A group of right-wing bikers planned to stage a demonstration all across Budapest, including zooming by the famous synagogue on Dohány utca. The slogan for the demonstration was “Give Gas! Hands off our homeland and our homes!” The demonstration was scheduled for April 21, the same day as the March for Life (Az élet menete). The march, designed to pay tribute to the victims of the Hungarian Holocaust, has been held every year since 2002. Last year’s march was especially memorable, and I wrote about it right after the event.
Readers of Hungarian Spectrum are familiar with the Goy Bikers, whom I introduced as early as 2008. The organizers of this particular gathering belong to another group who call themselves Nemzeti Érzelmű Motorosok, loosely translated as Patriotic Bikers. As one can see, however, patriotism is not exactly their most notable characteristic. Their anti-Semitism is. At least the Goy Bikers proudly identify themselves as an anti-Semitic group, which is reflected even in their name. These guys, on the other hand, hide behind their patriotism.
And as if we didn’t have enough of these characters lately, there are also the Scythian Bikers (Szkíta Motorosok) who are ready to join the “Give Gas!” demonstration. As a reminder, the Scythians were an Iranian tribe and Jobbik is especially fond of the current regime in Iran. According to some commentators, the Goy Bikers have closer relations with Fidesz while the Patriots are linked to Jobbik. We know that the chief organizer of the “Give Gas!” demonstration, Sándor Jeszenszky, is the Jobbik chairman of Budapest’s District XI. (District XI, by the way, is one of the ritziest sections of Buda.) Gábor Vona, the chairman of Jobbik, is apparently furious over Jeszenszky’s connection with the Patriotic Bikers, although I doubt that the party chairman knew nothing about it earlier.
The organizers proudly announced on their posters that the bikers will be escorted by the police. From the poster it is also clear that this is not the first such demonstration organized by the Patriotic Bikers. It is the second. They made an appearance for the first time in 2012 on the day the March of Life took place in Budapest. Why didn’t we hear about their demonstration a year ago? Well, there were a couple of articles about the bikers protesting high gasoline prices, higher tolls, and new rules and regulations concerning drivers’ licenses. So, their demonstration couldn’t be directly connected to the March for Life. This time there is no question what “Give Gas!” means. Mind you, the “Give Gas!” slogan is not exactly original. On a 2011 poster of the German National Democratic Party (NPD) the party leader Udo Voigt can be seen riding a motorbike with the slogan “Gas geben.”
The Hungarian Jewish umbrella organization, MAZSIHISZ, called on everybody to come to the gate of the Jewish quarters in order to prevent the bikers from entering. And indeed that would have been one of the two legal answers to the bikers’ provocative plans once the police accepted their application to demonstrate. The other would have been for members of the government, including Viktor Orbán, to join the March for Life and walk along with the crowd and those opposition politicians who normally attend. But given Viktor Orbán’s reluctance to alienate the extreme right and his negative attitude toward any kind of cooperation with the opposition, we knew that he would neither show solidarity with the Jewish population of Hungary nor walk alongside his political opponents. However, considering that the next meeting of the World Jewish Congress will be held in Budapest, which apparently Viktor Orbán himself will attend, the prime minister decided that he had to do something, however uncomfortable it might be for him. A truly uncomfortable position given Orbán’s relations with the extreme right and his fears that the fourth amendment to the new constitution may not be well received in Brussels. It took only a few hours for Viktor Orbán himself to forbid the “Give Gas!” anti-Semitic demonstration.
This happened on Monday in Parliament. Pál Steiner of MSZP asked Viktor Orbán, who happened to be in the chamber, about a “Nazi-like” (náci szellemű) demonstration that is being “led by the police.” Although according to house rules it should have been Sándor Pintér who answered the question, Viktor Orbán, stressing the importance of the issue, rose to reply to Steiner’s question directly. In his answer he informed Steiner that he had already “instructed Sándor Pintér not to grant permission” for the bikers to hold their demonstration. A few hours later the organizers were informed in writing that the announced demonstration cannot be held.
Viktor Orbán as prime minister has the right to instruct his ministers to do or not to do certain things. Did Pintér have to follow Orbán’s instructions and did the police have to obey Pintér’s instructions? The answer is yes. The only remaining question is whether it was legal to forbid the biker demonstration. Legal experts claim that most likely it was not legal. According to laws currently in force, police competence to decide who can and who cannot demonstrate is extremely limited. As the law reads, the police force “doesn’t permit” a demonstration; it only “acknowledges” its taking place. There are only two circumstances under which the police may not “acknowledge” an already announced demonstration: (1) if the demonstration seriously endangers the functioning of the parliament or the courts or (2) if the flow of traffic cannot be ensured via an alternate route.
The bikers announced their demonstration to the police on April 3, and because the police didn’t raise any objection to their holding the rally within 48 hours they in effect sanctioned it. When on April 8 the police refused to recognize the demonstration, they gave as their reason that the demonstration “might be accompanied by an assault against public order.” But to prohibit a demonstration on the grounds that it may involve a crime is not lawful. If in the course of the event there are signs of violence the police can simply disperse the crowd.
Given the presumed illegality of the police action taken on the instruction of Sándor Pintér and Viktor Orbán, it is not at all surprising that the Patriotic Bikers are challenging the decision in court. It can easily happen that the Bikers will win. As one of the legal experts said, by now Viktor Orbán and his government don’t even try to pretend that Hungary is a full-fledged democracy. The quasi-dictator can transgress existing laws and act on his own. And his “subjects” even thank him for it, as Pál Steiner did in parliament. Such occurrences can also happen in a country where the laws concerning freedom of assembly and its limitations are not properly spelled out. Just as Viktor Orbán can forbid this particular demonstration, he might be able to do the same when the democratic opposition wants to go out on the streets the next time. Although the anti-Semites’ bike ride is odious, the way in which Viktor Orbán and the police handled it shows the state of Hungarian democracy today.
Medián, one of the most reliable polling firms in Hungary, decided to expand its monthly survey on party preferences. In March its questionnaire also included questions on people’s choices for the next prime minister of Hungary. But before we get to preferences for prime minister, let’s look at the March results in general. I will compare the results of Medián, Ipsos, Tárki, and Századvég.
I would like to emphasize that under the present circumstances I don’t give much credence to the results because of the large number of people who either don’t know for whom they will vote or refuse to answer the question. Moreover, a comparison of the results shows that they are all over the map. I will give a few figures for the population as a whole because, so far ahead of the actual election, these are the most reliable or, perhaps better put, the least unreliable data.
Medián found that Fidesz, which stood at 26% in February, moved up one percentage point to 27% while MSZP showed a 3% gain during the same period, to 15%. Jobbik is at 11% while Együtt 2014-PM is at 6%, down 2% in one month. DK and LMP are each supported by 2% of the population. From these results one would predict a large Fidesz lead, but one must keep in mind that 55% of the people would like see a change of government in 2014. And 80% of the people think that Hungary is heading in the wrong direction. So the situation is less rosy for Fidesz than one might think. In Medián’s sample 37% claimed no party preference.
Ipsos’s figures for Fidesz and MSZP were similar to those of Medián (Fidesz 24% and MSZP 16%). Jobbik has the support of 8% and Együtt 2014 5%. DK has 1% and LMP 2%. According to Ipsos, Fidesz is doing extremely well. In one month they added about half a million new supporters (a 5% gain).
Tárki came up with the most startling results. In their sample Fidesz didn’t gain at all. In fact, the party lost a few thousand votes. But the real surprise was that, according to Tárki, MSZP’s share is only 9% in the population as a whole. In just one month the party lost 3% of its voters. The rest of the parties didn’t do well either: Jobbik stands at 8%, LMP at 1%. Együtt 2014 gained voters (from 5% to 6%).
And finally here are Századvég’s results. I ought to mention that Századvég is not only a pollster but also a Fidesz political and economic think tank. Fidesz, as in the other polls, leads with 24% while MSZP is at 14%. Both Jobbik and LMP lost in comparison to the February data (Jobbik 8%, LMP 2%). Együtt 2014 has a 6% share and DK has 1%.
And now let’s turn to Medián’s analysis of voter attitudes toward the leading politicians, the ones who are most often mentioned as possible candidates for the premiership. Medián was especially curious about the chances of opposition leaders against Fidesz’s candidate, who surely will be Viktor Orbán.
Medián inquired about the viability of candidates in two different questions. The first listed the following potential candidates: Viktor Orbán, Gordon Bajnai, Attila Mesterházy, Vona Gábor, and Ferenc Gyurcsány. Viktor Orbán is being supported by practically all Fidesz voters, which translates into a support of 29% among Hungarian adults over the age of 18. He was followed by Gordon Bajnai with 16% and Mesterházy and Vona, each with 9%. Ferenc Gyurcsány received 4%. However, when Medián left out Jobbik from the opposition parties the results were entirely different. Viktor Orbán would receive only 1% from voters of the democratic opposition parties, Vona received no support, but 41% of these voters found Gordon Bajnai suitable and Mesterházy was supported by only 28%. Gyurcsány received 13%.
Medián also posed another question concerning candidates’ suitability for premiership. Here the choice was only between Orbán and Bajnai on the one hand, and Orbán and Mesterházy on the other. In both cases Viktor Orbán would win, but while he would win against Bajnai with a small margin (32:28), he would do much better against Mesterházy (34:23). These figures, I should repeat, apply to adults of voting age.
If we move on to those who claim that they will definitely cast their votes at the next election, the result is even more striking. Among these people Gordon Bajnai is the clear winner; he would win over Orbán by 26:19. On the other hand, if Mesterházy were the candidate for the post, 21% would vote for Orbán and only 15% for Mesterházy. So, if we were close to the election there is no question that the democratic opposition would fare much better with Gordon Bajnai as its joint candidate than with Attila Mesterházy. This is a finding MSZP should take seriously.
For the MSZP leadership there is another warning sign from the Medián poll. Among MSZP voters only every second one (47%) finds Mesterházy the most suitable candidate to be the next prime minister of Hungary while 26% would like to see Bajnai and 14% Gyurcsány at the top of the ticket. All in all, although support for Együtt 2014 is small in comparison to that of MSZP, Bajnai’s popularity is greater than Mesterházy’s.
I have a very long list of possible topics but I know that I will never get to the end of it because in the meantime newer topics keep emerging. So I decided to deal with several themes today.
Let’s start with the older ones. For a few days in January, the newspapers were full of historical reminiscences and debates about the role and fate of the Hungary’s Second Army in 1943. I myself wrote a post on January 15 which engendered a lively debate among the readers of Hungarian Spectrum. As usual, after a flurry of articles interest in the subject waned until two months later when a book of Soviet documents was published that revealed that some of the occupying Hungarian soldiers behaved abominably. One of the editors of the volume is Tamás Krausz, who for a while was also active in MSZP’s left wing.
The documents are based on eyewitness accounts that were collected immediately following the withdrawal of the German, Finnish, Latvian, Romanian, and Hungarian forces. According to Krausz, German historians consider these documents authentic. He emphasized that the Hungarians were no better or worse than the other occupying forces but that members of the Second Army committed “war crimes and genocide” alongside the others. Why didn’t these documents emerge earlier? According to Krausz, because during the socialist period neither side wanted to talk about the other side’s crimes. As long as the Hungarians didn’t mention the behavior of the Soviet troops in Hungary, the Soviets decided to be quiet about Hungarian atrocities. But now that former satellite countries are bringing up the sins of the Soviets, the Russians decided to release these documents. There are a couple of good summaries of an interview with Krausz and of a conversation between him and a couple of Russian historians on ATV.
It was inevitable that historians whose ideological views are at odds with those of Tamás Krausz would raise their voices. And indeed, there was a round-table discussion between the two sides that turned into a shouting match. The right-leaning historians doubted the very authenticity of the documents. The final word came from Krisztián Ungváry, who admitted that Hungarian soldiers, like all the others, were responsible for mass murders. But he added that this is “a sensitive topic” and therefore it is not surprising that there was deadly silence in historical circles after the documentary volume appeared. All this came as a shock in Hungary because it has long been accepted that the Hungarian soldiers, unlike the Soviets, behaved admirably in the occupied territories.
Another older story is also connected to history and historians. László Karsai, a historian of the Holocaust, in an interview on ATV called Jobbik a neo-Nazi party back in December. Jobbik sued because Karsai, by referring to them as a neo-Nazi party, damaged Jobbik’s good name. The trial was scheduled for January 10. As usual, no decision was rendered and the verdict was postponed until March. At last the verdict was announced on March 22. The judges decided that Jobbik is not a neo-Nazi party. In my opinion, the courts simply shouldn’t accept such cases because the ideological nature of a party cannot be decided by a court decision. Such historical debates have no place in a courtroom. In any case, Karsai was fined 66,000 forints and he must in a private letter apologize for his “mistake.” Jobbik can make the letter public. Karsai is appealing the verdict.
And finally, there was a fascinating interview a few days ago with Iván Sándor, a writer. The interview was conducted by Vera Lánczos, one of my favorite members of the Galamus Group. Although Lánczos was interested in the cultural and educational “reforms” introduced by the Orbán government, Sándor went back to the Horthy regime with the example of the Klebelsberg reforms and their consequences. In his opinion the new structures of the present government “will force the spirit of tyranny on the new generations.” After all, there is a return to the program of Kuno Klebelsberg. Yes, says Sándor, Klebelsberg did a lot of good things but “not much is said about the content of these educational reforms.” Even during Klebelsberg’s life one could feel the results, but after his death, especially during the premiership of Gyula Gömbös, the negative results of this educational program came to full bloom. The Hungarian youth were not taught to think, and therefore they could easily be manipulated. Many of them willingly served a regime that led the country into the abyss.
Klebelsberg’s cultural policies can also be criticized. Although he sent talented Christian youth to western countries to study, at the same time he tried to promote a kind of culture that turned against western European literature because that kind of literature “doesn’t serve” the spirit of the country and its culture; it is not patriotic enough. Present-day Kulturkampf in Hungary bears a strong resemblance to its 1920s variety.
And that leads me to one of today’s news items: Western artists called on Hungarians to rebel against Orbán’s regime. They claim that with the usual kinds of protests one cannot achieve anything in Hungary anymore and therefore they call on the intelligentsia of Europe to intervene. Everybody must work together–writers, scientists, philosophers, film and theater directors, musicians, poets, Greenpeace activists. Everybody who wants a democratic Hungary. “Hungary must be liberated.”
That’s all for today.
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.
* * *
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.
I have been complaining for some time about the state’s meddling in artistic and intellectual life by awarding hundreds of decorations and prizes to “worthy” individuals. This practice began some time in the nineteenth century, albeit on a very limited basis. There was the Order of St. Stephen, established by Queen Maria Theresa, which ceased to exist after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. In 1930 Regent Miklós Horthy established the so-called Corvin Chain. From the list of recipients it is clear that ideological commitment was an important consideration in the selection process. Viktor Orbán already during his first stint in office worked to revive the spirit of the Horthy era and reinstated the Corvin Chain. After the lost elections, the socialist-liberal government scrapped it. I wrote about these old and new decorations in November 2011.
In any case, if it depended on me there would be no state prizes given out to writers, scientists, actors, and artists because it is becoming evident that these twice-a-year (March 15 and August 20) awards are for the most part payback for services rendered to the party and government. This is bad enough, but what happened this year is beyond the pale. The Orbán government, in addition to rewarding its political favorites, decided to decorate far-right extremists and charlatans.
Belonging to the extremist category is Ferenc Szaniszló, a reporter for Echo TV, whose program Világ-Panoráma was considered unacceptable even by the Media Council; the station was fined for broadcasting Szaniszló’s antisemitic racism. And now he has received the highest honor a reporter or journalist can get, the Táncsics Prize.
I watched a few of his programs and came to the conclusion that he is not only a political extremist, he most likely doesn’t have all his marbles. Because what can one conclude when Szaniszló stands in front of the camera saying that there was a Bulgarian fortune-teller whose prophecies have come true 80% of the time and who has foretold that in 2015 aliens will arrive from outer space who will seek out the Hungarians because they are the only ones who can solve the problem of communication between themselves and earthlings. The reason: Hungarian is an “ancient Ur-language.”
During the same tirade he goes on and on about the terrible liberals (he calls them “liberos” and the liberos are the Jews) who wanted to destroy the country by insisting on a professional army whose members are mercenaries of globalization. Hungarian soldiers are sent far away from Hungary instead of being kept at home where they could fight “terrorism.” Here the word “terrorism” is a euphemism for “Gypsy crime.” So, Szaniszló, the democrat, would use the Hungarian army against the country’s citizens. Behind all this terrorism are the Jews who defend the Roma in order to destroy the Hungarians. In any case, the country is divided into three distinct groups: the Hungarians, the Gypsies, and the Jews.
Elsewhere Szaniszló talks about the garbage (szemét in Hungarian) that covers the entire country and plays fast and loose with the similarity in pronunciation between “szemét” and “szemita.” He is “anti-szemét” because it is the desire of these “szemetek” that everything should be theirs. But “we will clear them out of the country.”
It would take pages and pages to list all the nonsense this man can come up with. So, here is a video that will give those who speak Hungarian a glimpse into Szaniszló’s world.
Several earlier recipients of the Táncsics Prize renounced it in protest. Among them, Péter Németh (Népszava), György Bolgár (Klubrádió, ATV), Katalin Rangos (Klubrádió), Mátyás Vince, György Nej, Zoltán Horváth, to mention only a few.
But Szaniszló is not the only one whose contribution to Hungarian culture is questionable. Another awardee is Kornél Bakay, who claims to be an archaeologist. It is true that he was a student of Gyula László, a researcher into the early history of Hungarians, but eventually Bakay ended up in a far-right non-accredited “university” in Miskolc. According to him, runic writing is a variation of Sumerian; the Hungarians are the direct descendants of the Scythians and the Huns. He claims, very much like the “scientists” in Hitler’s Germany, that Jesus was not a Jew but a Parthian prince and that Jews in general were slave traders. He denies the very existence of ancient Israel. He even “proved” that the loss of Hungary to the Turks in Mohács (1526) was the work of Jews. Bakay’s knowledge of Hungarian history is so poor that even his facts are wrong. He goes so far as to suggest that ancient Greek culture is somehow connected to the Hungarians. In 2003 he organized an exhibition: “Soldiers of Horthy and Arrow Cross Men of Szálasi” that eventually was closed due to its obvious adulation of the Hungarian far right in the 1930s.
Another strange choice is Ajándok Eöry. Apparently “Ajándok” is an old Hungarian name that means “Gift of God,” the male form of Ajándék. It is a very rare name, and I have the suspicion that Eöry didn’t come into the world with it. If you want to be amused, you can listen to his lecture on YouTube about the fanciful theory that the Chinese learned acupuncture from the Hungarians. Proof? There is a slang expression in Hungarian “ennek lőttek,” meaning “that’s finished,” but its literal translation is “it was shot at.” Why? Because ancient Hungarians shot arrows into the dead lying in their graves in order to get “the evil spirit” out of them!
The lecture was delivered at the Szentkorona Szabadegyetem (Free University of the Holy Crown) whose founder is Tibor Varga, who calls himself a legal historian. It is worth taking a look at the website of Szentkorona országa (Country of the Holy Crown). According to the website, Hungary was at one time a country in the middle of which God lived!! All of the lectures that are listed are “way out,” and the speakers for the most part are charlatans who belong to the lunatic fringe. Even the qualifications of better ones, like László Bárdi of the University of Pécs, are questionable. He became a Chinese expert and began publishing on Chinese-Hungarian cultural relations via the Huns only in the 1990s. Prior to that he was a high school teacher and eventually a supervisor of teachers.
What does Zoltán Balog, the minister who handed out these decorations and prizes, have to say to all this? He claims that he got the list from different committees and assumed that everything was all right. He didn’t check on any of the recipients’ credentials. He contends that he had never heard of Ferenc Szaniszló. Hard to believe. Instead, one must look upon this list of recipients as a gesture from the Orbán government toward Jobbik and the extreme right.
Before I tackle today’s topic I would like to call everybody’s attention to Professor Kim Scheppele’s article on the Hungarian government’s attempt to silence the Hungarian Constitutional Court, which lately has found several pieces of legislation unconstitutional. The title of her piece is “Constitutional Revenge”; it appeared on Paul Krugman’s blog in The New York Times. You can read it at
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I’m afraid I have to write again about the infamous Zsolt Bayer, a scribbler of extremist views. There are tabloid journalists like Bayer everywhere, but Zsolt Bayer is not a run-of-the-mill hack. He holds the #5 membership card of Fidesz. (László Kövér, president of the Hungarian parliament, holds the #1 card.) So, he was one of the original members of the tightly-knit group that eventually transformed their student association into a large and powerful party.
On February 27 Tamás Fellegi, former minister of economic development and minister without portfolio in charge of the nonexistent IMF negotiations, testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs (Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations) about “Anti-Semitism: A Growing Threat to All Faiths.” The complete text of his testimony can be read on this blog. Here I would like to quote only a couple of sentences from Fellegi’s testimony:
One should not really argue that certain writings by journalists associated with the center‐right, such as the infamous commentaries of Zsolt Bayer, cannot be deemed as racist. It is also a fact that there are people associated with the center‐right political community who support the rehabilitation of the historic period of Admiral Horthy. I am personally against his rehabilitation, and that applies to a wide range of political and literary figures of that era.
Please pay attention to the careful wording. He admits that Zsolt Bayer is considered to be associated with Fidesz–in Fellegi’s word “the center-right”–and that he is a racist. Mind you, Fellegi’s sentence construction is rather complicated, most likely in order to muddy the waters. He also makes it clear that this opinion is his alone. He didn’t say what I think he should have said, that “my party considers Zsolt Bayer a racist and therefore the leadership decided to disassociate itself from him.”
On the very same day that Fellegi testified in Washington about the excellent record of the Orbán government in its resolute fight against antisemitism, Zsolt Bayer celebrated his 50th birthday with friends at the Barabás Villa in Budapest. László Kövér delivered a toast to Bayer, stating that they “had spent twenty-five years together, through thick and thin and in sadness and joy. Not once have we disowned each other, and we never will.” That is clear, isn’t it.
Zsolt Bayer, who played a key role in organizing the Peace Marches that Viktor Orbán found so critical to his political self-preservation, is an important man as far as the Orbán government is concerned. And if Bayer didn’t know that before Kövér’s endorsement, he certainly knows it now. And he became emboldened. Three days later came a new article in Magyar Hírlap where Bayer is a senior contributor.
As usual, translating Zsolt Bayer is hellishly difficult. The title of the article poses problems already. “Önsorsrontás” is close to untranslatable as one word. Basically it means that “we ourselves are responsible for our future demise.” The “we” here is “the white, Christian race.” Although Bayer never uses the words “Jew” or “Jewish,” he notes that those who have been doing everything in their power to ruin that white Christian race have been at it ever since 1919. I think the date is significant. After all, this marks the short rule of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, which is considered by the right a “Jewish affair.”
And there is another sinful group in every country–the generation of the 1968 “mummies” who complain about the “fascism that is living with us.” Their complaints about the far right and its dangers are merely a “self-justification” for their existence. These people (Jews, liberals?) organize themselves “in packs and attack their victims like loathsome drooling hyenas.” And here comes a typical Zsolt Bayer sentence: “For you only death is the proper punishment. Because you believe in death, in public executions while your victims are left alone, go bankrupt, their friends deny them, they lose their jobs, and come to a sorry end. This is your goal.” Therefore their sins are immeasurable and they will be punished. Because these mysterious people don’t realize “what monster [they] are trying to resuscitate. In fact, [they] woke him up already.”
All that sounds pretty threatening, but then comes the twist. “You don’t foresee yet that it will be only we who raise our voices in your defense. We, the marked victims. We are the only ones to whom you can turn for help. It will be only we who will hide you. Because we are good to the point of ruining ourselves. And take this all very seriously. You miserable ones.”
This is not Jobbik speaking but one of the founders of Fidesz who is assured that he will always be among the chosen. Therefore, it really doesn’t matter what Tamás Fellegi personally thinks of Zsolt Bayer or how much János Martonyi complains about “the anti-Hungarian hysterical propaganda that tries to make Fidesz an extension of the racist Jobbik.”
Only recently Ian Kelly, American ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, stated that the American government expected the Hungarian government to condemn Zsolt Bayer for his antisemitic and anti-Gypsy writings because of the documented connection between hate speech and crimes against humanity. The Hungarian government didn’t move a finger. Fellegi’s testimony therefore is worth absolutely nothing. Can you imagine what the members of this subcommittee would think if they could read the writings of the owner of the #5 membership card of Fidesz, the party of the “center-right” Fellegi is so proud of?
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
In September of 2012 there was an uproar in the Hungarian parliament over the issue of domestic violence; I spent at least two posts on the issue. By popular demand, the House had to consider including domestic violence in the criminal code. It was clear from the beginning that the Fidesz-KDMP caucus was planning to vote against the measure. One member of the government party after the other got up, delivering ringing speeches about “the place of the woman” in their world: they should produce lots of children, perhaps five or six. Once they did their patriotic duty they could look around and fulfill their career plans.
I first wrote about the subject on September 12, but a week later I returned to the question because Fidesz politicians launched an attack on “bluestockings”–to use the Reverend Zoltán Balog’s term–because they dared to call domestic violence “family violence.” Never mind that the dictionary meaning of domestic violence is “violence toward or physical abuse of one’s spouse or domestic partner.” This insistence on avoiding the word “family” highlights Fidesz-KDNP’s attempt to elevate the notion of family to something close to sacred. The word “family” cannot be associated with anything negative, like violence.
Yet the very same people who are so worried about the sanctity of the family and the role of women in it treat their female colleagues like dirt. According to the liberal Klára Ungár (SZEMA / Szabad Emberek Magyarországért), the women in parliament have been maltreated by their male colleagues ever since the dawn of the new democratic era in Hungary. In those days, she claims, the young male politicians of the Free Democrats were a great more enlightened than the older crew of the right-of-center coalition who often made boorish jokes at the expense of their female colleagues. Another former Fidesz female politician, Zsuzsanna Szelényi, on the other hand, described this college crowd as macho from day one. Yes, there were some female members of the group, mostly girlfriends or later wives, but it was a predominantly male gathering where the presence of women was not always welcome.
Since then not much has changed in the Hungarian parliament. If a woman rises to speak, especially if that woman is from the opposition, obscene, demeaning shouts ring out from the Fidesz-KDNP-Jobbik section of the House. On such occasions the right side of the aisle closes ranks. Not even the women of Fidesz-KDNP raise their voices in protest. They don’t have the slightest sense of solidarity with members of their own sex.
The latest scandal involved Ágnes Osztolykán, an LMP member of parliament and a woman of Roma origin. A couple of days ago she published a post on her blog entitled “Darkness in the Honored House.” Late at night on the first day of the new parliamentary session she discovered that she had no money to take a taxi home. She found a group of colleagues chit-chatting in the corridor and asked whether “one of them could take her home.” She almost apologetically adds, “after the fact, by now I know that this was a wrong question.” Almost automatically her first thought was self-accusation. She asked the wrong question. So, she blames herself for the treatment she received because, after all, one can expect only an obscene answer to this kind of request. This is how things are in Hungary.
You can imagine what followed. Some MPs suggested that they would take her home, but to their own apartments. Osztolykán adds: “I was hoping they would stop, but in fact they got more and more into the swing of things” until a Jobbik member of parliament, one of the most primitive characters of the bunch, György Gyula Zagyva, about whom I wrote a post already, got involved. Zagyva told her that he wouldn’t mind f…ing her even though she was a Gypsy.
The comments that followed this revelation were, in my opinion, on the wrong track. Everybody concentrated on the fact that these people are members of parliament and should set a good example. No wonder, they added, that people use such filthy language everywhere.
But this is not the point. First of all, members of parliament are part and parcel of society as a whole. Perhaps the composition of this particular parliament is lopsided in the sense that the men and women who sit in the parliamentary delegations of Fidesz and the Christian Democrats are Viktor Orbán’s personal choices. You may recall that the candidates had to be personally approved by the “pocket dictator,” as someone called Orbán not so long ago. And Jobbik’s presence in the House only adds to the crowd that considers women not quite equal to men. Don’t forget that it was young Jobbik activists who listed incoming freshmen and made all sorts of obscene notations when it came to female members of the class.
I also blame Hungarian women for this state of affairs, and I do hope that a few more incidents like this will wake them up. In a country where people equate feminism with lesbianism and where women seem unaware of their inferior status in society they are easy targets. If women don’t stand up and say that enough is enough, nothing will change either inside or outside of parliament.
The solution to all this is not the white rose delivered by the Fidesz MP after he had insulted a female member of parliament but a radical change in the status of women in Hungarian society. As for the white rose, in the MP’s place I wouldn’t have accepted it.
Yesterday I indicated that the administration at ELTE must have known what was going on in HÖK (Hallgatói Önkormányzat). It has been an open secret inside and outside of the university for years.
Since I aired my suspicions yesterday afternoon, more and more facts have surfaced about the activities not only of the HÖK of the Faculty of Arts but also of the HÖK that represents the law students at ELTE.
Last night a website appeared written by an unnamed student of ELTE’s faculty of arts (BTK) who penetrated Ádám Garbai’s HÖK, allegedly in order to unveil their activities. Although some of the Fidesz politicians, like István Klinghammer, the new undersecretary in charge of higher education and former president of ELTE, expressed their suspicion that the list is a fake, or as Klinghammer put it, “a provocation,” our unnamed student swears that the lists are for real. Our “secret agent” claims that “the reign of Jobbik in HÖK has been going on for years with the tacit consent of the administration.” I think that it is enough to look at the following interview of Olga Kálmán with György Fábri, vice president of ELTE, to believe what our “secret agent” alleges.
Fábri seems to be very satisfied with the work of HÖK, which he considers to be a vital part of Hungarian university life. He obviously wouldn’t like to curtail their wide financial and educational powers. As for the concern expressed by Olga Kálmán about the undue influence of Jobbik within HÖK, he defended their right to belong to the party of their choice. As it turned out at the end of the conversation, he as a student was one of the founders of the first HÖK at ELTE. I couldn’t help thinking that Fábri might be a supporter of Jobbik himself. If that is the case, HÖK will never be cleansed, at least not as long as Viktor Orbán is the prime minister of Hungary.
But it is not only the administration that seems to be tacitly supporting HÖK and through it Jobbik. There are several faculty members who are actively involved with this extremist party. For example, János Stummer, former BTK HÖK deputy chairman, who just started a student movement at ELTE called Magyar Tavasz Mozgalom (Hungarian Spring). A video that is available on kuruc.info.hu about this movement indicates that it subscribes to a far right irredentist ideology. Even the freshman picnics that BTK HÖK organizes regularly end with “Down with Trianon,” says our informer.
HÖK activists have been involved with Jobbik’s election campaigns, often being used to distribute Jobbik propaganda material. Their latest contribution was the distribution of 6,600 copies of a free Jobbik newspaper called Hazai Pálya (Domestic Course) in District VI in Budapest. Often the propaganda material was actually stored in the university’s building on Múzeum körút. Naturally, after the scandal hit the Internet the Jobbik leadership tried to distance itself from the official university student groups.
The semi-official government paper Magyar Nemzet was slow to respond to ATV’s publication of the list and the comments. Quite a few hours passed before they managed to find their voice. A few minutes after Antal Rogán warned people that one must carefully check the authenticity of the list, Magyar Nemzet decided to publish an article with the headline: “One must very carefully check whether the students really made lists at the university.” Almost as if the editors waited for a signal from the government on how to respond to this embarrassing event.
Naturally, HírTV was quick to interview Ádám Garbai. Garbai “admitted that they were negligent” because they were not careful enough when storing the lists and thus enemies of HÖK could get to them and alter their content. Because this is Garbai’s story. He also claims that he has not seen any lists since he became chairman in January 2011. Our informant predicts that they will deny the charges to the bitter end.
Yesterday right-wing students tried to break HaHa’s strike. However, they seem to have a manpower shortage. They managed to gather about 50 students, not all of whom were students at ELTE’s BTK. Their plan was to join the HaHa students and outvote them in order to end the strike. Once that plan failed, they were satisfied to conduct a shouting match in which they fiercely defended HÖK and claimed that the list is a fake.
So, here we are in a politically polarized situation at the universities. All this while no political activity is allowed in Hungarian universities. This decision was made back in 1990 when perhaps the restriction was more understandable than it is today. During the Rákosi and Kádár regimes both at the workplaces and at the schools and universities there used to be communist party cells. Naturally, the opposition didn’t want parties to recruit or put pressure on students and employees and therefore fought to end the practice.
But in normal democratic societies it is in schools and universities that students learn the rudiments of democracy in theory and practice. In the United States already in elementary school students learn to campaign for class offices. By the time they reach college age they have a fair idea about political campaigning. Both in Canada and in the United States political parties have student organizations in the universities. I urge readers to take a look at the parties that exist at Yale University under the umbrella organization called the Political Union. To ban political discussion at universities is a crime against democracy.
Moreover, as we can see, the ban was good for only one thing: the underground–or not so underground–growth of a racist, irredentist, far right party. And this official student organization has the support of both the university and the government. It is a shame.
Demokratikus Koalíció was the first to respond with a suggestion that might remedy the current situation. Csaba Molnár, one of the deputy chairmen of DK, suggested that parties should be able to function under the supervision of the university authorities. This is the situation in Germany and in Austria. He might also have mentioned the United Kingdom, Canada, or the United States. I can only agree.
Early yesterday morning an incredible news item appeared on ATV’s website. It reported that for years the Hallgatói Önkormányzat (HÖK) of ELTE’s faculty of arts (BTK) has been keeping tabs on incoming students’ alleged religious affiliation, ethnic background, sexual orientation, and political views. For good measure they also assessed the sexual potential of female students. What one ought to know about this particular HÖK is that it has been a breeding ground for Jobbik politicians and activists. But if for years no one got wind of this group’s illicit activities, why it is that someone, undoubtedly from the inner circle of BTK HÖK, decided to spill the beans?
I guess because someone decided that HÖK is supposed to represent the interests of the student body and not go to the president of the university and complain against student activists and those faculty members who are siding with them. Because this is what Ádám Garbai, the present chairman of BTK HÖK, did. By the following day ATV had access to a spreadsheet compiled by BTK HÖK on the salient qualities of incoming freshmen from 2009.
I must admit that I was unfamiliar with many of the descriptions. Although I could figure out what “cigó” and “libsi” could mean, when it came to “ratyi” I had to look it up on the Internet. Among the notations: “atheist, acquaintance of Demszky” (SZDSZ mayor of Budapest between 1990 and 2010), “stupid Lutheran girl, revisionist, Transylvanian picture,” “he has an ugly Jewish head,” “ugly broad who bicycles,” “little liberal fag,” and so on. I urge people who know the language to take a look at the original text. Some of the notes also described actions of the student association. For example, the almighty HÖK leaders who decide whether someone can have a room in the dormitory remarked that “we aren’t going to give him a place.”
Beside each name there was a hidden question whether the person is Jewish or not. Answer: I for igen and N nor nem. Party preferences were noted too: A = MSZP; B = LMP, C = Fidesz, D = Jobbik.
Every year the great minds of BTK HÖK created this kind of Excel spreadsheet on the incoming freshmen. In 2009 Ádám Garbai, the current chairman, was only a freshman. Máté Silhavy was in charge of the spreadsheet. Silhavy doesn’t deny that he compiled the list, but he claims that the obscene, degrading, and illegal comments on the personal habits of students were not his. They were added to the list later, he claims. Garbai yesterday still loudly proclaimed that he was going to sue ATV. I somehow doubt it.
Both the university and Attila Péterfalvy, the government official in charge of privacy issues, are taking the case very seriously because what these young student leaders did is a crime. The university this afternoon suspended HÖK activities at ELTE”s BTK.
I find it hard to imagine that the university’s administrators didn’t know what was going on in BTK’s HÖK. Moreover, they had to know that ever since 2005 the chairmen and all the important leaders of HÖK have been either Jobbik party members or activists. The current chairman, Ádám Garbai, is expecting to hear shortly whether he can be a full-fledged member of the party. His predecessor, László Nemes, was a member of Jobbik. So was his predecessor, István Szávay. According to an article that appeared in Magyar Narancs in May 2012, Garbai’s election in January 2012 was most likely fraudulent: his predecessor, Nemes, fired the top student leaders who were opposed to Garbai’s election. The election had to be repeated because the first one was a draw. Yet after this disgraceful election, the dean of the faculty, Tamás Dezső, delivered a laudatory speech and bestowed a commemorative medal on Nemes who organized the fraudulent election. Or at least this is what one could read on BTK’s HÖK web site before the section on Ádám Garbai was taken off .
Here is a brief curriculum vitae of István Szávay who today is a Jobbik member of parliament. He finished high school in 1999 but graduated with his first degree in history only in 2008. So, it took this fellow nine years to receive a diploma. He was so attached to university life that he immediately pursued a second degree in political science which he received two years later in 2010. In 2012 he received another diploma in pedagogy and psychology. He is currently a PhD. candidate, but apparently he didn’t get there exactly fair and square. His credentials for entering graduate school were not in order, but one of his professors helped him out by changing a grade or two. Because of his great academic accomplishments he was the recipient of a “Republican Scholarship.” But he was not simply a perpetual student. In 2009 he was on the board of Duna Televízió!
Anyone who wants to learn more about some of these characters might want to look at a good article about them in Népszava from 2010.
Why didn’t the universities and the governments do something about the whole student self-government system a long time ago? The problems were known. HÖKs were captured by extremists who most likely used the organization for recruiting purposes. They misappropriated money given to them by the government. We are talking about millions which they could distribute as financial aid. Some of the money went for lurid parties where, for instance, Szávay was caught in a most embarrassing sexual pose. So, all this has been known for a very long time.
The whole system should have been reorganized. But it seems to me that the socialist-liberal governments were too timid while some of the right-leaning faculty sheltered the HÖOK-Jobbik students.
Will the Orbán government take this affair seriously? I doubt it. After all, as is clear by now, Viktor Orbán doesn’t want to alienate Jobbik. He might need them one day.