Anti-Semitism in Hungary and hopeful signs to combat it
On March 21 the Hungarian media reported widely on the results of an international survey on anti-Semitism. The study was conducted in ten European countries by the Anti-Defamation League, an American Jewish organization. The general conclusion is that anti-Semitism is more prevalent in Europe than in the United States and, as MTI reported, it is “alarmingly high” in Hungary, Spain, and Poland.
The degree of anti-Semitism in Hungary, Spain, and Poland is high enough to demand “serious answers from the political, civic, and religious leaders” of these countries. Hungary has the dubious distinction of having the highest degree of antisemitism at 63%, while in 2009 the same organization reported only 47%. In Spain the result was 53% and in Poland 48%. More details can be found at ADL’s website and in Népszabadság. In the last three years the growth of anti-Semitism has been enormous.
The spread of anti-Semitism in Hungary cannot be separated from the existence of an openly anti-Semitic party in the Hungarian parliament. Moreover, Hungarians who are inclined toward an anti-Semitic bias see that Fidesz-KDNP–the government parties–openly cooperate with Jobbik. This Hungarian neo-Nazi party’s MPs deliver speeches in the Hungarian parliament with anti-Semitic overtones. The first one by Tamás Gaudy-Nagy was veiled, but since then there have been several more open outbursts by other Jobbik MPs.
I wrote about the the case of the theater in Eger where a certain actor was banned because the local Fidesz leaders didn’t like his politics and because he was ”a filthy Jew.” Mazsihiz, the Hungarian Jewish umbrella organization, not only protested but also went to the police to initiate proceedings against the town of Eger.
A few days later, as “payback” for Péter Dániel’s action against a newly erected Miklós Horthy statue, far-right sympathizers hung pigs’ feet on Raoul Wallenberg’s statue in Budapest. The police found the culprits within a few hours. Three days later, on May 25, anti-Semitic slogans were painted on the Holocaust Memorial: “This is not your country, filthy Jews!” and there were others promising execution and the drowning of Jewish Hungarians in the Danube just as in late 1944 under Ferenc Szálasi’s rule.
At this point Fidesz released a communiqué in which the party’s spokesman said that Fidesz “condemns all extremism … and political provocations because it is obvious that extremists only reinforce each other.” This message was anything but forceful.
Only about two weeks after this incident Rabbi József Schweitzer encountered a man who verbally assaulted him. At this point the government “expressly condemned the incident.” In the statement the government repeated its earlier condemnation of all “extreme acts” and promised “to defend all citizens from such attacks.” Religious leaders also expressed their concern. The new president, János Áder, went so far as to pay a private visit to the Schweitzers.
Jobbik naturally didn’t condemn any of the anti-Semitic incidents. On the contrary, on June 6 Ádám Mirkóczki, a Jobbik member of parliament, found it “horrifying that just because allegedly a stranger insulted Schweitzer within a few minutes the leaders of the historic churches issue a joint declaration and the government publishes a communiqué against a phantom.” According to Mirkóczki, the Hungarian government instead should pay more attention to the grievances of Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries.
Two days ago there was another anti-Semitic incident in Nagykanizsa. This time a memorial depicting a Menora was damaged. All seven candles were broken off. The police are investigating.
But there is a good piece of news. Today a young man received an 18-month suspended sentence because of Holocaust denial. This is a first in Hungary.
I think it is worth mentioning that until now the Hungarian public was blissfully ignorant of the whole case. Or at least I found no sign of it in either the Hungarian media or the archives of MTI. But, as we found out today, György N. on October 23, 2011, at an anti-government demonstration held up a Hebrew-language sign claiming that the “Holocaust didn’t happen.” It seems that György N. is a busy fellow who by now is quite well known to the police. Only two days ago in another case he and an accomplice of his were sentenced to community service for throwing eggs at Gábor Demszky, mayor of Budapest between 1990 and 2010, while he was delivering his customary speech in front of the statue of Sándor Petőfi on March 15, 2010.
What I especially appreciated in the judgment of the court in the Holocaust denial case was that the culprit not only received a suspended sentence but he is also required to visit the Holocaust Memorial Center in Budapest at least three times and summarize his reactions in an essay. Alternatively, he can make a pilgrimage to Auschwitz or go to Jerusalem and visit the Yad Vashem Museum. In addition, he is forbidden to join political meetings and demonstrations.
János Ádler after the Schweitzer incident noted that ” it is not enough to cry out against” such incidents. The courts must act as this wise judge did in the case of György N. Moreover, the schools have to do more than stage Holocaust days full of pro forma speeches. Just as history teachers should set students straight on Trianon. Today’s youngsters who are drawn to the ideas of the extreme right lack the most basic knowledge of the recent past. And without it, it is easy to get lost and end up in the gutters of political thought.