President Sólyom and the Hungarian Guard

I mentioned yesterday that the ombudsman in charge of minority questions asked President Sólyom, Prime Minister Gyurcsány, Speaker of the House Szili, and Chief Justice Lomnici to express their disapproval of the Hungarian Guard’s anti-Gypsy demonstration in Tatárszentgyörgy. Yesterday, Gyurcsány and Szili publicly responded to Ombudsman Ernő Kállai’s request. Today Sólyom also made the appropriate gesture: he wrote a letter to Ombudsman Kállai. The text of the letter is available on the homepage of the president:

Until the Gypsy incident Sólyom hadn’t said anything about the Hungarian Guard per se. He did talk about the radical right in general, but according to some observers, especially on the liberal side, his approach was all wrong. He practically begged the members of the radical right not to use the red and white striped flags that were the symbol of the Hungarian Nazis (Arrowcross Party). He explained his reason for the request: the sight of this flag might cause consternation and fear among the holocaust survivors, their children, and their grandchildren. Thus he narrowed the whole issue of the increasingly visible presence of the extreme right to a Jewish question. As if racism, antidemocratic sentiments, and right-wing dictatorship affected only the Hungarian Jews. Nonsense, said these observers. The Hungarian Guard and their ideas threaten Hungarian democracy and all who live in the country.

This time his tone was different. He seemed to have discovered that the keynote speaker of the Tatárszentgyörgy demonstration uttered words that contained references to "the negative characteristics associated with ethnicity, race and biology." He made it clear that he "most definitely rejects any such ideas which were also components of the Nazi ideology." Well, at last we call a spade a spade.

I found it interesting that by mid-afternoon the Budapest prosecutor’s office announced that it is investigating the activities of the Hungarian Guard. What the authorities would like to know is whether the Guard’s current activites conform to their initial aims stated in their application to organize as a charitable and cultural organization. I wonder whether Sólyom’s letter and the prosecutor’s office’s subsequent announcement of its investigation have anything to do with one another.

These developments might dampen the Jobbik’s and the Hungarian Guard’s enthusiasm for further, increasingly outrageous anti-Gypsy demonstrations. They announced before Sólyom’s letter and the prosecutor’s office’s investigation that on Friday there would be another demonstration, this time in Kerepes (also in Pest County), where the population of the town sympathizes with the extreme right. (They elected Tibor Franka, a man known for his antisemitism and extreme views, as their mayor.) The stated aim of this demonstration is to remove Gypsy children from the local schools. Plans call for not only the Hungarian Guard but also other extreme right organizations to participate. Perhaps President Sólyom’s letter will make the Hungarian Guard rethink its plans. And perhaps this will bring home to László Sólyom that there are times when it is necessary to speak in defense of basic democratic principles that transcend party politics. Until now when he spoke it was usually at the wrong time with the wrong message.