Hungarian history trapped behind walls – the modern symptoms of the Munkács memorial policy

At the beginning of March 1882, the people of Munkács (Mukachevo) were preparing for a magnificent celebration.

The train on which the most famous person ever to be born in the town and his escort were travelling, was heading towards the town on the river Latorca. The train stopped several times before the destination in Bereg county. The occasional welcoming committees greeted the world-famous painter with applause, kind words or delicious Tokaji Aszú wine. For 34 years, Munkácsy had not seen his hometown, his last memory of which was probably when his father, who took part in the local events of 1848, fled to Miskolc with his family, fearing the Austrian revenge. Since then, Munkácsy has experienced many successes and failures. The times have changed. The four-year-old child, who had escaped during the War of Independence under the name Mihály Lieb visited his former hometown as an honorary citizen now carrying the name of the town. The social significance of the famous painter is indicated by the fact that he and his wife have been welcomed by Count Schönborn in his own castle. The next day, on March 3, mayor János Nuszer praised the man of the hour in his welcome speech. In the afternoon, a laurel wreath was placed on Munkácsy’s head, and a memorial plaque was installed on the wall of his birthplace. The ceremony was completed by a luxurious feast at the famous hotel Csillag (Star).

A Fővárosi Lapok tudósítása Munkácsy szülővárosába érkezéséről
(Forrás: Arcanum)


After the joyful events Munkácsy perhaps wondered if his dear city would always keep his memory so faithfully. After his death in 1900, the idea occurred that a statue should be erected in his hometown as a sign of respect for him. In 1907, Lajos Göncz, a sculptor, donated a plaster statue of Munkácsy to the town, which would have been placed in the town hall. The work of art would have been the sample for the monumental bronze statue that would have been erectedat the mainsquare of the town. However, history has not made it possible for these noble ideas to be achieved. As a result, the statue of Munkácsy made of gypsum is located in the former Rákóczi Castle, which is now the home for the town’s art school.

Magyar és ukrán nyelvű emléktáblák Munkácsy szülőházának falán

In 1994, however, there was some hope for a worthy remembrance. Munkács celebrated its 1100th anniversary, the UNESCO declared the year of Mihály Munkácsy. As a result, a bronze statue of the artist was unveiled. However, the joy of Munkácsy’s admirers was not complete. On the one hand, there was no Hungarian inscription on the monument, which was indicative at the time. On the other hand, the bronze statue was not placed near the birthplace of the artist. Instead, it was placed at the other end of the pedestrian street, near the Roman Catholic Church and the Rákóczi castle. Apparently, the latter is justified by the fact that the birth of Munkácsy had been registered by the Roman Catholic Church and the art school operating in the building of the Rákóczi castle can be considered a symbol as well. However, if we take a closer look at the house where Munkácsy was born, we notice that the large statues of Cyril and Method had been placed there.

Forrás: Köztérkép

We may ask why was a monument of the brothers who are also considered to be the co-patrons of Europe placed in the heart of the town. The main merits of these apostles of Greek origin are the propagation of Christianity, as well as the development of the alphabet, which became the basis of the Slavic literacy. ThoughCyril and Method did visitthe lands of former Great-Moravia and spread the word of God in the language of the local population, this would not justify the placement of their monument in the central part of Munkács. The answer should be looked for in the Ukrainian nation-building aspiration, which attempts to demonstrate its own narrative starting from the present, in a town that had been under Hungarian rule for over a thousand years. The roots of these views are connected to the Basilite monks of the 19th century that developed the mythology of the local Rusyns and the Munkács episcopate in the monastery near Munkács. At the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries abbot Joannicus Basilovits in the multiple volumes of his work pointed out that the Rusyns have been indigenous to Hungary since the times before the Hungarian conquest. The abbot, with reference to the archbishop of Passau, proclaimed the totally unjustifiable belief that the Eparchy of Mukachevo was founded by Cyril and Method. The unhistorical claims of Basilovits were further enhanced by abbot Anatolii Kralitsky. The rusophile (pro-Russian) Kralitsky renewed the views of his predecessor in his literary work in the 1860s and included the myths of the origin of the Eparchy of Mukachevo into the Rusyn identity discourse. In accordance with today’s expectations, the two apostles were put to the service of the Ukrainian nationalist aspirations.

Basilovits Brevis notitia… (титульна сторінка)
(Джерело: Google Book)

The aforementioned reasons led to the fact that the statue of Munkácsy was not placed where the artist was born, but instead it was exiled to the end of the pedestrian street. Two decades have passed and it turned out that the monument of the artist is undesirable here as well. In 2014, the local town council decided that the bust must be moved to the front yard of the Rákóczi castle. The moving was performed two years later (November 8, 2016). A few days later a base stone of Saint Martin, the patron saint of the town was placed where the monument used to be, with the intention to place an equestrian statue here. This was accomplished on March 3, 2019. The Transcarpathian press reported on the statue, which is more than 4 meters high and weighs 33 tons as a real curiosity. According to the official reports, this is the first equestrian statue in Transcarpathia, which was erected at the Cyril and Method square to celebrate the 1700th anniversary of the birth of Saint Martin. Thus, Munkácsy was completely eliminated from the main square of the town and the Hungarian past was pushed to the small front yard of the Rákóczi castle. The decision makers of Munkács are well aware that Christian believers will not question the location of the monument depicting the patron saint of both the city and the local Roman Catholic Church. The viable option to place the monument near the local Hungarian school or the bishop’s residence did not even occur to them.

Munkácsy Mihály mellszobra a Rákóczy-kastély udvarán

The manipulations and the exclusion form decision-making led to the circumstance that the central part of Munkács, which used to be a town with a Hungarian majority, is now called the Cyril and Method Square. It is symbolic, that the square is surrounded by two, recently erected monuments. It is unfortunate that local decision-makers think that there is no place for the Hungarian past in this relatively spacious area…

It is lesser known, that on March 3, 1882, Mór Jókai arrived to Munkács as well. Having joined the celebration to honor his friend, the artist, Jókai gave a really “sparkling” speech. He pointed out the interdependence and good relations between Hungarians and Rusyns throughout centuries. His words are to be considered by the modern people as well:

„If we wish to fight with someone, we do it openly, face-to-face; not behind their back, not underhand; […] We proclaim consensus based on love between nations and on the common interest; as the great man of Nazareth, who reshaped the world,proclaimed the religion of love, we proclaim our brotherly policy and, as the former has won, so will we. – Rome was able to withstand the whole known world with power, yet it is gone, lost. The great Pilate remained with no other memory than the glass of water that he had washed his hands with.