For now the Turul statue in the 12th district (Hegyvidék) will not be removed. Although originally it was erected to commemorate the local World War II victims, the placement is highly controversial, since the Turul symbol was used by the Arrow Cross brigades who waged a massacre virtually just steps from the statue. In addition, it recently turned out that the memorial commemorated some of the aggressors too, among them the grandfather of the district’s Fidesz mayor.
Originating in ancient Hungarian history, the Turul bird is an important symbol in Hungary that to this day appears on several Hungarian coat of arms and statues around Hungary, perhaps the most famous being the one above Tatabánya. However, since it was used by far-right and Arrow Cross organizations during World War II, its usage in certain contexts and places is highly controversial.
This is the case in the 12th district as well, where brutal killings occurred during and after the Arrow Cross takeover in the city. Some 324 people (most of them Jewish) have been identified who were tortured and killed in the nearby streets, virtually a few meters from the statue. This adds to several other victims shot in the Danube by the local Arrow Cross brigades.
The story of the Turul statue in the 12th district began in 2005, when the Fidesz mayor at the time, György Mitnyan, erected it, wanting to commemorate the local victims of World War II. The statue was eventually put up without the left-liberal Budapest leadership’s permission. When news about its potential forced removal arose, right-wing, (among them radical and far-right organizations) held demonstrations multiple times by the memorial and threatened violence. After former PM Ferenc Gyurcsány’s infamous Őszöd speech, it was basically obvious that Fidesz would take over the country. Incoming mayor, former Fidesz strongman and education minister Zoltán Pokorni, campaigned to defend the statue, which after the general elections in 2010, a law dubbed “Lex Turul” was eventually finalized.
In an astonishing turn, it turned out in the summer of 2019, that some of those listed on the statue as victims of the World War were in fact aggressors. And among them, József Pokorni, the grandfather of the Fidesz politician. Pokorni then immediately initiated the removal of his ancestor’s name from the list of victims.
The statue’s removal, however, has been turned down by local Fidesz, who (amid Pokorni’s abstention due to his involvement) voted instead to turn it into a World War I memorial, when the symbol was void of negative connotations.
The statue and its related controversy gained new criticism at the end of January, when liberal 444.hu’s journalist Dániel Ács’s documentary about the events had been published, again raising questions about Pokorni’s responsibility in the denial of removal.
According to the latest update, Mayor Pokorni changed his mind and decided not to remove the statue or modify its original significance to a WW I reference. In a background talk with journalists, where documentary-publisher 444.hu hadn’t been invited, he announced that instead of “shifting [its significance] to another time period,” the statue should remain in its place but without names and with a “very detailed guide” on the Turul and where and how it was used as a symbol.
He acknowledged that the local government hadn’t chosen “the best symbol” since most of those killed in World War II in the district were civilians with a significant proportion of them having been Jews. Therefore, “the usage of the Turul is controversial, almost offensive.” He said he called on renowned historians to settle the case and there would be another World War II memorial erected elsewhere in the district.
featured image: the statue on the corner of Böszörményi and Istenhegyi streets; via László Róka/ MTVA