November 30, 2012
Hungarian antisemitism: How to combat it?

I would like to share with you an opinion piece by Zsófia Mihancsik, editor-in-chief of Galamus, whom I consider one of the sharpest commentators on Hungarian politics. In today’s issue of Galamus she wrote about the growing antisemitism in Hungary, a topic with which the liberal Hungarian media is preoccupied. The pro-government newspapers are naturally less so. While the liberals demand placing neo-Nazi Jobbik into quarantine, Magyar Televízió (MTV) allowed Márton Gyöngyösi to explain himself on its early morning program. Let’s further spread the “gospel” of hate.

The title of Mihancsik’s article is “Antisemitism: A short history of responsibility.” Actually, the word she uses, and what I translated as antisemitism, is “zsidózás,” coming from the verb “zsidózni,” which is an untranslatable Hungarian verb. It means talking about Jews in an unfavorable light. It also implies that the speaker regularly engages in anti-Jewish speech.

Mihancsik outlines her view of how and why Hungarian society ended up in a state where an openly racist neo-Nazi party, Jobbik, managed to get 800,000 votes in the last elections. Although a lot of people, especially on the right, denied the seriousness of the early signs of the growth of the extreme right, Mihancsik is convinced that it was this underestimation of the problem that was one reason for the present situation. In addition, in her opinion it was a grave mistake for the Hungarian right to consider communism and fascism equal dangers for Hungarian society.

A day after Márton Gyöngyösi’s speech in parliament there happened to be a conference about hate speech organized by the European Council in Budapest. Here Zoltán Balog, minister in charge of human resources, claimed that the hate speech of today is actually an inheritance from the communist dictatorship when “hate speech was organized by the state. For example, the state organized hatred against the kulaks. It is that hate speech that lives on today in Hungary and it is our duty to do something against it.” One could laugh if such nonsense weren’t so sad. Hatred of the Jews and Gypsies goes back to the Rákosi period? Organized by the communists?

Although Balog desperately tries to blame the communists for having people like Gyöngyösi in the Hungarian parliament, the more proximate blame lies elsewhere. Not only is Fidesz responsible for the state of affairs in Hungary today but also people like László Sólyom who simply refused to make a distinction between the dangers coming from the right and the left. Who can forget when Sólyom compared 168 Óra, a liberal paper, to kurucinfo, a virulent anti-Semitic website, and stated that “both are extremist”? LMP, whose leadership came out of a civic organization headed by László Sólyom before he became president, to this day claims that the “Nazi danger” simply doesn’t exist. The Hungarian left is simply using the ogre of Nazism before “every election.”

When in 1991 the liberals and socialists organized the Demokratikus Charta against István Csurka and his antisemitism, Fidesz, although then still a liberal party, refused to join MSZP and SZDSZ. By 1998 Viktor Orbán himself was using code words conveying antisemitic sentiments when he talked about people whose heart is in foreign lands (idegenszívűek). Surely, everybody knew that he was talking about Jewish cosmopolitan liberals. By 2002 Orbán was talking about “élettér,” the Hungarian translation of Lebensraum, a word carefully avoided by most people. And let’s not forget that Orbán considered Jobbik in its earliest days to be a youth organization of Fidesz. He looked upon these youngsters with fatherly care, as he himself said.

Those who underestimate the danger of the extreme right, in Mihancsik’s opinion, include Fidesz, László Sólyom, SZDSZ, LMP, and finally the “doctrinaire human rights protectors” who paid no attention to the content of words uttered. She considers András Schiffer one of these “fundamentalist defenders of human rights” who while working for TASZ, the Hungarian equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union, fought for the freedom of racist and antisemitic speech and did everything to prevent any police action against the neo-Nazis.”

Mihancsik considers Schiffer “the most responsible man among active politicians on the democratic side for the defenseless state of Hungarian society against racism and antisemitism.” In her opinion, Schiffer’s attitude and actions  are “a much greater sin than any uncertainties, errors, mistakes, and weaknesses of all the socialist-liberal governments before 2010.”

Naturally, one can disagree with Mihancsik’s views, and I am sure that many of the readers will. Many people will find it unacceptable to limit free speech, however odious. Others will take the view that the American view of free speech is simply not applicable in Hungary, a country with a history that includes the deportation of 600,000 Jewish citizens. Or that has such a history of discrimination against the Roma. Others, as some of the SZDSZ liberals often repeated in the past, believe that the problem cannot be solved by legal means. The society’s attitude must change. The question is indeed very complicated.