When words become action: the case of Vilmos Hanti
In the last few days I have been thinking about the aggressiveness that is spreading rapidly in Hungarian society. It is not new. Even in the Kádár regime I was often struck by the primitive behavior of some people on occasions that didn’t warrant such a reaction. The driving habits of Hungarians clearly show a lack of self-control and easy irritability. The language has also become unbelievably coarse. Curse words are so common that people no longer even notice that the language they speak would exclude them from polite society anywhere else in the world.
But what we see today goes beyond the general impoliteness, rudeness, and coarseness of everyday discourse. Now all that built-up and the over-the-years refined aggressiveness is directed against “anti-Hungarians,” “traitors to the national cause,” the Roma, Jews, gays, and all who don’t agree with them. There have already been victims of this hate: the innocent Roma victims of people who wanted to spark off a civil war. One could say that this was an isolated case involving a relatively small group of people. But today neo-Nazi groups in the hundreds would rush to kill, if they could, anyone “on the other side.” It is enough to look at these people’s faces: their determination is visible. I’m not surprised that fewer and fewer people are ready to stand up to them.
For this state of affairs I consider Viktor Orbán and his fellow hate-mongers responsible. Ever since 2002, when Fidesz lost the elections, verbal attacks on their political opponents were daily fare. The speeches of politicians like János Áder, who was the whip of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation between 2002 and 2006, were studded with hateful phrases. Not witticisms but insults. His successor Tibor Navracsics, who was considered to be a low-keyed and polite fellow, was immediately transformed into a vicious attacker in the Áder style. Orbán himself was rarely seen in parliament, but he spewed his hate at rallies. Meanwhile Hungarian society was cleft into “us” and “them.”
The general aggressiveness of Hungarian society found itself at home in this new political climate. Fidesz politicians fed the innate aggressiveness of society, and at times Fidesz even used these groups to their political ends. Think of the protracted “camping out” on Kossuth Square in 2006. The aggressive right-wing groups received encouragement from Fidesz politicians. They felt justified. After all, important politicians looked at the world the same way as they did. As for anti-Semitism, Orbán never uttered an unambiguously anti-Semitic sentence. No, his references were coded, but the followers understood.
Fidesz has been engaged in whipping up nationalism ever since 1998, perhaps even before. This nationalism also added to the hatred of everyone these people didn’t consider to be true Hungarians. The Roma and the Jews were the first targets, but one doesn’t have to be Jewish to be considered a Jew. Anyone who doesn’t agree with them is “Jewish.”
Considering all that pent-up hatred, expressed mainly verbally, it was just a question of time before words would become action. In Ákos Kertész’s case it was only verbal attacks, but even they made him feel so insecure that he didn’t stop until he reached Canada. Yesterday Tamás Bauer, formerly SZDSZ MP and now deputy-chairman of Demokratikus Koalíció, said on ATV that on August 18 when the various neo-Nazi groups demonstrated on Heroes’ Square those members of DK who staged a tiny counter-demonstration actually feared for their lives. Besides the 150 or so uniformed neo-Nazis there were about 200-300 sympathizers. These sympathizers spotted the handful of people standing on the side, and they all turned toward them, ready to attack them physically. The only thing the police did was to stand between the would-be attackers and the peaceful demonstrators.
Yesterday Vilmos Hanti, chairman of the Magyar Ellenállók és Antifasiszták Szövetsége (Association of Hungarian Partisans and Anti-Fascists [MEASZ]), organized a demonstration “against anti-Semitism and racism.” The event began on Deák Square and eventually moved over to Ede Paulay Street where Új Színház is located. There the new theater director had planned but eventually abandoned a performance of István Csurka’s anti-Semitic play The Sixth Coffin.
Hanti managed to get together practically all the democratic forces with the exception of LMP. Representatives of SZDSZ, the Workers’ Party 2006 (a more moderate splinter group of the far-left Workers’ Party that actually supported Fidesz in 2010), the Green Left, MSZP, DK, and the Hungarian Solidarity Movement were all there.
A surprising number of people joined the demonstration. Even Magyar Nemzet thought that about 500 people were present. Others talked about more than a thousand. They patiently listened to a number of speeches when about fifty neo-Nazi counter-demonstrators showed up and tried to penetrate the ranks of the demonstrators. The usual chanting of “filthy Jews” and “the train is going to Auschwitz” followed. When the crowd arrived at the Új Színház, the counter-demonstrators were already waiting for them with the slogan: “The Új Színház belongs to the Hungarians.” Eventually the police managed to push the counter-demonstrators away from the entrance to the theater.
But what happened afterward is really outrageous. On his way home Vilmos Hanti turned into a relatively quiet street off Andrássy Boulevard when he noticed a group of 15-20 youngsters in their twenties approaching. One of them recognized him. Thereupon the group surrounded him and shoved him against the wall of one the buildings. One of the brave ones with a clenched fist hit Hanti, a man well over sixty, in the face. An ambulance took him away. Hanti was especially worried about his right eye. Today I saw an interview with him, and I must say he was darned lucky. If he had been hit just a little to the left he would have had a serious problem with his eye.
Hanti told the reporter that he feared for his life. These guys were in a lynching mood. Hanti, who in civilian life is a teacher, just couldn’t believe that young boys would actually hit an elderly gentleman who could perhaps be their grandfather.
It would be time for the police to do more than simply stand between the two groups and treat each side equally: the peaceful demonstrators and the screaming counter-demonstrators in a lynching mood.
Barikád, the official organ of Jobbik, didn’t have much sympathy for Hanti. Basically their article suggested that Hanti got what he deserved. Moreover, he was a coward because he ran away crying for help. I guess, according to the editors of Barikád, he should have waited until their friends and comrades killed him. But kuruc.info went even further. They claimed in an article entitled “The drunken antifa[scist] punched himself” that “our great anti-fascist hit himself in the face and started to scream for help. But the pedestrians realized that he is not quite normal and nobody paid any attention to his hysterics… Our colleague offered help and called an ambulance, but the one-man army of the Association of Hungarian Partisans and Anti-fascists didn’t accept the help.”
These are the kinds of people who are rampaging across Hungary while the government makes no attempt to stop their activities with more forceful measures. Yes, the police prevent them from attacking peaceful demonstrators at public events. But there are the dark side streets. Really awful things can happen there when the police are nowhere nearby.