Esterhazy sculpture causes controversy in Kosice

There is controversy in Slovakia almost every time some sculpture is unveiled as the mixed past of Hungary and Slovakia still stirs up emotions and friction, and the latest unveiling in Kosice yesterday kept up this ‘tradition’.

This time it was over a bust of Janos Esterhazy, an MP who lived between 1901-1957 and who was very much pro-Hungarian. He was regarded by some as being a fascist and of representing the occupation of south Slovakia by the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Around 200 people attended the event on what would be Esterhazy’s 110th birthday, to see the unveiling at a house on Hlavna ulica in Kosice’s city centre, with supporters of the event adorning also Hungarian flags.

A small group of protesters jeered abuse throughout the ceremony and local artist Peter Kalmus tried to wrap the freshly unveiled bust in toilet paper, before being assaulted and thrown to the ground by three of the supporters. They were eventually taken to the police station to give testimonies.

This was not an official unveiling with city officials, but was organised privately by a local civil association and was attended by the Hungarian consulate general in Kosice, János Szerencsés. Head of the Esterhazy memorial group Arpad Martenyi claims that Esterhazy had in fact defended Slovaks in the pre-war period, and that he had been wrongly charged for war crimes.

Kosice mayor Richard Rasi, who was against the unveiling, wants to prepare a new bylaw that will prevent similar controversial and conflict-invoking situations in future.

The History department of the Slovak Academy of Sciences also issued its opinion about Esterhazy, saying he is portrayed as a martyr, as some kind of tragic victim of revenge, with the legality of his post-war trial being challenged. It went on to say how this does not sit with historical facts, however, and that Esterhazy was trying to break up Czechoslovakia and re-annex Slovakia to Hungary with the help of the Nazis.

This will definitely not be the last ‘sculpture’ conflict in Slovakia as the country’s history is littered with many controversial figures who are regarded by one side as being heroes and by the other side as criminals.

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