Viktor Szigetvári’s words are too painful for Fidesz vice president to hear

On Friday night, Fidesz vice president Szilárd Németh debated Viktor Szigetvári, president of the centre-left Együtt (Together) party on ATV, Hungary’s only centre-left cable news channel. Within minutes, the Fidesz politician was demonizing the refugees and migrants arriving in Europe, suggesting that “ordinary” Hungarians cannot co-exist with refugees in Hungary and implied that Hungarian opposition politicians were traitors allied to dark, foreign political and economic interests, because they oppose the upcoming Fidesz-initiated referendum on what the ruling party refers to as the European Union’s “obligatory settlement” of foreigners in Hungary. Mr. Szigetvári eventually suggested what, I suspect, many viewers were thinking: Mr. Németh was engaging in dog whistle antisemitism, coupled with explicit racism. It was at this point that Mr. Németh caused a stir, by getting up from his chair, unplugging his microphone and walking off the set–all on live television.

Viktor Szigetvári (left) vs Szilárd Németh (right) debating on ATV.

Viktor Szigetvári (left) vs Szilárd Németh (right) debating on ATV. Watch the full video here, in Hungarian.

In the heated discussion–which became increasingly difficult to understand, as the two participants spoke over each other–the Fidesz vice president claimed that 85% of the refugees arriving in Europe were men, who had “stormed Hungary” and represent a huge terror risk for all of Europe. Mr. Németh then alarmed viewers by suggesting that if the government isn’t vigilant, the rape and violence against women that happened in Cologne, Germany, could occur in Budapest as well.

Mr. Szigetvári correctly noted that the majority of terrorist attacks were plotted and committed not by refugees or migrants fleeing violence, tyranny and terrorism, but by European citizens–more specifically, second and third generation youth; the children of some previous cohorts of immigrants.

“Mr. Orbán wants to use the refugee crisis as a way to keep Hungarians fearful, thus strengthening division in Hungarian society, which has already caused so many problems over the last quarter century. Additionally, the prime minister is using this referendum and the refugee crisis to keep Hungary out of a much closer, more integrated European Union, that will come into force after 2020 among the founding states of the EU, and to keep the country out of this form of European cooperation. Viktor Orbán does not want to leave the European Union as such–this is not what the referendum is about. The real goal is to keep a lagging Hungary on the peripheries of the European Union,” remarked Mr. Szigetvári.

The opposition politician added that another goal of the referendum and the campaign that will precede it, is to distract the population from some of the most severe corruption scandals that now engulf Fidesz.

Mr. Szigetvári noted that he is “proud” of the fact that the European Union is willing to levy financial penalties against those member states that “want to benefit from a quota in terms of European development funds and subsidies, whilst saying ‘no,’ at a time when Europe has to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in responding to a crisis that impacts us all.”

The Fidesz vice president suggested that the EU was spending less per capita in development funds on its own citizens, than the penalty that member states will have to pay after each refugee that they reject from the EU-determined allocations.

“The Együtt party has very consistently been on the side of illegal immigration,” declared Mr. Németh, adding: “We have to defend Europe with fences, from the people who think that they can do anything that they want in a country like this. Let’s look at the Röszke border town! Let’s look at the Keleti pályaudvar train station in Budapest! Go to these places and stand by illegal migration! I would be curious to see Együtt go to Röszke’s main square, where it would say the things that you are saying now. What would be the consequence of that? They would send you packing so quickly, that your head would spin!”

Then, Mr. Németh made his point even clearer:

“You have to understand that the people do not want to co-exist with refugees. More than 1,100 towns have already made this clear…These communities have the right to decide with whom they wish to live. And Hungary has a right to declare this as well…You can stand on your head, but we will still hold a referendum in September!”

Mr. Szigetvári suggested that the referendum and the hate campaign was just another part of Mr. Orbán’s illiberal regime.

“You can go ahead and spout off about the illiberal Orbán regime all you want. But this is about the lives of people and the future of Hungarians, the future of Hungarian families. It’s about whether there will there be a Cologne incident in Budapest on New Year’s Eve?”–retorted Mr. Németh.

As of late, regular, uncharitable references in Fidesz–including by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán himself–to Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros, all serve as a type of dog-whistle antisemitism. Mr. Németh offered an easily recognizable version of this narrative in the ATV debate, and this is what ultimately led to the end of the exchange.

“They are using all means available against the referendum, including their prominent Hungarian politicians,” remarked Mr. Németh.

“Go ahead, and say it: the terrorists, right?”–retored Mr. Szigetvári, as he tried to unpackage the third person and the thinly-veiled insinuations in the Fidesz co-president’s sentence. László Kövér, the Fidesz party Speaker of the Hungarian parliament, had infamously referred to opposition politicians previously as being “pen-wielding terrorists.”

“They are using their prominent financial interests here in Hungary,” continued Mr. Németh, to which Mr. Szigetvári responded:

“And the Jews too, I’m sure. Right?”

At this point, Mr. Németh went silent, and then indicated that he takes great offence.

“Whose economic agent am I?”–continued Mr. Szigetvári. “Whose economic interests do I represent, Mr. Németh?”–added the Együtt co-president.

“Good-bye”–were  some of the last words uttered by the Fidesz vice president as he walked out of the studio on live television. “I’m not willing to sit down at the same table with a man like him,” said Mr. Németh, referring to his debate partner.

It is undeniable that the Fidesz vice president engaged in dog whistle antisemitism and overt racism on live  television. It should be stressed, that in today’s Hungary explicit antisemitism is not generally acceptable in most quarters, even in Fidesz. This is why coded antisemitism is used so often and quite effectively. While it may not be socially acceptable behaviour to verbally attack Jews, en bloc, in public, racism directed against other demographics is more than permissible. It is possible that Mr. Németh was not consciously intent on engaging in dog whistle antisemitism on air, but perhaps hearing Prime Minister Orbán and other prominent Fidesz leaders use this vocabulary on a daily basis (disparaging references to George Soros and his “nefarious” economic and political might, as well as the idea of a sinister world conspiracy against the Hungarian nation), obviously leaves a mark. I would suggest that dog whistle antisemitism and overt racism now flows as naturally when Fidesz politicians talk, as cold water from the kitchen tap.

But what I find most embarrassing in all of this, is that Hungary’s government is sowing the seeds of hate against vulnerable men, women and children on a grander scale than any other EU member state’s government. And it is doing this on the eve of the sixtieth anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and the subsequent refugee crisis, which saw 200,000 Hungarians “storm” Austria, and flood into western Europe and North America. My father was one of those refugees too. Fortunately, he, his brother and my maternal grandfather, as well as tens of thousands of others were not greeted with the sort of hate that Hungary’s government uses against the refugees of today.

3 Comments

  1. This looked like provocation to me. I’m no fidesz fan, but the question of Mr. Szigetvari is simple provocation. Leaving the studio was probably the only right answer.

    • Charlie London says:

      Antisemitism and xenophobia are institutionalised in Hungary.

      In its education, in its culture, in society in general and in its media, Hungary can’t help itself.

      Everyone watching Németh understood what he meant – the references to ‘szido’ and other ‘coded’ hate messages aren’t even subtle.

      Subtlety disappears as the Orban government tries to deflect the blame for a failing economy with the use of diversionary tactics for their blatant embezzling of the State’s coffers – M8atolcsy and Orban.

      Provocation?

      Hardly.

      Just the deconstruction of a thug.

      Just a shame that ATVs audience is so tiny

  2. Liz Aucoin says:

    If it was a provocation, as a “respected” politician, he should have been able to overcome it in the debate. Getting up and walking out shows only one thing. He has no valid arguments.

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