Right-wing extremism

Siege of Budapest: neonazi historical agenda is furthered by state sponsored media group

Connections to top echelons of the Hungarian state empower the organisers of the dubious Breakout-hike to spread neonazi myths in the mainstream and the state broadcaster about the failed, and annualy commemorated breakout attempt of German and Hungarian soldiers at the end of the Siege of Budapest in February 1945.

Family, personal and business connections tie the organisers of the infamous Breakout Hike to the top echelons of the Hungarian state, most notably to state broadcaster MTVA and the governing party elite.

The annual Breakout Hike, taking place on Saturday this year, has been being organised every year for the best part of the last two decades. It is traditionally the most popular event of all the memorial activities around the anniversary of the failed breakout attempt of the surrounded German and Hungarian soldiers at the end of the WWII siege of Budapest that ended with the deaths of some 20 thousand soldiers.

Several of the commemorative events are organised by the radical right and are used to spread simplified and distorted historical facts regarding the complex and tragic breakout attempt – with the underlying message that Hungarians should always choose to stand with Nazis.

Even though the hike is a supposedly centrist and moderate alternate memorial activity to the neonazi gatherings that also take place in the city, its message is the same, according to military historian Krisztián Ungváry.

Ungváry, the foremost researcher of the siege of Budapest, has been warning for years that the Breakout Hike, which markets itself to a mainstream crowd of hiking and history enthusiasts, is also spreading the neonazi agenda. What they do is “robbing the dead and disgracing the victims” – he wrote in an article last year – “the leaders of the memorial hike are spreading lies”.

Historical flags, uniforms and insignia, including those sporting the Nazi swastika, a symbol that is supposedly banned in Hungary, worn by many organisers and hikers, are a staple of the event. Last year, a reporter of Index encountered German neonazis, some of them in uniforms of the Waffen-SS, marching in the Buda hills under the Reichskriegsflagge – the war flag of Nazi Germany – during the hike.

For the numerous everyday folks who take the hike, the event seems to provide a friendly introduction into the neonazi movement.

Our investigation into the background of the organisation running the hike found a close-knit group of friends, who use their documentary filmmaking company to build up the social reach of the Breakout Hike through their historical and tourism shows that are shown on state-owned channels.

Dextramedia Kft., owned by leaders and members of Hazajáró Egylet, the NGO behind the memorial hike, has earned some 2,1 million euros in the last decade from contracts with MTVA, the Hungarian state broadcasting agency, and showed profits of 0,3 million euros in the last three years.

Hazajáró Egylet seems to freely exploit the popularity of Hazajáró, a hiking show produced by Dextramedia for MTVA. Fans of the show are encouraged to become members of the organisation and go on hikes – including Breakout.

The organizers of the Breakout Hike

Átlátszó’s review of a 2014 episode of history show Hagyaték, also produced by Dextramedia for MTVA, found that it included several historically inaccurate statements of the neonazi ilk about the breakout. Átlátszó also identified one of the expert “military historians” who were interviewed in the episode as a high school history teacher who was fired from his former job because of posing in Waffen-SS gear on pictures that leaked on the internet.

The Breakout Hike organisers have a cosy relationship with Beatrix Siklósi, a top media executive of MTVA, whose history of antisemitic remarks have lead to several Jewish organisations publicly protest her elevation to the top job at the most prestigious state radio stations, Radio Kossuth this year. Earlier Siklósi was in charge of M5, the state cultural television channel, showing much of Dextramedia’s work before.

The connections of the Hazajáró group also include Sándor Lezsák, deputy speaker of the Hungarian Parliament and a longtime ally of PM Viktor Orbán: his son-in-law, Zoltán Moys, is a part-owner of Dextramedia and the chief organiser of the Breakout Hike.

The hiking people also have a friend in a high place at Bethlen Gábor Alapkezelő Zrt., a state-owned company charged with managing funds spent on Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries: its CEO Rudolf Erdélyi used to run the finances of Hazajáró Egylet.

Written by Márton Sarkadi Nagy. You can read the more detailed Hungarian version of this article here.

Photo Credit: Tamás Kovács / MTI