Interesting paradox: Hungarian anti-Semitism

Anyone who pays attention to Hungarian politics would most likely be convinced that anti-Semitism is on the rise in the country. Nationalism is growing, or at least this is the impression, and with it all those less than likeable human traits: xenophobia, dislike if not hatred of others, and, yes, anti-Semitism. Moreover, almost every day one hears about ugly scenes on the streets, with people claiming that anti-Semitic utterances are commonplace everywhere. The number of openly anti-Semitic websites has been multiplying. The volume is turned up for sure. And there is Jobbik's spectacular growth together with its Israel-bashing. So, all in all, it seems pretty bad.

Therefore it was with some surprise that I learned this morning the results of the latest poll (Szonda Ipsos) according to which anti-Semitism is actually on the decline in Hungary. In 1993 fourteen percent of the population was deemed anti-Semitic while today their share is ten percent. The questionnaire also inquired from the 1,000 respondents (a representative sample) what they thought of the holocaust, i.e. whether it happened or not. Again, compared to a 2006 poll, the percentage of those who deny the holocaust is slightly less today than three years ago. The statements concerning the holocaust for which the respondents had to say "yes" or "no" were the following: (1) there were no gas chambers in the concentration camps; (2) the number of Jewish victims was actually smaller than is generally claimed; and (3) a large part of the atrocities was invented by the Jews later. Six percent of the respondents answered in the affirmative for the first question, twelve percent for the second, and eleven percent for the third. Sixty-one percent of the respondents didn't agree with any of the three statements while twenty-four percent didn't want to express an opinion. András Kovács, a sociologist who is a researcher of the Academy's Institute of Ethnicity and Minorities in addition to being a professor at the Central European University (George Soros's brainchild), analyzed the data and came to the conclusion that the real growth in those who deny the existence of the holocaust occurred between 2003 and 2006 and not in the last two or three years as we would all think on the basis of simple observation of everyday life or reading the openly anti-Semitic websites on the Internet. It seems that the vocal leaders of this ten percent feel much freer today to express their unsavory opinions. Thus the impression.

There are other interesting observations to be gleaned by analyzing the raw data. Not suprisingly among those with lower educational attainment the percentage of those who deny the holocaust is higher than among the more educated segment of the population. Unfortunately this is also true among the young (between the ages of 18 and 29). It is higher among men than women. However, there are some promising indicators: in comparison to the 2003 poll the number of those who think that there should be more information available in Hungarian textbooks about the holocaust has grown in the last six years. The number of those who think that the whole topic should be forgotten because after all it happened a long time ago also decreased. It stands now at forty percent. I know that this sounds high, but the trend is promising.

As far as the legal consequences of holocaust denial are concerned, today only 20% of the population thinks that holocaust denial should be included in the criminal code. In 2006 that number was 26%. However, the number of those who think that denial of the holocaust under no circumstances shouldn't be punished didn't grow. Most of the people are ambivalent.

András Kovács claims, I assume on the basis of twenty years of data, that anti-Semitism grows at the time of elections while it is on the decrease between elections. No explanation is given for this phenomenon in the articles I read. The poll was conducted between June 27 and July 3, and I really don't know whether this is considered to be a high or a low point in the four-year fluctuation of Hungarian anti-Semitism. Let's hope it is the high point!

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That feels about right. On a day in and day out basis in the capital at least, I do not sense anti-semitism in my dealings with professionals and educated people. I also have not witnessed country club type anti-semitism (i.e., well off gentiles joining clubs or doing social things were Jews are explicitly prohibited). Of course, saying that, there remains the perception that the Jews are still greedier (especially the Israeli real estate investors) and maybe a bit smarter (a bit too smart for their own good) than everyone else.
On the other hand, a more radical type of anti-semitism (symbolized by Holocaust denial etc) is popular among the radical right and has now combined with sympathey for the situation of the Palestinians. The troubling part is the sense that one can make openly anti-semitic comments and provocations without any negative consequence (and no I do not support hate laws because they do not work and are fundamentally contrary to liberty). However, this focus on the Mid-East conflict does not interest or resonate for most Hungarians who are focused on problems a little closer to home.


“in the capital at least”
Unfortunately, I think these figures massively understate the anti-semitism prevalent in provincial Hungary. I would say 80% of my colleagues and students have attitudes which I would say are anti-semitic, even though and perhaps because most of them know no actual jews.
Indicative of this would be the recent conversation I had with my mother-in-law about the day the Jews were taken from her village. It was very moving, she described them kissing the soil before they were marched away. She felt it was a very sad thing as “A mi Zsidóink, rendes Zsidók voltak”. (Our Jews were OK.) Of course something only worth saying if usually Jews are not OK.

Eva S. Balogh

Sophist: “”in the capital at least” Unfortunately, I think these figures massively understate the anti-semitism prevalent in provincial Hungary.”
It was a representative sample of 1,000. So, at least theoretically, it is supposed to show the situation countrywide.


I would agree (regardless of the polling technique) with the Sophist. There are practically no Jews outside Budapest, but anti-semitism prevails. I am sure it is (as it has often been) conflated with a fear of anything different, the economic power of the center, capitalism, liberalism. Hungary outside of Budapest is an amazingly parochial place where many still live in a virtual time warp.

“In 1993 fourteen percent of the population was deemed anti-Semitic while today their share is ten percent.” I’m afraid this looks to me like another example of dubious polling practice. In none of the reports can I find any explanation of how this 10% were deemed anti-semitic. What questions were they asked? How did the opinion pollsters classify their answers to draw this conclusion? Did they just ask people “Are you anti-Semitic?”, and the 10% are those who answered yes? (Which, by the way, would make the results of this poll very alarming). Unless we know this information this figure is meaningless, and tells us as close to nothing as makes no difference. The figures on Holocaust denial are concrete and tell us something and look broadly credible. But we know that opinion pollsters have understated support for Jobbik this year substantially, and I would guess this is because some who hold attitudes compatible with far right views are not prepared to tell opinion pollsters what they really think (and instead in public express the views they think are more socially acceptable). “András Kovács claims, I assume on the basis of twenty years of data, that anti-Semitism grows at the… Read more »
Ida Kiss

Xenofobia is strongest among those who are not in everyday contact with the ethnic group in question.
In Slovakia the strongest feeling against Hungarians is detected in those regions where a Hungarian population is not present.


“Xenofobia is strongest among those who are not in everyday contact with the ethnic group in question”
I would agree with this in the case of Jews in Hungary. But not of gypsies. The strongest anti-gypsy sentiment I encounter in Hungary comes from those who live alongside them in villages. I even know of of town-dwelling liberal Hungarians who strongly reject anti-gypsy prejudice, yet shun any social or physical contact with gypsies.