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.

Vilmos Hanti this morning on ATV

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.

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58 comments

  1. Some1 :
    Sorry, sorry, I could not resist. Orban in 1993 and today. Yes, it is the same shirt, so if anyone thinks that he is overpaid, now you know it is not the case.

    Same shirt – different stomach!

  2. “My brother is a good man. How can a good man hate?”

    Unfortunately, all too easily (and not only in Hungary).

    But, knowing this (and history has proven it time and again), it is the responsibilty of the politicians not to let people provoke this hunan weakness, and not to allow themselves or their opponents to use it for their own ends. Rousing people to hatred, in whatever cause, should never be the answer.

  3. Kirsten :

    Jano and the language: I know Hungarian only to a limited extent, which was particularly evident to me when I tried to get through the Oszod speech. Asking at least three independent sources why people complain about the “lying” but not about the language, the answer was invariably that this was not particularly uncommon for an upset person. And until now, people still relate Gyurcsany to his “lies

    As I said earlier, the word “kurva” is nothing. There are word used in Hungarian I don’t even know their English equivalents. Even in writing. But as for the “kurva ország” well, the country is kind of fu..ck..ed up, don’t you think?

  4. But because this appears to be quite common, I would not infer from this that the entire society is aggressive or more “aggressive” than the surrounding societies. That the general mood is not very good after the past few years (and by that I do not mean only the past two years) is perhaps not surprising. I think it is an additional problem that in the past few years, people who are kept at the fringes in other countries in Europe, have increasingly taken centre stage and appear to dominate in the public. For that, the government, the police and the judiciary (who could change this situation quickly) bear the biggest share of blame. And above all OV, who appears to tolerate or encourage this as it helps him stay in power. But those groups that attack are not that large that it would be impossible for the police to keep them in check.

  5. Some1: You’re picking on my example and missing the point. People do swear a lot, but that is still swearing, it never became accepted as proper speech. Btw, I don’t find a US swearing habits any more polite.

    Btw, I’ve lived 25 years here and still spend 4 months a year ovet there (I just got back) so I sswouldn’t say dinner with my grandparents is my only exposition. What do you have? Public transportation? That’s not very representative.

    Kirsten: The Oszod speech language was shockingly primitive and also caused an upheaval. On the other hand the consequences of the contents were a lot more severe and therefore spanned more interest.

  6. @Author (why is your name not visible? Untrustworthy to begin with)

    This article is biased and full of exaggerations. How can you even dare to talk about “innocent” Roma? Have you ever been beaten into a coma by them because you looked at them in a strange way? Do you have any idea what these “people” are capable of? Pocking at your own unborn child with a foot long needle to make them born with physical or mental defects so that you can get a bigger aid check from the government? These are everyday occurrences in Hungary and I bet you didn’t take that into consideration when writing this hate filled articled towards loyal country loving Hungarians and the whole FIDESZ party. You can’t put out a fire with fire, but you seem to disagree. But then again, your world is already upside down. Please stop harassing my people and the political party I proudly voted for. Economically, MSZP ruined the country and left the near dead pieces to FIDESZ to amend.

    Please do your research and find out from what ethnic group our communist suppressors and murders were from. When you find out, you will understand a bit more why Hungarians are not nice to everybody. We got the right to dislike anyone we want, don’t be a childish lefty and don’t twist facts.

    What you are saying is this: America hates Muslim extremists, why do those evil Americans hate those innocent extremists? Those poor extremists! We should protect them and write insulting articles about Americans! But then you forget to mention that the same extremists brought down the WTC towers killing several thousands…

    You are a man child, grow up and do some research (stop watching tv news)

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