Only this morning I heard a short interview with one of the political scientists of Méltányosság Intézet. “Méltányosság” can be translated as fairness, fair-mindedness, or even impartiality. In any case, this particular associate of the institute was studying the seemingly entrenched inability of Hungarians to conduct civilized and rational dialogue with people who hold opposing views. Not only are politicians incapable of sitting down to discuss their differences; ordinary people can scream at each other at the slightest provocation. For some it is enough to see a person reading a newspaper not to their liking to become violent.
How deeply embedded this dangerous and ugly trait is in Hungarian culture is a matter of debate. But I certainly don’t see any desire on the part of the political elite to temper it. On the contrary, some of the verbal abuses hurled by Fidesz hatchet men only add oil to fire. Let’s face it, boorish (and worse) behavior is spreading in Hungary, especially in right-wing circles whose members feel–and not without reason–that their time has arrived. Now they can do anything they want against those whom they consider to be their enemies.
Who are these enemies? Practically everyone who doesn’t share their political views. Moreover, those who don’t share their political views are also the enemies of the entire Hungarian nation. The targets are numerous, from liberal intellectuals to social democrats and naturally the Jews. Mind you, a person doesn’t actually have to be of Jewish origin to be labelled and insulted as such. A good example is an incident from yesterday when a man and a woman pushed and spat on a young woman who was taking a video of the demonstration of taxi drivers protesting the latest restrictions on their activities. The young woman was called among other things “stupid whore” and “filthy Jewish whore.” Her attackers couldn’t have known whether she was Jewish or not; she was called Jewish simply because they suspected that she was on the “other side.”
The circumstances of the attack against her are still somewhat fuzzy. Perhaps they noticed that she worked for Népszabadság and that was enough in the eyes of these people to label her Jewish. The victim gave an interview to Stop.hu about the incident. As she explained on the video, she works alone and therefore there was no one who could help her if these two people actually beat her up, as they seemed ready to do. Her only luck was that two cameramen from MTV who were nearby came to her rescue. Anyone who’s interested in her description of the situation can see the video here.
A couple of months ago when Ákos Kertész, a Hungarian writer, asked for political asylum in Canada and said that he was insulted on the street and that at one point someone wanted to drown him in the swimming pool I remember right-wing commentators accusing Kertész of lying. Of course, he wasn’t lying. He is a respectable eighty-year-old gentleman. No, these right-wing thugs recognized him and wanted to avenge what they considered to be an unforgivable slight on the nation, as I described earlier. So, instead of going up to Kertész and telling him what their grievances were, they wanted to drown him or beat him up. That seems to be their only way of dealing with their frustrations.
And if they cannot beat up the “culprit,” like Péter Dániel who poured red paint over Regent Miklós Horthy’s statue, they go and deface the Holocaust Memorial or hang pig feet on Raoul Wallenberg’s statue. Wallenberg was, of course, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews in 1944 only to be captured by the Soviets. He most likely died in a Soviet prison a few years after the war.
Dialogue is often impossible because of historical ignorance on both sides. For instance, Péter Dániel didn’t summarize Horthy’s role accurately. And this morning I heard an interview with Lajos Kósa, one of the deputy chairmen of Fidesz and an important member of parliament. The conversation turned to the Horthy cult. Kósa seems to be totally ignorant of Horthy’s role in the deportation of 600,000 Hungarian Jews. He said twice that it was only during Ferenc Szálasi’s rule that deportations took place. With such ignorance it is easy to “rehabilitate” Horthy, which the Orbán government is doing with a vengeance.
Today the former chief rabbi of Hungary, József Schweitzer, now 90 years old, was walking home when he was verbally assaulted by a stranger who screamed that he “hated all Jews.” At least he wasn’t beaten up. But as his daughter pointed out, the atmosphere that the Orbán government has created gives rise to such incidents. Today he was only verbally attacked, but “what will happen tomorrow? Will they beat him up?”
Jews are not the only target. Foreigners can also be objects of hate, especially if their skin is a bit darker or if they are suspected of being political refugees. The United Arab Emirates’ English-language paper, The National, reported that an Emirati chess official was deliberately run over by a car and kicked and beaten unconscious in the street in Szeged by three Hungarian police officers who thought he was an illegal immigrant. The policemen knew no English, and the Arab visitors thought that the three men wanted to rob them. They ran, and the rest is history. The chess official sustained five broken ribs and at one point he stopped breathing during the attack. The injured man accompanied a young chess player who had come to Hungary to perfect his game with the help of the famous young Hungarian chess player, Péter Lékó.
It would be time to come down hard on hate speech in general and on the unspeakable behavior of Jobbik and Fidesz MPs in parliament in particular. It encourages certain segments of the Hungarian population to launch verbal and physical attacks against those who don’t share their worldviews. This must be stopped before it is too late.