Zsolt Bayer

American-Hungarian relations: Chargé d’affaires Andre Goodfriend

Although it was almost a year ago that Colleen Bell was nominated to be ambassador to Hungary, her confirmation is still in limbo, along with that of thirty others. The American chargé d’affaires in Budapest, Andre M. Goodfriend, is therefore serving as the head of the mission.

Mr. Goodfriend joined the State Department in 1987; he served in Tel Aviv, New Delhi, and Moscow before being posted to Budapest in August 2013. As an overachieving undergraduate he got degrees in philosophy, classical Greek, French, and radio-television at the University of Arizona and subsequently received an M.A. in communication from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He has studied Hungarian, Hebrew, French, Russian, Greek (both classical and modern), Spanish, Hindi, Arabic, and Yiddish. Quite an accomplishment. In any case, he has ample experience to handle the affairs of the Budapest embassy at this very difficult juncture of U.S.-Hungarian relations.

Shortly after his arrival in Budapest he decided to start a bilingual blog, Civil Voices. Every article appears in both English and Hungarian. The number of comments is modest but growing. Some are in English, others in Hungarian. Almost all of his posts are relevant to Hungary, even those that deal with specifically American topics. For instance, Mr. Goodfriend’s very first post, about the history of racial discrimination, was written on Martin Luther King Day. Yet the post begins with a commemoration of the 69th anniversary of the Soviet Army’s liberation of the Budapest ghetto and the 68th anniversary of Hungary’s expulsion of its German-speaking citizens. The message was that we must face our past and learn from it.

The most recent blog, written on August 5, is entitled “Love Me, I’m a Liberal/Szeress engem, liberális vagyok.” In it, the American chargé talks about the need to define terms as well as the need for ongoing discussion and engagement to clarify terms. He is asking for some clarification of what Prime Minister Viktor Orbán means by “liberal” and conversely “illiberal.”

Andre M. Goodfriend / Magyar Nemzet

Andre M. Goodfriend / Magyar Nemzet

The United States government is obviously trying to engage the Hungarian citizenry even if they can’t engage the Hungarian government. Of course, I have no idea how close and/or frequent contacts are between the U.S. Embassy and the Hungarian foreign ministry but I doubt that they are at all frequent. Don’t forget that the ministry is in total turmoil. Old hands have been removed; new, inexperienced people are taking over. The present minister is half way out the door on his way to Brussels while Péter Szijjártó, Orbán’s man who was chosen for the task of catching “the Eastern wind,”  is not at all interested in either the European Union or the United States. Instead, he has been madly looking for opportunities in the Middle East and Central Asia.

In addition to the blog that reaches few people, Mr. Goodfriend, seemingly at the behest of the State Department, approached Magyar Nemzet asking for an interview. At least this is what one gathers from the first couple of interview questions that appeared in the August 5 issue of the paper. The English original can be found here. The journalist’s last name is Zord, which in Hungarian means grim, morose, sullen, and I must say that he didn’t belie his name. It would be wonderful if the journalists of Magyar Nemzet were as zealous as Zord was when they question Viktor Orbán or any other members of the government.

The interview ran under the headline “The American dream still exists.” The bold-faced introduction, however, was an indictment: “America is putting its allies under surveillance, torturing POWs, and using police state methods” and yet it is worried “about Hungarian democracy of all things.” Magyar Nemzet was less interested in what the American chargé had to say than what its journalist accused the United States of.

Without going into the details of this fairly long interview, let me make a few observations. The journalist conducting the interview was surprisingly inarticulate. Moreover, at times he showed that he is not familiar with basic facts. For example, he talked about the “American ambassador to Jerusalem” when we know that the U.S. Embassy, along with 81 others, is located in Tel Aviv because of the controversy over the status of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. When it came to concepts like liberalism, liberal democracy, and globalism, he showed that he knew little more about these subjects than what he read in Orbán’s speech. Therefore, Andre Goodfriend had a relatively easy time with him, and I must say he handled the interview very well.

In fact, the journalist, who is after all a Hungarian–born and educated–could learn Hungarian history and even some Hungarian etymology from Mr. Goodfriend. After Zord extolled the virtues of nation states, Goodfriend rightly pointed out that the golden age of modern Hungary was between 1867 and 1910 when the country was part of a large and ethnically diverse empire. Hungary not only prospered economically but excelled “in the sciences, the arts, music, literature, architecture, etc.” He then drew a parallel between the empire of this golden age and the European Union. Moreover, he suggested that perhaps 2004, the year Hungary joined the Union, is a much more important date for the future of the country than Orbán’s choice for the dawn of a new era, the 2008 financial crisis.

While discussing the NGOs, whom the interviewer described as paid political activists and enforcers of foreign interests, Goodfriend reminded him that Viktor Orbán and his organization, Fidesz, received plenty of financial support for the very purpose of loosening the grip of the communist regime on the country in 1988 and 1989. George Soros naturally could not be left out of any discussion on NGOs, although lately Soros’s contributions are not substantial. The interviewer accused Soros’s “network” of conspiracy against the right-wing government. This accusation was artfully countered by Goodfriend who gave a lecture on the etymology of the Hungarian word “összeesküvés,” which implies a secret plan to which the members of the conspiracy swear. By contrast, financial assistance from either the Soros Foundation or the Norway Grants is given in a transparent fashion.

All in all, I think, Andre Goodfriend did very well, and I’m sure that the State Department is satisfied with this interview.

As a footnote I might add that I have been noticing in the last few days certain signs of backpedaling by the right-wing media. Even Zsolt Bayer emphasized in his column today that the world should not take Orbán’s speech so seriously because after all it was only delivered AT A SUMMER CAMP, in all caps! Moreover, what is important is not so much liberalism, which he equates with neoliberalism, but “the rule of law.” It is the rule of law that we must defend and that will be defended in Hungary under the governance of Viktor Orbán.

It seems to me that the vehement reaction, especially in the United States, to Orbán’s ideas on the illiberal state took him and the people around him by surprise. Viktor Orbán and his closest associates have been silent on the subject, but apparently some of his advisers and Fidesz members of the European Parliament admitted to Ildikó Csuhaj, the usually very well-informed journalist of Népszabadság, that they consider Orbán’s fiercely anti-American attitudes counterproductive and apparently recommended that he reconsider his policies toward the United States. I understand that the new Hungarian ambassador will be Réka Szemerkényi, who apparently has good connections in Washington, although I doubt that she will be able to warm up her old friendships with American diplomats and politicians under the present circumstances.

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Anti-American voices after the reactions to Viktor Orbán’s speech

As promised, today I will write a few words about the worsening U.S.-Hungarian relations, not that they have been all that good over the last few years. Magyar Nemzet, the flagship of the Fidesz media empire, has been publishing one vitriolic editorial after the other. The same is true of Magyar Hírlap and the television stations HírTV and EchoTV. The attack is two-pronged. On the one hand, they accuse the United States of interference in the affairs of other countries and, on the other, they charge the U.S. with uncritical support of Israel all the while unjustly accusing Hungary of anti-Semitism.

Here I have selected three articles to give a sense of recent anti-American sentiment among the Hungarian right. Two of the authors work for Magyar Nemzet. They are Tamás Fricz, who is a regular contributor, and István Lovas, the paper’s correspondent in Brussels. The latter’s “Open Letter to the Chargé of the U.S. Embassy in Budapest” actually appeared on a far-right internet portal Flag Magazin. Both pieces were republished on nemzeti.netwhich aggregates articles from hundreds of far-right online publications. It is a treasure trove for those interested in the activities of the Hungarian far right. The third article appeared in Magyar Hírlap and is from Zsolt Bayer, about whom I wrote several times. His targets are liberals, the foreign press, Jews, and anyone who criticizes the Hungarian government–for example, Ulrike Lunacek, an MEP from Austria. In comparison to some of his other writings this particular piece is tame.

I haven’t said much about István Lovas in the past and I will not have time to do so today. I will say only that he is one of the most unsavory characters in the Hungarian right-wing media, and that is something. Although he has some Jewish ancestors, he is a vicious anti-Semite. His open letter to André Goodfriend was occasioned by the visit of  Ira Forman, who was  appointed by John Kerry to be U.S. Special Envoy of the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.

Forman gave an interview to MTI, the Hungarian news agency, on July 21 in which among other things he talked about the unfortunate situation that developed over the 70th anniversary of the Hungarian Holocaust and the memorial the Orbán government insisted on erecting despite strong opposition from Jewish and non-Jewish groups. He stressed that this is not only his personal opinion but also that of the U.S. government. Forman talked about the growing anti-Semitism in Europe ever since the beginning of the 21st century, especially in countries with large Muslim populations. But, he added, in Hungary “there is another kind, the classical 19th and 20th century Nazi type of anti-Semitism.”  And since there is a fairly large Jewish presence in Hungary, his office follows the situation closely.

One can quibble about the accuracy of this statement. After all, we cannot talk about a Nazi type of anti-Semitism in the nineteenth century. Perhaps “political anti-Semitism” might have been a better choice of words. And one might argue that Forman’s description of the Hungarian situation is far too general. But we can definitely say that the Hungarian far right’s political views bear a suspicious resemblance to those of German national socialism. And that the far right is represented in the Hungarian parliament.

It was a few days after this interview that Lovas decided to attack André Goodfriend, who is currently heading the U.S. Embassy in Budapest.  He charged that the embassy is the only one “in the whole world” whose chief activity is “the struggle against anti-Semitism.” Instead of concentrating on Hungary, the U.S. government should worry about the “death of Palestinian infants, children, women, nurses, and doctors.” He described the situation in Gaza as a “massacre.” Then follows a very long list of anti-Semitic incidents in various European countries. At the end he returns to the person of the American diplomat. Without telling the reader what terrible sin André Goodfriend personally committed, he asks him what he is afraid of. “To tell the truth?” And obviously this truth is the reason “why all U.S. embassies must be barricaded and surrounded by guards.” As time goes by they will need more and more barricades and guards.

Tamás Fricz, to the shame of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, is a senior researcher at its Institute of Political Science. He also teaches political science at the University of Miskolc. Interestingly enough, he didn’t major in political science but received a degree in finance and accounting not at a university but at a three-year college. After graduation he enrolled at ELTE but, again, not as a student of political science but of philosophy (1985-1989). In the 1990s he received a doctorate, a title that no longer exists, from the University of Economics, today called Corvinus, but in what field it is hard to tell. That doctorate was then automatically morphed into a Ph.D.

He wrote his anti-American article after the condemnation of Viktor Orbán’s speech by The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Fricz opines that The New York Times‘s editorial pretty well reflects the views of the American government. How do they dare call on the European Union to reduce EU subsidies to Hungary or take away her voting rights? “We are amazed.” What would happen if the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung or Le Figaro demanded sanctions from the president against one of the states, he asks? Perhaps the United States should ask for membership in the European Union and pay the contributions member states of the EU have to pay.

Fricz continues his harangue against the United States by pointing to its military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. The United States’s fight against Taliban “terrorism” led nowhere. The same thing happened in Iraq where “they introduced democracy” and the only result is that there is now total chaos in the country. He explains that “free elections, human rights, rights of citizens in themselves are not enough for the establishment of real democracy. Cultural, historical, societal, religious preconditions must be present for the establishment of democracy and we must declare that these preconditions are stronger than the institutional prerequisites.” How true! What Fricz does not seem to recognize is that he just condemned his own country as one of those lands where these preconditions of democracy don’t exist. I doubt that he thought this through.

Fricz and Bayer

Zsolt Bayer’s piece is just as primitive as the others. Bayer is one of the 37 founders of Fidesz. At the time he was a student of Hungarian literature and history at ELTE. He likes to show off his vast knowledge of history, literature, and philosophy. He is a name dropper. In his “Open letter to the New York Times” he starts off with Nietzsche and finishes with Ortega y Gasset, to which he adds: “It was Ortega who wrote these lines. I don’t suppose you [the editors of The New York Times] understand them.”

The gist of the piece is how much better Hungarians are than Americans. Because they did not start wars “under false pretexts”; they did not ignore the verdicts of international organizations; they did not legalize torture; they did not hold prisoners in Guantanamo; they don’t spy on other people, including their allies; and finally the Hungarian head of state does not have the right “to liquidate people” without consulting with the judiciary as the American president has. I assume Bayer is referring here to a speech by Attorney General Eric Holder at Northwest University in 2012, I believe in connection with American militants like Anwar al-Awlaki.

The Ortega quotation is amusing because it has nothing to do with Orbán’s lecture on “illiberalism.” Ortega is considered to be a “liberal philosopher” and therefore it is hard to believe that he thought that “liberals … were old-fashioned people who marched under faded flags.” The quotation is most likely taken out of context because the portion Bayer quotes begins: “Why are they satisfied with the repetition of ready-made ideas?” Moreover, these old-fashioned people can be either liberals or reactionaries. So, clearly, Ortega is talking about non-thinking people in general.

This is how the open letter ends: “Your obese society is marching under the faded flag of liberalism. Without a thought, pitifully. But you must understand one thing: you have no right to interject yourselves into the affairs of other societies and their future. Is that clear?”

In case you think that one ought not to pay much attention to these lunatics, consider the opinion of a man who in his former life was a respected British scholar and who subsequently became the refined voice of Viktor Orbán in the European Parliament–George Schöpflin. This is what he had to say about the possible effects of the Orbán speech: “it might even be that a decade from now the Bǎile Tuşnad speech will be referred to as the audacious and courageous forerunner of necessary change. Of course, it could be that it will not be. But in that case, democracy will be in trouble.”

With friends like these, democracy needs no enemies.

The Russian view of Paks; the right-wing rant on the united opposition

I’m staying with yesterday’s topics: Russian-Hungarian relations and the most important domestic development, the new united opposition. But with a difference. In the case of the Russian-Hungarian understanding, I will take a look at Russian reactions. How does the Russian media view these developments? As far as the gathering of the opposition forces is concerned, I will share some excerpts from the right-wing press, especially Magyar Nemzet and Magyar Hírlap.

I was initially skeptical that whatever Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orbán signed the other day would be more advantageous to Hungary than to Russia, or even equally advantageous. And not just in economic terms. But I became truly concerned this morning when I saw a Hungarian translation of a Russian article that appeared in the well-known Russian daily, Kommersant. The author of the article, Andrei Kolesnikov, called attention to Viktor Orbán’s eagerness to please his Russian partners. The reporter pointed out that the Hungarian prime minister volunteered the information right after the ceremonies were over that Hungary will fulfill all its obligations as far as the Southern Stream project is concerned. There is no formal connection between the agreement signed on the Paks nuclear power plant and the Southern Stream project, and therefore mentioning the controversial arrangement was not at all necessary. Orbán’s reference to the pipeline could serve only one purpose: to make it clear that regardless of EU objections Hungary will go through with the project. He is ready to engage in another fight with the bureaucrats in Brussels, this time over the Russian pipeline.

I became curious about other Russian media reactions and found an incredible number of articles. In addition, I was lucky enough to catch a radio interview with Zoltán Sz. Bíró, a historian of present-day Russia, whom I consider one of the most reliable and knowledgeable students of Putin’s Russia. According to him, Viktor Orbán’s visit was the leading news item on the Russian state television station. Hungary was hailed as “the most independent country in the European Union.” Long opinion pieces appeared about Orbán, who was described as “the ally of Putin within the European Union.” One article’s headline hailed the agreement as a great victory for Russia because, after all, now “Eurasia is at the Danube.” According to another analysis, this Russian-Hungarian agreement is more than an economic act; it is a kind of political alliance. Another reporter described the event thus: “We already bought Ukraine, and now we are buying Hungary.” The goal of Russia, according to Sz. Bíró, is to have an ally inside of the Union, to whom under certain circumstances Russia can turn. To have a country that can be the spokesman for Russia in Brussels.

Of course, there are also critical voices concerning the Russian-Hungarian deal, mostly in the relatively small independent media. Critics don’t understand why Russia has to spend billions and billions when the Russian economy has slowed considerably in the last few years. It was not too many years ago that the Russian GDP grew 6-7% a year. Today, if all goes well, that figure will be 1.4%.

Although we have no idea what interest rate Hungary will have to pay on the loan, apparently the Russian finance minister already indicated that it has to be high enough to equal the interest rate at which Russia would be able to borrow in the market. This would indicate that the interest rate will not be as low as János Lázár would like us to believe.

Today’s Russia is a politically much more oppressive country than it was before the 2011-2012 elections. The election was rigged, the urban middle classes are increasingly dissatisfied with the regime, and in turn the government is clamping down more and more. To have such a close relationship with Putin’s Russia is anything but wise. Andrei Kolesnikov in his article in Kommersant called attention to the similarities between Putin and Orbán: “the Soviet gene is alive in both of them, whether they like it or not,” which makes them kindred souls.

And as long as we’re on the theme of “the Soviet gene,” perhaps it might interest you to know that Ágnes Seszták, who is a regular contributor of opinion pieces to Magyar Nemzet, began her article about the new five-party alliance this way: “The chartered train arrived which brought Comrade Rákosi, Comrade Gerő, and Mihály Farkas to the podium. Comrade Révai is ill-disposed but he will join the group. Oh, what am I talking about? This is not that age. This is the team of today.” The reference was to the joint appearance of Attila Mesterházy, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Gábor Fodor on ATV. Gordon Bajnai was invited but couldn’t attend. This is how the right-wing propagandists assist the Orbán government’s efforts to equate the present-day socialists and liberals with the the worst figures of the Rákosi regime.

As the Orbán government wants to portray the social democrats and the liberals

The way the Orbán government wants to portray the social democrats and liberals

Another regular, Miklós Ugró, called the left-center gathering “the little nincompoops” (kis idétlen). I guess that is better than comparing it to the Rákosi-Gerő-Farkas-Révai quartet, but Ugró couldn’t resist calling these politicians comrades who “loathe each other”(rühellik egymást). And the style doesn’t get any more acceptable as he goes on. He mentions “the few political traveling salesmen [vigéc] who betrayed LMP.” Solidarity is “a collection of rowdies [tahók].” And his final word is that this team is nothing but the “reconvening of the old MSZP” that naturally ruined the country and would again if given the opportunity.

Zsolt Bayer in Magyar Hírlap also accuses the socialists of all sorts of sins.  They still consider György Lukács and Oszkár Jászi their intellectual heritage–a murderer and a traitor. They dare to adore Béla Kun and the other commissars, although only in secret.  But their real idol is Kádár. As for Gyurcsány, he is “the greatest, the vilest, the most disgusting crook of the regime change.” Yet, the pro-government forces and voters shouldn’t think that Gyurcsány’s presence will take votes away from the present left-of-center alliance. No, he will bring votes “because they are like that.” Thus, the right has to fight doubly hard to win this election because if “the socialists lose in April, they are really finished. For ever and for good.”

Bayer could have given Attila Mesterházy sound advice. If he had decided not to get together with the others and MSZP had run alone at the next election, he would have had a chance to be prime minister in 2018. “But this way he will disappear with the rest of the crooks. Forever!”

Odds and ends from Hungary: A court case, a new poll, and a successful country

Again, there are too many interesting topics and I don’t know which one to pick. So I decided to cover as many as I have space for without making the post too long.

First, I received a short note from András Arató, CEO of Klubrádió, announcing the Kúria’s landmark decision with regard to one of the controversial writings of Zsolt Bayer. The decision was rendered in a case that involved Klubrádió.

I wrote about the article,”The Same Stench,” which was the subject of the case, at the time of its publication. In it Bayer called Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a member of the European Parliament, and András Schiff, the internationally acclaimed Hungarian pianist, “stinking excrement” and lamented the incompleteness of the massacre in the forest of Orgovány where many Hungarian Jews were murdered in 1920.

In “Let’s Talk It Over,” the most popular program on Klubrádió, its host György Bolgár talked to Péter Feldmájer,  the chairman of MAZSIHISZ. In the course of their conversation they labeled the Bayer article anti-Semitic. Bayer sued for infringement of his personality rights and also for damages, claiming that because of the interview he ceased to receive commissions for articles from the French daily, Le Monde. The case eventually ended up in the Kúria, which is the highest court of the land. No further appeal is possible.

In its  June 26 ruling, the Kúria found that a reading of Bayer’s article could logically and lawfully lead to the finding that the contents of the article were anti-Semitic. Bayer’s attempts to frame the reference to Orgovány as a mere metaphor failed. According to the ruling, he must endure the criticism that his article deserves and must allow others to form an honest opinion of the article without using the legal institution of personality rights to shield himself from public criticism.

This ruling of the Kúria is of landmark importance, as it finally shows that neo-Nazi, racist, and hate speech cannot be published with impunity in Hungary. Freedom of expression and its manifestation in the form of criticism stand as potential means for anyone seeking to take action against extremist statements.

All in all, Klubrádió is proud that it had a role to play in this very important decision.

I might add that it would be nice if the Media Authority actually allowed Klubrádió to broadcast on a frequency which can be used free of charge and which the station is entitled to use. Although at least a month has gone by since the court decision in Klubrádió’s favor, nothing has happened yet although the Media Authority has no right to appeal.

* * *

You may recall that a couple of weeks ago I spent a whole post on an interview with the CEO of Medián about the intricacies of poll taking in Hungary.  Medián just came out with a poll that probed public reaction to the tobacconist shop affair. Their first attempt at gauging public reaction was three weeks ago when 56% were against making tobacco products a monopoly and disapproved of the way it was done. By now that number is 73%. Moreover, the percentage of those who heard about the affair is exceptionally high: 94%.

What is especially interesting is the breakdown by voting groups.  There were basically three main questions asked. The first was whether it is appropriate for a government to decide who can and who cannot sell tobacco products. The second concerned the appropriateness of a government party favoring its own adherents in allotting the concessions. And finally the respondents were asked what would they do now if they were in the position to do something about the situation that was created by the government.

To the question about the appropriateness of the government deciding who can and who cannot sell tobacco products, the overwhelming majority (73%) were against it and only 19% were for it. Not even Fidesz voters are crazy about the idea. As for the idea of a tobacco monopoly, 43% disapprove while 10% have no opinion; 47% support the government on this issue. Supporters of MSZP, E14 and other smaller parties on the left overwhelmingly, and predictably, oppose the nationalization of tobacconist shops (85-90%). What is much more interesting is the reaction of those people who are undecided. Among them 76% are against the government scheme. Medián differentiated another category whom they call “active undecided” voters. Those are the ones who say that they definitely will vote but that they still don’t know for whom. Among them 74% opposed the monopolization of tobacco products.

To the question of whether it is appropriate for a party in power to favor its own, half of the Fidesz voters answered in the negative. All others, including the undecided and the actively undecided, were overwhelmingly (80-93%) opposed. Let’s not forget that Viktor Orbán announced that he saw nothing wrong with favoring Fidesz supporters over others.

Finally there was the question of what to do with the state of affairs that was created as a result of the tobacco monopoly and the way the concessions were granted. 51% of those asked would undo everything and would allow anyone who wants to sell cigarettes to be able to do so. 26% would start anew by scrapping the results and announcing a new competition for the available stores. Only 14% wouldn’t change anything.

What do these figures tell us, especially in light of other polls on party preferences? All three of the most recent polls show Fidesz leading by a large margin over MSZP and by 6-8% over a united democratic opposition. But the percentage of undecided voters is still very large. According to Tárki, it is 49%. If the population’s dislike of the monopolization of tobacco products and their disgust with the concessions is any indication, the undecided and especially the actively undecided voters may offer up some surprises.

* * *

And, finally, here is a priceless Orbán quotation. He was in Brussels today at a meeting of the prime ministers of the member states. He told reporters afterwards that he looked around the table and there was not one prime minister whose country was successful. It was a strange feeling to represent the only economically successful country in this company. And here are these unsuccessful losers who give advice to him, the only successful one. But he took no offense!

Success by Kevin Houle / flkckr

Success by Kevin Houle / flkckr

In line with his allegedly conciliatory attitude to the West European losers, Orbán decided to give in on the issue of political advertisement. As things stand now, no party can advertise on any  commercial television or radio station during the campaign season. He announced that this restrictive law will be changed to allow parties to advertise on commercial stations. But the stations must provide the service free of charge. I’ll bet they will be thrilled. On the other hand, given the financial state of the opposition parties, getting some free advertising might help restore the balance between Fidesz with its practically unlimited resources and opportunities and the poverty-stricken opposition parties. Of course, in the “devil in the details” department, we don’t know how much time the commercial stations will set aside for “upaid” political advertisements and whether these ads will be permitted during prime time or only when the vast majority of people are either at work or asleep.

Zsófia Mihancsik: “Zero tolerance”–then let’s begin!

This is not the first time that I’ve provided a loose translation of Zsófia Mihancsik’s writing for English-speaking readers because I consider her to be one of the top analysts of Hungarian politics today. She is the editor-in-chief of Galamus, an excellent Internet forum. Galamus, besides offering outstanding op/ed pieces, also publishes Júlia Horváth’s translations of foreign articles in German, English and Russian while Mihancsik does the translations from French about the political situation in Hungary. For example, Professor Kim Scheppele’s articles on the constitution appeared in Hungarian on Galamus immediately after their publications. These translations fill the gap left wide open by MTI, the Hungarian press agency. Galamus also has volunteers from Sweden and Spain who offer their services to the “translation department.”

Mihancsik, in addition to the arduous task of running pretty much a one-woman show, often finds time to contribute articles of her own. The one that appeared today examines the Orbán government’s duplicity on the issue of anti-Semitism. It reveals to the foreign reader the kind of Hungarian reality that is normally closed to outsiders. Even those Hungarian speakers who pay attention to politics and the media may miss a sentence here and a sentence there that speak volumes about the real nature of Viktor Orbán’s Hungary.

* * *

On May 5 Prime Minister Viktor Orbán delivered his opening speech in front of the 14th General Assembly of the World Jewish Congress and stated that “today’s Hungarian Christian Democrat government felt that it was its moral duty … to declare a policy of zero tolerance against anti-Semitism.” On May 9 Péter Feldmájer, the president of MAZSIHISZ, said in an interview that Viktor Orbán’s “speech is satisfactory as a reference point but only time will tell what kinds of decisions will be made as a result.”

Between these two dates, on May 8, the new issue of the Demokrata, a weekly magazine, appeared and in it, on page 42, an op/ed piece by Ádám Pozsonyi entitled “Bacon” that included the following sentences:

I read in Magyar Hírlap that  a miserable fellow called András Gerő–I don’t know his original name–reviled the House of Árpád in some kind of libsi gutter-paper…. Should I get myself wound up about this miserable man who couldn’t adapt and wipes his shoes on the past of the people who gave him shelter? … It just occurred to me, breakfast, Mr. Gerő, don’t you want a little bacon? Please have some. I’ll give you some gladly. [Italics by Zs.M.]

This is what is called anti-Semitic talk. Even if the word “Jewish” is not used. After all, the Hungarian right and far right has a lot of practice in the genre. If Viktor Orbán has no ear for the coded anti-Semitic speech I will translate this passage for him. I don’t know his original name means that we know that this Jew had the temerity to Hungarianize his name. So, Pozsonyi makes sure that everybody understands that Béla Kun’s original name was Kohn, and Mátyás Rákosi’s Rosenfeld. So, they were Jewish.

The word libsi rhymes with bipsi, which means Jewish among the racists. It is the nickname for liberals, primarily used by those who consider everything that is not national and Christian–everything that is liberal/libsi, cosmopolitan, European, etc.–Jewish pollution. (The “libsi” gutter paper, by the way, is the prestigious weekly, Élet és Irodalom.)

This miserable man who couldn’t adapt and wipes his shoes on the past of the people who gave him shelter is a Nazi idea expressed by many. It is a variation of the “Galician vagrants” (galiciai jöttmentek) that was often heard in the last ten years. So, the Jews immigrate from God knows where while the Hungarians give them shelter but the the Jews, because of their character, turn against the accepting Hungarians. (Exactly the same way the left turns against the nation, which is another favorite Orbánite turn of phrase.) The Jews desecrate everything that is holy for the nation, mostly because of their always doubting minds.

Bacon naturally means pork, which an observant Jew cannot have. For the author of Demokrata it is totally irrelevant whether the person in question is Jewish or not, or if he is religious or not. The mention of bacon here is about the humiliation of someone outside of the nation who cannot eat the national food of Hungarians. He was an outsider and he remains an outsider.

So, I think that in the name of “zero tolerance” Orbán must have a little chit-chat with Demokrata‘s author.

Before anyone tells me that it is unfair to expect a reprimand of an anti-Semitic author by the prime minister, let me explain why I think that Viktor Orbán should rise to the occasion and do something. Why? Because we are not talking about an independent publication but a branch publication,  a party paper, a mouth-piece, a hired organ. We are talking about a paper that has a political boss in whose interest it functions and on whom it depends.

Here are three reasons that I believe Viktor Orbán is responsible for what appears in Demokrata. After the lost election in 2002 he did two things. He organized the civil cells and he urged his followers to support media close to Fidesz. He said at the time: “I ask every member [of these cells] to subscribe to Magyar Nemzet, Demokrata, and Heti Válasz. Those of you who are better off should subscribe in the name of a less wealthy friend or acquaintance.” And he gave a website where the supporters could fill out the order forms for the above publications.

From left to right: Gábor Széles, András Bencsik, and Zsolt Bayer / fnhir24.hu

From left to right: Gábor Széles, András Bencsik, and Zsolt Bayer / fnhir24.hu

In an article that appeared in Magyar Narancs (April 20, 2012) we could read that Fidesz-led municipalities gave 26 million forints in the previous five years to Demokrata.  Another article that also appeared in Magyar Narancs (April 23, 2012) concentrated on the incredible amount of state-ordered advertisements these right-wing papers receive. Given the centralized nature of Fidesz and Viktor Orbán’s individual leadership style, one can assume that the largess these papers receive depends on “performance.” If they “behave” the money comes; if not, the money supply dries up.

Another reason to assume that the relationship between Demokrata and Fidesz is close is the fact that the paper’s editor-in-chief, András Bencsik, is one of the chief organizers of the “Peace Marches” that were supposed to show the world the incredible support Viktor Orbán has. But in addition to Bencsik, one could find among the organizers Ádám Pozsonyi, the author of the article on “Bacon”; István Stefka, editor-in-chief of Magyar Hírlap; Zsolt Bayer, senior editor of Magyar Hírlap; and Gábor Széles, Magyar Hírlap‘s owner

So, given the cozy relationship between Viktor Orbán and the extremist journalists serving him, it would be the easiest thing for Orbán if he were really serious about this new-fangled “zero tolerance” to say: “Boys, if once more you make anti-Semitic propaganda in your paper or on your television station there will be no more financial assistance. Moreover, you will not receive 3.2 billion forints for organizing peace marches. You will not receive any ads from state companies, and the municipalities will be told to stop payment. In a word, you will starve to death.”*

Moreover, I go further. That message shouldn’t just be whispered into the ears of the journalists at these newspapers but should be announced loud and clear to the Hungarian public.Everybody should understand what will happen to him if  he goes against “our Hungarian Christian Democratic politics.”

When that actually happens Ronald S. Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, can make an apology with good reason. If not, then only the shame remains–for us.

*Demokrata sold only 12,000 copies in November 2011.

The testimony of Paul A. Shapiro, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Paul A. Shapiro

Director, Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Testimony

U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

“The Trajectory of Democracy:  Why Hungary Matters”

March 19, 2013

Washington, DC

 

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.

Recent Developments

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.

Conclusion

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.

The significance of today’s demonstration in the Hungarian capital

This afternoon’s demonstration was impressive. At least in my opinion. Some people are disappointed that only 6,000 people showed up, but I don’t think that numbers are the most important consideration. Yesterday we didn’t even know who those handful of people were who occupied the courtyard of Fidesz’s party headquarters. A few hours later their numbers swelled to 1,000. Less than 24 hours later this unknown group managed to stage a demonstration in which thousands participated.

And this crowd, both yesterday and today, demanded “Constitution, Democracy and the Rule of Law.” These are exactly the kinds of values that European politicians cherish and that they demand from Viktor Orbán. The crowd was mixed: young, middle-aged, old, all mingled together, and there were a lot of sympathizers cheering them on. It is also significant that 110,000 people watched the live stream of the event.

Most likely Viktor Orbán thinks that because the numbers are still relatively small, eventually the whole movement will peter out. I predict that the trend will be just the reverse. Some of you already sensed a different mood on the streets today. In any case, it seems to me that Fidesz is preparing itself for the possibility, even if to some of them an unlikely possibility, of rising dissatisfaction. The party’s organizers and spin doctors are heading in the wrong direction, however, in devising ways to combat dissatisfaction.

Let’s start by recapping yesterday’s response to the demonstrators at the Fidesz headquarters. First, András Bencsik, one of the Peace March organizers, mobilized those Fidesz supporters who are hard-core “professional” demonstrators. Their primitive behavior, their obscenities, and their stupidity will turn more and more people against them. Videos abound on YouTube of these people’s unspeakable behavior. Moreover, they didn’t even realize that the students on the balcony were reading Fidesz’s party program from 1989.

Then came the second mistake. Gábor Kubatov, Fidesz party manager who in his spare time is the president of the board of the Ferencváros Football Club, called on some heavies from the ranks of the Fradi football hooligans who tried to remove the protesters by force. It turned out that one of the hooligans spent ten years in jail  for murder.

And what is Kubatov planning now? He is trying to mobilize the faithful by painting a picture of the imminent danger facing the government and the party. He sent a letter to party members in which he outlined the “damage” and “physical abuse” allegedly committed by the protesters. According to Kubatov, the demonstrators “attacked” the building, “tried to break into it,” but thanks to the the staff ‘s “firmness of purpose” they were thwarted in their attempt. “Meanwhile they broke into smithereens whatever was in their way” (törtek-zúztak) and “maltreated the employees of the party headquarters.” (Don’t try to find any logic here because if they didn’t manage to get into the building how could they have smashed things into smithereens or maltreated the employees who were inside?)

In the future, Kubatov maintains, the employees of the offices of Fidesz must be ready to defend, peacefully of course, their buildings. He called on Fidesz members who are ready to come to the rescue of Fidesz buildings to sign up at riadolanc@fidesz.hu. (“Riadó” means “alert” and “lánc” “chain”.) These people should be ready on an hour’s notice to be “on the scene of aggression.”

Some people on the Internet compare Fidesz’s hard core defenders to either the Sturmabteilung (Storm troopers/SA) or the Workers’ Militia of the Kádár regime. The blogger who compares Kubatov’s defense force to the SA quotes the appropriate passages from the Hungarian edition of Wikipedia, which describes the chief function of the SA  as defending the national socialist party’s meetings from attacks by the opposition.

Kubatov’s guards reminded Vastagbőr (Thick Skin) of Kádár’s Workers’ Militia whose duty was “the defense of the socialist achievements of the Hungarian People’s Republic.” Each workplace, including collective farms and offices, had a number of volunteers who were supposed to defend the buildings and the employees inside.

Now let’s see what the pro-Fidesz media is up to. Magyar Nemzet published a detailed article about today’s events. The author of the article called the organizers “members of the Bajnai Guard” but otherwise gave a fairly objective report on the demonstration. Heti Válasz claimed that “several  activists with a loudspeaker surrounded and insulted the camera man and Boglárka Bartus, a reporter for HírTV.” Maybe, maybe not.

And let’s see how Zsolt Bayer sees the situation. Fidesz supporters, however sadly, must realize that from here on there will be first weekly and later daily demonstrations. He calls the members of civic groups “the children of Saul Alinsky,” a well-known American community organizer and writer. What is so bad about following in the footsteps of Alinsky, who after all worked for the improvement of living conditions in poor communities across North America? Only Bayer knows. But he claims that he is “too lazy, too tired, and too skeptical to loathe” Alinsky’s offspring. Perhaps one could talk to them if there was anything to talk about. But there isn’t. “At least we should force ourselves to be patient because they will be coming and coming. First only a few dozen, but always. They will jump over the fence, climb into our headquarters, our houses, our dreams, our desires. We will smell their halitosis. And we will retreat and retreat because we can hardly bear it. And we would gladly trample down all of them. Let’s be honest with ourselves at least once. This is what we would like to do.” But they cannot do it because the other side is waiting for aggression on their part. Don’t fret. After the elections “they will disappear forever, but until then it will be very difficult.”

One final note on the road Fidesz traveled in the last twenty-five years. Once upon a time Viktor Orbán, László Kövér and their friends did exactly the same thing that today’s college students are doing. Protesting injustice, lack of democracy, lack of transparency, lack of dialogue between the rulers and the ruled. In the courtyard of Fidesz party headquarters the students found discarded campaign literature from 1989. They demanded democratic, ideology-free education and university autonomy. And, what I like perhaps best, they demanded “fear-free life.” With Viktor Orbán’s government fear returned.

I don’t think that László Kövér wants to remember his old self squatting on the ground with a poster hanging from his neck:

In a police state the policeman's salary is higher than that of a teacher. In a democratic country the opposite is true

In a police state the policeman’s salary is higher than that of a teacher. In a democratic country the opposite is true.

How would today’s Fidesz faithful greet the man above? Would they threaten to pour acid on his face? Most likely. What’s going on in Hungary today is really shameful.