Ákos Kertész granted political asylum in Canada

The Hungarian media is stunned. Ákos Kertész, a Kossuth Prize-winning Hungarian author, received political asylum in Canada because he feared for his life after he wrote an article in  Amerikai Népszava, published in New York and available on the Internet. I wrote two articles about the Kertész case, the first on September 7, 2011, shortly after the appearance of the controversial article, and the second on March 4, 2012, right after the news spread in Hungarian Internet circles that Kertész had arrived in Montreal on February 29 and had turned to immigration authorities asking for political asylum.  A Hungarian-language press release was sent to Hungarian media organs officially announcing Kertész’s arrival in Canada.

Following the appearance of Ákos Kertész’s open letter in the Amerikai-Magyar Népszava [on August 29, 2011] a hate campaign was launched against him not only in the City Council of Budapest but also in Parliament. At the insistence of Jobbik, the anti-Semite Hungarian Nazi party, the City Council’s pro-government majority deprived him of his Freedom of Budapest award. The pro-government media openly incited the extremists against him. As a result he was exposed to constant physical harassment and threats. He was physically attacked in public. He felt that his life was in danger.

There must be grave reasons for an eighty-year-old writer who is attached to his birthplace in a million ways to come to such a decision and to take such a step full of risks. Kertész’s case says a lot about a country from which a writer must escape because of one of his writings. 

Kertész said, ‘I came to this conclusion with grave difficulty because for me the Hungarian language means life. Hungary is my birthplace, my home. I made this painful decision not against Hungary and the Hungarian people with whom I always shared the same fate. I was forced to make this decision because of the current Hungarian government. I hope that one day I will be able to return to a democratic, tolerant, humane Hungary.’ Otherwise, for the time being the writer is not going to make public statements concerning his decision.

What did Ákos Kertész do that so upset the Hungarian government, the leadership of the City of Budapest, and the right-wing media? In an open letter he bitterly complained about Hungarians who are “genetically servile”and who therefore allow the dictatorial Viktor Orbán to rule over them. He compared his fellow Hungarians to pigs who for the slop the farmer puts in front of them happily grunt, not realizing that they will be killed.

You can imagine what the reaction to this letter was. Although he admitted that his choice of the word “genetically” made no sense, the attacks on him continued for about six months. When it became known that Kertész had asked for political asylum in Canada, Szentkorona Rádió, a far-right Internet publication, included a picture of a pig with the caption: “He can go to Canada to grunt.”

At that time I noted that Kertész’s arrival in Canada and his description of his experiences before his departure might have an adverse effect on the Orbán’s government’s standing in the West. Because from there on it doesn’t matter how often government officials or Fidesz politicians try to convince the world that there is no anti-Semitism in Hungary, it will be very difficult to maintain that fiction.

Ákos Kertész at home in Canada

Ákos Kertész at home in Canada

Now that Kertész  has been granted refugee status in Canada that fiction is definitely dead. The Canadian government’s decision ratifies the claim that if the Hungarian authorities and certain segments of the Hungarian public find that criticism by a Hungarian with Jewish roots is “unfair,” they harass, threaten, and physically attack him. This is what happened to Kertész, who is 80 years old and “does not wish to fight any longer,” as he told Anna Porter, who wrote a short article dealing with his political asylum status in Maclean’s.

Many of Kertész’s books–there are about twenty all told–have been translated into multiple languages, though not into English. I learned from Anna Porter’s article that his best known novel, Makra, will be published shortly in Canada.

Kertész has begun a new life in Canada, which he considers to be “an island of peace and tolerance.” Kertész wrote a longer article, the first since his arrival in Canada, for Amerikai Népszava in which he expressed his “deep gratitude to Canada” and thank to his old and new friends, including the editor-in-chief of the paper, László Bartus. He called Amerikai Népszava “the bravest Hungarian paper which is the most consistent representative of human rights [and] liberal democracy” and praised its readership for their democratic, tolerant and intelligent comments. This readership appreciates Ákos Kertész’s devotion to democracy and his bravery for taking such a big step. It is worth taking a look at the comments that follow his article. They wish him all the luck and happiness in his new country. So do I.


  1. Kívánom Ákos, hogy minél hamarabb beilleszkedj az új hazád irodalmi életébe, műveid fordításaival ismert legyél az Angol nyelvű olvasók közt is. Sok sikert és hosszú életet kívánok neked és mint valaki nagyon okosan mondta, ehhez csak az kell, hogy soká élj!

  2. New Penal Code from last year:

    (1) If someone participates in mass disturbance against the government, s/he must be penalized with jail from 2 to 8 years.
    (2) If someone organizes such mass disturbance, s/he must be jailed for 5 to 15 years.

    Brand new amendment to the law on Penal Process:

    If the accused is charged with a crime that carries a jail sentence of at least 15 years, s/he can be kept in detention without time limit.

    Click to access 12980.pdf

    Let me combine the two Fidesz “laws”:

    if the fidesznik prosecutors (appointed for life unless Fidesz gets less than 1/3 of the seats in parliament) charge anyone with organizing mass disturbance against the Orban government, s/he can be kept in jail for life without trial.

    Welcome to the brave new European “democracy”.

  3. Tappanch, you are right, although the court will review the length of such pretrial detention. That said, we know from Hungarian as well as from international experience that such “robust judicial oversight” is usually nothing more than a rubber stamp.

    In any case, a correction is necessary:

    “unless Fidesz and Jobbik in aggregate get less than 1/3 of the seats in Parliament.”

    There is just no constellation under which these two could together end up with less than 1/3.

    (And most experts actually estimate that given the current election system Fidesz single-handedly could get 70-80% (!) of the seats with only about 42-45% of the party list votes).

  4. tappanch :
    One can easily draw a parallel between the deluge of anti-Jewish laws of the 1940s and the heaps of Fidesz laws of the 2010s.
    The same technique is used: paralyzation by “legislation”.

    YOU can draw such a parallel but it is intellectually dishonest and rather tasteless.

  5. @Hibom:
    Then why don’t you tell us what you think of that deluge of new Fidesz laws – almost 800 in less than 4 years!

    My comment was:
    This reminds me in quantity and quality of a Chinese assembly line where slave workers put together from dangerous chemicals cheap plastic toys whose function they don’t understand …
    A bit OT:
    I’ve always wondered what these workers are thinking when they are putting together ( in the spring or summer) these Christmas ornaments that you see now in the shops.

  6. Wolfi, the deluge of laws partly a phenomenon of state capture in which the legislature is being hijacked to ensure that certain groups benefit at the expense of pretty much everyone else. It is also a disturbing symptom of megalomania and demonstrates that Fidesz have no respect for law except as a device for getting its own way.

    Having said that, tappanch’s comparison with the Jewish laws is histrionic and tasteless. It is as tasteless and inappropriate as Berlusconi’s recent claim that he is being persecuted as the Jews were. The Holocaust is just too terrible and tragic for it to be used as a rhetorical device, it is essentially a dishonest way to create an emotional effect. He is, to use a phrase I read in Peter Hall’s diary, “bumming a ride on the gas chambers.”

  7. OK, but now back to th “Jewish problem”. I just read about a study about antisemitism in the EU:
    The study will be published soon.
    “Die Agentur der Europäischen Union für Grundrechte hat nun die Erfahrungen von Juden in acht europäischen Ländern vergleichend untersucht. Die Studie liegt SPIEGEL ONLINE vorab vor. Die Befragten stammen aus Belgien, Frankreich, Ungarn, Italien, Lettland, Schweden, Großbritannien und Deutschland.”

    It seems that many Jews are afraid in these countries …

  8. I sincerely hope that the City Council doesnot represent Hungary as a whole. I am sure there are decent people in Hungary who would rally around Kertesz. He should have stayed to allow that democratic support to gather around him. Few people in Hungary take the Jobbik seriously, they represent the lunatic fringe in politics.

  9. @HiBoM

    I did NOT equate the Holocaust in Hungary with the Fidesz rule. I pointed out that a technique used to render the target group powerless is very similar.

  10. Will a majority of Hungarians honor the works of the Kertesz-Kertesz writer duo one day?

    That day, the nation will return to happiness. The pain of the past will be erased.

    That day, the works of Albert Wass, Dezso Szabo, Jozsef Nyiro, Cecil Thormay will be understood as the wrong message.

  11. Joe Simon :
    I sincerely hope that the City Council doesnot represent Hungary as a whole. I am sure there are decent people in Hungary who would rally around Kertesz. He should have stayed to allow that democratic support to gather around him. Few people in Hungary take the Jobbik seriously, they represent the lunatic fringe in politics.

    @ Joe Simon

    “I am sure there are decent people in Hungary who would rally around Kertesz.”

    Typical apologist nonsense. Sure, there are ‘decent’ people who care not that a large segment of the population are marginalized by the term, “Christian Hungary”….and they care so much as to oppose it publicly and vociferously. Don’t make me laugh.

    Kertesz was threatened with drowning in the pool he swam in. He might’ve stayed and brazened it out but the ‘bunko parasztok’ would’ve gotten to him. Then the public show of weeping and regret: “Oh, we should’ve done something to protect him!” All show: the dramatic acting out Hungarians are so good at.

  12. I’m happy that he got political asylum. Even through he lied all his way through and the whole issue is obviously ridiculous, this is the best chance he will never come back.

  13. Hey guys, I am writing from Belgium but this guy seems to me like a f#cking racist to me. You may have your reasons for liking him but calling a whole nation genetically inferior is bound to stir up some dust in any honest country.

  14. Bart: You have to read far more carefully as the poorly quoted sentence is misinterpreted 90% of the time. And yes, Hungarians HAVE a genetical inferiority (complex) they are proving it on the daily basis, for centuries. The majority of the population is subservient to dictatorships, nefarious and immoral governments, even, when it consist of criminals, thieves who in the past were zealously subservient to foreign powers also. Large portion of the population is full of prejudice agains gypsies, foreigners and highly anti-semitic and racist. Instead of having a backbone and principals, members of the Hungarian government and the minions of brown-nosing “intellectuals” falsify the history, make winners out of slimy losers. Just like now; “Hungary Performs Better” which is the Stadionos viktor slogan and it is a BIG LIE! The rightists are now erecting statues of the mass murderer Horthy Miklós, whitewash fascists and nazi murdering criminals, reviving the sordid past, with the vile and merciless Governments’s blessing. Yet the subservient Hungarians do nothing, even as they are being robbed blind and loose their human rights along the way! In other nations, the people would have rebelled and chased their Prime-MINIster away, who unlawfully and on his own decision, traded a racist axe-murderer to an Azeri despot, for questionable favors. Not so in Hungary, where the parasitic Government and it ‘s ruthless minions are regarded as the sole authority instead of the servants of the citizens and inhabitants as it should be even in a semi-democratic nation.

  15. Wow! Somebody is watching. 😉
    The governement is corrupt and they lie. And people follow like sheep. Actually this reminds me of my governement at home. What am I suppossed to do? Hate the governement? Ok, I now hate it. Happy?
    But I hate them (govs) all

  16. bart :
    Hey guys, I am writing from Belgium but this guy seems to me like a f#cking racist to me. You may have your reasons for liking him but calling a whole nation genetically inferior is bound to stir up some dust in any honest country.

    But he himself too is Hungarian. How can be he racist? What am I missing Bart?

  17. Mutt :
    But he himself too is Hungarian. How can be he racist?

    A racist statement is a racist statement, no matter who says it. And he who makes a racist statement is a racist by definition. This should be quite obvious.

    What’s more interesting – and less obvious – is that by granting political asylum to a citizen of an EU Member state, Canada is in effect saying that the EU is not a “safe” place. Remember: even if we accepted that Hungary persecutes dissidents (which is not true but let us accept it for argument’s sake), a Hungarian still has 27 other EU Member states to move to, as freedom of movement and settlement within the European Union is guaranteed to all EU citizens. If Ákos Kertész felt unsafe in Hungary, he could have relocated anywhere from Ireland to the UK to Germany to Austria to Portugal to Spain… by granting him political asylum, Canada has implicitly stated that all these other EU Member states are unsafe too. This is a very interesting situation.

  18. @Tyrker: Can a citizen of an EU member country freely move to another EU country? Yes, for three months. Beyond that he has to apply for a staying permit. He will get it only if he has a job and can support himself in the new country.

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