Two scandalous events in the Hungarian Parliament

I will proceed chronologically. On April 2, immediately after Pál Schmitt had finished his resignation speech, László Kövér, the speaker of the house, sternly glanced toward his left and in his usual schoolmaster fashion told them that “the very fact that these ladies and gentlemen can sit in this parliament is undeserved [méltatlan].” The applause on the right was ear shattering; the Fidesz-KDNP members’ behavior resembled that of wild fans in a soccer stadium. What caused the outburst? There was some snickering during Schmitt’s speech which, given its content, wasn’t terribly surprising. After Kövér’s “reprimand” and the frenzied applause members of DK and some members of MSZP left the chamber in protest.

And this is the same man who according to reliable sources is Viktor Orbán’s favorite to replace Schmitt as president of Hungary. Unless someone can knock that idea out of Orbán’s head–and I truly hope it happens–this man will become the president whose person, according to the constitution, is the embodiment of national unity.

I assume that the large Fidesz and KDNP caucuses would be much happier if the opposition simply didn’t exist. These guys on the left are bothersome. Occasionally they make useless speeches no one is interested in, write proposals no one reads, and there are times when they snicker.

It seems that even Kövér realized he had gone too far, and a couple of hours later he apologized. Not directly, but through an intermediary. Better than nothing.

The second scandalous affair occurred today. A Jobbik MP, Zsolt Baráth, delivered a short speech entitled “The 130 years of Tiszaeszlár.” The Tiszaeszlár case of 1882-1883 was the last time in Europe that people were charged with ritual murder. I would heartily recommend that Viktor Orbán keep this in mind the next time he portrays Hungary as the forerunner of European civilization and democracy, a country whose lead all others will follow.

The story, very briefly, is that on April 1, shortly before Passover, a fourteen-year-old servant girl disappeared. Word in the village was that people had last seen the girl, Eszter Solymosi, near the synagogue. Eventually suspicion centered on the large Jewish community in Tiszaeszlár and the field was narrowed based on the testimony of one of the members of the Jewish community against his own father and others. Sometime in June they found the body of a young girl who may have been Eszter. The so-called witnesses were intimidated or even beaten to give testimony that was favorable to the prosecutors. Eventually charges were brought against fifteen people.

The defense of the fifteen people was taken up by Károly Eötvös, a member of parliament and a lawyer. After a grueling two-week trial the accused were acquitted. To anyone who knows even the slightest thing about observant Jewish life it should be crystal clear that kosher dietary rules strictly forbid eating anything tainted with blood.

 

The memorial of Károly Eötvös in Tiszafüred, erected by the Hungarian Jewish community 

To this day, however, Tiszaeszlár is a pilgrimage destination for the Hungarian anti-Semitic right. A Hungarian couple living abroad donated money to set up a memorial in honor of Eszter Solymosi which became a gathering place for MIÉP, Jobbik, the Hungarian Guard, and other far-right organizations.

Now comes a Jobbik MP, Zsolt Baráth, an elementary school teacher. According to his autobiography he studied, I assume as a hobby, “the theory of foreignness” (idegenelmélet). I’m not kidding. During the course of studying this mysterious theory it slowly dawned on him that “everything is connected to everything.” He came to realize that “certain forces intend a future for Hungary that [he] cannot accept.” Fairly clear, I think.

So, Zsolt Barát rose for a five-minute announcement after the scheduled agenda. He recalled that it was 130 years ago that Eszter Solymosi was murdered. He recalled the story of last seeing Eszter at the synagogue. He then quickly moved to the trial. Here he claimed that the judge knew that the Jews were guilty but “because of pressure upon him he had to acquit them.” Where did this pressure come from? From the international Jewish community. That’s why one cannot name the murderers of Eszter Solymosi to this day. After the speech there were a few people who applauded, presumably from the Jobbik caucus.

It seems that János Fónagy, undersecretary of the Ministry of National Development and a Jew, has the unpleasant task of answering these Jobbik anti-Semitic harangues in the Hungarian parliament. The last time he was called upon was when Előd Novák (Jobbik) during the discussion on the law on religions complained that too many Jewish religious groups were recognized by the state when their numbers don’t justify it. Fónagy on that occasion turned to Novák and said “I don’t know why you are so surprised that there are so few people who can be found in the largest synagogue of Europe when it was your spiritual kin who killed 600,000 of our compatriots.”

This time Fónagy didn’t manage to be so eloquent. Even his first sentence was somewhat ambiguous because he began by saying that he doesn’t know whether he should answer Baráth in the name of the government or in his own name. In any case, Fónagy stressed that Jobbik is an anti-semitic, neo-Nazi party. Therefore, Jobbik shouldn’t be surprised at its condemnation by the more sober segment of Hungarian society and the world.

Of course, the condemnation of the world is not directed against Jobbik alone. The fact that Jobbik got into the Hungarian parliament with 17% of the votes cast two years ago reflects badly on Hungary itself. And the world also seems to realize that one Jobbik demand after the other is being satisfied by the government party. Viktor Orbán badly wants to get the Jobbik votes, and to this end he is ready to make compromises with an outright Nazi party.

A dangerous game, that’s all I can say.

71 comments

  1. I was out of commission for two days because I was unable to upload comments. So, belatedly, I’m afraid Jano’s somewhat supercilious suggestion that it really doesn’t matter who killed Eszter Solymosi is misplaced here. It was the core of this case.

  2. Leo, there is also a plight on the right if there is only Fidesz and Jobbik left…
    Also to Jano, I think to approach the current problem from the antagonism between MSzP and Fidesz is perhaps not helpful. I understand that this is often done so, not only from Fidesz but also from people supporting “the left” but that is not the underlying cause either. As Leo wrote, certainly many here on the blog would like to understand this underlying problem. What appears missing, certainly currently but probably also earlier, is some ability to, wish for, and respect for compromises and mutual basis. I believe that even if the “negotiated revolution” appeared successful, it must have contained the seeds of the division of the society that became so evident in the late 1990s already.
    The idea that even diverging interests should be managed within one platform, ie the democratic institutions, has not taken root (widely shared in the society, and to an extent that it is not wiped out when the first serious conflict ensues). Conflict resolution should be achieved within these democratic institutions. The newly established Hungarian institutions apparently were unable to help resolve the conflicts, eg between the “old elite” of MSzP and the “newcomers” from Fidesz or along whatever lines.
    To dwell on the antagonism between left and right, as if we were in a childish game of who behaved worse, in my impression misses the problem that compromise and at least some mutual understanding has not been very high on the agenda in Hungarian politics, and THAT would be a starting point for more constructive policies. That people get desperate because they are unable to believe in such circumstances in a cooperative solution to the problem, is perhaps not surprising and the turn to Jobbik is perhaps a logical continuation along these lines. But the main problem is the little willingness to accept a common platform. And also the strong inclination not to attribute the “bad behaviour” to those individuals who actually did so (determining individual responsibility) but to broadly defined groups (left-wing, right-wing; collective responsibility).

  3. Kirsten, I also don’t understand these wide chasms between the political parties in Hungary – and much of Eastern Europe generally.
    In Germany we are used to having coalitions of almost every thinkable kind:
    The Liberals (FDP) were in government at one time with the Conservatives (CDU/CSU) – at other times with the Social Democrat (SPD).
    Then we had a coalition of SPD and CDU or SPD and the Greens and in local government we’ve had other combinations – eben Conservatives and Greens, btw they still rule the town of Frankfurt …
    And now even in Britain there’s a coalition government.
    Why can’t the parties in Hungary work together – unless it’s a shady deal like the case of the radio stations ?
    Probably I’m too old to get to understand Hungarian politics – but my wife also doesn’t (want to …) understand it, and she worked for years at a Hungarian mayor’s office …

  4. @Eva: ”I’m afraid Jano’s somewhat supercilious suggestion that it really doesn’t matter who killed Eszter Solymosi is misplaced here.”
    That is not the way I read it. I think Jano says that the Jobbik action should not be taken as (an attempt at) a serious historical discussion. And therefore does not need or even deserve a ‘historical’ answer. If so, I think he is right, it’s a provocation that only needs a political answer (nonetheless, we may talk about the affair, once it is raised – and I learned two or three things from it).
    More problematic is his statement that (while the question is irrelevant in a political sense) for all we know it might have been Jews. That sounds weird: for all I know (not much) there is no more reason to suspect them than to suspect little green men from Mars. And if someone starts pointing at little green men from Mars (if such a thing were possible) it is difficult not to think of ulterior motives. But given the context of Jano’s writing I would vote “not guilty”.

  5. Wolfi,
    The question of coalitions in Hungary is an interesting one with many dimensions, but the basic answer is that since the change in systems, junior partners in coalitions have not gone on to do well. Fidesz strategically remained outside of government until it could be the senior partner and all of Orban’s partners from 98-02 have long left the stage. SzDSz, which, as a liberal party and a party strongly identified with the often-heroic opponents of the late Communist era, had to give up quite a lot to serve as junior party to MSzP, although MSzP was probably more liberal and pro-European than the alternatives, has now gone the way of the dodo. Fidesz now leads the first government not to have a coalition partner (excepting the fiction of the KDNP, whose “members” were not distinguished from Fidesz members when they were elected) and the legal framework means that, barring some major surprise, they are highly likely to be reelected at the next election. As to cooperation among the opposition parties, there is an old German political saying that “there is no coalition in the opposition” and this is, indeed true, as (a) opposition parties need most to distinguish themselves for future elections, and (b) the prospect of disappearing while being identified with an ineffective opposition is even stronger than that for junior coalition parties in government. For better or worse, Fidesz set the model for success in the oppposition during 02-08 by refusing to play the role of a loyal opposition, avoiding parliamentary responsibilities in favor of street-side PR, pounding simple messages about the government until they were believed true by a large part of the population and through using populist initiatives to bypass government policies even, as in the case of the modest health care reform, the policy was eminently reasonable and fiscally responsible.

  6. @Kirsten:
    You like to point out how Hungarians failed to develop strong democratic institutions and certain attitudes that are necessary for democracy to work… e.g. cooperation and consensus seeking.
    You are right in that Hungarians, for historical and cultural reasons, are predisposed to certain attitudes and behaviors that are detrimental to the functioning of a democratic society, including among these a tendency for extreme divisiveness. However, having a predisposition does not necessary mean that the “condition” one is predisposed to is going to fully develop.
    Again, being old enough to remember, Hungarian society has not been always this badly divided. You mention the “seeds of division” in Hungarian society in the 90s, and I am most certain that yes, they were there. But the seeds of division are always there in ANY society, as there are so many groups have colliding interests with each other within a country… The sad fact is, that divisiveness can be actively promoted by political leaders, if they choose to do so (if they think that furthers their own political agenda). And this is exactly what happened in Hungary, as Orban and the Fidesz chose to follow such policies. The problem is that if one side starts this “game”; it is very difficult for the other side to stay out of it (as they will become automatically “the others”). Perhaps MszP could have handled this better; unfortunately MSzP and some of the “left-liberals” joined in the game. (Mind you, left-liberals don’t really exits; it is another creation of Fidesz, the “them” group. Leftists and liberals are really two very distinct political orientations).
    It is very easy to generate divisiveness among groups, as it has been demonstrated by social psychologist, for example by the famous Robber Cave experiment. (If interested, you can find a good description of the experiment through this link: http://www.spring.org.uk/2007/09/war-peace-and-role-of-power-in-sherifs.php)

  7. @ Everyone: I thought we had problems with the elections in November 2012! THis is serious stuff happening in Hungary, I sense a ‘hijacked country” pertaining to Hungary. Although everyones comments are explicit, it is dragging me down a little. I have to lay off the blogging & postings. Hungary is in my thoughts and in my prayers.

  8. An, I think you misunderstand to some extent my argument. First, what I do NOT think is this: “Hungarians, for historical and cultural reasons, are predisposed to certain attitudes and behaviors that are detrimental to the functioning of a democratic society”. I specifically object to the word “predisposed”. As I wrote earlier already, you would find similar or other attitudes in other nations, which also could be easily established as detrimental to democracy. And not only in Germany and Spain, which I consider prime examples of that, but also in France or England. The point is that as long as the issue of a nation, national homogeneity, national unity and traditional order is so all-encompassing, it will be difficult to make known widely the importance of individual rights, impersonal institutions, transparency, responsibility of leaders and citizens, checks and balances etc. if people wish to live “decently” and not at the mercy of the psychological disposition of ONE person. (And this is what a specific strand of political theory says. It is not the “thought of specific nations” even if in some nations these ideas are now dominant. To consider this “national” thought is a misunderstanding and follows from the accepting the idea of homogeneity among people of the same national background.)
    The ideas that circulate in a society are for me not a proof of “disposition”. That makes me “optimistic” in Paul’s view. I believe that one has to work on the paradigms. This was also done in Germany and Spain. But first it has to be found out which ideas are specifically detrimental or have turned out detrimental in specific situations. I am not searching for this point to show to you that “Hungary did not manage” but because I would like to know which points have to be clarified in order to work on a positive, democratic programme again. The information that I consider important currently is that a growing number of people see Jobbik as a solution, most likely because they cannot work out why Hungary got where it is.
    In my impression a lot depends on which ideas were en vogue when the nation was defined. Hungary as a nation was unfortunately defined based on a number of conflicting principles (language, territory, rights and liberties of the nobility). I guess that this leads to the confusion in the minds of foreigners about what exactly could be meant by “Hungarianness” and to the claim of Hungarians that “foreigners cannot understand”. That might be, but it apparently also leads to misunderstandings and conflicts within the nation. So to get back to the “predisposition”, which I object to, in my interpretation this is not a “predisposition” but an insufficient clarification that a modern democracy (if it is aspired to) cannot obtain with some of the ideas that are consciously or unconsciously attached to “Hungarianness”. That is the problem all the time. And I know that there are many people who have already sorted that out, and you are right in the claim that it was not that clear in the 1990s that we are heading for this. But as long as you have not a “consolidated democracy” (ie broad respect and support for its conflict resolution mechanisms), conflicts will be decided based on the mechanisms available before. And in Hungary they include the vast supply of thinking centered around the purity of the nation, centuries of oppression, uniqueness, detrimental influences from abroad.
    As regards the transition, I suspect that the “old elite” of MSzP was more or less unable or unwilling to fully grasp the meaning of “level playing field” given their better starting positions. But as I wrote last time, to turn then to ideas of the Horthy era, to the misery inflicted by foreign influences (ideas, persons) and to intensify a real or imagined division of the society instead of learning from the experience of other European nations that have after WWII struggled to become democracies was not helpful.

  9. @Kirtsen,
    I apologize if I put words in your mouth, but when I talked about historical and cultural predisposition, I meant the things you just described: that Hungarians, lacking a strong democratic tradition, may have a stronger tendency to fall back on old mechanisms of conflict management, for example, and that they don’t have enough experience in working out conflicts through consensus. I also think they are more prone to believe in strong leaders, may be more prone to an unhealthy type of nationalism, intolerance, and racism. But, I don’t think for a minute that this is genetic or cannot ever change. It will just take time (and time in a functioning democracy) AND a political leadership that does not actively seek to exploit these susceptibilities in the population to gain and remain in power.
    And here is where we have not so much of a difference of opinion, but rather a difference in emphasis. Your analysis seem to downplay the active role Orban and the Fidesz is playing in propagating divisiveness and unhealthy nationalism. In my opinion, this is very much part of the story. Of course, there is a reason why such propaganda works so well in Hungary (i.e. what I call historic and cultural predisposition), but things wouldn’t have gotten this bad without Orban. As long as the toxic Fidesz propaganda is getting into the water supply, it is going to make people sick (to use a very weird analogy).
    The role of leadership in influencing public sentiment is not to be dismissed. That is why I was quoting that social psychological experiment, where researchers have managed to turn two groups of boys into their worst enemies through propagating competitions between the groups, and then into willingly cooperating peer groups by giving them tasks that only the two groups TOGETHER could solve. Leaders CAN promote divisiveness or unity, by either emphasizing the differences among groups (or painting them as their worst enemies), or by emphasizing common goals which are in everybody’s best interest. And yes, emerging opposition leaders should be working to make Hungarians realize the common goals they should be working toward. This is a HEFTY task, though, because of the divisive propaganda emanating constantly from Fidesz (and Jobbik).

  10. An, it is quite possible that I downplay the role of OV and that I concentrate on the ideas and arguments. Probably we will disagree on that, but I believe that MSzP (the “reformed” communists of the early 1990s) did not change its paradigm enough to be able to fully part with its past (and allow for a proper accounting for the recent and more distant past) and to embrace (not in words but in deeds) modern democracy and an impartial state. There is no doubt that given the many networks around, the latter is particularly difficult to establish but it is helpful if the group of people working towards this end (and maintaining it in the more mature democracies) is not too small. (Current MSzP only confirms my suspicion about its zeal in establishing an impartial state.) That is why I consider Fidesz more or less caught in similar thinking, although with other priorities (national sovereignty, purity etc.). The “old-boys network” or clan thinking behind it is similar, and decisive for some of the outcome (no accounting for the past, favouritism, protection of the own “delinquents”). And unfortunately this is decisive even if other policies (foreign affairs, social policies etc.) may not suffer that much from being “unreformed”.
    And this is why, in my opinion, this resonates so well with people and why many people are unable to withstand this propaganda. Another paradigm has not yet taken root, or even worse: it has been discredited because people in MSzP – caught in networks – have asserted to “have changed” without being able to deliver the proof of this. When Ferenc Gyurcsany – whatever his own contribution to the system – brought that into focus, he met with resistence from all sides. That is why, OV might be specifically gifted in dividing people, but for me it is in the political thinking that is around and that too quickly starts to search for “foreign” or “crypto-foreign” influences instead of purely domestic sources of trouble.

  11. @ Kirsten,
    Don’t you think it would be in the best interest of the country to call for an out on conditions of amnesty? It’s time to put the past in the past and get on with the business of running the country.

  12. LwiiH: That is a very difficult question. Currently it appears to be very desirable. But I do not know of many examples when this worked, in principle only Spain, and then it was very much supported by the earlier victims in the interest of the democratic future. The wish for this “amnesty” must come from within and must be acceptable for the earlier victims. The likelihood that this could be achieved in Hungary, where a lot of people can be potentially a “victim” (and even the whole nation can be seen as a “victim”), seems small to me. A general amnesty would also prevent people from learning about small and big involvement, which could raise awareness for the contributions of ordinary people and the big contributions of some people of Hungarian origin even if there was also substantial “foreign intervention”. I think that could be useful to put the century old idea of “oppression” into perspective. So I doubt general amnesty is workable – but if it were, for me as an outsider this is certainly an option.
    But what I wanted to say in regard to MSzP, they applied practices (downplay personal involvement of high ranks of MSzP) that could then lead to the refusal of Fidesz to consider personal and national involvement during WWII and earlier and to get back to this mantra of “everything bad came from foreign invaders”.

  13. Kirsten: the “amnesty” will not stop the hatred. We need to wait a couple of generations for that. The amnesty would be needed for other practical reasons. It should clean the skeletons from peoples closets. I believe the past involvements played a significant role in the post Kadarian Hungarian politics. Secret alliances were formed between people who knew each-others past. Others were blackmailed. The amnesty, a law that would prevent prosecutions for your communist past, may help to clear up part of this mess. Of course politicians will still have to explain things to their voters but that’s another story. Again I believe the secret chess game with people’s past determined largely how the political alliances formed in Hungary in the past 20 years.
    Now it’s Easter here is my theory for the “historical and cultural predisposition”. It is because Hungarians didn’t fully embrace Christian values in the past thousand years. Most important of them is self sacrifice – giving up something from your life to promote the interest of the community. Instead, the atavistic survival instincts of the wandering tribes kick in every time.
    This is not the promotion of Christian values over other religions – please don’t get me wrong. I’m comparing the Hungarians to nations of western Europe. Hungarians were turned into Christians with force by King Stephen in the 10th century so the country could survive in a Christian Europe.
    On the surface we are one of he most Christian nations at least this is our self image. Hungarians inability to accept their shortcomings resulted in a nation of extremities and exaggerations. Compensating for the problems with extreme reactions. That’s why we have, I believe, the most Catholic saints per capita in the world. That’s why the country is “offered to Mary’. Who can beat that? But also no other nation has so many great heroes while loosing practically every war in history.
    To my peaceful fellow Christians, before they slit my throat – I’m not questioning anybody’s belief. I’m suggesting that Hungarians are not that spiritual under the surface as other nations. Just look around in the churches on Sunday.

  14. @Mutt Damon, since you seem the expert on religion here:
    What is that fuss about the “Hungarian Holy Crown” that is mentioned in the new constitution ?
    Together with the fact that they removed the word “Republic” this seems rather strange …

  15. @wolfi I’m not an expert on religion xD. I have read only one Book xD.
    Again, this wasn’t religious propaganda in any ways. I’m just lamenting about a false self image and I’m definitely not claiming that the positive values are only coming from Christianity. It’s just claimed to be the dominating moral compass in Hungary. I’m wondering how true it is.
    The Holy Crown cult is one of the manifestations of the Christianity on steroids Hungarian style. It doesn’t belong in the Constitution. Thanks to the FIDESZ it is slowly becoming the symbol of division.
    The republic vs. Hungary IMHO is sheer idiocy. They just wanted to turn everything upside-down to show they could – doesn’t matter if it makes sense or not.

  16. to wolfi:
    If you can spare some time, this piece might be of interest for you:
    eprints.ucl.ac.uk/13015/1/13015.pdf

  17. Thanks, Kirsten, I downloaded it – whether I have the stamina to read all those 90 pages I can’t say yet.

  18. Interesting read.. The crown is beautiful. I should post my pictures of it. I thought it was widely known that the crown was constructed at least 200 years after the coronation.

  19. Wolfi, the text contains so much information that it is not an easy read, but you get an idea what the fuss could be about…

  20. HwiiH: “The crown is beautiful.”
    Yes, it is. I remember the first time I saw it on American television just before it was shipped back to Hungary.

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