On the edge of the Varosliget (City Park) in Budapest, along a well trafficked street sits the Roheim Villa. Calling this large two story house at Hermin Utca 35 a villa requires a leap of the imagination. What seems today to be nothing more than a crumbling two story edifice, was just a century ago a stately and well kept residence. Its exterior freshly painted, lawn manicured and gardens filled with blossoming flowers. Today, the villa is well on its way to ruin. Its chipped facade slowly crumbling, the “villa” stands vacant and neglected. On a visit to the address last week I quickly discovered that there was no way to visit the villa or the small grounds surrounding it. Even if one were to trespass there would have been little to see. It would not have been worth the bother of getting onto the property. Getting a good glimpse of the structure is not impossible, but was made difficult by large, leafless trees, a tall wrought iron fencing surrounding the villa and an abandoned guard house just beyond a locked entrance gate. I found the villa’s condition rather sad, but not surprising. In a way, its unsightliness, went hand in hand with its history. After all, the Roheim Villa was where the foremost political persona of early 20th century Hungary had met his end. On October 31, 1918 Count Istvan Tisza, wartime prime minster of Hungary was assassinated by disgruntled soldiers for his role in leading Hungary into World War One. In the war’s immediate aftermath, Hungary had descended into chaos and Tisza lost his life in the process.
To be sure Roheim Villa as a historic site or museum would not be much more popular now than it would have been in the years following Tisza’s assassination. After all, who in Hungary then or now wants to recall a time when the newly born republic swung wildly, first to radical socialism then to communism and finally to reactionary conservatism all within a ten month period following Tisza’s murder. If the palace were to become a well funded state museum or part of some private foundation it would be restored to its former glory. A glory that would not do the past justice. By the time of Tisza’s assassination Hungary was in the throes of a transformation that would remake the Kingdom into a nation-state. A state riven by both internal and external threats, soon to be torn asunder by an unjust post war treaty and left searching for its prior greatness. The old Hungary had died in the Great War and its final bloodletting was the murder of Tisza.
The only relatively recent addition to the Roheim Villa is a historic marker appended to the facade. From outside the gates, even at a distant, black lettering on the marker’s white background can be seen. It states that here was the place where Tisza was murdered on that fateful October day. That seems to be the only memorial really necessary. If anything, the abandoned villa is a fitting symbol for Tisza and the outmoded way of life he had spent his life preserving. The villa as it stands crumbling today, is the physical embodiment of the dying vestiges of an aristocratic conservative tradition that had dominated the Kingdom of Hungary. That tradition, like Tisza, was not just obsolete by the waning days of 1918, it was dead.