Testimony of Tamás Fellegi at Hearing on “Anti-­Semitism: A Growing Threat”

Testimony of Tamás Fellegi before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations; Hearing on “Anti-­‐Semitism: A Growing Threat to All Faiths” February 27, 2013

** *

Chairman Smith, Distinguished Members of the Hearing Committee, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a real honor for me to be invited to testify for and about Hungary. A country, where I was born and where as a Jew I feel at home. I cannot stress enough the importance of this hearing, which comes at a time when Hungary is going through major changes internally.

Preparing for this public hearing, I spoke to several prominent figures of Hungarian public life, including executives of Jewish organizations, religious leaders, intellectuals, university professors, government people and opposition figures, including the prime minister and the president of the Hungarian Socialist Party. However, what follows here represents my ideas and my evaluation of the current situation.

I would like to anchor my brief opening on three main tenets:

First, anti­‐Semitism has been on the rise in Hungary. This fact has complex reasons but at its core, the current phenomenon is an expression of frustration with Hungary’s imperfect democratic transition, and especially with the deep political, moral and economic crisis dominating Hungary since 2006.

Second, only Jobbik, a party with a ten percent base among the national population, is an openly anti­‐Semitic party. There is a clear line of demarcation between Jobbik, and the center­‐right government and all other mainstream political parties.

Third, despite all this, Jewish life, including religious life, has been enjoying a renaissance in Hungary that is welcome and encouraged by all mainstream parties.

Let me put these points into a historical perspective. Similarly to most of Europe, prejudice against Jews has always been present in Hungary, both open and latent. However, it is important to distinguish between deep-seated prejudices and anti-Semitic manifestations, and the use of anti-­Semitism for political manipulation or to gain political advantages.

In Hungary, Jews lived, ever since the 13th century, under circumstances that were unparalleled in Medieval and early modern continental Europe. By the 19th century, the Hungarian Jewish community became one of the most numerous, successful, integrated and assimilated minorities in Europe, in all aspects of life: education, business, culture, and the arts. But this favorable and welcoming atmosphere changed for the worse following World War I. While Europe’s Jews found refuge in Hungary fleeing from Nazism, the political elite, lead by Regent Miklos Horthy – who is still one of the most debated public figures of Hungary – eventually bowed to the pressure of Nazi Germany. Between 1920 and 1945, he oversaw the introduction of anti-‐Jewish legislation, and Hungary’s involvement in the Second World War on the side of Nazi Germany. The Hungarian Holocaust, which happened with the active participation of the Hungarian political establishment, became a tragedy of our entire nation.

During the almost 45 years of Communist rule, any realistic chance to honestly face the legacy of the pre­‐war era and the Second World War was denied by the one­‐party rule. Anti­‐Semitism, however, was tangible in the infighting of the Communist elite. In society in general, anti-Jewish sentiments took the appearance of an anti-Israeli stance, especially after the 1967 Middle East war, when the open manifestation of anti­‐Semitism by the European Left was disguised as criticism of Israeli policies. Undoubtedly, we still carry on this legacy in Hungary and elsewhere in Europe.

The democratic changes of 1989-1990, the freedom of speech and of the media allowed open discussion about our twentieth century history and its legacy. Previously suppressed frustrations and open debates we never had before about our troubled past came to the surface. Thus, the same democratization itself made ever­‐present latent anti­‐Semitism manifest.

Several openly anti­‐Semitic political and civic organizations have surfaced, but they have never – and let me emphasize this point – never ended up in government.. Here, I have to mention the establishment of the openly anti-Semitic and anti­‐Roma party, Jobbik, which started out as a radical anti­‐establishment movement, revolting against the post­‐communist political elite, and has picked up its racist and anti­‐Semitic edge as a tool of political marketing, only to be immediately engulfed by it.

Today, the essence of Jobbik is a gut reaction against the status quo. It is a radical statement made against the EU, against the entire ‘post-Communist’ political establishment, against the unrealized economic security of the democratic transition, dressed up in racism. It is a catch­‐all party, giving everyone a little bit of something to hate and someone to blame.

After eight years of socialist-liberal government, which brought Hungary to the brink of economic collapse and essentially let the rural population of Hungary become a prey of local gangs, Jobbik managed to get around 15 percent of the popular vote in  2010  to become the third largest party in Parliament. It has also cultivated  an  aggressive paramilitary arm, which was banned by the present government but  keeps  reinventing itself. Constitutionally­‐protected freedom of speech enables Jobbik to voice its openly racist views on websites and print magazines and even in the Hungarian Parliament. I personally believe that the most negative consequence of this has been the decline of public sensitivity to racism. Whether people dismiss the ideas of Jobbik or not – it is still there.

What is also there, however, is a rebirth of Jewish culture. Jewish life in Hungary started to blossom from day one of democracy. Thousands of families started to speak about their history, both as individuals and as a people. The Lubavich Community has a strong presence. An extremely popular summer camp for Jewish children in Szarvas brings together Jewish children from all across Hungary; there is a high school to complement to the Rabbinic Seminary, which, by the way, happened to be the only functioning one in any Communist country. A new synagogue will be built in Csepel for the first time in 80 years. The Main Synagogue in Dohány utca, which was for a long time the second largest synagogue in the world, has become a touristic and cultural hub. Budapest’s formerly abandoned Jewish district is now the most lively part of downtown Pest. The Lauder Yavne School is one of the best educational institutions in the nation, and Hungary just opened the International Israeli Cultural Institute. The annual Jewish Summer Festival brings thousands from all across Europe; there are courses in Hebrew offered by language schools and there is a number of Jewish weeklies and periodicals which did not exist before. All historic Jewish groups are acknowledged and registered as religious institutions entitled to receive state support for the cultural contributions they make. These facts about the state of Jewish life in Hungary cannot be ignored.

In our newly born democracy, both anti-Semitism and pro-Jewish sentiments have become openly political. Political parties and civil organizations very quickly recognized how anti-Semitism could be used to gain political support and sympathy at home and abroad. Anti-Semitism has become a political card to be used.

Patterns of voting behavior and public opinion polls clearly indicate that, when it comes to anti­‐Semitism, there is a substantial overlap between the electorate of the Left and that of the far­‐right Jobbik Party. Does this mean that the political Left is racist or the center-right is devoid of prejudices? The answer to both questions is no. 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.

Let me briefly list the milestones that democratic Hungary has done as a nation since the collapse of Communism to reconcile with the Jewish community:

  • Establishment of the Hungarian Jewish Heritage Fund;
  • The Kaddish was cited in Parliament to commemorate the victims of the Shoah;
  • Designating  April  16th   as  a  national  Holocaust  Memorial  Day  compulsory  in  all  public schools to commemorate the anniversary of the start of deportations in 1944;
  • Teaching of Holocaust history was made mandatory in schools for 5th-­12th  graders;
  • The Holocaust Memorial and Documentation Center and the House of Terror Memorial Museum have been established;
  • Restitution claims of Holocaust survivors have been settled;
  • Establishment   and   financial   support   of   the   Tom   Lantos   Institute   in   Hungary in association with the Lantos Foundation on Human Rights;
  • Doubling the pension payments of Holocaust survivors;
  • 2012 was proclaimed as Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Year;
  • A Holocaust memorial committee chaired by the head of the Prime Minister’s Office has been set up to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Hungarian Holocaust in 2014;
  • Each section of the bank of the Danube bears the name of people who saved lives making these unsung heroes household names for Hungarians and visitors alike;
  • A  ground-‐breaking,  historic  data  exchange  agreement  has  been  signed  with  Yad  Vashem to open Hungarian archives so that the history of the Shoah can be more thoroughly studied and the victims accurately named, accounted for and remembered;
  • Hungary repeatedly requested the US authorities to shut down the openly anti­‐Semitic, Nazi­‐style Hungarian language website called kuruc.info which operates in the United States;
  • Paramilitary groups inciting hatred were banned and the criminal code was tightened regarding uniformed crime;
  • The House Rules of the Parliament were tightened and now the Speaker can fine or exclude MPs from the floor if they use hateful language;
  • In  a  first,  the  courts  convicted  a  Holocaust  denier.  In  the  sentence, offender was ordered to visit either the Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem or Auswitz, and write a report about what he learnt from that trip.

Is it a respectable list? Yes, it is. Has the Hungarian political and cultural elite done enough to counter  racism in  Hungary?  No, not  by  a long  shot. Is  it  true that  occasionally the government side was slow and ineffective in its statements and actions? Yes, unfortunately it is true.

I earlier referred to the fact that anti-Semitism and racism in general have been on the rise, which tells us that both official Hungary and civil society must do much more in this field. Having said this, let me conclude by a probably surprising closing statement: in terms of government actions to foster Jewish life and to combat anti­‐Semitism in Hungary, all of the milestones I cited a minute ago, I mean: all of them, with the one exception of the Jewish Heritage Fund, have been introduced by either the first or the second administrations of Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Actions speak for themselves.

Thank you very much for your attention. I am ready for your comments and questions.

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31 comments

  1. OMG I feel like throwing up! What a hypocrite. He talks about not doing enough against anti-semitism and embraces the non-actions of the Orban government. Hungary requesting to shut down kurucinfo from the USA? How about putting in jail those who support it from Hungary? How many times we, Hungarians asking to take actions against Bayer? WHat actions Fidesz has taken? It is always someone else’s responsibility to deal wit the Hungarin garbage? THat is Hungarian history in a nutshell for you Mr Fellegi? Shame on you!

  2. Ditto. Fellegi was too diplomatic.
    Ferenc Deak was our hero. A champion of the emancipation of the Jews. He promoted Mor Wahrmann.
    Today, there is back to the old game. Orban is our reincarnation of Horthy.
    With the difference that Horthy was an almost gentleman.
    The next only possible step is a targeted picketing of the Jobbik and FIDESZ leaders, to force them to resign and reform.

  3. In Washington, Fellegi declares that the Orbán government has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to racism, while at nearly the same time in Hungary, László Kövér declares his everlasting and completely unequivocal support for the fanatical racist, Zsolt Bayer. This is truly sickening.

  4. 1.
    “Patterns of voting behavior and public opinion polls clearly indicate that, when it comes to anti­‐Semitism, there is a substantial overlap between the electorate of the Left and that of the far­‐right Jobbik Party. Does this mean that the political Left is racist or the center-right is devoid of prejudices?”

    This is a cunning oratory question. In Hungary, the right-wing parties and their followers were always more OR less antisemitic, while the left-wing parties and their followers were not.

    The mandatory severance of the diplomatic relations with Israel in 1967 was not followed by antisemitic campaigns as opposed to Poland or the Soviet Union, thanks to Kadar’s personal stand on this.

    The anti-Israeli or antisemitic stance of the modern West European left-wing or green parties has not been copied yet.

    2.
    “Designating April 16th as a national Holocaust Memorial Day”

    At best, they show a movie about the Rwandan genocide in school.
    At worst …

    3.
    “Holocaust Memorial and Documentation Center and the House of Terror Memorial
    Museum have been established”

    The director of the Center was removed because he did not show Horthy in good light.
    The Terror Museum is 90% about the Communists and 10% about the 100 times more victims of Horthy & Szalasi era.

    4.
    “Restitution claims of Holocaust survivors have been settled”
    Huge lie.

    “Doubling the pension payments of Holocaust survivors”
    Another outrageous lie.

    5.
    “House Rules of the Parliament were tightened and now the Speaker can fine
    or exclude MPs from the floor if they use hateful language”

    I bet those rules will be used mainly against the democratic opposition.

  5. Question: Why is Tamás Fellegi invited to testify for and about Hungary on antisemitism. Currently, he has no official position in the government, parliament or Fidesz. Is there nobody else who can testify for and about Hungary on the topic?

  6. @Ron

    Fidesz must have good friends in Congress. The other people in the panel represented Jewish organizations, at the same time Mr Fellegi represented the Orban government, or formally he represented himself.

  7. Oligarchs:

    CBA —> Fidesz
    CBA —> Goy Motorists

    Szeles —-> Bayer —–> Orban
    Szeles —-> Echo TV, Magyar Hirlap —-> Jobbik

    Reaction:
    Jobbik was angry that Fellegi called them antisemitic.

    They are just anti-Israeli and anti-Gypsy, according to their statement.

  8. Christopher Adam :
    In Washington, Fellegi declares that the Orbán government has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to racism, while at nearly the same time in Hungary, László Kövér declares his everlasting and completely unequivocal support for the fanatical racist, Zsolt Bayer. This is truly sickening.

    Yes, the Fidesz Speaker of Parliament, Kövér greeted Bayer on February 26:

    “We have never denied each other, and we will never do”

    http://magyarhirlap.hu/bayer-soha-vissza-nem-tero-pillanata

    ————
    If you think of it, what Orban does is to build a new class of nobility.

    If you are personal friend with Orban, you are member of this new ruling class

    Ader – President of the country
    Kövér – Speaker of the Parliament
    Hando – Chief of Judiciary

    Stumpf & others – members of the Constitutional Court
    Szajer & others – Members of the European Parliament

    Fellegi and the proud Party Member #5 (Bayer) are also friends.

  9. Ron :
    Question: Why is Tamás Fellegi invited to testify for and about Hungary on antisemitism. Currently, he has no official position in the government, parliament or Fidesz. Is there nobody else who can testify for and about Hungary on the topic?

    great question. it’s either a gesture or they just fumbled around for a jew. i’m not sure which one is worse.

  10. dormant :

    Ron :
    Question: Why is Tamás Fellegi invited to testify for and about Hungary on antisemitism. Currently, he has no official position in the government, parliament or Fidesz. Is there nobody else who can testify for and about Hungary on the topic?

    great question. it’s either a gesture or they just fumbled around for a jew. i’m not sure which one is worse.

    Orban’s Court Jews —-> Chabad —–> Republican Party

  11. “Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations”

    🙂 🙂 .-)

    How can anyone possibly take a committee with such a name seriously?

  12. Sounds like the name of a character from a Jenő Rejtő (a.k.a. P. Howard) novel:

    “Piroska Wendriner, jackal and ballerina”

  13. “and especially with the deep political, moral and economic crisis dominating Hungary since 2006”

    “Moral crisis”?? Where else other than in Hungary?

    And why 2006? The financial crisis hit everyone else in 2008 – in the balmy days of 2006 we were all still enjoying the “never-ending” consumer credit boom. Could it possibly be linked to Fidesz narrowly losing an election in 2006 that they expected to win? Or a certain TV debate…

  14. About Fellegi….. I think he should be examined for further signs of Stocholm syndrome and treated accordingly. While at it , he should take Orban with him, who also needs to be treated for different kind of psychotic illness as discussed in many previous posts.

    “Segments of populations under chronic siege commonly embrace the indictments of the besiegers, however bigoted and outrageous. They hope that by doing so and reforming accordingly they can assuage the hostility of their tormenters and win relief. This has been an element of the Jewish response to anti-Semitism throughout the history of the Diaspora”
    The Psychology of Populations under Chronic Siege, Kenneth Levin

  15. tappanch :

    dormant :

    Ron :
    Question: Why is Tamás Fellegi invited to testify for and about Hungary on antisemitism. Currently, he has no official position in the government, parliament or Fidesz. Is there nobody else who can testify for and about Hungary on the topic?

    great question. it’s either a gesture or they just fumbled around for a jew. i’m not sure which one is worse.

    Orban’s Court Jews —-> Chabad —–> Republican Party

    this is not entirely true… while chabad may have closer ties with the administration,the jew is fidesz are not exactly the type of people who you’d run into at shachrit…

  16. dormant :

    tappanch :

    dormant :

    Ron :
    Question: Why is Tamás Fellegi invited to testify for and about Hungary on antisemitism. Currently, he has no official position in the government, parliament or Fidesz. Is there nobody else who can testify for and about Hungary on the topic?

    great question. it’s either a gesture or they just fumbled around for a jew. i’m not sure which one is worse.

    Orban’s Court Jews —-> Chabad —–> Republican Party

    this is not entirely true… while chabad may have closer ties with the administration,the jew is fidesz are not exactly the type of people who you’d run into at shachrit…

    Fellegi

    Ron :
    Question: Why is Tamás Fellegi invited to testify for and about Hungary on antisemitism. Currently, he has no official position in the government, parliament or Fidesz. Is there nobody else who can testify for and about Hungary on the topic?

    Hungarian Government –> Lantos Institute –> Katrina Lantos –>Rep. Chris Smith executive member of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission AND Chairman of Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organization Subcommittee

  17. “All historic Jewish groups are acknowledged and registered as religious institutions entitled to receive state support for the cultural contributions they make.”

    Nope. Congregation Szim Salom just became re-registered because of the Constitutional Court. Szim Salom represents the continuation of the Neolog movement, which goes back hundreds of years. It is “historic Jewish group” that has been unfairly marginalized by the current government- and illegally marginalized, according to the Constitutional Court.

  18. Bit late on this, but it’s just struck me what a fitting name Tamás is for a Jewish ‘Uncle Tom’.

    Perhaps we should refer to him as Tamás Bácsi from now on…

  19. Paul :
    Bit late on this, but it’s just struck me what a fitting name Tamás is for a Jewish ‘Uncle Tom’.
    Perhaps we should refer to him as Tamás Bácsi from now on…

    Correctly: Tamás bátya.

  20. No Paul, it is not an age thing. Simply the translation of the word uncle is batya, that is how the title of the book is translated. I had more about this when I fist typed in this response but WordPress ate it…

  21. I looked at the other testimonies in this subcommittee. Frankly, I was disappointed by Katrina Lantos’ testimony. The following paragraph shows an almost total lack of familiarity with the situation in Hungary.

    “In Hungary, my parents’ native country, the leader of its third largest political party recently
    urged the government to create a list of Jews who pose “a national security threat.” This
    ominous suggestion evokes chilling memories of some of Hungary’s darkest days under Nazism, when hundreds of thousands of Jews were carefully identified and then killed or deported to their death. There is no place for such talk in civilized societies. I was pleased to see the strong response by the Hungarian government, Parliament and leading opposition party in condemning this statement. “

  22. gdfxx: “I was disappointed by Katrina Lantos’ testimony.” Disappointed? I was disgusted. As a Hungarian journalist I know wrote me “the Lantoses got lost in the Hungarian jungle.” And this is a charitable description of what they have been doing.

  23. I hope regular readers of Hungarian Spectrum in the US contact their congressional representatives. I think most representatives don’t appreciate the situation in Hungary.

    The US government should be very concerned about the Horthy lovers. Disregard his record with Jews for a moment: Horthy went to war with the US. Congressional representatives should be quite concerned that there is such admiration for a man who led an army against the US.

  24. Gardonista :
    “All historic Jewish groups are acknowledged and registered as religious institutions entitled to receive state support for the cultural contributions they make.”
    Nope. Congregation Szim Salom just became re-registered because of the Constitutional Court. Szim Salom represents the continuation of the Neolog movement, which goes back hundreds of years. It is “historic Jewish group” that has been unfairly marginalized by the current government- and illegally marginalized, according to the Constitutional Court.

    Sim Shalom is a reform congregation, not a neolog one.

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