Viktor Orbán and his responsibility for rising antisemitism in Hungary

Quite a political storm is brewing in Hungary, after Ronald S. Lauder of the World Jewish Congress named Hungary Europe’s most anti-Semitic country. Specifically, Mr. Lauder said the following: “The worst offender is Hungary. Because they now have a neo-Nazi party called Jobbik. They had started to put up statues of Admiral Horthy, who was a Nazi.” András Heisler, President of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary (MAZSIHISZ), came to the Orbán government’s defence in a statement. He wrote to Mr. Lauder, suggesting that he may have been the victim of “journalistic manipulation or incorrect information from advisers,” as there is “constructive cooperation between the Hungarian government and Jewish organizations.” But many take issue with this. Eszter Garai-Édler, a civil rights activist, wrote to me this morning emphasizing that the Orbán regime is the only government in the EU, which has overtly and wholeheartedly embraced undiluted racism. Ms. Garai-Édler is sharing with our readers the full text of a talk she gave a few years ago at the 4th International Conference of the Global Forum for  Combating Anti-Semitism, in Jerusalem, on Mr. Orbán’s role in rising anti-Semitism. Since then, Mr. Orbán’s rhetoric towards Arabs and Muslims has changed markedly, but his government’s cynical and self-serving use of xenophobia to scapegoat specific communities has not. (C. Adam)

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It is probably well-known that Hungary is home to one of Europe’s largest Jewish communities. But nearly 70 years after the Second World War, Hungary has started down a path, which in the past has already led to fascism, the rise in power of the far right and a horrific defeat.

operative zone and collecting points for rounded-up Jews s in Hungary (1944)

Operative zones and collecting points for rounded-up Jews s in Hungary (1944)

But before I speak about this ominous path, I would like to make a brief side note:

A 1920s/1930s joke, that appeared in a then important humorous political paper, the Ojság (kind of Yiddish for the Hungarian word for newspaper) is still doing the rounds in Budapest – but updated to Orban, Hungary’s current prime minister:

Ojság

Ojság

Question: Can one believe Viktor Orbán?

The wise rabbi responds by telling this story:

“Grün and Kohn are walking down a side street, when a dog starts coming towards them. Kohn becomes frightened, but Grün reassures him:

-Why are you scared of that dog? Can’t you see how he’s wagging his tail?

-“Yes, but look”—says Kohn—he is snarling and showing his teeth. One doesn’t know which side of the dog to believe.”

When asked if, as Hungarians, Jews and residents of Budapest, we can believe Viktor Orbán, the answer is a resounding “no.”

Orban and his old friend and main anti-Semitic journalist, Zsolt Bayer, having fun.

Orban and his old friend and main anti-Semitic journalist, Zsolt Bayer, having fun.

Orbán’s responsibility for the rise in anti-Semitism goes back as far as his electoral defeat in 2002, after which he often turned to coded anti-Semitic language, which any far right supporter could understand and with which he hoped to win over extremist voters. He often spoke about “foreigners”, “foreign cosmopolitans” and even referred to the left as being “genetically coded” to act in what he felt was an unpatriotic manner. With these anti-Semitic speeches Orbán has gained the support of the far right and managed to keep it, up until the extremist realized that much of this is little more than smoke and mirrors, and that Orbán does not necessarily buy into his own rhetoric.

It is well known that the spread of anti-Semitism and racism do not only pose problems in Hungary, but elsewhere throughout Europe. The difference, however, is that in most other European countries mainstream political parties and community organizations have managed to keep these extremist elements quarantined from the rest of society. Most other EU countries have also taken clear, decisive and successful steps in combating far right extremism, especially in places like France and Germany. German television, for instance, took a show off the air after it surfaced that the main character has a Nazi past. Demonstrations that glorify Hitler are banned in Germany, while in Hungary it is even possible to hold such an event right in front of the Palace of the President of the Republic. It should also be noted that Hungarian anti-Semitism differs markedly from the western European variant, where anti-Semitic attacks and aggression are often committed by Muslims, rather than by the majority population. Orbán actually courts Muslims and Arabs.

In an effort to maximize votes, the Hungarian government in everyday life tolerates Nazi ideology and it only protests under international pressure at special occasions that involve the outside world. This is what Orbán himself describes as ‘peacock dance’, something for show only.

Old friends: Gábor Vona, leader of the neo-Nazi Jobbik party, lectures Orbán on democracy.

Old friends: Gábor Vona, leader of the neo-Nazi Jobbik party, lectures Orbán on democracy.

In fact, one of the great tragedies of post-1989 Hungary is that the country has no moderate, proper conservative party in the European sense.

Ellie Wiesel bitterly complained in an open letter to the Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament that he, who has the second highest ranking political office in the country,  and government ministers as well as the now President of the country, openly and officially associated themselves with anti-Semitic, pro-Fascist individuals and events.

The reburial of fascist politician and author József Nyirő - House Speaker László Kövér speaks.

The reburial of fascist politician and author József Nyirő – House Speaker László Kövér speaks.

President János Áder (right) unveils statue honouring fascistic author albert Wass.

President János Áder (right) unveils statue honouring fascistic author albert Wass.

The World Jewish Congress decided that in order to shed light on growing anti-Semitism in Hungary, it would hold its 2013 conference in Budapest, instead of in Jerusalem. In his May 6th speech to the Congress, Orbán admitted that anti-Semitism posed a growing problem in Hungary and promised that he would address this crisis using all means at his disposal. (Slide 10 Orban’s new ‘peacock dance’ Shalom at the WJC in Budapest) Nevertheless, even having said this, he failed to distance himself from the far right. Additionally, he insulted many Hungarian Jews, as in his speech he implied that Hungarian Jews are not Hungarians. This was especially offensive as Jews in Hungary generally identify as much, if not more, with being Hungarian as they identify with their Jewish heritage.

Orbán’s two-faced politics are astounding. He constantly speaks of  “most decisive action against all extremist, racist and anti-Semitic acts … in order to diminish the hateful and unacceptable voices … and to protect all citizens from such attacks.”

Unfortunately, all his promises have proved to be empty propaganda and rhetoric, while anti-Semitism, racism and homophobia are on the rise, and while hateful speech and hate-filled physical attacks are increasingly common.

According to Peter Feldmájer, until very recently the president of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, which represents some of the country’s Conservative Jews, the participants of the Congress [quote] “have arrived in a country where an elderly head rabbi is attacked on the streets, where fascists are rampant, where the courts turn murderers into role models for the youth, where streets and squares are named after anti-Semites and where Hungarian Nazi authors form part of the national curriculum in schools.” [unquote] While Feldmájer’s words were clear and succinct, he did not mention who bears responsibility for this situation.

Using his two-thirds super-majority, Orbán has built an autocratic – even dictatorial – structure and has re-crafted the country’s constitutional framework in his own image and to his own liking.

With his government’s unprecedented power, he should have no trouble dealing a decisive blow against the extremists and, considering that the Treaty of Paris is still in effect, which declares that parties such as Jobbik are illegal, he would be obliged to take swift action.

Instead, the Orbán government has turned to Nazi authors, thinkers and ideas to take the attention away from lost jobs and economic hardship.  Unresolved structural problems,  high levels of unemployment and the decline in the social safety net, and rise in poverty. The same long queues for free food in 1918 and in 2012 and crime are often blamed on the Roma population and on the Jews. Both minorities are often the scapegoats for all of Hungary’s social ills.

Young Hungarian Nazis-in-training and the Roma children that they aim to terrorize.

Young Hungarian Nazis-in-training and the Roma children that they aim to terrorize.

The moral and intellectual decline is clearly evident within Hungarian society. Discrimination and hatred form part of the daily reality and discourse. Certainly, we cannot disregard the responsibility that previous liberal and left-leaning governments also bear, especially since the rise of the far right and the radicalisation of the Hungarian right happened under these governments.

The current ruling party, Fidesz, has however taken this to new heights and has even seen the politics of the inter-war era as a model for the country. Horthy, the governor of that time, was in reality a war criminal – though, thanks to Stalin’s intervention he was never convicted – and he bears grave responsibility for the extermination of Hungarian Jews. In 1944, while under German occupation, Hungarian authorities took the initiative in deporting 437,402 Hungarian Jews to the death camps.

In true Orban style, József Szájer, a Hungarian Member of the European Parliament claimed in a congressional hearing in Washington that “there is no rehabilitation of Horthy and that the government has no such plans or desire.”

However, the facts are that the new constitution, accepted and approved exclusively by the governing parties, has codified the historic and moral rehabilitation of the Horthy regime, which was in place from 1919 to 1944 and that even Parliament Square is being re-modelled on its 1944 lay-out.

The now completed Kossuth Square, shown here under construction. There are archival photos showing the square as it was before 1945 on the fence sepa-rating the area under reconstruction.

The now completed Kossuth Square, shown here under construction. There are archival photos showing the square as it was before 1945 on the fence sepa-rating the area under reconstruction.

Further, high ranking politicians frequently officially partake in events honouring anti-Semites, like Ottokár Prohászka, a cleric who was the intellectual and spiritual force behind Europe’s FIRST racial law, the 1920 Numerus Clausus  and who legitimized the most virulent forms of anti-Semitism.

Fidesz politician Sándor Lezsák unveils a bust to anti-Semitic bishop Ottokár Prohászka.

Fidesz politician Sándor Lezsák unveils a bust to anti-Semitic bishop Ottokár Prohászka.

Recently prestigious state awards were given to rabidly and openly anti-Semitic journalists, archaeologists, musicians.

Most tellingly and dangerously, the government decided to incorporate into the compulsory school curriculum some virulently anti-Semitic writers of the Horthy regime,  on the basis of some perceived “society needs.” According to the Association of Hungarian Teachers, from an aesthetic and literary perspective, these authors cannot be considered to be or to have ever been significant literary figures.

Junior Minister for Culture, Géza Szőcs, celebrates fascist author and politician József Nyirő.

Junior Minister for Culture, Géza Szőcs, celebrates fascist author and politician József Nyirő.

Horthy lives on, also thanks to support by the Catholic Church. Paradoxically, a recent Horthy commemoration attended by Fidesz MPs and mayors, was held in a church named after a lady, who saved Jews during the War and was killed by the Nazis.

These examples are very telling of the intertwined nature of the right and far right in Hungary. Unfortunately, anti-Semitism is also underpinned by the indifference shown by many liberals, which strengthens the right’s campaign of hate.

In Hungary – in stark contrast with other European countries – the lack of a legal anti-hate framework makes it impossible to truly penalize those who spread racism and anti-Semitism. Even in court rooms, courts and judges can be labelled (pejoratively) as Jewish by anti-Semites. So far, legislation has addressed Holocaust denial, but not anti-Semitism. Even today, the anti-Semites and racists claim that Jews are over-represented in more prestigious professions. During the 1920’s and 1930’s the right made the same claims and we all know the consequences of that campaign.

A significant section of Hungarian society does not understand that this tendency to discriminate and marginalize – which we have already experienced in our history – portends great danger. At the moment, there is no evidence of a positive change in direction.

Eszter Garai-Édler

20 Comments

  1. It looks like some people forget that we have this modern Gutenberg press the internet and we can look after any statements in a few minutes.
    Ronald S. Lauder was not correct, neither was the writer of this piece calling Orban responsible for growing antisemitism in Hungary. Antisemitism doesn’t seem to be growing in Hungary, it stagnates and even slightly decreased thanks to many positive movements and voices in Hungary.

    For his own credibility Ronald S. Lauder as well as the writer should think before speaking.

    Please visit any of antisemitism counting sites like one what I found
    http://global100.adl.org/
    There might be more with different statistics.

    Go to “Country list” or to “Compare”

    Just a few:
    Hungary antisemitism score in 2014 was 41% in 2015 40%
    Romania antisemitism score in 2014 was 35% in 2015 47%
    Greece antisemitism score in 2014 was 69% in 2015 67%
    Poland antisemitism score in 2014 was 45% in 2015 37%
    etc.

    Please find the other statistics of that site, or of any other sites on your own, also worth to click the “compare” option.

    So, what it tells me:
    Antisemitism in Hungary is not rising and is not the highest in Europe. Hungary is not the most antisemitic country in Europe let alone the world statistic.

    In Hungary similarly to some other countries the antisemitism score went down although not significantly meanwhile, in some other countries it rises.

    Also, might be interesting to visit “izionist org” the International Center For Counting Antisemitism.

    For Hungary there are many negative and positive news there as well but on the whole, Hungary is far not the worst. It also reveals Jobbik’s work and provides many other interesting facts.

    They are impartial, objective, they report about the negative and the positive developments equally.

    As of fascism, Hungary is also not number one in Europe. There is growing fascism and holocaust denial all over Europe.

    Ronald S. Lauder was demonizing one country of his own choice which is dangerous because it tempers reality and makes everything worse.

    Otherwise, this ugly demonizing tactic doesn’t work anymore. It always produces opposite result and writers and speakers should have noticed it long ago. Impartial, objective, sober summaries would be more useful.

  2. György Lázár says:

    Dear Richard,

    It might have escaped your attention that Eszter lives in Hungary and has personal experiences of Hungary’s anti-Semitism… she was personally harassed in the past.

    Orbán’s wholesale falsification of WWII history is unprecedented and this government not only encourages falsification but hires people to do that.

    Recently hundreds of statues, plaques and memorials were installed of convicted WWII criminals (Albert Wass, János Esterházy) works of fascists and anti-Semites like József Nyirő or Cecilé Tormay are reprinted and distributed.

    Fact finding trips are needed to show the West the countless memorials, statues of Hungarian fascists recently erected by this government… And also the humiliation of elderly Jews, some of them Holocaust survivors.. An entire “coverup industry” was created, manufacturing fake documents, historical studies and memoires… it is truly amazing what is happening in Hungary….

    Lauder only touched the tip of the iceberg.

    • Dear Gyorgy,

      I also lived in Hungary, long enough, I also finished my studies there and I have first hand experiences of antisemitism in Hungary. Let me not speak about who I am. Moreover, I don’t think it would be proper to share my personal experiences on this discussion board but I could tell things that might even take the writer by surprise. Also, even being knowledgeable about fascist trends and antisemitism in Hungary, I don’t think it was the right approach to this issue.

      In the country where I live also lives and works a popular Hungarian prof, a TV personal too, who went to Hungary to shoot a documentary about antisemitism and life in Hungary. That TV documentary was broadcasted here and revealed much more of the real problems. He showed us many egregious things that both you and the writer mentioned, the only difference is that Orban wasn’t anywhere yet at that time when that documentary was filmed.

      Yes, only the tip of the iceberg but we never get to understand this problem when we start orbiting it/vereything around the present government and Orban.

      Gollner often wrote and also many other writers and posters agreed that Orban is wearing a mask.
      I don’t. What I say, no, he is not. He is the mask. And we have never seen the face. He is the tip of the iceberg.

      I don’t wanna speak more about it here, maybe no one wanna dig too deep.

  3. remembereliewiesel says:

    Silence Speaks Volumes
    “Now that he has passed away, President János Áder, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and László Kövér—who is still head of the National Assembly—with clenched teeth remain silent.[…] This would not interest Elie Wiesel much. It is possible that he would find this disavowal a bit painful. What is it compared to 1944? There are enough countries where his death is being commemorated at the highest levels, among them Romania, his birth country, France, where he became an adult, and the U.S., where he lived and worked. He devoted his life so that what took place would not be forgotten and memory of the victims would not be erased. And it has not been forgotten, and the memories will not be silenced. Or perhaps they can be, but the silence speaks volumes.”
    http://hungarianspectrum.org/2016/07/09/gabor-horvath-silence-speaks-volumes/

  4. Lauder? Still sourpuss after the Sukoro real estate business flop. Even MAZSIHISZ put him in place for his idiotic accusations.

  5. … and Kövér is supposed to come up with eulogy whenever a holocaust peddler passes away….

  6. There is antisemitism in Hungary but she is not the most antisemitic country in Europe as Ronald S. Lauder stated. Considering the numbers and the seriousness of the incidents Hungary is quite in the bottom of the list, can’t even get close to e.g. France or the UK.

    Global Anti-Semitism: Selected Incidents Around the World in 2014
    In alphabetical order.
    http://www.adl.org/anti-semitism/international/c/global-antisemitism-2014.html

  7. One more thing. What was Ronald S. Lauder’s intention falsifying the facts, the statistics, and the truth by picking Hungary and calling it Europe’s most antisemitic country? What was his purpose?

    Rising Anti-Semitism in Europe: History Repeating Once Again
    The anti-Semitism news from Europe in over the past year has been terrible: Jews murdered in Paris and Copenhagen, synagogues attacked by mobs and firebombed, and increasing Jewish emigration attributed to fear of more attacks.”

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/abraham-h-foxman/rising-anti-semitism-in-e_b_7835610.html

  8. Hello J. Wade,
    Where are you now?
    You did not understand when I wrote that the neo-Nazis are coming out of the wood-work. Just read Richard and Liladiadal above.

    • Then what would call yourself?

      Did I deny antisemitism in Hungary? No!!!
      Did I deny antisemitism in Europe? No!!!
      Did I deny fascism in Hungary? No!!!
      Did I deny fascism in Europe? No!!!

      What did I say?

      I said that Hungary is not the most antisemitic in Europe and proved it with statistic.

      I said that antisemitism and fascism is deep rooted in Hungary and in Europe and well existed before Orban.

      What did J. Wade said before?

      He said:
      “This site is a disgrace due to the number of mentally deficient posters.”

      He was right. You one of them. Thanks for proving it!

  9. G. Lazar is absolutely correct with his comment.

  10. Kalasz Musztafa says:

    Here we go again, anti-semitism blame games on Orban again. Man these wanna-be Hungarian Free Press are lunatics. Im getting quite bored of hearing this anti-semitism in Hungary all over the news, nothing else is important in this world like the animals being endangered, 70% of the world population lives below poverty line, Palestinians are getting killed everyday by Israelis, but anti-semitism in Hungary is very important news, no where else.
    First of all, i doubt that anti-semitism is on rise in Hungary and i doubt that Orban Viktor himself is responsible for it, there were many rumours among Hungarians and websites out there claiming that Orban himself was of Jewish origin instead of Gypsy origin. Then the was Jobbik member Szegedi Csanad turn out to be Jewish, Vona Gabor the leader of Jobbik was also rumoured to be Sefardic Jewish origin. Vona’s real name was (Zsazrivecs). The most anti-semitic Morvai Krisztina who was married to a Jew, herself is also of Jewish origin, her mother was Rothschild Klara. Then there are many other members of Jobbiks who are of Jewish or Gypsy origin and its not surprising at all. The Jobbik mayor of i think Miskolc turned out to be a Jew working for Jobbik. Its quite obvious that Jobbik is not really anti-semitic how they portray it to be. I also doubt that Hungary is the anti-semitic country in Europe or in the world, i dont deny that anti-semitism doesnt exist in Hungary, there is but not in threatening form. Because if Hungary is the most anti-semitic country in Europe or in the world, we wouldnt been watching MTK Maccabi Budapest playing in the Hungarian league or on the field against other Hungarian teams since MTK Maccabi Budapest was, and still is…a Jewish football club. MTK would be banned if that was the case of Hungary being the most anti-semitic country in europe.
    Rather Orban funded i dont know how many billion forints for MTK Maccabi to build the Hidegkuti Nandor stadium in its most modern form, plus modernize its football acedemy. Deutch Tamas the president of MTK, as you can tell by he’s name, is probably Jewish even if he’s Orban’s man.
    And, most Hungarian Jews are assimilating into Hungarians or inter-marries Hungarians at a high rates, yep i can see anti-semitism is so strong there. LOL

    • Mustafa,

      you know the only problem with this site is that they seem to be unable to understand, that although, the writers don’t lie with the news and they make their points, they orbit the all the problems of Hungary and the world around Orban, they blame Orban for every bad things that happen and paint even Orban good actions black.

      They can’t explain anything, the causes the context, they have only one explanation for everything “ORBAN”.
      It really looks so childish, they steer away from reality and they lose all their credibility. That’s the problem and if anyone dare mention than they are labeled neo-Nazi or fascist or anti-semite.

  11. “anti-semite” – lack of arguments.

  12. Kalasz Musztafa says:

    Liladiadal,

    Did you call me an “anti-semite”?
    If you did, then know this;
    You cant call me an “anti-semite” for 2 reasons: 1. My mother is an Arab from Egypt, as you know Arabs are of semitic origin, 2. My religion Islam is a semitic religion, therefore Im a Hungarian with half semitic origin and a semitic religion.
    So your leftist-liberal “anti-semite” accusation game on me…failed at its best. Not even Jews can call me anti-semite because Arabs are more semitic than a european jews. European Jews arent semitic since they have nothing to do with semitic race, only their religion is semitic, nothing else.
    Arabs comes from Ishmael and Isaac, european jews didnt even come from Isaac.
    Zionist loves playing this game of calling every anti-zionist as anti-semite.

    “Zionist”-lack of intellect, logic, arguments, so on so on.

  13. Richard, congratulations for the stats and the post in good English. And, yes, Lauder is mistaken on many accounts as noted above + Horthy was not a Nazi.

    The point is that the Orban regime (and it’s entourage) are rasist, anti-Semitic , anti-etc etc… hate mongers and they represent Hungary at present. Politically the regime is a fascist one and the dictator bears the responsibility.
    I don’t know of any other gov rehabilitation and whitewashing of the ignominous and fascists past.
    On this account Hungary seems to be the worst in Europe .

    • Observer,

      my only point was that Lauder falsified the facts and asked what his purpose was with this? Also, that Orban is only responsible for what he does.

      I never denied the rest but, it’s important because Hungary is not a black sheep in an innocent Europe where as I presented fascism and antisemitism is reviving all over, she is only a part of a dirty game and antisemitism and fascism in Hungary existed before Orban and will continue to exist after him.

      Fascism and antisemitism couldn’t exist in Hungary in a clean EU not for a minute if Hungary was the only one, such as dictatorial and autocrat government couldn’t survive or exist in Hungary if the whole EU was truly and fully democratic.

      You can’t even hope to keep one country clean when the whole Union is a trash heap.

      Why I am saying this? Because Lauder or anyone else delivering a big punch in Orban’s face is one thing, but please don’t do the way that it would hurt Hungary and the Hungarian people more than the guy in the crosshairs.

      Am I right?

    • Let’s not get into the “blame the others” game where the Hungarians are unsurpassed.

      The fascism and antisemitism, the dictatorial and autocrat regime in Hungary is not because of the EU. Had the EU not been so democratic, it could have used the necessary means to defend/restore democracy in Hungary.
      No political system is perfect, so, Hungary is, say, the black sheep in the Europe of grays, light and dark.

      Orban is not the only, but the mail villain, he’s criminal #1 on the list that continues in the order the fidesz party hierarchy, their appointees in the state structures and their client oligarchs as perpetrators or accessories in the conspiracy to rob.

      The Hungarian people, primarily those who voted for Fidesz , but also those who did not vote at all, are responsible for handing the power to the Orban mafia. Hence the use of “Hungary” is justified, if not absolutely precise.

      • “The Hungarian people, primarily those who voted for Fidesz , but also those who did not vote at all, are responsible for handing the power to the Orban mafia. ”

        That’s your only point I fully agree with.

  14. Kalasz Musztafa says:

    MSZP is even worst than Fidesz, they are bunda at its best. Yes Orban mafia, but there is also Gyurcsany, Fodor, Bajnai, and many other suckers known in the hungarian parliament as the tolvaj banda, no difference.

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