Hungary is “an especially welcoming country,” according to Vancouver Jewish community leaders

Csaba Latorcai, the Orbán government’s deputy state secretary in charge of religious groups, minorities and affairs relating to the Jewish community, just wrapped up what was likely a very successful trip to Canada. Hungary’s state news agency (MTI) published quite a gushing report of the unbridled successes of the week-long Canada-wide tour, where Mr. Latorcai was accompanied, for most of the trip, by András Heisler, President of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz). Normally, I take anything and everything published by MTI with a very sizable grain of salt. And in today’s report on the Canadian tour, there is at least one eyebrow-raising piece of misinformation. (Mr. Latorcai told MTI that Hungary is very pleased to commit 25 million forints to the Victims of Communism Memorial in Ottawa, which “is also supported by the new Canadian government.” That is not quite accurate, considering that the Liberals and Ottawa’s mayor are quite strongly critical of the proposed location of the monument in front of the Supreme Court and have had harsh words about the way that consultations and critiques were handled.)

The other eyebrow-raising element of the MTI report has to do with a discussion between Gina Csanyi-Robah, a Roma community leader in Canada, who has been strongly critical of the treatment of minorities in Hungary by the Orbán government and of rampant racism in general. Mr. Latorcai met with Ms. Csanyi-Robah in Vancouver, and the deputy state secretary summed up the Roma community activist’s comments like this:

“Gina Csanyi-Robah, among other points, emphasized that Roma who migrate to Canada often fall victim to organized criminal activity — noted the deputy state secretary. She added that most of them are disappointed by  the end of their trip, but upon their return home, a difficult situation awaits, due to economic reasons and because their children have fallen out of the Hungarian educational system.”  I would be quite surprised if Ms. Csanyi-Robah only emphasized the economic difficulties and reintegration into the school system for Roma returning home, and nothing about the reality of often systemic discrimination. The Hungarian government regularly argues that Hungarians who migrate (or seek refugee status) do so exclusively for economic reasons, rather than as a result of politics or prejudice.

All that having been said and in spite of my misgivings around MTI and public broadcasting in Hungary,  I have no reason to doubt that Mr. Latorcai’s  trip to Canada was anything but a major success for a government that has skillfully used its chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), the refugee crisis and the fears surrounding terrorism and extremist Islam to repair its tarnished image after over five years in power and five years butting heads with the European Union, the United States and civil liberties groups in Hungary and abroad.

Jewish community leaders from Vancouver visited Hungary recently and, in Mr. Latorcai’s words, “commended the Hungarian government for taking steps against antisemitism and hate speech, emphasizing that from the perspective of the Jewish community, Hungary is an especially welcoming country, particularly within the context of the current European situation.” I should note that the MTI report does not name the Jewish community leaders who made these statements.

Mr. Latorcai’s meeting with Andrew Bennett, Canada’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom, appointed in 2013 by the previous Harper government,  also resulted in congratulatory statements about the activities of the Orbán cabinet.

“He expressed his extraordinary recognition about the Hungarian chairmanship of the IHRA,” according to Mr. Latorcai’s account of the meeting, in which he also spoke with Mr. Bennett about the restoration of abandoned Jewish cemeteries in Hungary, supported by the government, which “serves both the struggle against antisemitism and the preservation of cultural heritage.”

Andrew Bennett, in the middle, with Ambassador Bálint Ódor and Csaba Latorcai to the left.

Andrew Bennett, in the middle, with Ambassador Bálint Ódor and Csaba Latorcai to the left. András Heisler is on the right.

Mr. Latorcai then compared the heated debate around the way in which the Orbán government wanted to present the public history of the Holocaust with debates surrounding the exhibits at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg. The comparison is badly skewed and, frankly, it is outrageous. The Orbán government managed to alienate almost every stakeholder, including Mazsihisz, through the way in which it handled public memory during the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust in Hungary. Mazsihisz went as far as to boycott the state-run commemorations and Mr. Orbán’s government had to erect a hugely controversial and revisionist statue to the memory of the German occupation of Hungary in downtown Budapest, during the middle of the night, in order to avoid attention. The statue was never even inaugurated. There is no way to compare this to debates around the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, which never resulted in boycotts by key stakeholders, nor did Canadian authorities erect the museum under the veil of darkness, in order to avoid public attention.

Fidesz’s communications are, in many way, second to none. They have been quite successful in feeling the pulse of the nation, capitalizing on fear and the worst possible instincts, and they have often radically altered the course of their political communication in the process. The primary enemies in Hungary at the moment are no longer “treasonous” Jews or the “criminal” Roma. They are, instead, foreign “invaders,” Islamists and terrorists, who threaten the security of Hungary’s Jewish communities and who threaten the livelihoods and economic well-being of the Roma. The Orbán government is here to defend both the Jewish communities and also the Roma.

Non-profit, online publications like the HFP or like Éva Balogh’s excellent Hungarian Spectrum simply do not have the resources to effectively and before a large audience shine light on the hair-raising cynicism of the Orbán government. There is simply no way for the HFP, the HS or the tiny handful of people active in the Canadian Hungarian Democratic Charter to compete with a government that has seemingly infinite resources at its disposal, when it comes to public relations and political communication campaigns, including here in Canada.

If we still have the ability and the energy, we can continue to write blog posts, articles and press releases, in what is ultimately a David and Goliath-type battle, which almost certainly will not end in David’s favour. Eventually, all of us will disappear, and when we do, communities that were once vulnerable and still are, but choose not to see it, will have to hope that Fidesz does not once again, based on cold, hard political calculation and expediency, turn its guns on them, especially when the fears around the current boogeyman subside. Because by that point, I don’t think that many of us will still be here to speak up.

9 Comments

  1. György Lázár says:

    Dear Christopher,

    It is not a David and Goliath-type battle!

    I can assure you that English language HFP already contributed to form a “balanced view” in North-America about the activities of the Orbán regime.

    The double talk about Hungarian Jewish affairs in Canada is disturbing, but I want to bring to your attention that the same trick doesn’t work in the USA anymore. There are desperate attempts by Szemerkényi, Fellegi, Kumin and Co. to find US “court-Jews” to underwrite Orbán’s openly anti-Semitic policies, support the usual double talk that Jews are “happy campers” in Hungary and to cover up Orbán’s installation of Hóman, Wass Albert etc. statues or quiet support of kuruc.info.

    I think Fidesz’s communication is in trouble and as you know Hungarian politicians were already banned from the US. It can happen in Canada….

  2. Canada and the USA should stop providing visas/entrance to these double talking agents of the Hungarian regime.

  3. I had breakfast. The croissant was antisemitic. We should be vigilant, and remember how it started.

  4. András B. Göllner says:

    How did it start, Mr kovács? Pray tell ? With juice ? Would you care to go beyond entertaining us with your curious dietary encounters ?

  5. Canadian citizens are welcome in Hungary!! Hungary is a beautiful, peaceful and safe country. Come and see it yourself, have your own experience! Do not believe anything that you read on this website!!!!!!!

    Mr Orban is not a bad national leader at all. He tries to defend Hungary’s interest and in this respect he is the first PM a long ago. He is definitely not perfect, but none of the politicians are perfect as we know. Not even in Canada.

    There are several programmes and opportunities for Roma people if they really want to progress in Hungary. Unfortunately, since the changes none of the governments were able to find a solution to the long-term unemployment of Romas. However, those people have to make an effort themselves too in order to change the situation. We cannot blame our governments for each of us misfortune, we all have to make efforts and sacrifices regardless of our race and ethnicity. In addition, Hungary cannot afford large amount of hand outs as the British Government.

    Furthermore, Hungary isn’t the only country with a ‘Roma issue’. We could see not long ago when the French and the British authorities made hundreds of Romas homeless. No one has condemned them ever since. In Calais (France), thousands of immigrants are kept like animals but that is fine according to human right organisations; raping women is a daily routine of immigrants in Sweden but no one condemns the Swedish Government for allowing it; Israeli apartheid and genocide is being denied and ignored, although, everyone knows that Israel is the aggressor and Palestinians are the victims….and so on.
    Do you really think that Hungary is the worst country in the world that really has to change?

    Do you know what Mr Orban does? He has invited Israeli Zionists to live in Hungary. The Jew population is increasing steadily in Hungary because Israeli Jews can get citizenship at once. He did not even ask Hungarians whether they want to live with racist and murderer Jews, he just invited them because they are Christians. There is a risk that sooner or later these Zionists will take over Hungary too. We know Jews want it all, they have no intention to ‘share’. I do not think an anti-Semitics politician do things like this. So, stop using the Roma and the Jew ‘issues’ as reasons to bring the Hungarian Government down.

    You should stop lying about Hungary even if you hate Mr Orban. Are there no problems in Canada to write about? Do not try to discredit and destroy Hungary that you cowardly left. How ‘brave’ you are to criticise Hungary from the other side of the world.

  6. Charlie London says:

    Elizabeth?

    You’re unbelievably ignorant.

    There’s no point in dignifying your post with a response.

  7. Charlie,
    Your response to Elizabeth’s comments is typical. It shows – not hers, but – your ignorance.

  8. Elizabeth

    I was in agreement with most of your first three paragraphs and I hope that it is true that :

    “Hungary is “an especially welcoming country,” according to Vancouver Jewish community leaders”

    I am an ex-Catholic Hungarian born in Bp who came here as a child, grew up in Toronto and reading the rest of your comments, I came to the conclusion that your ilk do more harm to Hungary’s image than all the “over the top Left ” on this site could possibly do.

    There is no Canadian I know who would want to be welcomed in Hungary if s/he paid any attention to your hateful vile comments – surely to God you could find some Nazi website that would welcome your opinions instead of harming Hungary’s image in every decent person’s eyes.

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