International reputation of Fidesz: Now anti-Semitism


The criticism of the Hungarian media law has subsided somewhat. The western media are waiting for the second chapter: the Hungarian government’s “corrections” demanded by the European Union. At roughly the same time came another international outcry when it became known that Magyar Nemzet, almost an official paper of Fidesz, launched an attack against a group of eminent philosophers who happened to be of liberal persuasion and Jewish. And again about the same time Zsolt Bayer, a so-called journalist and one of the founders of Fidesz who is employed by Magyar Hírlap, a newspaper that can be labelled as an extreme-right publication, wrote an article in which he in so many words admitted his disappointment that not all Jews were killed during the white terror of 1919 and 1920.

That was the last straw for some Jewish Hungarians, among them András Schiff, the famous concert pianist, who gave several interviews in well-known Western European papers, and Ádám Fischer, formerly the music director of the Hungarian Opera House, who also called attention to the growing anti-Semitism in Hungary. In Brussels at a press conference Fischer called upon Bayer to resign from Fidesz. The Hungarian right was outraged. They accused Fischer of spreading false rumors about the Hungarian government’s anti-Semitism. Fischer didn’t leave it at that. A few days later he wrote an article in Népszabadság in which he pointed out that Fidesz politicians protest against the accusation of anti-Semitism while an important Fidesz politician, János Halász, praised Bayer and his work on the occasion of his winning, on a Fidesz suggestion, the literary Madách Prize.

All this was fairly well covered in the foreign press, and eventually the leaders of the European Jewish Congress asked for a meeting with Viktor Orbán in Brussels where naturally he assured them that all is well in Hungary. The Hungarian government doesn’t tolerate anti-Semitism, which in any case has subsided since Fidesz won the elections, a statement without any foundation. We don’t know what the Hungarian Jewish leaders had to say during the meeting, but my feeling is that they were fairly quiet.

As for Bayer’s presence in Fidesz, there might be a simple explanation for not removing him. People who studied Hungarian anti-Semitism seem to know that within Fidesz there are a fair number of people who share Bayer’s antipathy of the Jews. As for Viktor Orbán himself, almost everybody claims that he is free of prejudice. On the other hand, he occasionally makes certain statements that can be interpreted in a way that might show some traces of anti-Jewish bias. For example, when in his last speech he talked about “certain people who feel that their crimes can be excused because of lineage (származás), difficult financial circumstances, good political connections or an internationally embedded professional network.” I don’t think that one needs much imagination to think that those in difficult financial circumstances are the Gypsies; the internationally embedded professional network are the philosophers and the musicians. As for “származás” I think that it is a not terribly veiled reference to Jews.

Yesterday in the conservative Welt a long article appeared by Paul Lendvai, a Hungarian-born journalist who lives in Austria. The title of his piece is telling: “Hungary marches toward the right.” In it Lendvai claims that Fidesz has for a long time allowed anti-Semitism to flourish and it isn’t making any effort to put an end to it. According to Lendvai even the more moderate Fidesz supporters are outraged when foreign friends or visitors call attention to the worrisome picture painted of Hungary in the international press. In the right-wing Hungarian media there is a campaign against the international companies that want to buy up Hungary and against Hungarians of mostly Jewish origin who purposely mislead foreign newspapermen about the state of affairs at home.

It is hard not to worry about the growth of anti-Semitism in Hungary when according to the latest study by Political Capital the group of people who sympathize with the anti-Semitic far-right grew from 10 to 21 percent between 2002 and 2009. This is not entirely surprising given the extreme ignorance, especially among young people, of history. Only 4% of people between ages of 18 and 30 knew the meaning of the word “holocaust” and only 13% could name the approximate number of Jewish victims in 1944-45. According to another sociological study by Mária Vásárhelyi the percentage of those who think that Jews have too great a role in the business world is almost 70%, an increase of 7% in the last two years, and 40% of the people claim that for Jewish Hungarians the fate of Israel is more important than that of Hungary.

At the last elections, especially among the younger generation, the anti-Semitic far-right Jobbik was very popular. Every fourth person between the ages of 18 and 29 voted for Jobbik. There are estimates that about 40% of university students studying history are anti-Semitic. I myself checked the list of Jobbik candidates and found a very large number of historians among them.

Lendvai finished his article by saying that “twenty years after the change of regime a massive, worrisome, hardly disguised anti-Semitism can be found in Hungary. This creates an atmosphere of fear and exclusion in the small Jewish community. So far, neither Viktor Orbán nor his closest colleagues have done anything either directly or through media outlets close to the party to put an end to this anti-Semitic propaganda. It would be high time to do so. In case Orbán remains quiet that will also mean something.”