The Nyirő controversy doesn’t want to go away. After Elie Wiesel’s letter to László Kövér came the fifty U.S. congressmen’s letter addressed to Viktor Orbán which many people found not sufficiently hard hitting. One of these was András B. Göllner, founder and international spokesman of The Canadian Hungarian Democratic Charter. See the text below
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While we welcome the efforts of a significant group of American Congressmen and women to call a halt to the revival and glorification of Hungary’s Nazi past, we are disappointed that this protest addressed by members of the US Congress to Hungary’s Prime Minister totally neglects Mr Orbán’s personal and governmental responsibility for these shameful developments. Those democrats and members of various ethnic minorities, especially the Roma and Hungary’s Jewish community, who are increasingly alarmed by the undemocratic conduct of the Orbán government, will be severely disappointed when they read this congressional letter. If the gentlemen of the Congress have a problem with one of Hungary’s extremist political parties – Jobbik – they should address their concerns to Jobbik’s leader, whose name is Gábor Vona. If someone doesn’t like what’s happening under the watch of a Democratic President in the USA, why call to task the Republican hopeful? This makes no sense and demonstrates a profound political shortsightedness.
There is a great deal of concern that should have been expressed about the undemocratic behavior of Mr Orbán’s ruling party, the Fidesz, and about his party’s own deputy chairman, László Kövér, who, along with senior Fidesz politicians, are busy resurrecting old Nazis from Hungary’s shameful past. Mr Orbán himself has shown time and time again, and publicly, that he is tolerant rather than disdainful of anti-Semitic hate speech (witness his sending of a wreath to the funeral of notorious anti-Semite István Csurka, who has spent the past 20 years ranting against Jews, Roma and Americans, or his close camaraderie with such notorious hate-mongers in his party as Zsolt Bayer and András Bencsik). Why have the Congressmen and women neglected to address these issues, why have they neglected to call to task the Hungarian government for its own acts of anti-democratic, racially motivated actions ?
Dear Congressmen and women ! Your letter is a sadly missed opportunity to lend a hand to Hungary’s civil rights activists who are locked in battle with a government that is trampling on human and civil rights on a daily basis and is trying to turn the clock back to a time when the values that Americans hold dear, and for which American soldiers sacrificed their lives by the tens of thousands, was trampled underfoot by Admiral Horthy and the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party. The Orbán government’s glorification of the Horthy regime, which declared war on the USA, is unacceptable, and concerned members of Congress should have said so, rather than concentrated their criticism on a small opposition party in Hungary’s parliament.
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Then came an article written by Katrina Lantos Swett, president of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, which she established in 2008 to carry on the work of her father, the late Congressman Tom Lantos. She teaches human rights and U.S. foreign policy at Tufts University.
I should say a few word about the Tom Lantos Institute. The idea of a Lantos Institute was born during the Gyurcsány and Bajnai governments, but its actual opening was postponed on Fidesz insistence. Viktor Orbán wanted to make sure that all the positions would be filled with his people. In May 2011 the Institute opened its doors and since then it has been doing mighty little. While the whole world is full of news about the growing antisemitism in Hungary, the Tom Lantos Institute managed to squeeze out the following few lines on the subject:
The Tom Lantos Institute strongly condemns the brutal defilement of the statue of Raoul Wallenberg and the degradation of his memory.
As a lifesaver during World War II, when only a few raised their voices and acted, he risked his life and saved tens of thousands of Hungarians from nazi death camps, therefore he deserves the greatest respect from every Hungarian citizen. The defilement is totally unacceptable and especially brutal and sad during the Wallenberg Year in Hungary, when we celebrate and commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Raoul Wallenberg.
After Elie Wiesel’s letter to László Kövér, Katrina Lantos Swett decided to write a piece that appeared in The Huffington Post. Note that the Tom Lantos Institute to this day has officially said nothing about Elie Wiesel’s outrage over what’s going on in Hungary with government support.
I will quote here only some of the more important parts of Ms Swett’s letter. Referring to manifestations of antisemitic sentiments she wrote:
Such crimes have been rightly condemned by Prime Minister Orban and major opposition political figures, as well as the leaders of many of Hungary’s largest churches. A civilized society would expect nothing less.
Important and commendable as these efforts are, they are not enough. … And in Hungary, the flagrantly anti-Semitic and anti-Roma Jobbik party has increased its government presence and now holds 46 seats in Parliament. The Orban government must do more than simply support pro-tolerance initiatives; such positive initiatives are easily undermined and ignored when, in Elie Wiesel’s words, “… authorities are encouraging the whitewashing of tragic and criminal episodes in Hungary’s past…”. The current government must put an end to the double standard that allows its Foreign Minister, who is widely seen as a stalwart of tolerance and acceptance, to make a profound statement about a dark period in Hungary’s past while allowing a State Secretary to attend a ceremony for a fascist ideologue like Nyirő.
My father, the late Congressman Tom Lantos, was the only survivor of the Holocaust ever elected to the U.S. Congress and a proud Hungarian-American. He believed deeply in Hungary’s great destiny as a fully democratic and free nation committed to the values of human rights and justice. Were he still alive, I can only imagine that he would applaud the courageous stand that his dear friend Elie Wiesel has taken to help bring attention to the troubling recent events in Hungary. And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he would call on the Hungarian government to do much more to combat the evil of anti-Semitism and prevent it from ever again taking root along the banks of the Danube River.
Perhaps Katrina Lantos Swett should talk to the men and women who are running the Tom Lantos Institute in Budapest because they seem to be doing absolutely nothing. But I guess we cannot expect much from this institute when its chairman is convinced that one mustn’t criticize the Orbán government because it is Fidesz that is the guarantee of democracy against the growing strength of the extreme right instead of recognizing the true state of affairs, a steady shift toward the extreme right by the government itself.
Katrina Lantos Swett also seems to have realized that something is not quite right with a government whose foreign minister speaks in glowing terms about democracy and tolerance while the undersecretary of culture together with the speaker of the house, who is also a high Fidesz functionary, are assisting in the reburial of a Hungarian Nazi.
And finally, Viktor Orbán also wrote a letter. This time to the fifty congressmen. The complete text is not yet available but I will quote as much as was published in the Hungarian media:
Your letter appeared just in time because I was on the verge of asking your assistance in a matter on which I failed to get satisfaction through international channels and through the [American] embassy…. Our political community [that stands on a Christian democratic basis] is the heir to the Hungarian freedom fighters. We are very proud that we could play an active part in the liberation of our country from Soviet oppression and in the overthrow of communism. Ever since we regained our freedom we have been continuously fighting for the respect of human dignity…. Our embassy in Washington will be glad to give you details on our successes in this respect.
Some of these anti-Semites call the Hungarian government and Viktor Orbán himself “hirelings of Jews,” and these forces “receive considerable support from the United States.” The Hungarian center of antisemitism is a website that operates on an American server. If that problem could get resolved the Hungarian forces of antisemitism would be considerably weakened. “I ask you to assist us in this matter because our request to close this site was rejected by the U.S. government.”
The truth is that the website to which Orbán is referring to is being produced in Budapest. The editors and correspondents are most likely all well known to the national security officers. The editor-in-chief according to rumor is a Jobbik member of parliament. The only thing the Hungarian police would have to do is to arrest the editors of the online paper. There is plenty of legal justification to do so. But neither the earlier governments nor this one has the guts or the will to do something.
I doubt that the fifty congressmen will be terribly impressed by this letter. They might not even understand what Orbán is talking about. I do hope that people familiar with the Hungarian situation will be able to explain to them that the antisemitic propaganda coming from kuruc.info–because this is the website Orbán is talking about–could easily be handled right in the Hungarian capital.
I also hope that someone will explain to these congressmen that the root of Hungarian antisemitism is not kuruc.info. This website is only the manifestation of a very serious and deep-seated problem which the Hungarian government refuses to face and and combat.