2005-11-12

A reunion in question

A group of veterans of the Honvéd, the Hungarian occupying forces in World War II in Yugoslavia, held a reunion in Subotica, which seems to have inspired differing reactions. The organisers of the meeting, a nongovernmental organisation called "Open perspectives," insist that in the context of the move to claim equivalency for Četnici and Partisans, the meeting should be taken as an effort to promote understanding rather than as a provocation. The meeting organiser Gabor Kudlik denies that most Honvédek were fascists, and that rather these were people who were forcibly mobilised, and that many of them could be considered victims themselves, particularly as many were sent to the Eastern front. Others, including most of those who have so far commented on the news item, see the event a revisionist provocation.

(For my part, I am not certain that "Honvéd" is a very specific term. It would seem to be more or less an equivalent of "domobran," and it appears in the names of many military institutions, as well as providing the name for a popular football club. Perhaps this is a bit of vojvođanski shorthand for something else?)

Update: A brief summary of what J. Tomasevich (War and Revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941-1945, pp. 168-174) has to say on the matter -- the Hungarian occupation concentrated most of its nastiness, especially the dispossession and deportation of civilians, to 1941. Otherwise, the German minority exercised far more real power. By late 1943, Germany had substituted its own power for that of the Horthy regime in every sense but the most formal, and did so in the formal sense by installing Ferenc Szálasi in October 1944. Germany evacuated many Volksdeutsche from Vojvodina when it was clear that territory would be lost, but not many people who were not Volksdeutsche.

5 comments:

András said...

Actually, Honvéd (pl. Honvédek) is a quite specific term. While the etymology may be the same as domobran (hon = homeland; véd = defender), the honvédek are/were not irregulars or home guards, but the regular army. The Honvédség (-ség = -stvo) originated in 1848-49 as the volunteer army of the anti-Habsburg revolution led by Lajos Kossuth. After 1867, when the Habsburgs cut a deal (Ausgleich) with the Hungarians, the part of the joint Austro-Hungarian army under the control of the Hungarian government was called Magyar Honvédség (Hungarian Defense Force). The Hungarian army after World War I, continued to be called Magyar Honvédség until 1949, when the army was renamed Magyar Néphadsereg (Hungarian People's Army) in the Soviet fashion. The army resumed its historic name in 1989 and is once again known as Magyar Honvédség ( www.regiment.hu ).

It's not to be confused with the Budapest Honvéd FC ( www.honvedfc.hu ) which, like FK Partizan Beograd ( www. partizan .co.yu ), may have rowdy fans but is not a military organization.

Those veterans meeting in Subotica are survivors of the three-and-a-half year period in World War II (April 1941-Oct. 1944) when Vojvodina was annexed by Hungary and its male inhabitants were subject to military conscription into the Honvédség. As the news item points out, many served in Hungarian army units sent to the Eastern Front, where the Honvédek were used as cannon fodder to cover the Wehrmacht's flanks during the German assault on Stalingrad. Hundreds of thousands were killed or froze to death. Now, in the wake of the Belgrade government's decision to "posthumously" rehabilitate the Cetnici, others who wound up fighting on the losing side in World War II are also demanding recognition.

Eric Gordy said...

Certainly, if these were people doing obligatory service in the national army of what was at the time, for better or worse, Hungarian territory, then they could not be regarded as having been ideologically motivated.

András said...

Well yes, except for two things. One is that when the Hungarian army marched into Vojvodina under the terms of the Vienna Award, the troops met with a jubilant reception from local Hungarians, who welcomed their "return to the motherland," but they also encountered some (scattered and disorganized) resistance from the ethnic Serb population. Fearing the possibility of a Serb uprising (although none materialized) in Jan. 1942 senior officers of the Honvédség ordered a "razzia" in Novi Sad and the Bačka region, during which the troops were given extra liquor rations and ordered to "make an example" of both real and potential resisters. Some 4,000 people, mainly ethnic Serbs, were killed by Hungarian troops during the three-day bloodletting. Although public opinion in Hungary forced the military to hold a criminal investigation, the two senior Honvéd generals who had issued the orders for the atrocities were allowed to escape to Germany (these officers and others were extradited to Yugoslavia after the end of the war, tried by a People's Court in Novi Sad and executed).

While the subsequent course of the occupation was not as bloody, many Serbs came to associate the "honvédek" with the mass killings and accused local Hungarians, especially those who volunteered for service in the Honvédség even before the beginning of mass call-ups, of being traitors to Yugoslavia.

There was also a bloody pay-back at the end of the war. In Oct. 1944 the Soviet army took Vojvodina from the retreating Germans. Behind the Soviets came Serb Partisan units -- many of them made up of Četnici from the Fruska gora who had switched sides and uniforms (but not attitudes) as the likely outcome of the war became evident -- and they immediately set about settling scores. Several thousand local ethnic Hungarians, in some villages the entire adult male population, were rounded up and killed in mass executions and buried in unmarked mass graves. This was one of the many things that could not be openly discussed in Tito's SFRJ.

Thus, while Vojvodina does have a long history of people of different ethnicities living together and generally managing to get along, there is also some bad history, hot-button issues and long-festering grievances that can be counted on to get people riled up, given the "right" circumstances.

Eric Gordy said...

One point that B92's article does not make clear is about the character of the meeting -- whether it was a reunion of veterans or a conference to discuss the events of that period (or possibly, some combination of the two). This seems like it would be worth knowing.

András said...

Since you asked, I checked the website of Magyar Szó (Mađarska reč) the Hungarian daily published for the past 60 years in Novi Sad (
http://www.magyar-szo.co.yu/arhiva/2005/10/31/main.php?l=b17.htm )
and found an item announcing the veterans' meeting in Subotica, which was advertised as the second reunion of former honvédek from Vojvodina and their family members.

The veterans' reunion was sponsored by a civil society NGO called Nyitott Távlatok/Otvorene Perspektive, which was founded in 2000 as "a civil forum for ethnic minorities in Yugoslavia," Its announced goals include the popularization and dissemination of European democratic traditions and culture and the promotion of human rights and tolerance in multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious environaments in Yugoslavia, and in Vojvodina in particular. Otvorene perspektive began its activities in Sept. 2000 with an international conference on the role and situation of the historic churches in Serbia; its activities have also included a historians' conference on Vojvodina and the 1956 Hungarian revolution and a series of human rights training seminars it has organized in various towns in Vojvodina. It seems like a perfectly respectable, well-established organization.