A couple of interesting political developments surfaced this morning, but I think it is too early to draw any meaningful conclusions about their import. The first is that parliament will not discuss an amendment to the electoral law. About a week ago a Fidesz backbencher, Árpád János Potápi, submitted the amendment that should have been debated today. However, Magyar Nemzet learned (they always manage to learn things from government sources) that the amendment will not be on today’s agenda.
What was this amendment that Potápi, it seems, withdrew? According to his amendment, statistical details about the new citizens residing abroad must be kept “secret” for national security reasons. We wouldn’t even know how many people are eligible to vote from the neighboring countries and therefore wouldn’t be able to check whether the final results that the government releases are accurate or not.
This plot has been on the drawing board for a very long time because, let’s face it, granting citizenship to Hungarian nationals in the neighboring countries serves only the governing party’s interests. An incredible amount of time and money were spent registering as many new citizens as possible. There was a bit of a problem in Slovakia, a country that responded to the Hungarian attempt at dual citizenship for about half a million Slovak citizens with a counterattack. No dual citizenship is allowed in Slovakia with the exception of Czech-Slovak citizens. Ukraine forbids dual citizenship, period. Most Hungarians in Serbia became Hungarian citizens not so much for voting rights but for a Hungarian passport that allows them to move to western European countries where they are, as Hungarian citizens, permitted to work. The bulk of the new citizens come from Romania, where Fidesz politicians think Fidesz has a significant edge over MSZP or other left-wing parties.
In January of this year HVG asked the government for the statistics it had gathered on voters residing abroad, but its request was denied. HVG promptly sued the Ministry of Administration and Justice. The case is still pending. Not much was heard about the case until March 12 when Petápi’s amendment showed up on the Hungarian parliament’s website. The government, it seems, was answering HVG‘s suit with a change in the law. By now this is a customary ploy of the Orbán government. If they don’t want to do something, they simply change the law.
Although the reaction of the opposition was slow in coming, by March 19 all groups joined in the outcry, including Jobbik. Discussion on the amendment began in the middle of the night, as normally happens when the topic is important and/or sensitive. The government’s justification of the move was that countries like Slovakia might harass or even expel Hungarian nationals if they find out that their citizens, after all, took out Hungarian citizenship. But, of course, this is not the reason. In fact, eligible voters abroad will be notified by mail that they are on the election list. So, one way or the other the Slovak government will know who became a Hungarian citizen. Moreover, Viktor Orbán already sent out 60,000 letters to Hungarian nationals in Romania urging them to vote at the next election. The story is circulating in Romania that Romanian authorities scan all letters coming from Orbán and therefore they already have a nice long list of 60,000 names.
The list of eligible voters living in Hungary is available. Everybody can go to city or town hall and check whether he/she is on the list. We know exactly the number of eligible voters and thus we know what percentage of them actually voted and who they were. But if such details in the case of voters from the neighboring countries are not revealed, we have absolutely no way of determining the veracity of the statistics the government releases after the election. The Demokratikus Koalíció (DK) rightly cried foul and reminded people of the so-called “blue slip” election of 1947 which the communists rigged by insisting that people could vote anywhere in the country as long as they had a blue slip in hand. Naturally, many voters had several blue slips in their pockets. I actually knew someone who as a young communist enthusiast participated in this fraud and was carried by truck from city to city to vote many times over.
The Orbán government was all set and ready to vote on the amendment. Less than a week later, however, they changed their minds. Perhaps someone in the high party leadership came to the conclusion that if that amendment is tacked onto the electoral law the rest of the democratic world will question of very validity of the 2014 election and with it the legitimacy of a new elected Orbán government. Perhaps someone remembered that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, when she was in Budapest in June 2011, emphasized during her meeting with the opposition leaders that one cannot speak of democracy if the election is not free and unfettered. That’s why, she added, one must pay attention to the election law the Orbán government was working on at the time. In brief, if there is any question about the validity of the election, the consequences might be dire for the Orbán government.
The other development is also noteworthy. Magyar Hírlap learned from unnamed sources that “there will be modifications” to the Law on Religions. As of this afternoon I read nothing about the nature of the modifications. But there seems to be a retreat on the part of the Orbán government. Knowing how this government operates, however, one must not let one’s guard down. They will try to find some other way to achieve their original goals. We can only hope that the European Union and the United States will not be fooled.
No, just to clarify the title of this post, the Hungarians didn’t really lose (they tied), but since they were so convinced that they would win, they considered the game a loss–and an unfair one at that.
As you all know by now, I don’t care about football and know next to nothing about it. Therefore today’s post is not going to be about the fine points of the match between the Romanian and the Hungarian national teams last night. This was the game that had to be played within closed gates as a punishment by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) for the Hungarian Football Association’s inability to discipline the unruly Hungarian fans whose favorite occupation is chanting antisemitic and in general racist epithets. This behavior is nothing new, but the Hungarian Football Association has never even tried to control the situation. Finally FIFA’s patience ran out. The occasion was a “friendly” meet between the Hungarian and the Israeli teams last August. I detailed the event and in the post embedded a video taken on the scene. In January of this year FIFA fined the Hungarian Football Association 35,000 euros and ordered a closed-gate game between Romania and Hungary. The Hungarians appealed and were turned down. They even attempted to have the case tried in a court that adjudicates controversies within the world of sports, but they were also turned down there.
So, the match took place in an empty stadium and the final score was 2:2. A great disappointment for the Hungarians because they were certain that they would win over the Romanians, whom they considered to be a weak team. I don’t know where this optimism came from because in the last thirty-two years the Hungarians were unable to win a single game against the Romanian national team. But as I said, I’m no expert; I know next to nothing about the strengths and weaknesses of these teams. What I would like to talk about here is the attitude of Hungarian commentators to the tie. I think it may explain a few things about the Hungarian psyche.
I should mention a few facts about the game itself. If I understand it correctly, there were two penalty kicks, one from the Romanian and the other from the Hungarian side. The match went into overtime, and the final Romanian goal was kicked in the ninety-second minute of the game.
Here are some comments from Hungarian sports journalists and the players themselves.
One of the first detailed analyses appeared a few minutes after the match was over. The title is telling: “It was in the ninety-second minute that the Romanians stole two points.” A few minutes later: “We were unlucky: Instead of victory it is a tie against Romania.” The article itself reports that the Hungarian team played very well, but the Romanians “with fantastic luck in overtime managed to tie the game. It was a fluke!” So, the Hungarians were excellent, the Romanians were incredibly lucky, and the last goal was a fluke.
One of the players, Vilmos Vanczák, who actually scored the first goal, told the journalist of Nemzeti Sport that “we were very close to victory but unfortunately that little plus is still missing in becoming a really great team.” He belittled the opponents. He claimed that “we dominated the game all along. The two goals scored against us were the result of inattention. We led all through, but at the end victory slipped from our hands….. I expected a much better Romanian team…. At the next game in Romania we have a chance.” So, they were much better than their opponents but victory somehow eluded them.
The goalie, Gábor Kiráy, blamed the lack of an audience and the chanting of the fans in the stadium. “If we had had an audience, they would have helped us over the tipping point.” Coach Sándor Egervári said: “We lost two points after a game that had been won.” In my opinion, one either wins a game or doesn’t. You can’t have it both ways. Király admitted that he didn’t even see the ball when Alexandru Chipcio scored the final goal of the game. Yet he tried to find excuses: it was windy and the ground was wet. Mind you, the opponents played under exactly the same conditions.
By this afternoon some of the Hungarian players came to the conclusion that neither Romanian goal was legit. Both had been preceded by misconduct. So, the Hungarian team should have won 2:0. Molcsapat.hu intimated that the referee was partial to the Romanians. The journalist talked about the “friendly disposition” of the German Wolfgang Stark that allowed the two Romanian goals.
The Romanians seem to be more generous toward their opponents. Adrian Mutu, who kicked the Romanian penalty goal, was very satisfied. “We must be satisfied with the results because we played against a very good team. … It will be difficult to win against the Hungarians in Bucharest.” HVG wrote that, according to Romanian sports reports, the Romanian national team was very lucky not to lose to the Hungarians. Romanian sports journalists, in fact, sharply criticized Coach Victor Piturca. Gazeta Sporturilor called the last goal “miraculous.”
Perhaps the Romanians were simply lucky, perhaps objectively the Hungarians were the better team. But, on the day, the Hungarians couldn’t pull it off. And that, in sports, is all that counts. That and, oh yes, sportsmanship.
The Hungarians will be going to Istanbul to play against the Turkish national team that just won against Andorra. The general Hungarian attitude toward this game is optimistic. Nemzeti Sport claims that “for the Turks Hungarians will pose the real challenge.” It will be during this game that the true strength of the Turkish team will be tested. On the website readers can vote on what they think the outcome of the game will be. Over 50% of those who voted are certain that the Hungarians will win. And here we go again.
Paul A. Shapiro
Director, Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
“The Trajectory of Democracy: Why Hungary Matters”
March 19, 2013
Mr. Chairman, Mr. Vice-Chairman, Distinguished Members of the Commission:
The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe continues to focus the world’s attention on manifestations of anti-Semitism, anti-Romani prejudice, and other threats to democracy as they appear in Europe and elsewhere. On behalf of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, I would like to thank you for organizing this important hearing regarding democracy and memory in Hungary.
Over a hundred years ago, the Spanish-born American philosopher George Santayana wrote that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (The Life of Reason, Vol. 1, 1905). In mid-1944, the Jewish community of Hungary—the last major Jewish community in Europe that was still largely intact—was assaulted and nearly destroyed in its entirety over the course of a few months in mid- and late-1944. Today, the memory of that tragedy is under serious challenge in Hungary, with consequences that we cannot yet fully predict, but which are ominous.
The Holocaust in Hungary
Before addressing what appears to be a coordinated assault on memory of the Holocaust, or at least a concerted attempt to rewrite Holocaust history, permit me to briefly review the history. According to Professor Randolph Braham’s authoritative 2-volume The Politics of Genocide: The Holocaust in Hungary, the Jewish population of Hungary at the start of World War II totaled just over 825,000 souls. Many of these Jews lived in territories that Hungary had recently occupied or re-acquired from neighboring countries as Hungary’s Regent and Head of State, Admiral Miklós Horthy, participated as an ally of Adolf Hitler in the destabilization of Europe and the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia (in 1938 and 1939), then Romania (in 1940), then Yugoslavia (in 1941). Hungary withdrew from the League of Nations and joined Nazi Germany in its military invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. Unlike Italy, which withdrew from its German alliance in 1943, and unlike Romania, which did the same in 1944, Hungary remained allied with Nazi Germany to the end, until the country was overrun by Soviet military forces advancing on Germany from the east. As a result of these government policies, the Hungarian military suffered some 300,000 casualties during the war.
Of the country’s 825,000 Jews, nearly 75 percent were murdered. Antisemitism in Hungary did not arrive from abroad. Miklós Horthy’s Hungary was the first European country after World War I to put in place numerus clausus legislation, which restricted Jewish participation in higher education (1920). Racial laws similar to those of Nazi Germany, which defined Jews based on religion and “race,” and deprived them of the right to practice their professions, to own land, and which forbade intermarriage, were passed in 1938 and 1939. With war came the systematic theft of Jewish property and mass murder. In 1941, 20,000 “foreign Jews,” who were residents of Hungary but not Hungarian citizens, were deported across the border by Admiral Horthy’s government to Kamenetz-Podolsky in Ukraine, where they were executed by waiting German forces. Hungarian troops executed another 1,000-plus Jews during their invasion of northeast Yugoslavia that same year. Over 40,000 of the Jewish men conscripted into Jewish forced labor battalions and taken to the eastern front, armed only with shovels to dig defenses for the Hungarian military, died there of exposure, killed in battle areas, or massively executed by the Hungarians as they retreated following their defeat at the battle of Stalingrad in early 1943. Then, between April and July 1944, over 400,000 Hungarian Jews were driven from their homes, concentrated in ghettos, and deported to Auschwitz, where the overwhelming majority of them were gassed on arrival. It was the Hungarian gendarmerie and police who identified and concentrated the Jews, loaded them onto trains, and delivered them into the hands of German SS units waiting at the German-Hungarian border. This process continued systematically until only the Jews of Budapest remained alive.
Admiral Horthy, whose governments had done all of this, hesitated to use the same tactics against the Jews in Budapest that he had sanctioned in the rest of the country. After Horthy was ousted following the invasion of Hungary by German forces in mid-October, in the wake of a last-minute attempt to extricate Hungary from its alliance with Hitler (Soviet troops were already advancing across the country’s borders), the Hungarian fascist Arrow Cross Party (Nyilas) government that took over had no such hesitation. The weeks that followed saw a combination of forced ghettoization in Budapest; death marches involving men, women and children, whose slightest misstep was rewarded with a bullwhip or a bullet; and renewed deportations to Auschwitz. Nyilas gangs engaged in wild shooting orgies in Budapest. They massacred the patients, doctors and nurses at the Maros Street Jewish Hospital, to give just one example, and considered it sport to shoot Jews seized at random into the Danube from the riverbank. Three months of Nyilas government cost the lives of an additional 85,000 Hungarian Jews.
Hungarian collaboration and complicity in the Holocaust was thus substantial, as were the losses suffered by this once-large and great Jewish community. Statistics can speak volumes. Nearly one in ten of the approximately six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust was a Hungarian Jew. One of every three Jews murdered at Auschwitz was a Hungarian Jew. And while every country in which the Holocaust took place would like to place ultimate responsibility on someone else, we must be clear. These Jewish men, women, and children—from grandparents to grandchildren and great-grandchildren—were murdered either directly by, or as a result of collaboration by, Hungarian government authorities, from the Regent, Miklós Horthy, and the “Leader of the Nation” (Nemzetvezető) Ferenc Szálasi who succeeded him, at the highest level, to the civil authorities, gendarmerie, and police, as well as military forces and Arrow Cross thugs, who represented the government from the capital to the smallest Hungarian village and town where Jews lived. Some 28,000 Romani citizens of Hungary were also deported and fell victim to this horrific carnage.
The Early Post-Communist Period
How has the history of the Holocaust been treated in Hungary since the fall of communism? A decade ago, I would have said quite decently. During Viktor Orbán’s first term as Prime Minister (1998-2002), the coalition government that he led established a national Holocaust Commemoration Day and brought Hungary into the International Task Force for Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research (since renamed the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance or IHRA). The government also appointed a commission to create a Holocaust Memorial and Documentation Center (HDKE) in Budapest. In 2004 I attended the dedication at the HDKE of what was rightly recognized one of the best exhibitions on the Holocaust in continental Europe.
The Socialist Party governments from 2002 to 2010 remained on this positive path.
But during these years, the situation in Hungary began to change dramatically. In late 2008, at a European regional conference on anti-Semitism held in Bucharest, Romania, I expressed concern about the public display in Hungary of symbols associated with the wartime fascist Arrow Cross Party, increasing incidents of anti-Semitic intimidation and violence, and anti-Romani discourse that was increasingly Nazi-like in tone. A party of the extreme right called Jobbik (abbreviation for “Movement for a Better Hungary”) made its appearance in 2003. Its leader also created a so-called Magyar Gárda, or “Hungarian Guard” force, formations of which paraded through Budapest and towns elsewhere in the country, dressed in uniforms reminiscent of Arrow Cross uniforms, brandishing fascist symbols and slogans and intimidating the remnant of the country’s Jewish community that had survived the Holocaust and remained in Hungary. An especially noteworthy indication of change was the failure of the then out-of-power, but still powerful Fidesz party to join with other major political parties in forceful condemnation of Jobbik’s anti-Semitic and anti-Romani sloganeering and Magyar Gárda intimidation of Jews and violence against Roma.
In the 2010 elections, Fidesz received 52 percent of the vote and returned to government with an empowering two-thirds majority in the Hungarian Parliament. Jobbik, however, which was already being described in European political and media circles as “fascist,” “neo-fascist,” neo-Nazi,” “racist,” ‘anti-Semitic,” “anti-Roma,” and “homophobic,” had obtained nearly 17 percent of the vote. In this circumstance, regrettably, the warning signs apparent in 2008 regarding Fidesz proved to be accurate. Still led by Prime Minister Orban, he and his party changed their approach to issues of the Holocaust. In the judgment of some people, this was the result of a desire to appeal to Jobbik voters and thus secure better prospects for future electoral victory than the just experienced 52 percent performance. Others were less inclined to see the change as mere political maneuver, and more inclined to see it as reflecting the internal prejudices and beliefs of Fidesz itself.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum praised publicly some actions of the first Fidesz government. But attempts over the past three years to trivialize or distort the history of the Holocaust, actions that have given rein to open manifestations of anti-Semitism in the country, and efforts to rehabilitate political and cultural figures that played a part in Hungary’s tragic Holocaust history, now require us to be publicly critical. In June of last year, the Museum issued a press release expressing grave concern about the rehabilitation of fascist ideologues and political leaders from World War II that is taking place in Hungary and called on the government of Hungary to “unequivocally renounce all forms of antisemitism and racism and to reject every effort to honor individuals responsible for the genocide of Europe’s Jews.” Our Founding Chairman, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, repudiated a high decoration that had been conferred on him by Hungary, to protest these same trends.
What are the causes of our concern? They begin with the broad political trends that the Commission is examining today. For anyone who is familiar with the history of Nazi Germany and the other fascist and authoritarian regimes that appeared in Europe in the middle of the 20th century—and especially for Holocaust survivors who experienced the full fury of those times and those regimes—what is happening in Hungary today will sound eerily familiar and ominous.
The Hungarian government has enacted laws to place restrictions on the media. Just recall the Nazis’ manipulation of the media if you need a reminder of the danger to democracy that this represents and where it can lead. Think of all you know about Joseph Goebbels and the images that you can conjure up of Nazi propaganda. Control the media, and this is where you can end up.
The Hungarian government has taken steps to politicize and undermine the independence of the judiciary, and now through amendment of the constitution, to undermine the ability of the judiciary to review government-generated laws and decrees. Recall, please, the undermining of the practice and administration of law, the racist Nuremberg Laws of 1935, and the subversion of the judiciary in Nazi Germany and elsewhere in Nazi-dominated Europe. Ultimately, lawlessness on the part of the government and mass murder were the results.
Hungary’s law on religion has stripped many religious groups of their officially recognized status as “registered” religions, in effect depriving them of equal rights and making the legitimacy of religious faith an object of political whim. For Jews and Jehovah’s Witnesses, Polish Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, Baptists, Old Believers and others, the echo of the Holocaust era could not be more powerful. Delegitimizing one’s faith delegitimizes the person.
Racial violence, including outright murder, against the Romani minority in Hungary, while not perpetrated by the government, has not been effectively addressed by the government either. When Szolt Bayer, a founding member of Fidesz, whose brutal anti-Semitic rhetoric has long been recognized and commented upon in European and Israeli media, wrote an editorial in the newspaper Magyar Hirlap (Jan. 5, 2013) in which he called “Gypsies” “cowardly, repulsive, noxious animals,” that are “unfit to live among people,” are “animals and behave like animals,” and incited action by calling for dealing with them “immediately, and by any means necessary,” it was not possible to miss the echo of the despicable propaganda campaigns of dehumanization that preceded the mass murder of the Jews of Europe, Hungarian Jews included. Hungary’s Justice Minister made a statement critical of Bayer, but no legal action by the government followed. Here was what we Americans would call a classic “wink and a nod” approach by the government. Nor was the author of this vile incitement to violence expelled from Fidesz. The party’s spokesperson also finessed the issue in a manner that has become all too common: Szolt Bayer wrote the article as a journalist, not as a Fidesz party member, was the line taken. The Prime Minister and leader of Fidesz remained silent, giving a clear sign that the views that had been expressed by Bayer were not unacceptable. If there is one thing that the Holocaust teaches above all others, it is that silence empowers the perpetrator, empowers the hater; and when it is the head of government that is silent, silence messages assent and license to proceed.
This pattern has unfortunately become the norm, perhaps giving answer to the question of whether it is maneuver or conviction that is determining the actions of the Hungarian government and Fidesz vis-a-vis the Holocaust.
Assault on Memory of the Holocaust
Is the history of the Holocaust secure in Hungary today? Thus far, the government’s actions raise serious doubt.
The Holocaust Memorial and Documentation Center (HDKE): Shortly after Fidesz returned to power, the government appointed new leadership at the Holocaust Memorial and Documentation Center. Then, a series of proposals to change the permanent exhibition at the Center were made by Dr. András Levente Gál, the new Fidesz-appointed Hungarian State Secretary in the Ministry of Public Administration and Justice, which had governmental oversight of the Center. Gal’s first proposal was to eliminate mention of Miklós Horthy’s alliance with Adolf Hitler and participation in the dismemberment of three neighboring states—Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia—as “irrelevant” to the Holocaust. Yet, violation of the post-World War I national boundaries brought war in Europe, and war provided opportunity and cover for the mass murder of the Jews. Moreover, it was precisely the Jews of the regions that Hitler restored to Hungary who were the first targets of the Hungarian gendarmerie and police as they drove to create a country “cleansed of Jews.” Gal’s second proposal was to sanitize the record of Hungarian participation in the ghettoization and deportation of the country’s Jews and placed full blame for the destruction of Hungarian Jewry on Germany. Word of the proposed changes leaked out, and there was strong international reaction. Thus far the exhibition remains intact. But much of the staff of the HDKE was fired, and budget allocations to the Center as late as last December left the staff that remained fearful that they, too, would be released. Meanwhile, visitation to the Center has declined, and the lack of mandated Holocaust education in the school system has left the institution severely underutilized.
Eventually, András Levente Gál left his position, and government officials noted that he was gone if the issue of changing the permanent exhibition at the HDKE was raised. But Gál remains an insider, and at no point did the government, or Fidesz party spokespeople, or the Prime Minister publicly criticize or issue a rebuke of Mr. Gal’s attempt to distort and sanitize Holocaust history. This left the impression publicly that what Mr. Gal had tried to do was fine in the eyes of the government and Fidesz, probably even inspired from above. Gal simply had not succeeded in getting the job done.
The Nyirő Affair: A similar situation developed in the aftermath of the so-called Nyirő affair. Last spring, Speaker of the Hungarian National Assembly (Parliament) László Kövér, who is a founding member of Fidesz, together with Hungarian State Secretary for Culture Géza Szőcs, and Gábor Vona, the leader of Jobbik, united to honor posthumously József Nyirő (1889-1953), a Transylvanian-born writer and fascist ideologue, and member of Hungary’s wartime parliament from 1941 to 1945. Nyirő served as Vice-chair of the Education Commission in the Arrow Cross regime of Ferenc Szálasi. He was a member of the pro-Nazi National Association of Legislators, and was one of a group of legislators in the so-called “Arrow Cross Parliament” that left Budapest and fled the country together with Szálasi in the final days of the war. Nyirő had been a popular writer of short stories and novels in the 1930s and 1940s, but he also characterized Joseph Goebbels as someone who “exudes intellect and genius.” In parliament, Nyirő labeled the “discredited liberal Jewish heritage” the enemy of Hungary and, dispensing race hatred in all directions, called Hungarian marriages with non—ethnic-Hungarians “mutt marriages” and “mule marriages.” Nyirő was editor-in-chief of the newspaper Magyar Erő (“Hungarian Power”), whose editorials proclaimed that “Getting rid of the Jews is not a mere sign of the times, nor the agenda of a political party, but a unified and pressing demand of all nations that have recognized the Jewish threat and come to the conclusion that life without Jews is much better, much happier” (Magyar Erő, Nov.6, 1942).
Nyiro passed away in Franco’s Spain. The plan developed by Kövér, Szőcs and Vona was to rebury Nyirő’s ashes in Transylvania, while attempting to whip up nationalistic sentiment among the ethnic Hungarian minority there through an elaborate official funerary procession that would wend its way by train from the Hungarian border to Nyiro’s birthplace, Odorheiu Secuiesc (Székelyudvarhely), some 200 miles inside Romania and close to the easternmost demarcation line of the Romanian territory awarded to Hungary by Nazi Germany in 1940. In the end, the Romanian government protested, there was no train, but the Hungarian officials I have mentioned still participated in an “unofficial” burial ceremony, following which Kövér, accompanied by Zsolt Bayer, stayed on in Romania for the purpose of visiting with the ethnic Hungarian (and Szekler) communities in Transylvania. Diplomatically, the incident was not quite the equivalent of Admiral Horthy astride his white horse leading the Hungarian army into the regions of Transylvania given him by Adolf Hitler, as happened in 1940. But symbolically, this was the intent.
How did the Fidesz government deal with this incident? Speaker Kövér personally was unrepentant. He labeled the Romanian Government’s action to prevent the reburial plan “uncivilized,” “paranoid,” and “hysterical,” and he called on the Hungarian ethnic minority in Transylvania to “press the books of Nyirő into the hands of their children” so that “a new generation of Nyirős” would be raised there. He responded to criticism by Elie Wiesel by claiming that he was honoring Nyirő the writer, not Nyirő the politician. Moreover, wrote Kover, Nyiro was neither a war criminal, nor a fascist, nor anti-Semitic, for if he had been, how could one explain the fact that the Allies did not put him on trial after the war or extradite him to Hungary in response to requests by the by-then Communist government of the country? Pushing back by laying blame on others in this manner has become a frequent tool in the Hungarian government’s responses to criticism of its actions. The Prime Minister, for example, responded to a letter from a Member of the US House of Representatives (Hon. Joseph Crowley, 14th Dist., NY) by laying blame for the rise of anti-Semitism in Hungary on a US-based web site (kuruc.info), the implication being that the Hungarian government could do nothing until the United States dealt with its First Amendment “problem.” Meanwhile, László Kövér has remained Speaker of the Hungarian parliament, and recently proclaimed his eternal solidarity with Zsolt Bayer (see above) at Bayer’s 50th birthday celebration.
As in the case of Andráa Levente Gál, neither Fidesz nor the Hungarian government, nor the Prime Minister himself, took any action to criticize publicly or disassociate themselves from what Kövér and Szőcs had attempted. Quite the contrary. The detailed “Communications Guidelines to Counter Accusations of Antisemitism” that was sent to Hungarian diplomats abroad following the Nyirő affair instructed the government’s representatives to stress that Speaker Kövér participated in the memorial ceremony for Nyirő “in his private capacity,” not as Speaker of the National Assembly, and that Nyirő’s record should be appraised based on his literary merits, not his political activity. In other words, the government was comfortable seeking to gloss over Nyirő’s involvement in a regime that perpetrated the Holocaust. The government’s talking points failed to mention that the Hungarian Parliament had spent 6 million forints (over $25,000) on preparations for the reburial, or that Speaker Kövér’s web site had announced his planned trip to Romania as an official visit. As for Szőcs, after some delay he left office. His departure is noted by government representatives when inquiries are made, but there has been no government statement linking his departure to the Nyirő affair or indicating that he was fired.
Anti-Semites in the National Curriculum: Nyirő’s name and legacy became issues again in connection with a review and proposed revision of Hungary’s national public school curriculum that was initiated by the Fidesz government and is being carried out by the Ministry of National Resources. The government has proposed to include among the interwar authors whose works it is recommended teachers present to their students Jozsef Nyirő (novels), Albert Wass (children’s tales), and Dezső Szabó, among others. The guidelines in the National Curriculum provide no assistance to help teachers provide contextual information about these writers—including information about their political activities that might help teachers decide whether and how to teach about them. I have already discussed Nyiro. Let me introduce Dezső Szabó and Albert Wass, without attempting to evaluate the literary merits of their prose. Dezső Szabó wrote, “Jews are the most serious and the most deadly enemy of Hungarians. The Jewish question is a life and death question for Hungarians—a question that is linked to every aspect of Hungarian life and the Hungarian future” (“Antiszemitizmus,” Virradat [Dawn], Jan. 21, 1921); and two months later, after designating Judaism “a tribal superstition exalted as a religion,” concluded “In the interest of human progress, the barbarian, murderous memories of dark, primeval centuries [that is, the Jews—PAS] must be exterminated” (“1848 marcius 15,” Virradat, Mar. 16, 1921). Albert Wass, like Nyirő born in Transylvania, was convicted by the Romanian government of war crimes during his service in the Hungarian army, including complicity in the documented murder of two Jews and two Romanians in Hungarian-administered Transylvania during World War II. This did not prevent the incoming President of Hungary, Fidesz Deputy President Pál Schmitt from quoting Wass in his inaugural address in 2011.
In addition to the inclusion of problematic figures such as these, each of whom either fostered anti-Semitism or participated politically or militarily in regime-sponsored murder, the draft National Curriculum also stresses the country’s territorial losses after World War I as Hungary’s singular national tragedy, while suggesting equivalency with lesser significance between the Holocaust and Hungarian military losses on the Don River (Stalingrad) during World War II. Equating the loss of military forces to an enemy in battle with the systematic, racially inspired murder of civilian men, women and children who are citizens of one’s own country, solely because they are of different religion or ethnicity, of course makes no sense, unless motivated by prejudice and intended to reinforce prejudice.
Finally, while some information relating to Jewish history and the contributions of Jews to Hungarian intellectual, cultural, and economic life were included in the new National Curriculum approved at the end of 2012, the information fell short of the subject matter suggested by a consortium of Hungarian Jewish organizations. In a classic case of the government seeking to have it both ways, directing students’ attention to the likes of Nyirő, Szabó and Wass will likely undercut any positive effect of the new material reflecting positively on Jews, unless the latter is considerably expanded. Hungarian Jewish organizations have petitioned the government to remove these “anti-Semites” from the curriculum, but thus far the reply has been negative; indeed, it has been a more rigorous coordinated defense of the three “writers.”
The tactic of seeking to divert attention elsewhere to deflect criticism has been mobilized on the curriculum issue. Government spokespeople have responded to criticism from the United States, for example, by pointing out that Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, and Ezra Pound are included in American high school curricula, despite their demonstrable anti-Semitism. At this point, downplaying the significance of anti-Semitism as a factor to be considered, undermining understanding of the contributions of Hungarian Jewry to Hungarian national life, while trivializing and relativizing the significance of the Holocaust have been codified as elements of the Hungarian educational system that the Fidesz government has designed.
Rehabilitation of Holocaust Perpetrators: Hand in hand with attempts to whitewash Hungarian collaboration and complicity during the Holocaust, hand in hand with efforts to justify Hungary’s alliance with Nazi Germany, has gone a growing effort to rehabilitate the murderers. See Nyilas operative Nyirő as a writer who deserves to be honored as a national icon, not as a fascist. See Albert Wass as a writer of children’s tales, not as a convicted war criminal. In this context, it is hardly surprising that we are witnessing the attempted rehabilitation of Admiral Horthy himself. Several towns have erected statues or placed plaques on buildings in his honor (e.g., in Kereki and Debrecen). Placing an equestrian statue of the Regent on Budapest’s Castle Hill has also been discussed. In other localities, streets, parks and public squares now bear his name (e.g., in Gyömrő).
When asked to take action to halt the de facto rehabilitation of Hungary’s anti-Semitic interwar and wartime leader, during whose tenure as Regent a half million Hungarian Jews were killed, the Hungarian government responds evasively. The government is not seeking to rehabilitate Horthy, goes the standard line, but it is important to realize that Horthy is a “controversial” figure. Foreign Minister János Martonyi, responding to a joint letter addressed by the American Jewish Committee, B’Nai B’rith, and our Museum to Prime Minister Orbán, adopted precisely this approach, stating, on the one hand, “that the Hungarian Government has no intention to rehabilitate Regent Horthy,” but qualifying the assurance with a reminder that “there is no consensus of opinion about his legacy” (Martonyi letter of July 18, 2012). Implicit in such a response is that the government’s approach could change if a consensus favorable to Horthy develops. Meanwhile, the government has taken advantage of the situation, and in the process added its weight to a more positive evaluation of Horthy, by playing to nationalist and populist sentiments, seeking to purge Horthy’s record as a Hitler ally, and glorifying the restoration of Hungary’s “lost territories” that Horthy was able to achieve, if only for a few years. The government has not taken serious steps to research and more rigorously evaluate Horthy’s record. It has certainly not placed equal emphasis on his record of anti-Semitism and complicity in the murder of the country’s Jews. Nor has it sought to defuse tensions with Hungary’s neighbors by tempering the country’s fixation on the so-called “lost territories”—territories that today are parts of Austria, Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Croatia, and Serbia.
Indeed, rather than assuming the responsibility of government to clarify issues of historical and political significance, Fidesz and the Hungarian government have thrown up a smokescreen to further confuse the Horthy issue by allowing—perhaps encouraging—people who speak for or represent Fidesz and the Hungarian Government to suggest that the fact that Horthy was not put on trial by allied authorities after the war is sufficient to indicate that Horthy’s record was clean (Author’s conversation with Tamas Fellegi, December 3, 2012). This tactic of shifting “responsibility” for the problem abroad, as we saw with the Nyirő case and regarding the kuruc.info web site, has become routine. But it hardly suffices to cleanse the reputation of Miklós Horthy, who could write with pride to his Prime Minister in 1940, “I have been an anti-Semite my whole life,” and to Adolf Hitler in May 1943, “The measures that I have imposed have, in practice, deprived the Jews of any opportunity to practice their damaging influence on public life in this country” (Miklós Sinai and László Szűcs, Horthy Miklós titkos iratai [Miklós Horthy’s Secret Correspondence], Budapest, 1965, pp. 262 and 392). Given his lifelong record of anti-Semitism and his complicity in the murder of the Jews of Hungary, the attempt to rehabilitate Miklós Horthy, or to condone his elevation even to the status of someone whose reputation is “controversial,” might reasonably be considered a manifestation of anti-Semitism.
The government has labeled the statues, streets and other Horthy monuments that have appeared around the country local initiatives which the national government has no way to prevent. The fact that the Fidesz government has an overwhelming parliamentary majority, has promulgated a new national constitution, and has recently passed dramatic new constitutional amendments that limit the power of the Constitutional Court to review the content of legislation, obviates the credibility of such assertions.
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In short, the history of the Holocaust is under assault in Hungary and the rehabilitation of some of the people responsible for the murder of 600,000 of the country’s Jews during the Holocaust is well under way. An atmosphere has been created in which it is understood that anti-Semitic and anti-Romani discourse, and even intimidation and violence, will not elicit effective government action to alter the situation. The government and people perceived to be closely tied to it may, in some cases, issue after-the-fact statements condemning anti-Semitic or anti-Romani discourse and deed. But they are just as likely not to do so, thus messaging clearly that such expression and activity is, in fact, acceptable. The participation of Fidesz members and government officials in activities that further inflame the toxic atmosphere is clear. Such behavior requires swift and public censure, including disavowal and censure by the Prime Minister himself. But this has not happened. Government spokespeople assert that the problem is Jobbik, but neither they nor the Prime Minister have thus far forcefully and publicly condemned Jobbik as outside the boundaries of what is acceptable in a democratic society.
Nor have the leaders of Fidesz distanced their party unequivocally from Jobbik. When a party member or spokesperson makes a stronger statement of condemnation of Jobbik, or takes a clearly critical position vis-à-vis a manifestation of anti-Semitism or trivialization or obfuscation of the Holocaust, the statement is very frequently qualified, almost immediately, as a personal opinion, not a governmental or party opinion. Thus, when Antal Rogán, leader of the Fidesz faction in parliament, spoke out against Jobbik at a public demonstration in front of the parliament building on December 2, following an inflammatory speech by Jobbik MP and Vice Chairman of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee Márton Gyöngyösi, who proposed that lists of Jews be kept because Jews represented a national security risk, Fidesz representatives pointed out the following day that Rogan had been speaking in his personal capacity, not on behalf of the party. A similar occurrence took place in Washington on February 27, 2013, when Tamás Fellegi, a confidant of Prime Minister Orbán, testified in these august halls before a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, at a hearing on “Antisemitism: A Growing Threat to All Faiths.” Mr. Fellegi took up defense of the Hungarian government by stating that while Jobbik is “an openly anti-Semitic party,” “[t]here is a clear line of demarcation between Jobbik, and the center-right government and all other mainstream parties.” He delivered a lengthy and forceful defense of the Prime Minister’s party and performance in the first and second Orban administrations. But when, perhaps to impress his independence of opinion on his listeners, he allowed that the “infamous commentaries of [Fidesz member] Zsolt Bayer” could be “deemed as racist,” and stated opposition to the “rehabilitation of the historic period of Admiral Horthy,” he immediately made it clear that these were only his personal views.
A Way Forward?
The issue that must be addressed, given the record I have described, is how to find a way forward in combating anti-Semitism and ensuring Holocaust remembrance and education in Hungary. Every criticism, explicit or implicit, in this testimony has been intended to identify a problem that can be solved, not to induce despair or the sense that the problems cannot be solved. It is important to remember that Hungarian society emerged from communist dictatorship less than 25 years ago. It is important to remember that Fidesz was, at its origin, a democratic movement in a totalitarian era. And it is important to recall that it was the current Prime Minister, Mr. Orbán, who during his first administration established Hungary’s national Holocaust Commemoration Day and laid the foundation for establishment of the Holocaust Memorial and Documentation Center in Budapest. Thus the potential for sensitivity to the dangers inherent in anti-Semitism and distortion or trivialization of the Holocaust exists.
And yet, in today’s Hungary it was possible for a female member of parliament to be shouted down and ridiculed by MPs from both Jobbik and Fidesz, when she questioned the wisdom of rehabilitating Miklós Horthy and members of the Arrow Cross (Hungarian National Assembly, May 29, 2012). It was possible for Jobbik’s Márton Gyöngyösi to suggest in the parliamentary chamber that Jews were a national security risk, and to experience no formal censure, only belated criticism by the government, followed by refusal of the state prosecutor to pursue legal sanctions that had been requested by the Jewish community (Hungarian National Assembly, November 27, 2012). It is possible for Magyar Gárda units to continue to assemble and march, to intimidate Jews and Roma, despite a formal legal ban. It is possible for incremental rehabilitation to be under way for political figures who aligned the country with Adolf Hitler; participated in the disruption of peace in Europe and the murder of 600,000 Hungarian Jews and thousands of Romani; adopted policies that resulted in hundreds of thousands of Hungarian military casualties; and, ultimately, bore responsibility for policies that led to the occupation of the country by Soviet military forces and led to 45 years of communist dictatorship. It is even possible for the legacy of such people to be labeled “controversial” by Fidesz and Hungarian government spokespeople.
In 2012, three major Holocaust-related monuments in Budapest—the Holocaust Memorial and Documentation Center, the memorial statue honoring Raoul Wallenberg, and the iconic bronze shoes on the banks of the Danube which memorialize the 10,000 or more Jews shot into the river during the final months of the war—were vandalized. A 2012 survey by the Anti-Defamation League identified Hungary as the European country where anti-Semitic attitudes are most widespread.
Under circumstances such as these, we believe that it is the responsibility of the Prime Minister to lead and the government to take remedial action, not to equivocate, excuse, deflect, seek to divert attention elsewhere, or lobby. The Hungarian government, by virtue of its overwhelming parliamentary majority, is able to act, and for precisely this reason bears responsibility for what is or is not done vis-à-vis manifestations of anti-Semitism and Holocaust issues.
To be fair, the government has taken some steps of potential significance in the right direction in recent months. In November, Parliament passed a ban on the naming of public institutions or spaces after individuals who played a role in establishing or sustaining “totalitarian political regimes” in the 20th century. In December, the Government provided supplemental funding to the Holocaust Memorial and Documentation Center to permit the Center to keep its doors open and pay its staff through the remainder of the current fiscal year. A week after the incident and in the wake of a major public demonstration on December 2 to protest Jobbik MP Gyöngyösi’s suggestion that name lists of the country’s Jews be created, Prime Minister Orban finally criticized Gyongyosi’s remarks as “unworthy of Hungary.” Later in the month, the Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament was given authority to censure and potentially exclude from the chamber and fine MPs who used hate speech during parliamentary sessions. The government has also established a Hungarian Holocaust 2014 Memorial Committee, under auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office, to plan commemorative events for the 70th anniversary of the mass deportation and murder of Hungarian Jewry.
The actual impact of each of these steps, however, remains to be seen. It is unclear whether Hungary’s wartime governments, those under the authority of Miklós Horthy as well as the government headed by Ferenc Szálasi, will be considered to fall under the rubric of “totalitarian political regimes.” The Horthy statues and memorial plaques and spaces remain in place, even though the new law stipulates that existing memorials within the purview of the law were to have been removed by January 1, 2013. The Holocaust Memorial and Documentation Center, while open, remains severely underutilized and unable to pursue much of the educational mission for which it was created. While he did criticize Gyöngyösi’s speech, albeit belatedly, Prime Minister Orban has yet to clearly draw a line that definitively separates Fidesz from Jobbik. Nor has he publicly censured or repudiated members of Fidesz, such as Zsolt Bayer, who engage in distasteful and incendiary racist and anti-Semitic discourse. It remains to be seen whether the Speaker’s new authority actually will be put to use to control anti-Semitic and anti-Romani discourse in parliament. The activities to be undertaken by the 2014 Memorial Committee remain to be defined. Whether or not they effectively reduce anti-Semitic manifestations in Hungary and clarify for the country’s population issues that today are deemed “controversial,” relating to Hungary’s wartime governments and the Holocaust, will be the only true measures of the significance of the current government’s action.
Moreover, the steps that the Government has taken, even if all implemented and effective, in our view will not suffice to address the full range of issues relating to anti-Semitism and the Holocaust that confront the country. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has engaged in broad-ranging consultations with organizations in the United States with which we regularly work, with members of Prime Minister Orban’s staff, with other members of the Hungarian Government, including Ambassador György Szapáry, who represents his government in Washington, and with NGO leaders, representatives of the Hungarian Jewish community, and representatives of mainstream opposition political parties in Hungary. Based on these consultations and our own experience, in December we recommended the following to the Prime Minister’s Office:
a) Establish and appoint a state-sponsored International Commission of Scholars to prepare a definitive report on the history of the Holocaust in Hungary, including the history of anti-Semitism in the country, and to make recommendations to the Government regarding future Holocaust memorialization, education and research activities. The Museum has provided the Prime Minister’s Office with information regarding the establishment and organization of such commissions in other European countries. While the placement within the government of responsibility for organizational, administrative, and financial support for such a commission is clearly to be determined by the Hungarian government, following appointment of the Hungarian Holocaust 2014 Memorial Committee, under auspices of the Office of the Prime Minister, we have further suggested that the International Commission of Scholars be established under the same auspices. The two-year time frame established for the Memorial Committee would coincide very well in practical terms with the time needed for preparation of a thorough report by the International Commission of Scholars.
b) Enact legislation (or amend existing legislation) to prevent the creation of monuments to, naming of streets or other public sites in memory of, or otherwise honoring individuals (including but not limited to Regent Miklós Horthy) who played significant roles in the Holocaust-era wartime governments of Hungary. Clarify the inclusion of these governments in the November 2012 law regarding individuals involved in Hungary’s 20th century “totalitarian political regimes.”
c) Mandate in the Hungarian secondary school curriculum that every student in the country visit the Holocaust Memorial and Documentation Center in an organized class visit during his/her final four years of high school education. This would require the provision of subsidized transportation for students and teachers for day trips to and from Budapest; enhancement of staff and management at the Center; and the provision of additional space to the Center for student briefings and post-visit discussions (potentially a rented nearby apartment retrofitted as classroom/meeting room space). The initiative would finally and effectively capitalize on the investment that Hungary has already made in creating the Center.
d) Ensure that the Speaker of the Parliament consistently applies the recently established authority of the Speaker to censure, suspend, and fine MPs for expressions of racist and anti-Semitic views, or use of other forms of hate speech. In addition, we recommend that such censure be publicly announced, through official statements by the Office of the Speaker issued to the media.
e) Institute a policy of censure by the Office of the Prime Minister of ranking members of government ministries who participate, in either public or “private” capacity, in activities that are likely to reinforce racist, anti-Semitic or anti-Romani prejudices or that appear to rehabilitate the reputations of individuals who participated in the wartime governments of Hungary. Such censure should be publicly announced through official statements issued by the Office of the Prime Minister to the media.
f) Issue to the media an unequivocal statement by the Prime Minister clearly defining the racist and extremist views expressed by Jobbik as lying outside the boundaries of acceptable discourse in a democratic society and totally unacceptable within the Prime Minister’s own political party, Fidesz. Members of the Prime Minister’s party who express similar views should be publicly reprimanded.
Our Museum has confirmed to the Hungarian Government that we stand ready to be helpful. We have offered to host here in Washington one of the plenary meetings of the proposed International Commission of Scholars that would be required to enable members to complete the drafting, debate and discussion of a comprehensive Commission report. We believe that the actions we have suggested would help to reverse the dangerous downward cycle which appears to define events in Hungary today. In just a few weeks, Museum Director Bloomfield and I will be participating in the dedication of a new permanent exhibition at the Mauthausen Camp Memorial (KZ-Gedenkstatte Mauthausen) in Austria. Late in the war, thousands of Hungarian Jews who had been selected for labor in Auschwitz were “transferred” to Mauthausen. Many perished during death marches that stretched between the two camps. Most of those who reached Mauthausen perished there. In the shadow of that history, Director Bloomfield and I have offered to travel to Budapest following the Mauthausen dedication ceremony to meet with Prime Minister Orban and those to whom he has entrusted responsibility for dealing constructively with Holocaust issues and combating manifestations of anti-Semitism. We are hopeful that we will receive a positive response.
In the meantime, the Museum has planned a number of scholarly activities for the coming year that will sustain focus on Hungary and secure the historical record regarding what happened there during the Holocaust. In April, we will publish, in partnership with Northwestern University Press, a three-volume encyclopedia, edited by Professor Randolph Braham of the City University of New York, that provides information—county by county, town by town, village by village—on the pre-Holocaust Jewish community of Hungary and the events of the Holocaust in each respective community. Professor Braham, who is a survivor of the notorious Hungarian Jewish labor battalions established by the Horthy regime, is the world’s leading expert on this history. Later during the year, we will publish a document collection on The Holocaust in Hungary as part of our archival studies series “Documenting Life and Destruction.” And in March of next year, on the 70th anniversary of the beginning of deportations of Hungarian Jewry to Auschwitz, we will host at the Museum a major international conference on the Holocaust in Hungary. When first proposing to the Hungarian government the establishment of an International Commission of Scholars on the Holocaust in Hungary, I had hoped that a plenary session of the Commission might coincide with and be coordinated with this conference. Timely action to establish a Commission might still allow for a degree of coordination.
Today’s hearing is focused on the trajectory of democracy and the danger of extremism—in the form of racism, anti-Semitism, and Holocaust trivialization—in Hungary. I have described trends that potentially undermine the safety of Jews, Roma, and other minorities in Hungary and that threaten the ability of Hungarians to come to grips with the truth regarding the Holocaust—a national tragedy of a different era. Democracy and memory: I want to stress that these two concerns are interrelated. Undermine democracy, and the rights of human beings deemed to be “different” are easily violated. The Hungary of World War II provided an extreme example. And misrepresenting the tragedies of one’s national past—trivializing them, relativizing them, or failing to clarify issues of fact when they become “controversial” or are distorted for political purpose—forces those in power to subvert democratic practice, to control the media, manipulate electoral mechanisms, and adopt increasingly extreme “populist” and jingoist stances, in the hope of staying in power permanently—an outcome that is only available in dictatorships, never in democracies.
I know that lobbyists are not seen in every instance in a favorable light. But I appear today on behalf of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum as a lobbyist for the truth, a lobbyist for 600,000 Hungarian Jews and thousands of Hungarian Romani who cannot be here. Their lives were snuffed out due to the decisions, prejudices and failures of their country’s leadership—Miklós Horthy, Ferenc Szálasi, and numerous other political and military leaders, fascist “writers” like Nyirő, Szabó, and Wass—and those who collaborated or were directly complicit in acts of theft, deportation and murder.
Will Hungary become a source of instability in Europe, this time in the heart of the European Union, as it was in the late 1930s? Will ethnic and religious minorities, including a Jewish community of 80-100,000 souls remain free of harassment and safe there? Will this country, which was once home to a Jewish population that numbered over 800,000, trivialize memory of the Holocaust and lead a revival of anti-Semitic sentiment in Europe? Are contemporary developments appropriate for a state that is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), a member of the European Union, and a member of NATO?
I will restrict my response to my assigned topic and expertise—the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. Some weeks ago, Hungary volunteered to assume the chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance in 2015. Given the current situation, which I have endeavored to describe, this would be inappropriate and an insult to the living and desecration of the memory of the dead. Ultimately, of course, the decision will be taken by the state members of the IHRA, in all likelihood based on more practical and political considerations. But I would hope that before any decision is taken, including by our own representatives at the IHRA, the Hungarian Government will alter the approaches that it has taken in addressing anti-Semitism and Holocaust issues in Hungary, adopt the suggestions our Museum has made, and guide Hungary—a country with much to be proud of in its history—onto a path that is admired and praised rather than scorned and criticized. Representatives of Fidesz and the Hungarian Government with whom I have spoken frequently complain that their missteps are always criticized, while their positive actions are never commended. I for one, and the institution I represent here, commit to praise when positive steps are taken.
I began these remarks by citing philosopher George Santayana. I would like to conclude by quoting our Museum’s Founding Chairman and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, who was sent to the ghetto by Hungarian gendarmes and deported with his family to Auschwitz while Miklós Horthy served as Regent of Hungary. “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice,” wrote Wiesel, “but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” I hope that my testimony today is sufficient protest to stimulate action. On another occasion, Elie Wiesel declared, “If anything can, it is memory that will save humanity.” Securing the memory of the Holocaust in Hungary is essential.
Mr. Chairman, I request that my written statement be included in the record in full.
An open letter to Tamás Fellegi in Washington
The reason for our open letter is that Tamás Fellegi, former minister of national development, minister in charge of the IMF negotiations and adviser to Viktor Orbán, spoke before the members of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations of the Committee on Foreign Affairs.
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Gyömrő, February 27, 2013
Dear Mr. Fellegi,
You claimed prior to your appearance before the congressional committee that all democratic forces in Hungary stand in unison against antisemitism and that not one of the mainstream political parties in Hungary is antisemitic or racist.
You were quoted as saying that it is very hard for a country to be shielded against racism, including antisemitism, and indeed you are right, especially if one considers that in the preamble of the new constitution the present Hungarian government considers itself the direct successor to the Horthy regime while it does not take responsibility for the most important events of the Hungarian Holocaust, including the deportations of Jewish citizens. Or, when the Kossuth Square in front of the Hungarian parliament building is being refashioned as it was in 1944, the worst year of the Holocaust.
It is difficult to confront racism and antisemitism when our minister in charge of education and culture, Zoltán Balog, and the deputy speaker of the House, Sándor Lezsák, while still in opposition unveiled the statue of Ottokár Prohászka, Catholic bishop and member of parliament, who was the author of Europe’s first racist legislation, the so-called Numerus Clausus of 1920 that made antisemitism part of the Hungarian legal system.
In the new constitution Christianity is mentioned as Hungary’s only religious heritage, excluding other faiths, while Hungarian Reformed Bishop Gusztáv Bölcskei unveiled a plaque honoring Regent Miklós Horthy, who bears the foremost responsibility for the Hungarian Holocaust. He did that in the presence of a banned neo-Nazi paramilitary organization called Magyar Gárda. And this celebration took place in the famous Reformed College of Debrecen where many of the greats of Hungarian culture studied: the sin of the Holocaust is elevated to the status of memorials to János Arany, Mihály Vitéz Csokonai, and Zsigmond Móricz.
How can societal memory function when the government maintains a Holocaust Institute but at the same time an undersecretary and a Fidesz mayor collect donations for a statue of Miklós Horthy in Budapest?
The Hungarian Parliament enacted a law mandating that all public places and organizations that are named after people whose ideology is not to the liking of the current government must be changed. We are not talking about politicians connected to the Rákosi or Kádár regimes but those who had anything to do with the trade union movement or early social democracy. At the same time there are more and more streets being named after people who are responsible for the anti-Jewish laws of the 1920s and 1930s or the Holocaust. In the last two decades at least a dozen institutions have been named after Ottokár Prohászka. The situation is the same with racist and antisemitic politicians, for example Prime Minister Pál Teleki. Statues and streets carry his name. He was prime minister when the Numerus Clausus was enacted and he was responsible for the text of the second and third anti-Jewish laws. There are at least 50 statues of the antisemitic Albert Wass who was condemned to death in absentia as a war criminal in Romania after the war. József Nyirő, who was an admirer of Hitler and who remained a member of the Hungarian parliament even after the Arrow Cross take-over, was reburied at government expense, an event organized by László Kövér. By that act Kövér violated the Romanian law banning the adulation of war criminals. A law that doesn’t exist in Hungary.
Miklós Horthy, who bears a major responsibility for the Holocaust, was reburied in the presence of several government officials and members of parliament in 1993. A member of that government was Péter Boross, an open sympathizer with the Horthy regime, who is the chairman of the National Memorial and Reverence Committee. In Kenderes, a small town where the Horthy family’s residence is situated, there is a permanent exhibition in which Horthy’s role in the Holocaust is not even mentioned. Today in Kenderes there is official Holocaust denial. On the other hand, one can hear a lot of irredentist propaganda from the tour guides.
In 2000 Hungary signed the Declaration of the Stockholm International Holocaust Forum that obliged the signatories, including Hungary, to teach and disseminate information about the events of the Holocaust. The state of affairs described above doesn’t jibe with these declared obligations.
Since Miklós Horthy’s reburial in Kenderes eight towns honored the former governor either by erecting statues or by naming public places after him–Szeged, Páty, Csókakő, Kereki, Gyömrő, Debrecen, Harc, Kunhegyes–as well as three districts in Budapest. Most of these occurred in 2012. While irredentist national flags (országzászlók), the so-called Árpád-striped flags recalling the Arrow Cross Party of Ferenc Szálasi, are prominently displayed in several towns and villages, the government organized an exhibit in the Holocaust Center about the very same flag’s role in the Holocaust.
For a number of years the Military Museum has organized a remembrance for the “Day of the Breakthrough” of German and Hungarian troops from the Hungarian capital that was surrounded by Soviet troops. Sometimes the day is called the “Day of Honor,” borrowing the term from the Waffen-SS’s motto. On the wall of the museum is a plaque honoring the gendarmes who were entrusted with the deportation of the Hungarian Jews in the summer of 1944. All this is happening while the Criminal Code (§269/C) states that the denial of the Holocaust is a punishable act.
Hungary thus disgraces the memory of the Holocaust and denies the responsibility of the Hungarian state and society. How can the country integrate itself into the European culture of remembrance this way? How can one government undersecretary attend a Holocaust Memorial while another collects money for a Horthy statue? How can they dedicate a year of remembrance to Raoul Wallenberg while the works of racist, antisemitic writers are made part of the school curriculum? Or how can someone–namely Ottokár Prohászka–be deemed a propagator of antisemitic ideas by the Holocaust Center while at least a dozen mostly educational institutions bear his name?
You claim that only the far-right Jobbik is an antisemitic party. However, open neo-Nazi demagoguery goes on unchecked in the Hungarian Parliament even from an MP who happens to be the editor-in-chief of a weekly magazine. The banned Magyar Gárda can parade in military formation with government permission. The government with a two-thirds majority doesn’t move a finger to enforce the law on hate speech.
While in December Antal Rogán, a leading member of the government party, stood by the demonstrators against the infamous Márton Gyöngyösi (Jobbik) who suggested keeping lists of Jews, in February another important member of Fidesz, Lajos Kósa, mayor of Debrecen, made one of the cultural institutions of the city available for Gyöngyösi to deliver a lecture there.
We ask Tamás Fellegi to admit that in Hungary there is a glorification, with the active assistance of the government, of those responsible for the Holocaust. Admit that Hungary is incapable of admitting responsibility for the death of 600,000 Hungarian victims. Admit that Hungary is incapable of recognizing the danger of neo-Nazi ideology fostered by legislators. The Hungarian government is idly watching the ever increasing racism that once already ended in a series of murders. This is a greater problem than the racism of one party.
We ask you to take legislative steps to end the glorification of people who are responsible for the Holocaust–Miklós Horthy, Ferenc Szálasi and members of the government between 1941 and 1945 in addition to those who voted for the Numerus Clausus, among them Ottokár Prohászka and Pál Teleki, and all those who took an active part in spreading racist ideologies, for example Albert Wass, József Nyirő, and Cécile Tormay. Memorials, places suitable for pilgrimages by extremists, plaques, and museums devoted to war criminals should be removed and their erection in the future forbidden.
According to the Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum it is the Holocaust Memorial Center and the Hungarian school system that are responsible for documenting Hungarian events accurately. We can remember these events on international and Hungarian days of remembrance without a denial of the past and without the glorification of those responsible.
Környezet-, Ifjúság- és Gyermekvédelmi Egyesület (KIGYE), Gyömrő /A civic group that protested the renaming a park Miklós Horthy Park
A few months back I ended one of my posts with a question: How long will the Romanian-Hungarian love affair that Viktor Orbán and Traian Băsescu initiated back in 2009 last?
In the last few days over 200 articles have appeared in the Hungarian media on the “székely (Szekler) flag.” Before I venture into the tiff over the flag, let’s look at who the Szeklers or székelyek are. The origin of those Hungarians who live in Covasna (Kovászna) and Harghita (Hargita) counties in the eastern part of Transylvania is shrouded in mystery. Perhaps the most accepted theory is that they were originally a Turkic group that came along with the other Hungarian tribes to present-day Hungary. They were already Hungarian speaking at the time. Originally they settled in Bihor (Bihar) county around Oradea (Nagyvárad). From there they moved farther east and guarded the eastern regions of the Kingdom of Hungary.
As for the origin of the flag, it is even murkier. The Székely Nemzeti Tanács (National Council of Szeklers) claims that the design they came up with was inspired by the flag of the only Szekler prince of Transylvania, Mózes Székely (1553-1603). However, the flag attributed to Mózes Székely was not his heraldic flag but a so-called battle flag he received as a gift from Prince Zsigmond Báthori before a battle led and lost by him against the royal Habsburg forces. It was just one of many such flags and was never associated with the Land of the Szeklers. I think one can safely say that this flag is a new symbol for the Szeklers, who are currently demanding territorial autonomy within Romania.
So, what happened that caused a diplomatic spat between Romania and Hungary? Last month the prefects of the two dominantly Hungarian inhabited counties forbade flying the székely flag on private or public buildings. This flag had been displayed in Romania since 2010. László Kövér, speaker of the Hungarian parliament who supports the National Council of Szeklers, ordered the display of the flag on the parliament building in November 2010. In January 2012 the demonstrators of the Peace March demanded, among other things, autonomy for the Land of the Szeklers and carried hundreds of Szekler flags. The demand for Szekler autonomy spread beyond Transylvania and gained increasing support in Hungary.
After the Covasna County Court ruled that the Szekler flag cannot be displayed in Romania a local leader of RMDSZ asked Hungarian mayors to fly the Szekler flag in a display of solidarity. That was on January 18, and ever since one after the other, especially the more radical Fidesz mayors, have obliged. First it was Siófok that displayed the flag, then Budafok, and a few days later District VII, the historic Jewish quarter of Pest. No wonder that a blog writer who lives there made fun of all those Szeklers who inhabit Erzsébetváros.
Zsolt Németh, undersecretary of the foreign ministry, attended the ceremony that accompanied the display of the flag at the Budafok City Hall on February 5. There he delivered a speech in which he called the Romanian decision to ban the Szekler flag “symbolic aggression” and urged other mayors to follow suit. He insisted that “the steps Romania has taken lately are contrary to Romanian-Hungarian cooperation, the values of strategic partnership, and the norms of the European Union.”
A day later the Romanian prime minister, Viktor Ponta, answered in kind. Romania will not tolerate any interference in Romania’s domestic affairs. He described Németh’s remarks as “impertinent” and called on Romania’s foreign minister to make a vigorous response to the Hungarian government concerning the issue. Bogdan Aurescu, undersecretary of the Romanian Foreign Ministry, considered Németh’s words to be support for territorial autonomy, which the Romanian constitution forbids.
On the very same day Oszkár Füzes, the Hungarian ambassador, was called into the Romanian Foreign Ministry. During the conversation the Hungarian ambassador apparently said that Hungary supports the display of the Szekler flag in Romania. Moreover, he gave an interview to a Romanian television station where he stated that his country supports the Szeklers’ demand for territorial autonomy and gave a piece of advice to the Romanians: they should change their constitution and make Romania a multi-national state. At this point the Romanian foreign minister threatened Oszkár Füzes, who had gotten into trouble earlier in Romania, with expulsion. He added that even before possible expulsion Füzes will be persona non grata in Bucharest. He expressed his hope that Budapest will be able to keep its ambassador in line; if that effort is unsuccessful, “his mandate in the Romanian capital will be short-lived.”
János Mártonyi came to the rescue of his ambassador in Bucharest: “Oszkár Füzes did not say anything on the question of Szekler autonomy that would be different from the opinion of the Hungarian government.” Hungary’s position hasn’t changed with respect of Szekler autonomy in twenty-two years. He added that “we were not the ones who started the war of the flags.’” Zsolt Németh also put in his two cents’ worth, saying that “they are ready to negotiate but the solution is in the hands of Romania.”
RMDSZ, a much more moderate Hungarian party than either Fidesz or the Szeklers’ Magyar Polgári Párt, looked upon all this with trepidation. According to György Frunda, adviser to Viktor Ponta, this “diplomatic scandal” hurts the Hungarian community in Romania. Hunor Kelemen, chairman of RMDSZ, considered Zsolt Németh’s words inflammatory, adding that the fate of the Szekler flag is not in the hands of Hungarian politicians.
Today János Martonyi phoned the Romanian foreign minister, Titus Corlăţean. From what we can learn from the Hungarian news agency’s report, the two agreed to disagree. But “the negotiating partners concluded that the lessening of tensions is mutually desirable.” They will continue negotiations and “they count on the contribution of the diplomatic corps.” So, it seems that Romanian-Hungarian relations are currently so bad that the conflict needs the mediation of outsiders. It sure doesn’t sound too promising.
Hungarian pollsters did after all come out with their most recent findings. Although there are no earthshaking developments in the popularity of politicians and parties, there are a few noteworthy points.
First, neither the student demonstrations nor the government’s announcement of a 10% decrease in natural gas prices made a difference as far as electoral support was concerned. The number of those who are undecided has grown since December. There are, however, signs that something is brewing if questions are posed in a way that doesn’t address actual voter participation. When asked whether they would like to see this government continue after the 2014 elections 53% said no and only 21% answered in the affirmative. The problem for the opposition is that 48% of those who would like to see Viktor Orbán and his pals go don’t support any of the opposition parties either.
Second, although Gordon Bajnai is still more popular than Viktor Orbán, support for E14 has been decreasing in the last two months. There might be at least two reasons for this decline. One is that E14 seems to be a reluctant partner in the initially promising prospect of a united front embracing all democratic opposition forces. I don’t think that it is Gordon Bajnai himself who is responsible for this development, although one can blame him for choosing Milla’s Péter Juhász as one of his partners. Péter Juhász seems to be about as reluctant to work together with MSZP as LMP’s András Schiffer. I recall that back in October, before the Milla-organized mass demonstration, Ferenc Gyurcsány expressed his doubts about the wisdom of this move. I’m afraid he was right. Juhász and other civic organizers are only strengthening the population’s mistrust of parties. But without parties on one side against a ruthlessly led and centralized party on the other side there is no way of winning an election.
While E14 is losing momentum, MSZP under the leadership of Attila Mesterházy is gaining ground, although its gains don’t show up yet in the statistics. One must keep in mind that Fidesz’s lead over MSZP is slight: 1.5 million would vote for Fidesz and 1.3 million for MSZP. So, it doesn’t matter how many people, even among the readers of Hungarian Spectrum, would prefer that MSZP not have an important role in Hungarian political life, its disappearance will not happen any time soon.
But let’s move away from the domestic scene to MSZP’s play for Hungarians abroad. Key MSZP politicians made a pilgrimage to Romania on January 16. As I mentioned earlier, Fidesz is the clear favorite among the Hungarians of Romania. Why? First, the Romanian-Hungarian population is conservative. After all, RMDSZ, the largest and most important Hungarian party, is a right-of-center political formation. Second, because Transylvanian cities formerly inhabited by Hungarians became Romanized with the passing of time, Hungarians for the most part remained in the countryside. And as we know from examples all over the world, there is a great deal of difference in the politics of the cities and the countryside. Third, I’m being told time and time again by people who know the psyche of the Hungarians of Romania that those who live in Transylvania know darned little about what’s going on in Hungary. They made up their minds years ago that Fidesz represents their interests and the socialists do not.
Now with the possibility that perhaps tens of thousands of Romanian Hungarians might cast their votes in the Hungarian elections, MSZP felt that they had to make themselves heard. The first trip was to Cluj/Kolozsvár where Attila Mesterházy outlined the party’s new “nationality policy” (nemzetpolitika). He sketched out five programs. (1) The Carpathian Basin program would in the next ten years try to strengthen the economic and cultural level of Hungarians. (2) If MSZP wins the elections the new Hungarian government would promote education, culture, and the study of history. They would pay special attention to the dissemination of information via the Internet. (3) They would encourage cooperation between the electronic media near the two sides of the border and they would restore the original function of Duna Television. (Duna Television, although ostensibly still the TV station for Hungarians in the neighboring countries, is today under the central governance of all public media and thus its programming doesn’t reflect the needs of those living outside of the country.) (4) They would continue the past practice of joint Romanian-Hungarian cabinet meetings. (5) They would make the dispersal of Hungarian subsidies more democratic by including Romanian-Hungarians in the decision-making process.
In addition to these programs Mesterházy outlined five MSZP strategies. (1) MSZP in contrast to Fidesz will never try to “export domestic political debates” to Hungarian regions in the neighboring countries. (2) The principle of equality between the Hungarian government and the democratically elected representatives and organizations will be scrupulously observed. Unlike Fidesz the government will not pick and choose among Romanian-Hungarian organizations according to political preferences. (3) MSZP will not interfere in domestic issues that might influence the lives of Hungarians in any given country. (4) MSZP’s policy will be based on partnership, and therefore Budapest will not dictate policy to Hungarian representatives and organizations of other countries. (5) The guiding principle will be “nothing about them without them.” MSZP will seek continuous dialogue with the Hungarian political leaders abroad on all questions that concern the Hungarian minority.
Finally, Mesterházy apologized for MSZP’s decision to support those who cast their votes against dual citizenship in the December 5, 2004 referendum. As he put it, “it was a wrong question at the wrong time.” Responsibility for that mistiming lay not only with MSZP. Obviously, he was alluding to Fidesz, the party that in the last moment joined the clamor for a plebiscite.
The reactions of pro-government papers were predictable. It was also expected that László Tőkés, who only recently established a new Hungarian Party supported by Fidesz, immediately attacked the meeting. He is an opponent of both MSZP and RMDSZ. His new party, Erdélyi Magyar Néppárt, ran against RMDSZ in the last election and did poorly. It seems that some of the Hungarians in Transylvania were also skeptical of MSZP’s effort to gain a toehold among Romanian-Hungarians.
Szabadság, a Hungarian-language paper in Cluj/Kolozsvár, republished an analysis from Mensura Transylvanica. The author of the article was not impressed. One by one he criticized past policies of the MSZP-SZDSZ governments and expressed his doubts that the party’s attitude toward the Hungarian minority’s organizations has changed. Moreover, there is nothing new in the proposals or strategies outlined. MSZP’s favorite was always RMDSZ while they were leery of the two right-wing parties, one favored by László Kövér and the other by Viktor Orbán. Mensura Transylvanica doesn’t seem to like the MSZP idea of having good relations with the governments of the neighboring states. This policy harks back to the Antall government that wanted to have a balance between good relations with the governments of the neighboring states and the rights and interests of the Hungarian minority. “All in all, the new program of MSZP does not bring anything new to past practices.” The author especially worried about “the partnership that is being forged by RMDSZ and MSZP.” Whoever our author is, he is no friend of the largest Romanian-Hungarian party. As for MSZP trying to get votes from Transylvania, he considers it a hopeless cause.
Yet Mensura Transylvanica admitted that the visit was “an important milestone in Hungarian nationality policy” and an indication of RMDSZ’s changing policy. Until now, RMDSZ kept equal distance from all Hungarian parties, but now due to the worsening relationship between RMDSZ and Fidesz the political leadership of the party gave up one of its cardinal rules concerning its relationship with Hungary. However, warned the writer of the article, if RMDSZ decided to make this move in the hope of achieving a better relationship with Fidesz, it is a risky undertaking. In order for RMDSZ to benefit from this partnership MSZP and its future allies must win the elections. And our man doesn’t believe that this will happen.
I’m really looking forward to the political polls that can be expected sometime in the middle of February. It seems that the pollsters don’t publish their findings in January, most likely because of the extended holidays at the end of the year.
I’m curious about the results because I have been noticing a quickening pace of activities on the part of the Hungarian Socialist party (MSZP). As I see it, the campaign has begun and on many fronts, both at home and abroad. Because let’s not forget about the 300,000 new citizens living abroad who are now eligible to vote in the Hungarian elections.
It’s no wonder that the government party immediately began a smear campaign against the chief MSZP adviser, Ron Werber from Israel, who was hired by the socialists to assist them in their 2014 election campaign. Werber’s influence was immediately noticeable. As of yesterday, over-sized posters appeared throughout the country with pictures of György Matolcsy and Rózsa Hoffmann. The choice of these two was wise because their activities are widely criticized even within Fidesz circles, but I have the feeling that a poster featuring Viktor Orbán is not long in coming. One could also read about the training of hundreds of MSZP activists who will be in charge of individual electoral districts. It will be their job to mobilize local supporters of the party to get in touch with every voter and convince them that MSZP’s program is worth voting for.
Well, it is time that MSZP woke up to the fact that their old-fashioned campaign strategies no longer work. As Ron Werber pointed out, it is not enough for a few MSZP leaders to make an appearance on ATV or chat on Klubrádió. It is also useless to stand on street corners hoping to pass out a few leaflets. MSZP should have learned something from Fidesz and the strategy it adopted years ago.
Fidesz immediately attacked Ron Werber whose advice in 2002 resulted in a narrow victory for MSZP and SZDSZ while everybody, including Viktor Orbán, expected a sure Fidesz victory. Fidesz’s criticism of Werber has always had a slight anti-Semitic edge. But Fidesz also works with Israeli and Jewish-American advisers, George E. Birnbaum and Arthur Finkelstein, who have conservative parties in the United States and worldwide as clients. Their latest job was to advise Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, in connection with the current Israeli election. It seems that Israeli and/or Jewish advisers are cheap Fidesz targets only if they work for MSZP.
Werber describes himself as a “widely recognized expert on political and communication strategies, … grassroots work and community mobilization.” This is exactly where MSZP is weak. Werber, who now spends two days a week in Hungary, gave the socialists a pep talk (or, perhaps better described, a talking to, four-letter words included) a couple of days ago. Werber told the MSZP leaders not to whine but to get to work. Népszabadság translated one of Werber’s descriptions of the socialists at the moment as “egy nagy rakás szerencsétlenség” which more or less means “futzing around” without producing any results. Well, it is a little bit stronger.
There is a change in MSZP strategy with regard to its relations with Hungarian political parties in the neighboring countries. The largest Hungarian minority exists in Romania, but the number of Hungarians in Slovakia, especially along the Slovak-Hungarian border, is also considerable. Relatively few Hungarians live in Ukraine and Serbia.
In Romania there is no question that Fidesz is the most popular party among Romanian Hungarians. According to a poll conducted by the Hungarian Political Capital and Kvantum Research of Romania (Cluj-Kolozsvár) a year ago, 55% of Transylvanian Hungarians support Fidesz while 35% are undecided. Jobbik, although a lot of people claimed that the party’s support was growing among Romanian Hungarians, is really minuscule, and support for MSZP and LMP is no better. Hungarian Slovaks don’t figure here because according to Slovak law holding two citizenships is illegal. Anyone who takes out Hungarian citizenship automatically loses his original Slovak one.
In a referendum on December 5, 2004 Hungarian voters rejected granting expedited citizenship to Hungarians living in the neighboring countries. Citizenship would have enabled them to carry a “Hungarian ID” (magyar igazolvány) that would have entitled them to certain financial privileges within Hungary. In the end, the referendum was not valid because neither the supporters nor those who objected to the expedited procedure managed to reach the requisite 25% mark (that is, 25% of the entire electorate). Otherwise, those who cast their votes were split on the issue (51.57% for and 48.43% against).
In 2004, with Ferenc Gyurcsány in the lead, the government conducted a campaign against the Fidesz-supported Hungarian ID and expedited citizenship privileges for ethnic Hungarians. The reason was their fear of what has actually happened since: Fidesz would eventually grant voting rights to the new citizens who know very little about the politics in Hungary and who are by and large fully committed to the right-wing Fidesz. Viktor Orbán swore that they had no such long-range plans yet, as we know, after the 2010 elections one of the first pieces of legislation granted fast-track citizenship and with it voting rights to ethnic Hungarians.
It has been known for a long time that Fidesz counts on these new votes at the coming elections. István Mikola, minister of health in the first Orbán administration, made the mistake of divulging the party’s belief that once the Hungarians living in the neighboring countries get the vote “Fidesz will be in power for the next twenty years.” This slip embarrassed the party and in 2010 Mikola was shipped off to Paris to become Hungary’s ambassador to France.
In the last two and a half years, Zsolt Semjén, deputy prime minister in charge of the Hungarian government’s relations with the churches and with the Hungarian minorities living outside the borders of the country, has been busily recruiting new voters. By some estimates, by the time of the 2014 election there will be half a million new citizens eligible to vote if they so desire. But lately, it seems, the enthusiasm for collecting votes from abroad has waned somewhat. There are several possible explanations for the decreased zeal. One is that dual citizenship, especially with voting rights, has never been popular in Hungary, and that includes even Fidesz supporters. The argument is that outsiders don’t have to suffer the consequences of their decisions unlike the domestic voters who do. Another is that political analysts came to the conclusion that the foreign vote might be able to influence the outcome of at most one or two seats in parliament and therefore all that effort will bring meager results. Miklós Hargitai of Népszabadság added that Fidesz doesn’t want to encourage the growing number of young expatriates living in western European countries to cast ballots. These people “voted with their feet” already and most likely would vote again. And the party of their choice would not be Fidesz.
In any case, MSZP decided to change course and court the Hungarians of Transylvania. Attila Mesterházy and a high-level MSZP delegation traveled to Cluj/Kolozsvár to meet the leadership of RMDSZ (Román Magyar Demokrata Szövetség), the largest Hungarian party in Romania. Mesterházy formally apologized for MSZP’s opposition to fast-track citizenship procedures in December 2004. But more about the negotiations in Cluj and their reception in Hungary and in Romania later.