Hungary referendum on Hitler-ally park name fails

BUDAPEST (AFP) - Residents of a small Hungarian town failed to stop a park from taking on the name of the country's Nazi-allied wartime leader, after too few voters turned out for a Sunday referendum.

The park in Gyomro, on the outskirts of Budapest, was named after Miklos Horthy last year following a motion by the far-right nationalist Jobbik party, the third-largest in parliament.

Angry locals forced the referendum, but it was declared invalid after only 18 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots, the state news agency MTI reported. A large majority of those who did vote however were against the Horthy name change.

Horthy, an autocrat who ruled from 1920 to 1944 when he was deposed by Nazi Germany, passed anti-Jewish laws, brought the country into an uneasy alliance with Hitler and was in charge when its Jews began being deported to death camps. But the late leader is revered by some as a hero after a short-lived communist revolution in 1919 and the traumatic loss of two-thirds of its territory at the 1920 Trianon Peace Treaty.

Hungary's communist rulers between 1948 and 1989 considered Horthy a fascist, but far-right groups and public figures have since achieved something of a historical rehabilitation.

At the same time, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been accused of pandering to nationalists and of stoking anti-Semitism, for example by adding a number of wartime authors with associations to fascism to the school curriculum.

In 2012, Nobel peace laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel returned Hungary's highest state honour because of what he called a "whitewashing" of history in the European Union member state.

Last year, the government passed a law stipulating that from Jan 1, public areas could not be named after historical figures with associations to dictatorships.

It said the legislation was primarily aimed at communist-era figures.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.