Israeli-Hungarian rift: Is someone lying?

I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to dwell any further on the Horthy cult and the inclusion of antisemitic writers in the core curriculum of Hungarian high schools. There are many other subjects that need attention or are interesting, but the controversy over the rehabilitation of the three or four writers with right-radical or Nazi views simply doesn’t want to go away. In fact, the upheaval surrounding the case is growing; by now it has brought about a serious diplomatic rift.

First there was only a protest on the part of the association of teachers of Hungarian over the inclusion of Dezső Szabó, Albert Wass, and József Nyirő in the curriculum. This professional debate by the end of February reached the larger public and caused an outcry on the liberal side of the political spectrum. Outcry or not, Rózsa Hoffmann’s staff decided in favor of those right-wingers who inundated the ministry with their suggestion to “balance” the teaching of Hungarian literature by including far-right, antisemitic writers.

On top of this original controversy came another one that involved one of these controversial writers, József Nyirő. The Hungarian public learned in late April that the Hungarian government had a hand in the planned reburial of Nyirő in Odorheiu Secuiesc / Székelyudvarhely in Romania. For some time now I have been trying to imagine what must have gone behind the scenes before László Kövér, speaker of the Hungarian parliament, decided to officially sponsor the transport of Nyirő’s remains from Portugal and their reburial in Romania. I suspect that it was Kövér’s favorite Romanian-Hungarian politician, Jenő Szász, chairman of the Fidesz-assisted Magyar Polgári Párt (MPP), who came up with the idea and that Kövér, whose political views are perhaps the farthest to the right among the leading Fidesz politicians, gladly obliged.

But then all hell broke loose, starting with Romania’s refusal to allow the reburial of Nyirő. The reburial was supposed to take place on Pentecost, which fell this year on May 27-28. Since then the incident has became a cause célèbre, especially since the reburial was part and parcel, it seems, of a general rehabilitation of the whole Horthy regime. In addition, some antisemitic incidents occurred lately both in Budapest and elsewhere in the country.

In the last three weeks or so came a press release from the Holocaust Museum in Washington followed by a letter signed by fifty representatives of the U.S. Congress to Viktor Orbán protesting the growing antisemitism fed by the neo-Nazi party, Jobbik. Two days after the Holocaust Museum press release came Elie Wiesel’s letter to László Kövér in which he indicated his resolve to return the high honor he received from the Hungarian government earlier. Kövér in his answer to Wiesel claimed that Nyirő was neither a Nazi nor an anti-Semite. As for the charge about the rehabilitation of the Horthy regime Kövér had nothing to say. Wiesel not surprisingly wasn’t satisfied with Kövér’s answer.

This is where we stood yesterday when the Jerusalem Post reported that the speaker of the Knesset, Reuven Rivlin, had informed László Kövér, his Hungarian counterpart, that he was no longer welcome in the Israeli parliament after his participation in a memorial ceremony for a pro-Nazi author. Kövér was scheduled to visit the Knesset in July when he was in Israel for a conference honoring the 100th anniversary of Raoul Wallenberg’s birth.

According to the Israeli paper, Rivlin wrote to Kövér that “you chose to participate in [the Nyirő memorial service] and openly declare your solidarity with a person whose party, within the Government of Hungary, cooperated with the German Nazi murderers in realizing their program to annihilate the Jewish People.” He added that “anyone who participates in such an event cannot possibly then take part in an event to honor a man like Raoul Wallenberg, a beacon of humanity, who saved Jews, who is a symbol of the struggle against Nazi Germany and its collaborators, one of whom you chose to identify with and pay homage to.”

Tough language. MTI didn’t pick up the news. Instead ATV, a television station often critical of the government, made the news public yesterday. Naturally, all the media outlets approached László Kövér’s office to find out what was up.

By now one is accustomed to the widespread government habit of dissembling, and therefore I read the following piece of news with great suspicion. When MTI asked the spokesman of the Speaker’s office, László Veress, about the Jerusalem Post‘s article, he denied that László Kövér had received any such letter from Rivlin. He expressed his astonishment that the speaker of the Knesset would send messages to his Hungarian counterpart via the media.

Veress went even further in his denial. If such a letter had actually been written, it was written in vain because days before Kövér cancelled his trip to Jerusalem due to scheduling difficulties. In his place President János Áder will attend the memorial conference on Wallenberg’s role in saving Jewish lives in Hungary.

Lies / Flckr

But the reporters of ATV are resourceful. Within hours they approached Yotam Yakir, the spokesman of the Israeli Knesset, who informed the ATV reporter that Rivlin’s letter to Kövér had been sent on June 20th–that is, four days before the Jerusalem Post reported the news. It was a day after the receipt of this letter, on June 21, that the Israeli authorities received the information via diplomatic channels that, in place of Kövér, Áder will attend the conference. In that letter no mention was made of the objections to the Kövér visit listed by Rivlin.

Every time that a member of the Hungarian government is caught lying I always wonder what on earth must be going on in the minds of these people. They truly think that the truth will never surface? Maybe. But it is also possible that this crew is simply incompetent. They don’t know how to get out of a sticky situation like the one they got themselves into with the Nyirő reburial. Because surely, one doesn’t have to resort to outright lies in order to sidestep an uncomfortable situation.

Who is this László Veress? He has a fairly common name, which makes research a bit difficult, but I managed to find a somewhat unsavory piece of news about Dr. Veress from a year ago.

I wouldn’t be surprised if László Veress has Transylvanian roots. On Facebook most of his friends are from Romania. The incident below, widely reported in the media, also has Romanian connections. In 2010 a Hungarian photographer living in the Netherlands exhibited a black and white photo taken at Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tuşnad where every summer the Fidesz top brass deliver speeches and mingle with Hungarian youngsters sympathizing with Fidesz. Dr. Veress liked the photo and asked the artist whether he could get a copy of it. The artist was asking 70,000 forints for his work. Eventually he heard from Veress that because of budgetary restraints he was unable to purchase the photo he wanted to display in his office. So, great was the photographer’s surprise when he learned that Veress had ordered two illegal copies of his photo. He wrote a letter in which complained about the piracy and heard nothing in reply for some time.

Eventually an answer came from the press corps of the Hungarian parliament in which the office claimed that the Hungarian parliament had an agreement with the organizers of the exhibition that allowed parliament to make free use of the material exhibited. Why then did Veress ask the photographer to make a copy for him? According to the explanation, László Veress was unaware of the agreement between parliament and the organizers of the exhibit. The story was reported in Amerikai-Magyar Népszava published in New York under the  headline “Who lies also cheats, who lies also steals.”

A murky story. Who knows who is telling the truth. I doubt that the photographer ever got a cent for his work from Veress or anyone else. Unfortunately, the story of Rivlin’s letter to Kövér is also shrouded in mystery or, if you prefer, in lies. The Israelis claim that the letter was sent to Kövér on the 20th while Veress claims that his office didn’t get the letter until today, that is June 25th. Whom do you believe? Given the track record of the current Hungarian government, I’m inclined to believe the Israelis.

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29 comments

  1. Government “dissembling” with Israel on the wrong end of it – irony of a purity one almost doesn’t dare hope for.

  2. Yes, the Hungarian Government is lying again, in regards to the visit by Kövér, which was cancelled by the Israeli Government in the middle of last week. As soon as the letter arrived to Kövér’s office, in the middle of last week, and kept in secret, he immediately sent a letter to excuse himself and notify the Israelis, that Áder János is traveling to Jerusalem, instead of him.
    Finally, the news about Kövér being persona non grata in Israel was given to the Hungarian media over the weekend, misstating the facts and the timing of the communications. All lies, as usual, from a fascist, incompetent, lying bunch of mafioso style hoodlums. That is the Fidesz government with the mini-mussolini Viktor in charge. Alas, he is not in charge any more, the new-naci Jobbik took the lead and he is dancing to their tune.

  3. Today Georg Hefty published a short commentary about Fidesz in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung titled
    “Not wise enough”
    Heute kommentiert G.Hefty, in der FAZ (Seite 8) unter dem Titel “Nicht klug genug” u.a. so:
    “Da der Tote nicht nur Literat, sondern im Zweiten Weltkrieg auch Politiker, jedenfalls Abgeordneter gewesen war, [...] Die andere Hälfte ist abstoßend, Genauso wenig wie heute die rechtsradikale Jobbik vertraten damals die rechtsextremen, Hitlerhörigen Pfeilkreuzler die nationalen Interessen Ungarns. Im Gegenteil. Einen dieser Nazis auf sein literarischen Werk reduzieren zu wollen ruft zu Recht den Widerstand [...] hervor.
    Dass nun Israel den ungarischen Parlamentspräsidenten ausgeladen hat, hätte man absehen können, wäre Fidesz klug gewesen, aus den Fehlern anderer zu lernen”.

  4. to me it is irrelevant if Kover decided not attend before he received the “persona non grata” letter. (I am sure the letter came first). What is relevant is that the speaker of the Hungarian Parliament is an undesirable person in Israeli parliament. With good reason.

  5. Thomas :
    to me it is irrelevant if Kover decided not attend before he
    received the “persona non grata” letter. (I am sure the letter came first). What is relevant is that the speaker of the Hungarian Parliament is an undesirable person in Israeli parliament. With good reason.

    Undersirable only in Israel?
    Where has he been welcome?
    Slovakia? Romania?
    Any country with a fundamental understanding of parliamentary
    democracy would avoid him like the plague.
    Come to think of it, he’s probably welcome in Russia…

    England, if it cared, could extend to him a one semester course, tuition free, on the acceptable behaviour of a parliamentary speaker, in one of its lesser universities.

  6. “The artist was asking 70,000 forints for his work. Eventually he heard from Veress that because of budgetary restraints he was unable to purchase the photo he wanted to display in his office.”

    So instead lets steal it… as a member of parliament, a law maker this is despicable behavior.

  7. I do not understand something. In his June 24 article on Galamus, Mihaly Erdei Gruenwald writes that many Israeli ex police higher ups (most of whom had some Hungarian ancestry) retire to Budapest. Should I presume that there is less antisemitism in Hungary?

  8. Dear Mr. Kovách, you can assume anything but others may judge by your false assumption, when the truth and the facts are clearly not considered by you. Therefore, those, who assumed the correct situation, unlike you, may think, and rightfully so, that you are stupid.

  9. Luis
    Change your name to: Agent Provocateur
    Yes there is less anti-Semitism in Hungary. To your horror, half of Israel is moving to Budapest, after they buy up all real estate, factories and restaurants. Their goal is to make Judaism the national religion, make Hebrew compulsory in elementary school and god forbid, teach Radnoti instead of nyiro, Dery Tibor instead of wass albert, and consider Kertesz a Hungarian writer.

  10. Louis Kovach :
    I do not understand something. In his June 24 article on Galamus, Mihaly Erdei Gruenwald writes that many Israeli ex police higher ups (most of whom had some Hungarian ancestry) retire to Budapest. Should I presume that there is less antisemitism in Hungary?

    I always wondered how the various institutes measure the degree of antisemitism in different countries and now you gave me the answer. The only thing I still don’t know if in the case of other countries they read the recollections of Erdei Grunwald or someone else?

  11. Louis Kovach :
    I do not understand something. In his June 24 article on Galamus, Mihaly Erdei Gruenwald writes that many Israeli ex police higher ups (most of whom had some Hungarian ancestry) retire to Budapest. Should I presume that there is less antisemitism in Hungary?

    Louis, NOw I know I will offend you, and I apologize, but are you really this dumb? If you are the person who I assumed you are, I believed you are highly educated and very smart with different take on HUngarian politics then those of the liberal minded thinkers. But asking a question like this, makes me want to use the Hungarian expression ” a szadba kell ragni’.
    “Money talks and bulls&*t walks” as the English expression says and you should know that better then most of us, as Orban and his government right behind this expression. Retired people from the USA, Canada, Israel, etc. (Jews or not) can retire like kings in Hungary. THe real estate market of Hungary collapsed, and food is still very cheap. You can a build a castle for yourself and associate with only whoever you wish with the money you would take into Hungary in pensions too. Trust me those Jews have no intention to hang out with the Jobbik members, with Orban, Kover or you. It will very likely be the other way around.

  12. OT: Trafó House of Contemporary Performing Arts still has no director. Szabó György has had his farewell party, Bozik Yvette has given up the directorship, and none of the subsequent 3 applications have as yet been accepted. Meanwhile, there have been interests in turning the Carmelite Monastery, Disz utca, into exceptionally prized office spaces. The monastery for a long time has been home to the National Dance Theater of Hungary. Perhaps the plan is to give Trafó to the National Dance Theater to not only silence a part of the contemporary art scene, but to provide splendid offices for friends.

  13. Some1. Thanks for your answer. No, you did not offend me. You basically explained that if the economics justifies it, one can compromise on other ideals. I read about that for previous times too in regard to Hungary. All I read here is that Hungary economics is going to the pot, large number of people are antisemitic, etc., and those statements do not match with the facts. I personally do not think that Hungary is so much worse off economically than its ex-coomunist neighbors, with possible exception of Slovenia. I do not think that there is more graft now, than under the previous governments, or that Hunagary is more antisemitic than the same neighbors.
    There are a very large number of countries where your money goes even further than in Hungary, and there is now publicly claimed antisemitism, so there has to be other reason(s) for selecting Hungary.
    Personally speaking I do not feel comfortable in Hungary and would not retire there. The cause is they don’t understand “human use of human beings”…..without race creed color or national origin. They were weaned from that under the dictatorial regimes.

  14. some1, I again suggest not to believe that Louis Kovach might be writing in his own name. For me instead of Johnny or Kevin or Penny, this time it is “Louis Kovach”.

    To Louis: Hungarian per capita income is not only substantially lower than in Slovenia but also compared with Slovakia and the Czech Republic:

    http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_PUBLIC/2-20062012-AP/EN/2-20062012-AP-EN.PDF.

    Slovakia overtook Hungary only in 2006. Hungary is now on par with Poland and Estonia. Only if you compared Hungary with Romania and Bulgaria, you are right. But the change over time matters, too.

  15. Louis, Very interesting points you are making in comment #16, but I would like to correct some things. I did not say or suggest “that if the economics justifies it, one can compromise on other ideals” in regards of Jews settling back to Hungary when they retire. You statement is true although for many HUngarians, and not at last for the current governing party. If you look at Orban’s statements for the last year also regarding China, you can clearly see the trend here. Most of the Hungarian Jews who settled in Israel still have Hungarian families in Hungary. Hungary is not nazi Germany just yet, but that does not mean that things are OK or the ant-semitism that comes from the government should not be combatted. The difference between many other countries and Hungary is that although, as you state, ant-semitism is on the rise, that is not supported by most government, quite the opposite. In Hungary it is actually the government that plants and approves the anti-semitic ideas, often by their actions or by their unwillingness to act.
    THe point I was making about Jews moving home and economy was very clear. THey will be able to socialize with the brightest, and live in safer areas. Not at any point did I suggest that for economical reasons they will sign up to be members of any neo-nazi groups.

  16. Kirsten: Hungarian per capita income is not only substantially lower than in Slovenia but also compared with Slovakia and the Czech RepublicSlovakia overtook Hungary only in 2006. Hungary is now on par with Poland and Estonia. Only if you compared Hungary with Romania and Bulgaria, you are right. But the change over time matters, too.
    Tp my knowledge the cited neighbors are : Sovakia, Ukrain, Rumania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia. Slovakia may have passed earlier, but it is dropping like a rock.

  17. Some1. By no means would I indicate that immigrants would sign up to the neo-nazis. It is the opposite that I hinted, i.e., what happened to Jews when they sacrificed liberty for economic reason.

  18. Éva, Veress was director of the Illyés Közalapítvány (an organization to offer funds for Hungarian organisations in the nieghboruing countries, later dissolved and replaced with Szülőföld Alap) between 1998 and 2002. Probably it helps to find more information on him.

  19. Gábor :

    Éva, Veress was director of the Illyés Közalapítvány (an organization to offer funds for Hungarian organisations in the nieghboruing countries, later dissolved and replaced with Szülőföld Alap) between 1998 and 2002. Probably it helps to find more information on him.

    Thank you, Gábor, I will certainly look around.

  20. I don’t understand what Mr Kovach is trying to prove with his constant diversions and I also think that it’s useless trying to answer him – because he doesn’t (want to) understand. Those often unsubstantiated and silly quotes and numbers usually without sources or links! …

    Seems to be a new tactic – btw where are Johnny Boy and Joe Simon ?

    Re Jews in Hungary: From what I’ve seen and heard they are concentrated mainly in Bp. We went to very nice Jewish restaurant with the children, the “Fülemüle” aka Nightingale because it was just around the corner, didn’t know it was Jewish (but not kosher …), but got a warm welcome …

    Also on our flights from Bp to NYC and back there were many Jews, some in traditional clothing (a strange experience for me and my wife), either Hungarians flying to the USA or people on a holiday to Hungary – we had a good conversation with a young couple – though they must have realised that I was German, there were no resentments.

    PS: here the homepage http://www.fulemule.hu/en

  21. L. Kovach is right, Israel wants to occupy Hungary or at least to buy it up. So says Jobbik and they are known for telling the well hidden truth. The J-s rule the world. Obama and Mrs. Clinton receive their orders from Jerusalem.
    And of course Nyirö was no fascist and there is no antisemitism in Hungary.
    Then Kovach wakes up from his dream and probably will see the reality.

    By the way a statue is to be errected in the XIII. district of Budapest for the racist anti-Semitic catholic bishop Ottokar Prohaszka. Sándor Lezsák denied Prohaszka’s anti-Semitism, see

    http://blog.z-word.com/2008/10/the-cosmopolitan-parasite-class-antisemitism-in-hungary/

  22. Karl Pfeifer :
    a statue is to be errected in the XIII. district of Budapest for the racist anti-Semitic catholic bishop Ottokar Prohaszka. Sándor Lezsák denied Prohaszka’s anti-Semitism, see
    http://blog.z-word.com/2008/10/the-cosmopolitan-parasite-class-antisemitism-in-hungary/

    When I hear the bunch of non-sense from Hungary, I feel like that the Hungarian government resorted to the denial of HUngarian anti-semites and nazis versus the denial of the Holocaust. It is like a game they are playing, as they know that the whole world (with the exception of Iraq and such) would be shocked if a government denies the Holocaust. They know that the members of government would not be able to enter many countries as Holocaust deniers, or that any developed country would even talk to them. WHat should they do to satisfy their inner nationalists and also raise their popularity amongst the untapped, uneducated hidden (and not so hidden) neo nazi population? They start to rehabilitate the “little Hungarian Monsters”, like Horthy, Prohaszka, Nyiro, etc. THey think no one will care outside Hungary. Yes, yes, some article will be written, then comes the official version from the speaker of the house, from the Prime Minister and such, saying that everyone got it wrong, the person they are talking about actually is a martyr and the protector of all living things. Do not forget Hungarians (including some churches) likened Pal Schmitt, the fallen Hungarian President to Jesus Christ. They felt that Schmitt’s cheating and fraudulent activity is same as the suffering of Christ. (I still not quite understand if this means that according to the Hungarian churches, Christ was a cheat and fraud?) In Italy they erect statues to St Francis of Assisi, in Hungary they erect statues to little Hungarian nazis.

  23. Only to alleviate Mr. Kovach’s fear about unjust anti-semitism in Hungary. There will be a nice state of a well liked, Bishop Prohaszka who wrote, among other great literary works, the books, “My Anti-Semitism” and the “Die Jugendfrage im Ungarn” the latter with an artistic swastika on the cover. They were purely catholic religious books, blacklisting them robbed Christians from valuable reading, which is now being corrected. To make the point clear, the statue will be erected only a few hundred meters from where the widow of Radnóti Miklós lives. what else is this, but the sign, that jews and christians can live together in peace and understanding, as the Fidesz/KDNP/Jobbik understands peace.

  24. Fully agree. Perhaps they include in the NAT, Bishop Prohaszka’s excellent books “Az én antiszemitizmusom” and the “Die Jugendfrage in Ungarn”, they must be perfect for the schools, the catholic order takes over to manage. Meanwhile I will just say a prayer for the kids in Hungary, perhaps their parents can move to a civilized and free country and take them to grow up with a brighter future.

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