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Controversial statue goes up overnight

Around midnight Saturday, just hours after a court rejected opposition to the memorial, a controversial statue that opponents call an apology for fascists, supporters call a revisiting of a troubled time in Hungarian history and the government calls "a project of primary importance for the national economy" was erected in Szabadság tér.

The statue depicts the Angel Gabriel, who is traditionally considered Hungary’s own guardian angel, being tormented from above by an eagle, which represents Nazi Germany. An inscription that runs atop a colonnade behind the statue can be translated as “Memorial for the Victims of German Occupation”.

Opponents of the statue say that it is not only meant to commemorate victims of the Holocaust, but also those who were “duped” by Nazis into killing their fellow country members. They claim that it is a cynical ploy by the ruling Fidesz party to woo voters away from the largest opposition group, the far-right Jobbik party.

Supporters say the statue reminds us that it is wrong to blame Hungarians for things that happened while the country was under occupation. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has frequently expressed his support for the statue, saying it is "not a Holocaust memorial".

The site for the statue in Szabadság tér – a name that means “Freedom Square” – has attracted protestors since plans for it were announced. Pál Steiner, a member of the Socialist Party and former mayor of Budapest’s District V, sued to demand a referendum on whether the statue should be erected. A Budapest Court threw out the case, saying that “the government had decreed that the memorial was a project of primary importance for the national economy”, according to a report by state news agency MTI.

The court ruling was announced by the Socialist Party on Saturday, and around 1am on Sunday, a cordon of police reportedly surrounded the site while workers put the statue up.

Protests have continued at the site since then.


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