Saturday, March 4, 2017

Monarchist Profile: Lt. Colonel Pál Prónay

Altogether, the story of the Hungarian soldier, monarchist and counter-revolutionary Pal Pronay is not a pleasant one. However, having already looked into the likes of Charles Dupin or even Baron von Ungern himself, monarchists with a villainous reputation are not unknown here and he is too significant a figure to ignore. Pál Prónay de Tótpróna et Blatnicza was born on November 2, 1874 in Romhany in the northern part of the Kingdom of Hungary (Austria-Hungary at the time of course). His family was not very remarkable, being of the gentry class but only just and when the young Pronay decided to embark upon a military career he was able to attend the Lahne Military Institute. After graduation, however, his career was hardly exceptional. Promotions came slowly for Pronay, even in a time and place where rising through the ranks of the officer corps was quite difficult, as he was seen as being rather bad tempered. Reports about him show a man who certainly had drive and a degree of skill but who was hard to work with and believed to be excessively harsh, even brutal, when it came to the discipline of the men under his command.

During World War I, Pronay served in an Austro-Hungarian cavalry regiment, as a captain, but was not all that remarkable. He saw some action, earned some medals but never advanced beyond a mid-level field officer. Pronay was harsh but certainly loyal and dedicated to his country and his Kaiser-Kiraly. The ultimate end of the war and the defeat of Austria-Hungary was a bitter pill for him and he was not content to simply give up on the cause of his country, even if it was to stand alone as the Kingdom of Hungary after the ethnic minority areas were detaching themselves. All too often people forget that, of all the Central Powers, Austria-Hungary was the only one which was erased from the map completely after the war. This was especially infuriating for the Hungarians who had never been enthusiastic about the war in the first place. In spite of this, after the war, the Kingdom of Hungary was stripped of two-thirds of its territory and, after land had been given away to Czechoslovakia, Romania, Yugoslavia and so on about one-third of Hungarian-speaking people found themselves a Magyar minority in surrounding Slavic countries.

Added to this treatment, which was due to wartime agreements by the French and British with minority dissidents of Austria-Hungary and would take effect over a couple of years, in the immediate aftermath was internal disorder as the disease of communism, first unleashed in Russia, spread rapidly to the west. With the Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary being forced to leave, the government proved totally incapable of maintaining order. A communist revolution erupted and seized power in March of 1919. It would not escape the notice of Pal Pronay that the dictator of the newly proclaimed Hungarian Soviet Republic was a Soviet Russian trained Jew named Bela Kun. Nor did it escape notice that all but one of the leaders of the communist revolution in Hungary were Jewish.

Bela Kun
When considering the eventual backlash, unpleasant as some may find it, this was significant. Jews had been disproportionately represented in the communist movement in Russia, it was Kurt Eisner, a Jew, who brought down the Bavarian monarchy and proclaimed the Bavarian Soviet Republic the year before and which was still holding on to power when Bela Kun took over in Budapest. Jews were disproportionately represented in the communist movement of Antonio Gramsci in the Biennio Rosso in Italy, the uprisings of “Red Week” in The Netherlands in 1918 (David Wijnkoop, one of the founders of the Dutch Communist Party was Jewish) and the short-lived Slovak Soviet Republic of 1919. The following year, another Jew named Ludovic-Oscar Frossard would found the French Communist Party (and ironically enough end up serving in the Vichy government of Nazi collaborators in World War II). One could go on but the point is too many Jews were too highly placed in these communist revolutionary movements to go unnoticed or be shrugged off as pure coincidence by many people.

In Hungary, Bela Kun only managed to hold on to power for a matter of months but it was a brutal period. Bully boys, trussed up in leather outfits assaulted and murdered hundreds of people in what became known as the Red Terror (and just about every country that has had an experience with communism has had a Red Terror). They targeted class enemies, landlords, Catholic clerics and anyone they considered counter-revolutionary, such as monarchists, but also anyone with whom they happened to have a particular grudge. This Soviet regime was, in the end, brought down when their antics sparked the intervention of the Kingdom of Romania and so it was that, after participating in their crushing defeat during the war, Hungarians had to endure the humiliation of watching their former defeated foes of the Romanian army march down the streets of Budapest. A new government was formed led, oddly enough in what was now a land-locked country, by former Admiral Miklos Horthy who called for officers to join in forming a new Hungarian National Army. Pal Pronay was quick to come forward and for a time even commanded Horthy’s bodyguard.

Pal Pronay
However, his rise to fame, or infamy to most, came in the summer of 1919 when he formed the first fighting unit of what would become known as the White Guards. For the next two years Pronay and his men swept through the Hungarian countryside meting out justice or taking revenge on those who had perpetrated the communist takeover of the country. This soon became known as the “White Terror” by those targeted, many of whom were Jews. His methods were brutal and he never made any effort to conceal that fact. The Red Terror which prompted this backlash, however, is not always mentioned nor the fact that this was in the context of a people watching their country, not just the traditional order but the country itself, on the precipice of being wiped out entirely. There were killings, there were mutilations (cutting off an ear was a fairly common practice) but the context of this cruelty is all too often forgotten. Like the vicious fighting between the Reds and the Whites in the Russian Civil War, this was not two sides meeting in traditional combat but two factions fighting for the very survival of their country as it had always been.

It is also worth repeating that not all of those who fell prey to Pronay and his troops were Jews. This was retribution against all those who had been communists, revolutionaries or enemies of the traditional Kingdom of Hungary. The extent to which Jews were targeted was because of the preponderance of Jews in the leadership of the communist takeover and not simply for being Jews. Again, three out of the four top leaders of the communist coup were Jews and the leadership overall was up to 75% Jewish and because of that, few of the counterrevolutionaries were very willing to give any Jew the benefit of the doubt. It was not, however, a purely racial or religious matter but was the effect of actual facts about who had perpetrated the communist takeover, the Red Terror and the subsequent humiliation of having the Romanian army march into Hungary. Pronay was not alone in what he did though he was probably the most zealous and the least inclined toward any pity or compassion on anyone he thought associated with the enemies of the old Kingdom of Hungary. His goal was to see the Kingdom of Hungary fully restored and to, as he put it, “restore the traditional good relations between the landlords and estate servants,”.

Admiral Horthy
Once the Romanians marched home and Admiral Horthy had consolidated his hold over the whole country, things became easier. Pronay, as a lieutenant colonel, had grown his band to a full battalion and billeted them in the Hotel Britannia. He wished to purge Budapest of its entire Jewish population, viewing them as suspect, before another communist coup could be launched but Admiral Horthy restrained him as already the media reports about the White Terror were causing outrage among the other countries of Europe. The Hungarian ruling class began to turn on the White Guards and though Pronay was able to shield his men for a time, eventually Pronay lost his command after being found guilty of insulting the leader of parliament and extorting a Jewish politician. Thoroughly disgusted with the Horthy government, he moved to the border and carried on with some of his troops as they had before, setting up his own sort of fiefdom where he was his own law and government. He also fell out over the failure of Horthy to restore the Hungarian monarchy in full.

Officially, the country was the Kingdom of Hungary and officially the Emperor of Austria, Blessed Charles I, was still King Charles IV of Hungary, however the King was away in exile and Horthy ruled on his behalf as regent. In 1921 the Kaiser-Kiraly (Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary) made two attempts to regain his throne. The first was more of a false start, while the second was more serious. Neither Pronay or any other Hungarian monarchist had much chance to support the first attempt but in the second Pronay was able to at least take to the field somewhat and wanted nothing more than to see King Charles IV restored to the throne and Admiral Horthy sent packing. The effort, as we know, did not succeed and this represented the final break between Horthy and Pronay (though undoubtedly the King would have been horrified by Pronay’s actions more than anyone). His battalion carried on for a short time under a new commander but was itself dissolved in 1922.

Pal Pronay tried to keep up the struggle though, by going into politics as a far-right critic of the ruling government. He tried to start his own political movement, generally labeled fascist of course, but made little progress before, in 1932, being charged with incitement to civil disorder, stripped of his rank and sent to prison for half a year. Not much was heard from him during World War II as the end of the war on the east approached Hungary in October of 1944 he briefly reemerged again. When Horthy tried to make peace with the Soviets, he was ousted and the pro-Nazi Hungarian fascist party known as the Arrow Cross Party was put in power. Despite being almost 70 years old, Pal Pronay once again assembled a small military unit and began hunting down the enemies of his Hungary. By this point, however, time had run out. Pronay survived the siege of Budapest and carried on fighting the communists until he was captured on March 20, 1945 and sentenced to 20 years of forced labor for sabotage and espionage by the Soviet Union. He died in a Soviet gulag sometime in late 1947 or early 1948.

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