The complex and controversial legacy of Miklós Horthy defies translation.
On several occasions during my time living and researching in Budapest, I had the pleasure of visiting the superb World War I exhibit called A New World Was Born – 1914-1922. It matched in quality, if not scope, Kansas City’s National World War I Museum and Memorial. Intended as a temporary exhibit, it remained open by popular demand for several years.
One recurring theme was that of a rider on horseback. Visitors to the exhibit first encountered life-sized riders in full parade dress, ca. summer 1914, eager to fight in a brief, patriotic war. In the next room, a horse fitted with a gas mask attested to the war’s true nature. At the end, visitors encountered Admiral Miklós Horthy astride his hallmark white horse, on which he rode into Budapest at the head of a counterrevolutionary army in 1919. He became head of state under the style of Regent in the following year and led the country until Nazi Germany deposed him in 1944.
While touring for the first time with an exhibit curator, I asked how Hungarians view Horthy today. I had my own understanding of the Regent but wanted to hear a Hungarian discuss the topic. The question made an impact and, at first, I worried that it had been insensitive. But the curator assured me that there isn’t an easy answer. Horthy’s legacy is controversial. It is often dependent on a particular Hungarian’s political views and conception of the nation. She struggled admirably, wanting to convey the appropriate nuance of a delicate topic.