Aftermath of the Hungarian president’s ill-conceived speech

Hungarian political commentators ponder the question whether Semjén’s speech was antisemitic or plain muddleheaded discourse about nothing. Well, what about antisemitic muddleheaded junk? After reading about Semjén’s reaction, I am coming to the conclusion that the "honorable member" really doesn’t understand why his colleagues on the other side of the aisle, journalists and commentators of the left-liberal media find his speech unacceptable. Why do they want him to resign? It baffles him. I’m sure he tells himself and his friends that he had the best interests of the Hungarian Jewry in mind. First, he wants to save them from a party (the SZDSZ, often identified as "their" party) that doesn’t follow the teachings of Moses and the rabbis, and he wants to make clear that the real friends of the Jews are not the leftwing parties (MSZP cum SZDSZ) but the Christian Democrats and the Fidesz.

But why this sudden interest in the Hungarian Jews? I have the sneaking suspicion that President Sólyom’s speech a bit earlier inspired the leader of the Christian Democratic Party to address the topic. After all, what did Sólyom say at the opening of parliament on Monday about the extreme right and its dangers in Hungary? Basically that there is nothing unusual about the existence of radical groups in Hungary because, after all, they are present everywhere in Europe. The only problem with these groups and their presence is that they produce fear in certain people. And who are these people? The Hungarian Jews: "The president hears the voices of those who are really afraid." Following this interesting construction in which he referred to himself by definite description, he explained that the only trouble with these radical groups and their demonstrations is that they create fear in the Hungarian Jewish population. Historian András Gerő said yesterday that Sólyom is "intellectually lost." One thing is sure: he has odd ideas about history. These radical groups are the enemies of democracy. They threaten all of us, not just those who are the survivors of the holocaust or whose ancestors lived through those years.

Another result, surely inadvertent on Sólyom’s part, was last night’s incident in front of the parliament building. In his speech he championed for the absolutely free use by demonstrators of the large square in front of the building. No wonder that a group of radicals with the red and white striped flag (that Sólyom politely asked them not to use) appeared and insulted MSZP and SZDSZ members of parliament as they were leaving the building. They spat on their cars, threw beer bottles at them, called them "dirty Jews," and so on and so forth.

But, after all, they heard the president saying that the radical right would be out on the streets. So they began the demonstrations. Why not? The president had already predicted that this would happen. As for the red and white striped flag, the leaders of the right radical groups had already told Sólyom to go to hell. They will use it, fear or no fear. In fact, I guess, if the Jews are afraid, that’s wonderful.

Reading the appropriate sections of the president’s speech, I simply can’t get over some of his statements. Here is an interesting paragraph: "In the fall, the radical right will be present on the streets. They have already announced their intentions. But there will be other demonstrations, to be precise there already have been some. And we have already seen that demonstrators with peaceful intentions are defenseless against the radical groups who join their protest, showing unacceptable symbols and chanting unacceptable slogans. The police cannot interfere in such cases, and the organizers of the demonstrations cannot handle them. Decency demands of politicians as well as of the media not to confuse the peaceful demonstrators with the radicals. In the long run this has a negative effect politically."

I must say, this is about the most outlandish part of the speech, although there are many others that the commentators didn’t pick up. To say that the police cannot interfere in cases when extreme right forces join Fidesz protests is outrageous. But Fidesz strategists are well aware of the president’s position. It is to their advantage to call people to the streets, have extremists join them, watch violence break out, and dare the police to do anything.

Last night the police showed that they couldn’t sort out peaceful demonstrators from radicals, as the president indicated they wouldn’t be able to. Instead of arresting the attackers of the MSZP-SZDSZ members of parliament, the police helped "the honorable members" sneak out through another door. Mr. Sólyom should be proud of himself.

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Paul Hellyer

Hungary suffers as much as anything from an absence of political and societal leadership. That is, someone capable of articulating and demonstrating the best of “Hungarianness” in an inclusive and forward-thinking manner. There is so much to admire about Hungarian cultural and contribution to the world, so much to be proud of, yet the Hungarian leadership elite seems to insist upon divisiveness and division. Them or us. No quarter given. And all in an environment with more than a whiff of anti-semitism.
The genius of Kádár, who did, after all murder Imre Nagy, was that he managed to keep Hungarians together in some sort of national unity while at the same time pleasing to his Russian masters. In other words, he managed ambiguity. I can think of no political leader in Hungary since then, Antall excepted perhaps, who has demonstrated true leadership. Semjén’s muddled, prejudiced discourse is yet another example of the absence of true leadership among the Hungarian political elite.