. and Zsolt Bayer, “Hát kicsodák ezek az alakok? Az évtizedeken át meggyalázott és semmibe vett emberi méltóságról. Új moralisták, farizeusok, 13. rész,,” [Well, who are these jerks? On the decades-long violation and ignoration of human dignity. New moralists, pharisees. Part 13.] Magyar Nemzet, 21 February, 2002? 6. and Szabolcs Szerető,“Katarzist szeretnénk kiváltani,” (Beszélgetés Schmidt Máriá val), [We want to evoke catharsis (Interview with Mária Schmidt), Magyar Nemzet, 23 February 2002, 5.

[19] Seres, op. cit., 6.

[20]  Karsai: Az igazság bonyolultabb [The truth is more complicated], op. cit.

[21]  This is pointed out apropos of a debate that evolved in Italy with regard to the recollections of two Italians who had taken part in the Spanish civil war by Giovanni Levi: Le passé lointain. Sur l’usage politique de l’histoire. In: Les usages politiques du passé. Jacques Revel and François Hartog (eds.) Paris, Éd. de l’École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, 2001. 25–37.

[22] On the extended role of historians dealing with present-day history, cf. François Hartog: L’historien et la conjoncture historiographique. Le Débat, 1998. No. 102. 4–10.

[23] Many arguments and counterarguments have arisen regarding the representation and discussability of both the Holocaust and the communist period; of course, this study cannot be a summary of these. Here is an incomplete list of literature: regarding the theoretical controversy, Probing the Limits of Representation. Nazism and the „Final Solution” Saul Friedländer (ed.) Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1992. Regarding the relation of the historian and the witness, François Hartog, “Le témoin et l’historien,” Gradhiva, 2000. No. 27. 1–14., and on the generally reassessed and inflated role of the “witness”, Carlo Ginzburg, “Just One Witness,” In: Probing the Limits of Representation, op. cit. 82–96 and Anette Wieviorka, L’ère du témoin (Paris:Plon, 1998). In Hungary, all of this became public knowledge through The Black Book of Communism, introduced by the very Institute of the Twentieth Century managed by none other than the “state historian”, Mária Schmidt. Having triggered turmoil in France, the quite controversial volume highlighted the dilemmas of the past and its political use in a very special way owing precisely to the political implications of the book launch. On the volume, cf. György Litván, “Vita a kommunizmusról és a ‘Fekete könyvrõl’,”. [Controversy about Communism and the ‘Black Book’.] In: Évkönyv 1998, Budapest, 1956-os Intézet, 1998. 299–302. and Gábor T. Rittersporn, “Fekete számvitel”. [Black books] BUKSZ, 2001. Winter, 324–329.

[24] András Mink, “Történelempolitika,” [Politics of History.] Beszélõ, April 1999, 38–41. (The quote is from page 38.)

[25] Therefore, it was not completely incidental that as the discipline of historiography began to professionalise in Hungary, the editorial board of Századok – a journal established at the time, that is, in 1867, which still exists today – decided that they would only publish articles regarding the period before 1723, as this much distance in time, 144 years, is needed for a neutral unbiased approach. The story is recalled in András Gerő- Iván Petõ ,Befejezetlen szocializmus. [Unfinished socialism] (Budapest: Tegnap és Ma Alapítvány, 199.) 6. Let us not forget, though, that Jan Assmann determined the duration of communicative memory that relies merely on social interaction, as 80 years. Jan Assmann,Cultural Memory and Early Civilization. Writing, Remembrance and Political Imagination. (Cambridge: University Press, 2011) esp. 15-69.

[26]   István Ihász, “Gomb és kabát. A profán valóság bemutatásának kísérlete a Terror Háza Múzeumban,” In: Történeti Muzeológiai Szemle. A Magyar Múzeumi Történész Társulat Évkönyve 2. János Pintér (Ed.)  (Budapest: Magyar  Múzeumi  Történész Társulat, 2002). 97-98.

[27] On the occasion of our last visit in November 2002, not a single such text was displayed in the text boxes of the exhibition, therefore, even this single commentary is all but neglected by the curators of the exhibition and the managers of the institution.

[28] Cf. Péter György: A mulandóság építészei. Filmgyári menedék. [Architects of evanescence. Refuge at the film studios.] In: Az elsüllyedt sziget. Budapest, Képzőművészeti Kiadó, 1992. 169–184.

[29] The quote comes from Terror Háza – Andrássy út 60 [The Housed of Terror— 60 Andrássy Avenue] Exhibition guide 12-13. Regardind the critique of the architectural concept see: Júlia Váradi, “Mi történt a látványvilág- ban? (Beszélgetés Jerger Krisztinával és Bojár Iván Andrással),” [What happened in the spectacle world? (Discussion with Krisztina Jerger and Iván András Bojár)]. Mozgó Világ, 2002/ 8.  25–36.23

[30] See  András Szigethy, “ A hûséges ház: Andrássy út 60, “[The loyal house 60 Andrássy Avenue],  Népszabadság, February 20,  2002. 10.  The discussion about the architecture are available online (in Hungarian).

[31] Szabolcs Szerető,“Katarzist szeretnénk kiváltani,”5.

[32] Reinhart Koselleck, “War Memorials: Identity Formations of the Survivors,” in: The Practice of Conceptual History: Timing History, Spacing Concepts. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002) 285-326

[33] Reinhart Koselleck, „Die Diskontinuität der Erinnerung,“ Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie, Vol. 47, Issue 2, 213–222. (Quotation from page 4, italics in original.)

[34] Cf. Tony Judt, “The Past is Another Country: Myth and Memory in Postwar Europe,” Daedalus, 1992 autumn, 83–118. and Henry Rousso: L’épuration en France: une histoire inachevée. Vingtième Siècle, 1992. Issue 33. 78–106.

[35] Cf. Maurice Halbwachs: Les cadres sociaux de la mémoire. (Paris:Albin Michel. 1994.)

[36] Resolution 58/2000 (16 Jun) of the Parliament of the Republic of Hungary 58/2000 (16 Jun) on the Memorial day for the victims of communist dictatorships. Magyar Közlöny, 58 (16 June 2000), 3360. The date 25 February refers to the arrest of smallholder politician Béla Kovács on 25 February 1947 by Soviet state security. Although there is no space to dwell on this, but notice the symbolic use of the date 16 June and “communist dictatorships” in plural.

[37] We will only refer to the two politically opposed leading daily newspapers: Gábor Pál: Vasárnap nyílik a Terror Háza. [The House of Terror opens on Sunday] Magyar Nemzet, 23 February 2002, 1. and 3.; Megnyitották a Terror Házát [House of Terror opened], (news report). Magyar Nemzet, 25 February 2002., 1.; Az áldozatok emléke. [The memory of the victims] Magyar Nemzet, 26 February 2002., 1. and 3., valamint Z. Ö.: Vasárnap nyit a Terror Háza. [The House of Terror to open on Sunday] Népszabadság, 21 February 2002, 6.; Sok ezren a Terror Háza megnyitásán [Thousands at the opening of the House of Terror], (news report), Népszabadság, 25 February 2002., 1.; László Rab, Megnyílt a Terror Háza múzeum [The House of Terror Museum has opened], Népszabadság, 25 February 2002., 4.

[38] [Munkatársainktól]: “Az áldozatok emléke,” [The memory of the victims] Magyar Nemzet 2002, 1. and 3. (The citation is from page 3; italics by us.)

[39] Where we can witness the use of yet another inconsistent symbol, as the Hall of Tears resembles a cemetery, where the installation comprises a forest of thin reed-like crosses, the flickering light of torches and a few stars of David. This representation renders the tragedy of hundreds of thousands of Jewish victims weightless. The same approach underlies the Churches hall, where a spectacular light-emitting cross tears through the floor, dominating the space with its signification, even if a niche or two contains Jewish religious paraphernalia. If the exhibition indeed intends to commemorate the victims of two authoritarian regimes, this bias is not justified in any way, even if there are plans for the establishment of a Holocaust museum.

[40]  Journalist Márton Gergely on objectivity and the blurring of the boundary between the two dictatorships: “The House of Terror allows for no criticism, while it merges the crimes of the Arrow Cross and the communists. It is precisely the mixing together of the two tyrannical regimes that would have called for absolute objectivity, as it incites comparison. One begins to classify the represented terrors. Whichever way the scales tilt, the thought alone is offensive towards the victims of both regimes. Some are unavoidably forced into the position of second-rate casualty or persecuted.” Márton Gergely, “Történelmi gaztettek – elemzés Három kiállítás összehasonlító elemzése,” [Historical crimes – analysis. Comparative analysis of three exhibitions.], Népszabadság Online,8 March 2002.

[41] This problem is also brought up by Márton Gergely: “Small pictures display perpetrators: photograph, name, rank, year of birth and death. This is no gallery of great despots. Lieutenants are hanging on the wall, unpredictable twenty-somethings in those horrible times. The House of Terror gives no explanation based on which their culpability was ascertained. Based on the data, some of them are still alive, only a phonebook is missing from beside the portraits (…)”. Gergely, op. cit.

[42] [No longer available]

[43] The speech was published in: László Varga, “A kommunizmus áldozatai,” [The victims of communism], Élet és Irodalom, 8 March 2002, 9.

[44] See  János Pótó,  Emlékmûvek,  politika,  közgondolkodás [Monuments, politics, public opinion] (Budapest: MTA Történettudományi Intézete, 1989), especially 11–19.

[45] Bronislaw Baczko: Les imaginaires sociaux: mémoires et espoirs collectifs, Paris, Payot, 1984, 118.

[46] Daniel Milo: Le nom des rues. In: Les lieux de mémoire. La Nation, op. cit., Vol. II., 1887–1918.

[47] Cf. Ervin Csizmadia, Diskurzus és diktatúra. A magyar értelmiség vitái Nyugat-Európáról a késõ Kádár-rendszerben [Discourse and dictatorship. Controversies of the Hungarian intelligentsia about Western Europe in the late Kádár-regime], (Budapest:Századvég, 2001)esp. 18., and. 21., note 13.

[48] 42 The excerpt is from the website [No longer available.]

[49] This sentence familiar for Hungarians from a 1904 interpretive translation (“A múltat végképp eltörölni”) of Eugène Pottier’s poem L’Internationale, this line could literally be translated into English as “Conclisuvely eradicate the past”, and the reference leads us back to the idea of ‘carte blanche,’ in other words, continuity/discontinuity, as the English equivalent of the original French line (“Du passé faisons table rase”) is: “Of the past let us make a clean slate”. See. János Széky, “Du passé faisons table rase”. Élet és Irodalom, 8 March 2002., 27.

[50] Ferenc Erõs, “A kollektív emlékezetrõl,” [On collective memory] Café Bábel, 5–6 (1992 fall-winter), 97–102. (The citation is from page 97)

[51] Although academic historiographical criticism (László Karsai, András Mink, Krisztián Ungváry, etc.) – as we have shown above – deployed its entire academic apparatus in protest against the unilaterally biased character of the House of Terror, which ignored the historical consensus, this remained a battle of irreconcilable discourses; for it is impossible to argue against ideological statements in the language of reality and facts. (It must be pointed out, however, that their opposition had a very important historical-ethical role, as they were the only ones who spoke up against the hushing up of the deportation of the Jewry.) As pointed out by those dealing with ideology as a political form of knowledge, there are a number of self-contradictions and paradoxes within ideological texts. According to Paul Ricoeur, however, this is not a fallacy but an element that is part of the way ideology functions. More on this: Márton Szabó,” Az ideológia paradoxona. Az ideológiai gondolkodás feloldhatatlan ellentmondásai.” [The paradox of ideology. The irreconcilable contradictions of ideological thought.] In: Diszkurzív térben, op. cit., 167–222.

[52] Szabó,“A rendszerváltozás szemantikája és szimbolikája,”[The semantics and symbolism of the regime change] op. cit., 150–151. (Italics by us.)

[53] On the competition, cf. Péter György: Néma hagyomány. Kollektív felejtés és kései múltértelmezés.1956 1989-ben. (A régmúlttól az örökségig), [Silent tradition. Collective forgetfulness and the belated interpretation of the past. 1956 in 1989. (From distant past to legacy.)] (Budapest:Magvetõ, 2000) 281. ff. On a thorough analysis of the Jovánovics-monument, cf.: András Rényi, “A dekonstruált kegyelet. Jovánovics György 1956-os emlék/mûve és a posztmodern szobrászat,” [Deconstructed piety. Postmodern architecture and the 1956 memorial by György Jovánovics]. In: A testek világlása. Hermeneutikai tanulmányok, (Budapest: Kijárat Kiadó, 1999)173–217.

[54] Rényi, op. cit., 178.

[55] On the importance of the “places of memory”, cf. Pierre Nora,”Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire,” Representations No. 26, Special Issue: Memory and Counter-Memory (Spring, 1989), pp. 7-24.

[56] On the 23rd of October in both 2001 and 2002, Imre Mécs, a former participant of the ’56 revolution, currently MP of the SZDSZ party, was brutally insulted while giving his speech. The powers and motivations behind the mostly organised atrocities, lately with the involvement of children, remain undisclosed for now, but the fact is that these actions keep further eroding the dignity of the commemoration.

[57] The first time the idea emerged to erect a central memorial to the revolution in 2006, on its 50th anniversary, was on the 23rd of October 2002. At the time of closing this manuscript, there was no information regarding its place, but the implication of “central” memorial suggests that it will be located in the city centre. Cf.: “Ötvenhatosok a kormányfõnél,” [Fifty-sixers visiting the prime minister], Népszabadság, 16 October 2002., 1. and [Munkatársainktól],” Medgyessy emlékmûvet ígér,” [Medgyessy promises memorial]. Népszabadság, 16 October 2002., 4. The Flame of the Revolution, a memorial by Mária Lugossy located on Kossuth Square, on account of its dimensions and the context of its placement (23 October 1996), is once again unsuitable for the representation of a memory of such gravity; we venture to suppose that in fact it has not even entered public consciousness.

[58] However, we must add that although the works of Jovánovics and Lugossy elicited absolute critical success, a significant part of ’56-ers did not feel that the work was ‘their own’, and for a time they were thinking about an alternative solution. For more, cf: Géza Boros,” ‘Igazi’ emlékművek,”[‘Real’ memorials] In: Emlék/mû. Mûvészet – köztér – vizualitás a rendszerváltozástól a Milleniumig, (Budapest: Enciklopédia Kiadó, 2001) 53–55.

[59] The prime minister’s speech on the 24th of February expressed the following in this regard: “We have no need to shirk our responsibility, but our children must know that both dictatorships were such regimes that would have been unable to either gain power in our country, or keep it without the support of foreign armies.” The quotation is from [No longer available] Although this may be true at first glance, in a superficial approach, but it fails to bring us closer to the self-scrutinising question: what is the responsibility of Hungarians in all this?

[60] Géza Komoróczy, A pernye beleég a bőrünkbe. (Egy felszólalás, amely nem hangozhatott el),” [Fly ash burned into our skin. (A comment that had to remain unvoiced.)] In: Holocaust. A pernye beleég a bõrünkbe, Budapest, Osiris, 2000, 60–71. (Citation from page 66.) and Emmanuel Kattan: Penser le devoir de mémoire, Paris, PUF, 2002.

[61] Some of the ample literature on the subject: Primo Levi, Le devoir de mémoire, (Paris:Mille Et Une Nuits, 2000) and Tzvetan Todorov, Mémoire du mal, tentation du bien. Enquête sur le siècle, (Paris: Robert Laffont, 2000) especially 175–191 and 207–230. On the history of the term: Olivier Lalieu, “L’invention du ‘devoir de mémoire,”Vingtième Siècle, 69 (2001), 83–94.

[62] Koselleck: Die Diskontinuität der Erinnerung. op.cit., 4 and 6. (Italics by us.)

[63] Katalin Sinkó,”A megsértett Hungária,”[The offended Hungária] In: Magyarok Kelet és Nyugat közt. A nemzettudat változó jelképe[i, Hofer Tamás (ed.) (Hungarians between East and West. The changing symbols of national identity) Budapest:Néprajzi Múzeum – Balassi Kiadó, 1996) 267–282. (Citation from page 269.). See the English translation of Katalin Sinkó’s text as “The Offended Hungária” in War of Memories. A Guide to Hungarian Memory Politics, eds. Dóra Hegyi, Zsuzsa László, Zsóka Leposa (Budapest:, 2015): 13–40. The year 1920 to the Treaty of Trianon—as part of the Paris Peace Conference ending World War I— between Allies of World War I and the Kingdom of Hungary, as a consequence of which Hungary lost two third of its former territory (among other penalties). Ever since, “Trianon” serves as a basis for irredentist claims of Hungarian nationalists.

[64] Sinkó, op. cit. 279.

[65] Ibid., 278–279.

  1. Frontal collision of national and state patriotic values in the Monarchy.

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