Omar Sayfo: I strongly refuse far-right label for the Demokrata weekly

Dear Mr. Christopher Adam,

First of all, I would like to express my gratitude for offering me a space to respond to your piece in the Hungarian Free Press. I was delighted to read your review of my article about the global phenomenon of religious persecution. I am especially happy that your comments fueled a constructive dialogue on the Mandiner blog, with the participation of Mr. David Schwezoff, former director of the Jewish Community of Budapest, whom I am proud to call an old friend of mine.

Let me please start with a prompt observation. Labeling any Hungarian political force as “conservative,” “socialist,” or “far-right” could be extremely misleading for Western readers in general and Canadians in particular. As you surely know, from an Eastern European and Hungarian perspective, such political definitions and categories have a very different meaning compared to their Western counterparts, as result of the process of cultural adaptation, an evolution in discourse, and historical particularities. The same is true for the label of “anti-Semitism,” which in Hungarian public discourse is often associated with any criticism of the politics of Israel.

Regardless of any local characteristics, I strongly refuse labeling the weekly political magazine Demokrata, where I have published many of my articles, as a “far-right” news outlet.

As you also correctly noted, Demokrata maintains close ties with Hungary’s governing center-right FIDESZ party, that integrates a wide spectrum of the Hungarian right. “Far-right” is a definition that should not be applied to FIDESZ, in a Hungarian perspective this title would more appropriately describe Jobbik.

During the years Mr. Andras Bencsik, editor-in-chief and owner of Demokrata, drew a clear line between his magazine and Jobbik, while providing a relatively free space for authors and columnists of the widest scale of the Hungarian right, from Christian conservatives to classical liberals like myself to express their ideas. Because of such approach, in Demokrata you can often read articles expressing conflicting views on certain issues. There are articles and opinions I personally do not agree with, and I am sure that other authors agree even less with some of my approaches. However, I am grateful to Mr. Bencsik that he never censored any of my articles, even though he does not share my views on certain issues.

Unfortunately, in Hungarian public culture such an approach to editing can be considered extremely rare. Of course, you were perfectly right when assuming that Demokrata would not tolerate any piece expressing strong criticism against FIDESZ. However, for me, writing mainly on Middle-Eastern issues, this was never a problem. Please also take into consideration that due to the cultural characteristics of Hungarian public life and the evolution of Hungarian press, none of the Hungarian media could be regarded as neutral in the sense of BBC code of ethics, and only very few dare to express criticism of allied political parties. I honestly believe that it is neither political parties, nor ideas, but political culture that primarily defines the politics of a country. Therefore, in my view, none of the Hungarian political parties or news outlets have the right to claim any sort of moral superiority over the others.

As for my article on religious persecution, when writing the piece, my intention was to provide a global perspective on the issue. As the limit was 9000 characters, I did not intend to include Hungary at all. I am happy that in his response Mr. Schwezoff – who has a much deeper insight into the issue than I do – explained how Hungarian legislation provides more freedom to Jews and Muslims than the legislations of many Western countries.

I wish you success and perseverance in your work, which is a truly great contribution for English-speakers who aim to understand Hungary.

Yours Sincerely,
Omar Sayfo

Omar Adam Sayfo

Omar Adam Sayfo

19 Comments

  1. György Lázár says:

    Mr. Bencsik, the editor of Demokrata is associated with far-right organizations. He is a proud member of the Order of Vitéz, a far-right Order founded by pro-Hitler Miklós Horthy.

    The Order has openly praised Hungarian fascists and several WWII criminals were ordained members. It was banned in 1945 with the support of the Allied Control Commission. By the way, I simply don’t understand why the Order is allowed to operate today in Hungary….

  2. Charlie London says:

    “Of course, you were perfectly right when assuming that Demokrata would not tolerate any piece expressing strong criticism against FIDESZ.”

    So why do you call your magazine ‘Demokrata’?

    Hungary – and you – haven’t a clue about democracy.

    Fidesz, Orban, Szajer and Matolcsy et al wouldn’t know democracy if it smacked you in the face.

    You have the temerity to tell an English language website that certain words have a different meaning when it comes to Hungary. This corruption of the English language is widespread in Hungary.

    Yes and George Orwell wrote quite a good book about it.

    You and your ilk peddle propaganda and the people of Hungary are confused – no surprise there.

    Hungary and its politicians make a mockery of democracy – and should be ejected from the EU – forthwith.

    And take your grubby publication and Hungary’s corruption with you.

    • Charlie London says:

      As regards your definitions of ‘right-wing’ they are your personal warped definitions – consistent with your corrupting of the English language.

      Your magazine is unequivocally ‘far right’ in comparison with reputable media like the BBC and the Guardian. A true definition.

      Jobbik – with their involment with Russia, The Magyar Guarda and anti-Hungarian Roma (including refusal to condemn the murder of Hungarian citizens) are ‘extreme right’ – and fascist too like Orban’s authoritarian administration.

      Geddit?

  3. Mr Sayfo: where is your sense of shame and intellectual honesty? You write for a fascistic publication, so you are no classical liberal. I hate to break it to you, but it’s as simple as that.

    But if you don’t buy into the hatred and party propaganda that your paper spews each week, yet continue to write for them and rub shoulders with far-right wing extremists, then you’re just a cheap sell-out.

    Far-right has a very simple meaning…it is not complicated at all. It is synonymous with racism, xenophobia, exlusionary populism and authoritarianism.

    You write for a far-right publication, ergo you yourself are far-right.

    Now grow a pair and express a little remorse and humility.

  4. “reputable media like the BBC and the Guardian” – what a joke. No one in the world thinks the BBC and the Guardian are left to far left in their political outlook (even if Glen Greenwald is journalist). So if the BBC suddenly represents unbiased, then even Vanity Fair looks fascist….

    Want conservative European news? Follow the link!

  5. No one in the world thinks the BBC and the Guardian are ANYTHING BUT left to far left in their political outlook.

    Excuse my fat fingers…

  6. Le gouvernement de la Hongrie est en train de démantibuler la démocratie et de préparer les démarches « juridiques » pour implanter un état policier devant les yeux grand ouverts de l’Union Européenne sous prétexte de « menace terroriste » qui sera définie à la discretion du gouvernement…
    http://hungarianspectrum.org/2016/01/22/the-orban-governments-proposed-amendments/
    The Government of Hungary is in the process of dismantling democracy and preparing “legal” steps to establish a police state before the open eyes of the European Union under the pretext of a “terrorist threat” which will be defined at the discretion of the government …

  7. András B. Göllner says:

    Omar Sayfo speaks out of both sides of his mouth. In Hungary, he has spent years toiling on behalf of those who are laying the foundations of an autocratic state. He has no trouble serving as apprentice to András Bencsik, the hate mongering editor of Demokrata, and one of the founders of the racist Hungarian Guard. He has never written a critical word against the rule of law violations of the Orbán regime. His frequent and mysterious travels to Iran and other parts of the Middle East where anti-Israeli hatred is rampant, where Democratic values are under assault are amply evidenced from his dozens of reports in the neo-fascist Demokrata. Sayfo Omar is the darling of Jobbik, of such hate-mongering Hungarian journalists as István Lovas. In Western, English language publications, and before audiences who do not read Hungarian or before those who do not know of his current work on behalf of the autocracy, he is spouting the lines of a liberal, in order to secure gainful employment for himself, and thereby enable him to continue the work he’s been engaged in for more than a decade.

  8. Dear Mr. Göllner,

    I was suprised by your comments. I am afraid that you have some serious misconceptions and prejudices against me. Let me share some facts with you:

    – I am writing on Middle-Eastern and other international affairs. Hungarian politics is not my cup of tea.

    – I have only traveled to Iran once in 2014. In 2009 I traveled to Saudi Arabia and I am in Israel at the moment. I am wondering what “frequent and mysterious travels” are you referring to.

    – I can not understand how can “demoratic vallues be under assault” in Middle Eastern countries. Which Middle Eastern Arab country ever had democracy that could be under assault?

    – I have never been a darling to Jobbik. I never wrote any article for their news outlets and never participated in their events.

    – I would be grateful if you could post a link of any hate mongering articles of mine.

    By the way, your use of the definition “neo-fascist” is extremely arbitrary, and follows a logic similar to the Hungarian rightwingers those call socialist as “bolsheviks”. I believe that your comment proves my point that none of the political sides have the right to claim any sort of moral superiority over the other.

    Best wishes,

    Omar Sayfo

    • Charlie London says:

      You are condemned by the company you keep; the publication you write for; and your warped interpretations.

  9. András B. Göllner says:

    @Omar Sayfo

    Your protestations and claim of political neutrality and fairness are laughable to anyone who has followed your career and that of your boss, András Bencsik. The man who employs you, the editor of the hate-mongering Demokrata, along with the head of Jobbik, Gábor Vona, were co-founders of the Jew-baiting, anti-Roma militia, Magyar Gárda. Some Liberal !!!

    The magazine that proudly boasts about you on its masthead as its international political correspondent, regularly sides with those who want to destroy Israel, regularly runs articles in which anti-American terrorists are whitewashed, regularly applauds the actions of the world’s most corrupt political leader Vladimir Putin, and regularly praises the troops that fought along the German armies and held up the liberation of Auschwitz. Some Liberals !!!

    Why don’t you do the fact-checking Mr. Omar? Why don’t you tell us what you said in your capacity as foreign political editor of the Demokrata, when you read your colleague, István Gazdag’s account of the mass murders in Oslo a few years ago ? (Your colleague and your boss blamed the entire blood-bath on agents of the CIA and Mossad (See Kuruc.info August 11, 2011).

    Why don’t you do your own fact-checking, Mr. Sayfo and translate for this audience what your own bosses at Demokrata write about your political fairness? Here – I will write it for you in Hungarian, and give you an opportunity to show the readers of the Hungarian Free Press that you have the guts to translate into English what your employer claims he is paying you to do: Here. Translate this Sayfo !!!!: “Külpolitikai témájú írásaival legfőbb célja, hogy hazánk korántsem elfogulatlan médiumait ellensúlyozza”.

    Mr Sayfo. Spare us the double talk, the crocodile tears. Instead of pontificating and speaking out of both sides of your mouth, fess up about your job. Next thing you’ll tell us is that you know nothing about any of the men who are rotting in jail in Hungary for killing innocent Roma families in the middle of the night, that you never fraternized with any of them. Next thing we know, you will tell us you never heard of Isabella B. Király and Jobbik’s financial dealings with the Iranians, or with Hussein’s Baath Party. Next thing you’ll tell us is, that you never heard of Demokrata asking for financial support from various middle eastern political groups in return for anti-American, anti-Israeli grandstanding. Next thing you’ll tell us is, that you never heard of any financial deals between the Hungarian radical right, the Baath Party of Hussein, the Assad regime and Putin’s government. Some international political correspondent you are !!!!!

    Mr Sayfo: Instead of asking me to hop to, why don’t you get off the pot ??? Why not provide us with evidence of a single article in which you spoke up against the rule of law violations of the Orbán regime or against the hate being regularly spread by the paper you work for???? Why don’t you refute what your employer says about you???

  10. Dear Mr. Göller,

    Your message, just like the previous one is full of baseless accusations and lacks any particularities about my articles. Maybe it is because you could not find any article of mine that proves your point.

    I seriously doubt that you can find any of my articles “siding with those who want to destroy Israel”. It is true that I wrote a number of reports on Hezbollah, Syria, Palestinians, Iran, etc. Once I even interviewed a Syrian young man fighting against the American in Iraq. However, in my point of view this is what a journalist and researcher should do. If you read my articles carefully you will see that never side with anybody.

    As for Jobbik’s foreign affairs. Again: I have nothing to do with them. If you Google my name you will even find some pieces of mine criticizing such policies you mentioned (like siding with Iran, Assad, etc) , from a nonbiased perspective. You demand me to write on Hungarian politics. Again, and again: I am not writing on domestic politics AT ALL. Luckily, we still have some sort of democracy so by now nobody forced me to write about anything against my will. Well, actually you are the first one who tries to do so.

    As for Istvan Gazdag’s articles. He has a column on his own and I am not responsible for any of his pieces. Again, I am not an editor of Demokrata.

    You mentioned kuruc.info. I am not even opening that extreme-right page. However I am sure that none of the authors of Demokrata writes for that portal. Kuruc.info –just like to yourself- regards Demokrata as a magazine out of hell. This maybe shows, that Demokrata is not so bad after all. 🙂

    The quote of Andras Bencsik you asked me to translate “if I have the guts” sounds like: “By his essays on foreign issues, his main goal is to balance Hungary’s biased medias”. Well, I don’t understand what is the problem with that. The vast majority of Hungarian news outlets lack any sort of cultural understanding, especially when it gets to Middle Eastern issues. What I do is trying to explain the Hungarian audience how that extremely complicated part of the world works from an insider’s point of view.

    I have a strong feeling, that you are focusing all the anger and frustration you have becouse of Hungarian politics on me. Shame that you as an academic still believe in black and white narratives and find fact-checking unnecessary once a narrative fits into your preconceptions

    Best Wishes,
    Omar Sayfo

  11. Christopher Adam says:

    As a Canadian of Hungarian origins–as someone born, raised and educated in Canada–nobody forced me over the years to write about the systematic dismantling of parliamentary checks and balances in Hungary, or about attacks against civil society and independent institutions. But I felt compelled to write and speak out against these developments, because I have a moral and ethical obligation to do so. I shouldn’t speak on András Göllner’s behalf, but I know him well enough to realize that he too is speaking up, when there is nothing to gain, but lots to lose, out of this same principle.

    And when you speak up against a despotic regime, you can expect incredible scorn and vitriolic attacks from those who reap the benefits of this system: and one of the many who benefits is Mr. Bencsik and his publication.

    My own research interests are tied primarily to the history of immigration to Canada. Yet I still feel that I have a role to play in speaking out against abuses in Hungary. That’s why I spend more than three volunteer hours each day on editing two publications focused on Hungary.

    Omar, I would suggest that you have, indeed, written articles in the Demokrata which are quite problematic–articles on African Americans, for instance, and also on the Roma and/or the poor in Hungary (the latter within the context of voting rights, and who should or should not be allowed to play a role in public affairs and discourse). If this is not the case, or if I have misread these pieces, I would always be open to discussing these pieces and the themes found therein on this site.

    There are lots of very reasonable, respectable conservative publications out there–I subscribe to one and have it delivered to my house every morning, namely The National Post print daily. The Demokrata, which appeals to the worst, the most hateful instincts and elements in Hungarian society, is in a category of its own.

    • Dear Christopher,

      Thank you for your answer. I am not an expert neither of Hungarian history nor politics. Still it is very obivious for me, that there are contradicting narratives on the politics of todays Hungary, and the evaluation of major events in Hungarian history is also extremely controvertial. We do not even have a national hero, accepted by the nation as a whole. (See: István VS Koppány, Kossuth VS Széchenyi, etc). All eras celebrated by some as “golden ages” were like hell for some parts of the society. (See: Horthy era, Kádár era, etc) There is still no consensus about tragical events of Hungarian history like the 1956 revolution or the holocaust. Personally, I don’t think that only FIDESZ is to blame for that. Just take a look on the “kuruc-labanc” enmity. Hungarian society has never been integral as it was in some of the Western European countries. If you analyse Hungarian society by the dimensions of Hofstede, you will see that it could hardly be compared to Western societies.

      I respect idealists like you. Still, I personally would never dare to judge anybody unless I walked in his/her shoes and had the same social and family background as him/her. I would never dare to relativize the suffering of anybody, and would never underestimate the impact of trans-generational trauma. Hungarian society, both on the left and the right, is traumatized indeed. I believe that all politicians are products of their societies, therefore they are the best what we can have.

      As for my article about the voting rights. That particular article was inspired when I saw a group of football hooligans smashing a glass billboard. The article had nothing with Roma or poor people. I still believe that those who are convicted for physical violence or damageing public property should not be allowed to take part in public life, at least for a certain time.

  12. András B. Göllner says:

    @Omar

    You have to try much harder my dear boy, to make yourself the focus of my intellectual curiosity. Not even your neo-Nazi colleague István Gazdag, or your boss, Vitéz Bencsik András merits that honor :-). Rest assured, I’m having a wonderful time pursuing my own agenda and ignoring yours, along with the “sausage factory” that employs you.

    Since I am a kind and gentle academic, I’d like to leave you with some words of comfort. I believe you, when you say, that you are a small-fry in the bowels of the Bencsik media empire, a mere cog in the autocratic, illiberal Hungarian State operated by the folks that keep the Bencsik presses rolling. I’m even willing to help you create a good impression for yourself in this, oh so cynical world we’re living in. Why don’t you put together a nice bibliography for the readers of the HFP of ALL your published articles for Demokrata and for other media outlets in Hungary – don’t leave a single one out, we have a way of checking, you know 🙂 and besides the more publications on your CV the better for you. Right? Send the bibliography to the Publisher of the HFP, Chris Adam. Mr Adam, unlike me, may very well be interested in fact checking the contents of your ouvre and evaluate your claim to be a balanced and fair scribe. I have already fact checked the contents of the weekly operated by your publisher, and along with many others, have offered numerous and verifiable proofs of its anti-democratic, pro-Nazi, pro-Fascist leanings. Look’em up. I don’t plan to go back into the kitchen and cook up another course for you because you happened to sleep through the first one. Follow what I’m sayin’ ??

    If the first suggestion has left you cold, here’s another one. If your bosses would really like us to go to work, and compile a fully verifiable study on why it’s perfectly legitimate to label the Demokrata a neo-fascist rag, send us a $5,000 donation, and we’ll do a bang-up job in no time flat. I may even get in on that assignment, chip in with some penetrating analysis. How does that sound to you ? Tell Bencsik András to go for it, Chris Adam will take care of the rest. !!!

    As for you’n’me Sayfo – please don’t get down on yourself if I do not respond any further to your taunts. Best of luck in your career plans in the West. Focus on your studies, work hard, and something may come your way. There IS a shortage of Academics in the West who sing the praises of Viktor Orbán’s “Illiberal State” – I know of no one in my profession in Canada or the USA (Maybe they’re all Jews ? Huh ?) I also do not know of any reputable academic in a Western European university either who has gone to bat for the Orbán regime’s model of governance. Just think – you could be the first one Sayfo !!! Just think !!! Bencsik would be proud of his intern. He’d be very proud indeed.

  13. Dear Sir, your arrogant attitude and biased viewes are extremely dissapointing. Your argument’s tone is very similar to those of the most extremist Hungarian news outlets. I sincerely hope that you do better at your classes.

  14. It’s funny, because the rag that calls itself Demokrata would never allow for a left-winger to publish ANYTHING on its pages. But here, on the Free Press, right-wingers like S.O. are allowed to express their views. So maybe opposition papers CAN claim moral superiority. After all, unlike papers like Demokrata and Kuruc.info (which English readers need to know are NOT actually that different from each other), leftist Hungarian publications usually welcome opposing viewpoints, even from conservatives, and they always reject racism!

    My message to Bencsik András, Sayfo Omár and many others in the Demokrata or Kuruc.info is simple: ‘¡No pasarán!

    • Dear Szocdem, In Demokrata there were interviews with Péter Meggyesi, Katalin Szili, Gyula Thürmer, István Szent-Iványi and András Schiffer. Just to mention a a few names from the left and liberal sides of the political spectrum.
      You are certainly right. Christopher Adam is an open minded young man who truly believes in the freedom of opinion. However, it is not the case of old-school Hungarian leftist medias. I seriously doubt that Népszava or 168 óra would ever give a chance for a right-winger to express their opinion. I can tell you my personal experience when an American-Hungarian website refused me to pblish my response to a defaming article full of factual errors and false claims. Again: moral superiority goes to indviduals not political sides.
      Your comparison of Demokrata and Kuruc.info is outrageous.

  15. Christopher Adam says:

    This was quite a fulsome discussion, but I need to close this thread, unfortunately, because of a couple of people who are using different pseudonyms and accounts to send dozens of hateful comments–all of which we aim to delete. But it is getting unwieldy. Fortunately, this does not happen too often in HFP!

    Many thanks again for the discussion.