Magyar Gárda: shots heard round the world

The formation of the Black Guard (the official swearing in of the first guardists will take place tomorrow in front of the President’s palace) didn’t remain a local affair. Not surprisingly. The Jobbik (or, in more complete form, Jobbik Magyarországért Mozgalom [Movement for a Better Hungary]) is an openly antisemitic party; it also carries on a vicious propaganda campaign against gays, lesbians, and Gypsies. The World Jewish Congress (WJC), together with the European Jewish Congress (EJC) and the Hungarian Jewish umbrella group Mazsihisz, were the first ones to react. WJC President Ronald S. Lauder and EJC President Mosha Kantor wrote a joint letter to Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány in which they called the guard’s formation an "extremely alarming development." They wrote that the "impending creation of an armed guard, under the false guise of ‘sporting and shooting clubs,’ with uniforms resembling those worn by fascists in World War II," was a danger to democracy and had to be stopped. The WJC and EJC presidents urged Gyurcsány to do his "urgent utmost to see to it that any political party which manifests expressions of hatred and bigotry, whether by speech, threats to arm, and other incitements to racial violence, is stopped." The letter can be read in its entirety here:

Gyurcsány immediately reacted and asked the country’s chief prosecutor Tamás Kovács to "closely monitor" the extreme-right Jobbik party and the Magyar Gárda "and act without delay in case of acts counter to the laws in force or the Hungarian constitution." In the letter, the Hungarian prime minister expressed his own feelings on the matter: "I share the opinion of those who say that the creation of the Magyar Gárda, based upon the facts and statements known so far, carries with it the direct danger that our most important common values may be harmed–the respect for human dignity, the right to everyday life without fear and the respect for each other’s culture, descent and world view."

Then came an interesting reponse from the Fidesz. An unsolicited letter reached the WJC and EJC from Viktor Orbán. The letter stated that his party "was committed to the liberties of individuals and their communities, including the Jewish community in Hungary, and the inviolable nature of their basic rights and freedoms." Please note that the letter didn’t specifically mention the Magyar Gárda and, as an example of the party’s democratic convictions, he brought up the party’s defense of the "peaceful demonstrators against police brutality" on October 23, 2006. It is worth noting once again that more policemen were injured during the encounter than those so-called peaceful demonstrators. The usual double talk of which Orbán a master.

The European press naturally picked up the story. It seems that even for the conservative Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), normally sympathetic to the Fidesz and Orbán, the Magyar Gárda was too much. In today’s paper a lengthy article appeared on the topic. The title is: "Ungarisches Sommertheater in rechtsextremer Kullise" (Hungarian summer theater with an extreme right stage set). The author also thinks that the group might be small and that the overwhelming majority of Hungarians don’t support it, yet one must take the affair seriously. The extreme right is very active: day after day they come up with some provocative act. The conservative NZZ mentioned that most Hungarian parties raised protests against the formation of a paramilitary organization which clearly mimics Nazi uniforms and bears an insignia used by the Hungarian Nazis. There were only two exceptions, the Fidesz and its close ally, the Christian Democratic party, whose claim to fame is that it doesn’t really exist but nonetheless has a parliamentary caucus! The NZZ found it difficult to understand Viktor Orbán’s behavior. It is a well-known fact that Viktor Orbán has been courting the extreme right in the hope of putting together a unified right but, according to the reporter, if extreme right-wing elements were to march in the streets of Budapest in the fall and cause trouble again, the moderate right and those on the left who are currently disappointed in Gyurcsány would make the Fidesz responsible. But, the newspaperman adds, it seems that Orbán doesn’t contemplate such a possible scenario.

And finally, another letter was written today. Ildikó Lendvai, the head of the MSZP parliamentary caucus, and Prime Minister Gyurcsány, as head of the MSZP, together wrote a letter to Viktor Orbán and Tibor Navracsics, the head of the Fidesz parliamentary caucus. The letter is hard hitting and doesn’t lack irony. Orbán’s less than forthright letter to the World Jewish Congress was described as "a letter of uncompromisingly antifascist and democratic convictions … which tries to dispel the worries of the free world." And it continues:  "Whether you were able to convince the international organizations, we don’t know. But if you did, here at home, we have our doubts…. These are nice words, but your deeds contradict them. There are plenty of examples but here we mention only half a dozen." To list them here briefly: (1) Orbán urged his followers to subscribe to the weekly, Magyar Demokrata, which is an openly antisemitic far-right publication and whose editor-in-chief is among those ten individuals who announced the establishment of the Magyar Gárda. (2) A few years ago Orbán in a speech, in an admittedly ambiguous construction, talked about the left as "genetically determined" and a group that attacks its own nation. Lendvai and Gyurcsány reminded Orbán that he never took this sentence back and never apologized for it. He didn’t even try to explain its meaning. (3) Orbán once said that he looks upon the activities of the young leaders of the Jobbik "with encouraging love" because "they are decent, honest young people who are committed to the best interests of the nation and the deeper meaning of life." (4) Can one believe in Orbán’s letter when 79 Fidesz candidates were supported by the Jobbik at the last local elections? Or when the head of Jobbik, Gábor Vona, and Viktor Orbán were members of the same civil cell? (5) Can one believe "this hastily improvised antifascist manifesto" when the Fidesz insists that the red and white striped flag is simply one of the twenty-three "historical flags"? At first it was used only by the extreme right, but now even the Fidesz meetings are full of them. This flag was forever compromised by the brutal acts which were committed under it during 1944. (6) Lendvai and Gyurcsány mention that the Fidesz said not a word when the Jobbik and other extremists attacked the gays and lesbians at their yearly parade.

Finally, the letter called on Orbán to announce openly and "unambiguously" his party’s real stand on these issues. Perhaps this occasion will be an opportunity for self-examination and for a change in attitude. They warned Orbán that one cannot claim to be "a democrat and humanist" and at the same time talk about "genetic predetermination, or to give political shelter to neo-nazi flags, or keep up intellectual, psychological, nay, political alliance with far-right organizations. Either/or, gentlemen."

Navracsics acknowledged receipt of the letter. Addressed only to "Dear Madame" because the Fidesz refuses to have anything to do with the "pathological liar," Prime Minister Gyurcsány, it continues: "I want to acknowledge receipt of your letter which I read with interest but also with puzzlement." Well, it was crystal clear to me.