Until now Fidesz made practically no attempt to keep Jobbik at arm’s length. In fact, as Viktor Orbán practically admitted, Fidesz and Jobbik were frequently on the same side during parliamentary debates. More often than not they voted together.
László Kövér, the speaker of the house, who often attacked MSZP members for their alleged misbehavior, ignored the obvious disregard of the rules demonstrated by Jobbik MPs. For example, back in 2010, on the opening day of parliament, Gábor Vona appeared in the uniform of the Hungarian Guard, whose activities were made illegal earlier and their uniform banned. Kövér didn’t seem to notice it. And Jobbik members of parliament regularly behave aggressively and in an unruly manner in the chamber, hurling abuse on the members of MSZP, LMP, and DK. No one ever tried to put an end to this behavior.
I’m also coming to the conclusion that Fidesz and the government knew or at least suspected ahead of time the contents of the speech Zsolt Baráth (Jobbik) delivered on the 1883 trial of fifteen Jewish inhabitants of Tiszaeszlár who were accused of the ritual murder of a local girl. The timing was fixed by Jobbik to coincide with Zoltán Balczó’s (Jobbik) presiding. But the government was also prepared because why else would János Fónagy (Fidesz), undersecretary of the Ministry of National Development, be present? It was late at night and most people had already left the chamber. The whole thing seems to have been choreographed and thus, I suspect, could have been avoided with some foresight and will.
The speech was delivered and the expected worldwide scandal followed. I don’t know what was going on in the head of Viktor Orbán when he himself chose not to make a statement that would in the strongest terms condemn the incident. But he didn’t. Instead he let Tibor Navracsics’s ministry issue a brief statement published only on the website of the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration.
A few days later it was becoming obvious that this three-line written statement simply would not do. Even Béla Lipták of the Hungarian Lobby, a stalwart supporter and defender of Viktor Orbán and Fidesz in the United States, decided that the Orbán government must take stronger measures because “this incident may reinforce the malicious accusations that there is anti-Semitism and racism in Hungary.” Lipták asked Orbán to issue a resolution supported by all parties that would condemn Zsolt Baráth’s anti-Semitic speech. For good measure, Lipták included Géza Jeszensky’s condemnation of the incident. Jeszenszky, who was Hungary’s ambassador in Washington at the time of the attack on the World Trade Center, knew from bitter experience how damaging Orbán’s silence can sometimes be. Orbán remained quiet in 2001 when István Csurka, the chairman of the anti-Semitic MIÉP, told parliament that the United States got what it deserved with the 9/11 attack. From that time on, Orbán didn’t exist as far as George W. Bush was concerned.
So, Orbán must have thought long and hard and decided to act. Yesterday, MSZP came up with the idea that a permanent parliamentary committee should be established that would deal with ethical questions concerning the behavior of members of parliament. Pál Steiner (MSZP) asked the prime minister’s assistance in this matter. To everybody’s surprise Viktor Orbán rose and decided to support the MSZP demand to set up such a committee. That was the signal for the Fidesz-KDNP MPs to vote the “proper” way. Jobbik members naturally voted against the resolution, but they were not the only ones. Seven Fidesz members voted with Jobbik in addition to two others who abstained. That tells us something about some Fidesz MPs’ attitude on anti-Semitism.
The only problem with Viktor Orbán’s handling of the affair was that he referred to the Hungarian Jewish community as a “minority.” There are serious problems with this terminology. According to the Magyar Értelmező Szótár the meaning of minority (kisebbség) is a group whose members speak a different language or adhere to a different culture from that of the majority. That doesn’t fit the Hungarian Jewish community. The English definition, unlike the Hungarian, does include religious groups, but most members of the Hungarian Jewry don’t belong to any organized religious community.
There is a website called Nyelv és tudomány (Language and Science) that immediately published an article entitled “Kisebbség-e a zsidóság?” (Are the Jewish people a minority?). The author of the article doesn’t bother with different definitions of the concept of “minority” but instead concentrates on what the Hungarian Jews themselves think of their own place in Hungary. There is a small group that advocates declaring Hungarian Jewry an official minority. They have been working on achieving that goal for the last seven years without the slightest hope of ever achieving it because the overwhelming majority of the Hungarian Jewish community don’t consider themselves to be in any way different from the rest of Hungarian society. Neither linguistically nor culturally. Even the small Orthodox community admits that most Hungarian Jews don’t consider themselves followers of Judaism and don’t identify themselves as belonging to the Jewish nationality.
Hungary is for Hungarians/Jobbik campaign poster
Thus, the article concludes that Viktor Orbán’s reference to “the Jewish minority” is “strange.” I would add that most likely a lot of Hungarian Jews will take exception to being called a minority which is ostensibly different from the mainstream. They don’t want special protection. They simply do not want to be abused by loud and aggressive anti-Semites who until now at least could do practically anything they wanted in the Hungarian Parliament. Perhaps from here on there will be greater determination by Fidesz-KDNP and the government to put an end to that sorry state of affairs.