A documentary on political divisiveness in Hungary

I must admit that until now I hadn't heard of the Verzio International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival that is being held this year in Budapest. Verzio according to its self-description "is committed to presenting quality creative documentaries. It seeks to promote the ideals of open society, democracy, rule-of-law, tolerance, political and cultural pluralism within a global context as well as to expose abuse and human rights' violations throughout the world." One of the most important entries in the "Hungarian Panorama Bloc" is Eszter Hajdú's documentary on the devastating effects of Hungarian political divisiveness on families and friendships. The title itself is controversial: "The Fidesz Jew, the mother without national feeling, and meditation." Some people questioned the appropriateness of the words "Fidesz Jew" in the title. Apparently, some movie theaters refused to show the film because they considered the title offensive, but Eszter Hajdú felt that it was important to stick to her guns and keep the title.

Why is it offensive to call somebody "a fideszes zsidó"? First, because in Hungary it is not polite to mention the fact that X or Y is Jewish. Since Hungarian Jews themselves until very recently did not talk about their Jewishness it is not surprising that society as a whole thought that it was inappropriate to talk openly about somebody being Jewish. The other problem with the title is the combination of Jewishness and being a Fidesz voter or politician. Jews are not supposed to sympathize with a party that is, according to some, tainted with a touch of antisemitism. Although there are a few Fidesz politicians of Jewish origin (the best known are Tamás Deutsch and János Fónagy), they are considered to be the "token Jews" of a right-wing party who are being used by Fidesz to show the party's openness and tolerance. Whether this is so or not I wouldn't know, but this is the perception.

The documentary has two distinct parts. The first is about the breakup of a friendship between two Gábors. Both are Jewish and both began their political careers in SZDSZ, the liberal party which attracted a majority of the members of the Budapest intellectual class in which there were a goodly number of people of Jewish origin. The friendship comes to an end because one of the Gábors discovers that his political sentiments are much closer to Fidesz than to SZDSZ. The second story is the temporary breakup of a marriage because the husband "falls in love" with the nationalistic rhetoric of Viktor Orbán while the wife is convinced that her husband is being manipulated by the party's political ambitions. The situation becomes so bad that eventually the wife leaves although their twelve-year old daughter, also bitten by the nationalistic bug, decides to stay with her father. Apparently the couple is currently back together, but I wouldn't bet on a long happy marriage.

I listened to interviews with all four of these people. First, the husband and wife. The husband with his daughter went to one of the first mass meetings organized by Fidesz after the lost elections in 2002 and he was smitten. He felt part of the nation and thus he felt secure. National enthusiasm got hold of him and he simply couldn't and still can't understand his wife's skepticism and rationalism. He can't understand why she is not swept away by the same feelings he felt then and now. Political discussions eventually deteriorated into emotional exchanges in which the couple hurled hurtful words at each other. Perhaps the worst was that the mother was not fit to bring up their daughter because she is not patriotic enough. I think it was after this particular exchange that the wife started packing.

As for the two Gábors, both were heavily involved in SZDSZ, that is liberal, politics in 1990 and right after. However, at one point, I assume that it had to be sometime after 1994 when SZDSZ agreed to form a coalition government with the socialists, the "Fidesz Jew" turned his back on liberalism and joined Fidesz. His friend couldn't forgive him because "in general" he can't stand turncoats. Especially the ones who were once on the left and moved sharply to the right. The former liberal now right-wing Gábor doesn't see anything wrong with changing political sides. He is convinced that he chose the right party. He didn't seem to understand the reporter's probing questions about the antisemitic sentiments of Zsolt Bayer, one of the founding fathers of Fidesz, particularly how he can reconcile his Jewishness with Bayer's antisemitism. His answer was rather primitive: Bayer is an idiot and he doesn't care a whit about him and what he says. Bayer's prominence in the party has nothing to do with anything.

Even the liberal Gábor seems to identify with the politics of hatred, the politics of irreconcilable differences between right and left. When the reporter contrasted Zoltán Pokorni's menacing words to one of the MSZP parliamentary members, "From here on you will feel our icy breath on your necks," with John McCain's magnificent concession speech last night, Gábor was not impressed. According to him McCain didn't mean a word of it and he will do everything in his power to ruin President Obama, his rival. So much for Gábor the liberal. What a sad commentary on the state of affairs in Hungary.