Anti-Semitism in Hungary and hopeful signs to combat it

On March 21 the Hungarian media reported widely on the results of an international survey on anti-Semitism. The study was conducted in ten European countries by the Anti-Defamation League, an American Jewish organization. The general conclusion is that anti-Semitism is more prevalent in Europe than in the United States and, as MTI reported, it is “alarmingly high” in Hungary, Spain, and Poland.

The degree of anti-Semitism in Hungary, Spain, and Poland is high enough to demand “serious answers from the political, civic, and religious leaders” of these countries. Hungary has the dubious distinction of having the highest degree of antisemitism at 63%, while in 2009 the same organization reported only 47%.  In Spain the result was 53% and in Poland 48%. More details can be found at ADL’s website and in NépszabadságIn the last three years the growth of anti-Semitism has been enormous.

The spread of anti-Semitism in Hungary cannot be separated from the existence of an openly anti-Semitic party in the Hungarian parliament. Moreover, Hungarians who are inclined toward an anti-Semitic bias see that Fidesz-KDNP–the government parties–openly cooperate with Jobbik. This Hungarian neo-Nazi party’s MPs deliver speeches in the Hungarian parliament with anti-Semitic overtones. The first one by Tamás Gaudy-Nagy was veiled, but since then there have been several more open outbursts by other Jobbik MPs.

I wrote about the the case of the theater in Eger where a certain actor was banned because the local Fidesz leaders didn’t like his politics and because he was “a filthy Jew.” Mazsihiz, the Hungarian Jewish umbrella organization, not only protested but also went to the police to initiate proceedings against the town of Eger.

A few days later, as “payback” for Péter Dániel’s action against a newly erected Miklós Horthy statue, far-right sympathizers hung pigs’ feet on Raoul Wallenberg’s statue in Budapest. The police found the culprits within a few hours. Three days later, on May 25, anti-Semitic slogans were painted on the Holocaust Memorial: “This is not your country, filthy Jews!” and there were others promising execution and the drowning of Jewish Hungarians in the Danube just as in late 1944 under Ferenc Szálasi’s rule.

At this point Fidesz released a communiqué in which the party’s spokesman said that Fidesz “condemns all extremism … and political provocations because it is obvious that extremists only reinforce each other.” This message was anything but forceful.

Only about two weeks after this incident Rabbi József Schweitzer encountered a man who verbally assaulted him. At this point the government “expressly condemned the incident.” In the statement the government repeated its earlier condemnation of all “extreme acts” and promised “to defend all citizens from such attacks.” Religious leaders also expressed their concern. The new president, János Áder, went so far as to pay a private visit to the Schweitzers.

Jobbik naturally didn’t condemn any of the anti-Semitic incidents. On the contrary, on June 6 Ádám Mirkóczki, a Jobbik member of parliament, found it “horrifying that just because allegedly a stranger insulted Schweitzer within a few minutes the leaders of the historic churches issue a joint declaration and the government publishes a communiqué against a phantom.” According to Mirkóczki, the Hungarian government instead should pay more attention to the grievances of Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries.

Two days ago there was another anti-Semitic incident in Nagykanizsa. This time a memorial depicting a Menora was damaged. All seven candles were broken off. The police are investigating.

But there is a good piece of news. Today a young man received an 18-month suspended sentence because of Holocaust denial. This is a first in Hungary.

I think it is worth mentioning that until now the Hungarian public was blissfully ignorant of the whole case. Or at least I found no sign of it in either the Hungarian media or the archives of MTI. But, as we found out today, György N. on October 23, 2011, at an anti-government demonstration held up a Hebrew-language sign claiming that the “Holocaust didn’t happen.” It seems that György N. is a busy fellow who by now is quite well known to the police. Only two days ago in another case he and an accomplice of his were sentenced to community service for throwing eggs at Gábor Demszky, mayor of Budapest between 1990 and 2010, while he was delivering his customary speech in front of the statue of Sándor Petőfi on March 15, 2010.

What I especially appreciated in the judgment of the court in the Holocaust denial case was that the culprit not only received a suspended sentence but he is also required to visit the Holocaust Memorial Center in Budapest at least three times and summarize his reactions in an essay. Alternatively, he can make a pilgrimage to Auschwitz or go to Jerusalem and visit the Yad Vashem Museum. In addition, he is forbidden to join political meetings and demonstrations.

The Holocaust Memorial Center that György N. is supposed to visit three times

János Ádler after the Schweitzer incident noted that ” it is not enough to cry out against” such incidents. The courts must act as this wise judge did in the case of György N. Moreover, the schools have to do more than stage Holocaust days full of pro forma speeches. Just as history teachers should set students straight on Trianon. Today’s youngsters who are drawn to the ideas of the extreme right lack the most basic knowledge of the recent past. And without it, it is easy to get lost and end up in the gutters of political thought.

88 comments

  1. Ovidiu, Eva, Mutt,
    I do agree that sometimes non-Jewish people get categorized as Jews, they are part of the enemy. Yet the doors in the cattle carts did not shut on them, they were shut on the “real” Jews, (clearly not because of their convictions or religious beliefs, but because of their “race”) Romas, and Homosexuals (maybe).
    And in today’s Hungary Romas are being killed and homosexuals are being harassed. That is not a theory it is Hungarian reality.
    Charlie said it right, condemn it first, condemn it second, and third. Then you can analyze it.
    Meeting racist Jews (and there are plenty of them) will not cure any Jobbik members or sympathizers. That is a dream, much more needs to be done

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  2. “Anti-Semitism in Hungary is a case of “anti-Semitism without Jews”.”

    I was quite surprised to read this, as, had I had the time last night, this is exactly what I would have written.

    Until now I had thought that this was just my own personal analysis, based on my experiences in Hungary and being part of a Hungarian family, and therefore probably not particularly valid. So it was quite a shock to see the same views being expressed by someone who knows a lot more about it than me.

    I have only skim-read the comments so far, so I may have misunderstood, but I don’t see why this view is seen as anti-Semitic or apologising in some way for a deeper, hidden anti-Semitism. I don’t really see why Charlie leapt on Ovidiu’s posts with the force he did.

    After all, any analysis of anti-Semitism in Hungary has to explain two key factors: Hungary is the most anti-Semitic country in Europe and yet it also has probably the smallest Jewish population.

    Many, probably most, Hungarians, especially outside Budapest, will have little or no experience of actually meeting Jewish people, and yet anti-Semitism is so prevalent that it is openly expressed, not only without embarrassment, but with the automatic assumption of agreement from the listener.

    But if you can get past the shock of hearing such awful views freely expressed, and actually listen to what people say, a rather strange version of anti-Semitism emerges. For instance, the most frequent targets of anti-Semitic remarks are “the international Jewish conspiracy” or “the Jewish companies that are sucking the wealth out of Hungary – or buying up all the land in Hungary”, or often it’s simple “Israel” that is seen as the threat.

    Sure, individual Jews will be the subject of anti-Semitic comments when they come up in conversation, but in my experience it is nearly always these vague commercial/international/Israeli entities that are blamed for their “attacks on Hungary”, not ‘Jews’ themselves. And, oddly, when remarks are addressed against particular Jews, the language often tends to be less vehement than when imagined ‘Jewish’ entities are the targets.

    As I said, this is a purely personal view based entirely on my own experiences over the last 11 years, so has no validity as any sort of analysis, but it is definitely what I experience in Hungary and from Hungarian family members. It will seem a very fine academic point to those on the receiving end of Hungarian anti-Semitism, I know, but it seems to me to be more aimed at the ‘dark forces’ that exist ‘out there’ somewhere and “who are determined to destroy Hungary”, rather than at Jews themselves.

    For example, my wife (to my horror) expresses quite automatic and un-thought-through anti-Semitic views, even though she knows how much I hate this. And yet, not only did she never know any Jews when she lived in Hungary, she actually works and socialises with Jewish people in the UK with no difficulty at all. She doesn’t seem to have anything against specific Jews at all, in fact she is astonishingly ignorant of Jewish history and culture, yet she still clings to her belief that ‘the Jews’ are conspiring against Hungary.

    I’m not for one minute trying to justify Hungarian anti-Semitism, or even apologise for it, but I feel that the anti-Jewish feelings you hear so often expressed in Hungary are in some significant way different to ‘standard’ anti-Semitism, and that this difference needs to be understood before there’s any chance of any improvement. The Hungarians’ problem is not so much that they specifically hate or distrust Jews, it’s that they need to blame something for the state Hungary is in, and Jews are the ‘natural’ enemy to pick. But it’s not really the Jews, as individuals, or even really as a race or culture, that Hungarians fear, it’s these vague, imagined ‘dark forces’ that lurk within and without, that are to blame for Hungary’s problems.

    Perhaps anti-Semitism is the symptom, not the illness?

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  3. Ovidiu :

    Because of this the anti-Semitism in Hungary is not only directed against Jews and ‘alleged Jews,’ but “against everyone who embodies cosmopolitanism, urbanity and intellectualism”, against everyone who threatens to “undermine” the Magyar nation through his lack of (acute enough) ethnic consciousness and solidarity and his lack of ethnic conformism.

    Very well put.

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  4. A swift PS to my post above – when I discuss anti-Semitism in Hungary, I specifically mean as it is expressed and understood (by Hungarians) today.

    I think we need to be very careful when criticising views on today’s anti-Semitism based on the experience of the anti-Semitism of the 30s and 40s (and earlier times). The anti-Semitism of that time was based on far more concrete fears and experience, propagandists could fairly easily ‘prove’ their case against the Jews, for instance, by pointing out their wealth and position in society and claiming that this wasn’t gained by fair means. Jews were highly visible and often appeared to fit the lazy stereotypes employed by the rabble-rousers – much the same as the Roma are/do today.

    But, in the Hungarian society of today, Jews are practically invisible. In the 30s and 40s, Jews weren’t just an abstract evil, they were a real physical presence in people’s daily lives. Today, people can still be persuaded that, as an abstract, Jews are evil, but hardly anyone actually has any experience of individual Jews, and for those who do, their experience will be nothing like that of the pre-war population.

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  5. Mutt Damon :
    “A

    Mutt Damon :
    The question is not really how we got the disease but how do we control it

    You will not be able to control it if you don’t understand it. Mere condemning and preaching will never work, it will only drive underground the tendency. Underground from which it will return later to surface twice as as strong and virulent as it was when you suppressed it.
    Such policies don’t work on the long term. The total control which the communists regimes enjoyed proved that the attempt to socially-engineer the society doesn’t work even in the most advantageous circumstances for the “engineers”. Let alone today.

    The recent utter failure of Jobbik-Fidesz in exporting their ideology to the Hungarian minority in Romania is telling. The difference is that the Romanian-Hungarians have their identity differently constructed, they have had (and learnt how) to live in an multi-ethnic environment and yet preserve their identity. This different identity construction is what makes them less susceptible to the hyper-nationalist rhetoric and to hunting imaginary-enemies. Less prone to the kind of defensive-reactions that the Hungarians living in Hungary have.

    Hungary has to learn to live in the modern world. It is a crisis which has to be, and I believe it will be overcome eventually.
    This Orban-regime is certainly a step back (one toward an imagined stable and secure past) but not the last word in this issue. After Orban falls the issues will not be magically,immediately solved, Hungary (Hungarians) would need perhaps another 20 years to adapt to EU.

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  6. Paul is right. We were to efficient in killing Jews. We killed all almost all of them and now we got stuck with all this latent hate energy. Bummer. Now we are cluelessly running around looking for people to hate. I guess the Romas will help … but may I suggest the dentists? I hate dentists …

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  7. And now I have read back in a little more detail, to my horror I discover that Ovidiu has already said exactly what I was trying to say – and in far fewer words!

    Ignore my posts and just read Ovidiu’s at 3:14 am (post #10) – that’s what I was trying to say.

    And now I’m even more puzzled by Charlie’s attacks on Ovidiu’s posts.

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  8. Mutt Damon :
    Paul is right. We were to efficient in killing Jews. We killed all almost all of them and now we got stuck with all this latent hate energy. Bummer. Now we are cluelessly running around looking for people to hate. I guess the Romas will help … but may I suggest the dentists? I hate dentists …

    You may have intended this to be humorous, but in fact it’s a pretty good summary of reality.

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  9. Paul :

    Mutt Damon :
    Paul is right. We were to efficient in killing Jews. We killed all almost all of them and now we got stuck with all this latent hate energy. Bummer. Now we are cluelessly running around looking for people to hate. I guess the Romas will help … but may I suggest the dentists? I hate dentists …

    You may have intended this to be humorous, but in fact it’s a pretty good summary of reality.

    Although perhaps not the bit about the dentists…

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  10. OT – I am no longer able to reply to posts! Presumably this is yet another facet of the great ‘logging in’ mystery? Whatever I did to get my name back seems to have disabled my ability to reply to a specific post.

    I am also having a lot of problems with editing as I type – moving/seeing the cursor, etc. Is this just me?

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  11. I have been posting and posting here without really trying to summarize my thoughts. Of course the expression of anti-Semitism can be replaced with racism, or intolerance, and in those cases it exists without Jews. Prejudice exists everywhere, in places where there are no Jews, or in Israel where there are plenty. In Israel, prejudice can be directed against blacks, Russian Jews and of course against Arabs.
    But in the true sense of the word anti-Semitism does not exist without Jews. It is a form of racism, small mindedness and prejudice. But it is directed against Jews in the first place. That there are other ”honorary” Jews who later become part of the equation, does not really matter. Those in Hungary who are anti-Semites do hate Jews. They may augment this hatred by adding non-Jews in the mix. Yet anti-Semitism would not exist in Hungary without the Jews. If there were no Jews, it would be called something else, the haters would find another group. But they do not need to because there are Jews there. They hate the Jews first and foremost, together with the Roma. So the first victims in today’s Hungary are the easily identifiable and socially less accepted, generally less educated Roma. The next one will be somebody walking around the Synagogues, they also will b easily identifiable and weak (i.e. old). Then perhaps, if we still are looking only to analyze the reasons, will come the “honorary” Jews, those who raise their voices against this madness. But yes, it is still anti-Semitism, and it starts in Hungary with the hatred of the Jews as a group based on origin. That is my opinion.
    So saying it is really something that exists without the Jews in ludicrous

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  12. You will not be able to control it if you don’t understand it. Mere condemning and preaching will never work

    What I was saying is there isn’t much to understand in anti-semitism. It’s the same atavistic anger control issue. Trianon, poverty, tzars, beer prices are all interchangeable in a country’s history. Finding what do we hate at coordinates in country X will not take you anywhere.

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  13. Mutt Damon :
    You will not be able to control it if you don’t understand it. Mere condemning and preaching will never work

    Oops … my html skills are fading. The first sentence was quote from Ovidiu.

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  14. re Paul: “Jews appeared to fit…the lazy stereoptypes…”

    Jews are anything but lazy. Let’s leave the Hasids aside–they are considered lazy by Israelis themselves. But a jewish businessman in Hungary is much more industrious than his non-jewish counterpart, who, naturally, maintains that the other’s success is due to ‘jewish support’. Nonsense. My uncle was a butcher. He rose at 4am every morning to go out to the countryside for fresh produce. I went with him once. The farmer was waiting when we
    got there at 5 am. The chickens and geese were placed in a bucket of water ‘to keep fresh’.
    Sure, but is also added greatly to their weight. Not to be outdone, my uncle had a rock in his
    pocket which he smoothly placed along with the counterweight. Even-steven. But if the farmer would’ve caught him, I’m sure he would’ve been complaining to his neighbours how the jew tried to cheat him.

    But that’s not my point. My uncle did everything in his power through sheer industriousness, to keep and gain clients. He expended great energy. Now, some forty years later let me tell you about my (non-jewish) butcher in my neighbourhood. I went to him about twice a week.
    Purchased goose liver, chicken, beef, and one time, a monstrous 5 kg. goose. Although there is only two of us, I bought it anyway.

    Let’s fast-forward to sometime later. I went in to buy 6 chicken legs on a Friday afternoon.
    When I tried to cook it the next day, it had a vile smell: he had sold me bad meat. I suppose it was Friday and he was trying to clear his stock. That I was one of his best customers didn’t matter.

    I never took back the meat, but I also didn’t visit him for 4 months either. When I finally went back to him–there are no other convenient butchers in the area–I told him why I had been away. He looked taken aback; the smile gone from his face. Now, when I buy, I always ask to smell the meat no matter how many customers are in the shop. I’m sure I’m no longer that ‘wealthy foreigner’ but a filthy jew who comes to hassle him.

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  15. Mutt Damon :
    What I was saying is there isn’t much to understand in anti-semitism. It’s the same atavistic anger control issue.

    Now you seem to ‘understand’ at least something (“same atavistic anger control”) though I don’t recall reading anywhere such an explanation on anti-semitism.
    You merely try to bring back (on the back door) the issue of control so I suppose we are running in circles.

    As for anti-semitism in Hungary there is a lot to understand. Not about Jews as I said, but about Hungarians and their problems today.

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  16. Ovidiu :
    Now you seem to ‘understand’ at least something (“same atavistic anger control”) though I don’t recall reading anywhere such an explanation on anti-semitism.

    Well, somebody has to start those “original ideas”, n’est-ce pas?

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  17. Ovidiu, maybe the common ground between my original ideas and the ones your read somewhere :-) is this: there is no Hungarian reason or Russian reason for anti-Semitism. There maybe ethnic or nation specific reasons for not being able to control your frustration and the tendency to “vent” against your imaginary chosen enemy.

    There are no reason to shit in the middle of the dinner table. There are reasons for not doing it.

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  18. Well, somebody has to start those “original ideas”, n’est-ce pas?

    In your case a better phrase would be “one has to offer reasons, arguments, not circular-tautological explanations”.
    Your style (‘logic’) of explaining (“same atavistic anger control”) is meaningless that’s why can not be found in any book. Is like saying that “he killed himself because he was unhappy”. Well, the question was about his reasons for suicide, why was unhappy.

    Anyway, I assume that both you and Charlie don’t really want dealing with the subject in the way I do, so you resume your contributions to attacks and attempts to trivialize.

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  19. Ovidiu,

    Ok, you seem to understand your own analogies than other’s so let me use yours.

    Suicide is bad. Now you want to know why was the person unhappy because if we figure that out why we maybe able to stop people killing themselves. My view is this: they will be unhappy no matter what, but the question is why they don’t have the ability to “control” it? Why the tendency for the extreme solution?

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  20. To Paul, ”
    For instance, the most frequent targets of anti-Semitic remarks are “the international Jewish conspiracy” or “the Jewish companies that are sucking the wealth out of Hungary – or buying up all the land in Hungary”, or often it’s simple “Israel” that is seen as the threat.”

    As you know by now I am not exactly an intellectual heavy weight, but I can proudly say that God blessed me with the famous Hungarian twisted mind (you know the one Orban so often talks about), so may I analyze your above comments please:

    1/ I am convinced that your comments are hypnotic suggestions. (about 20000 readers here) and I am sure that most of the Jewish readers here can see it as one.
    (Years ago we had a similar fall out re: Hungarian Goulash)

    2/ I can not be believe that any husband would discuss his wife and his family on the net, especially NOT when they are anti-Semites.

    So, Paul dearest, what’s your angle?

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  21. I hope this judgement is effective to teach György N. about Holocaust. It might be useful to send him for anger management .
    ——-

    Re “Just read about Poland and Ukraine. The Nazi salutes, monkey chants and beatings of Asians after the soccer matches. Welcome to Eastern Europe. The inferiority complex is under our skin. ”

    The BBC documentary on the subject shocked me. These hooligans treat non-whites as trash! More shocking to me was no body in the stadium helped when the Asians were beaten up like punch bag. I have tears watching it.
    Monkey chanting at the black football players, the authority just turn a blind eye.
    If you don’t chant you’re a Jew, if you don’t clap, you’re a Jew..

    Ever since I watched the documentary, I have been asking myself, what the heck is going on in “civilised” Europe which this group of people could exist ?

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  22. enufff :
    what the heck is going on in “civilised” Europe which this group of people could exist ?

    About football hooliganism and its ethnic, racial and political themes you can read here

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Football_hooliganism

    It is a pan-European phenomenon, nothing special about Est-Europe (Ukraine, Poland), since countries as France, Italy, UK or Netherlands have plenty of it themselves.

    http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4115438,00.html

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  23. London Calling!

    Ovidiu

    I withdrew from the debate when I realised you were raising straw men just for the sake of knocking them down.

    You also assume you have the monopoly on intellectual rigour and your supercilious resorting to humourless insults have not progressed the debate one jot.

    For me ‘Thomas’ trumped the debate by simply describing anti-Semitism for what it is – and that was what I was trying to do. Just simple hate of the Jews, because they are Jews.

    If you conflate that with Racism, Xenophobia, Religious Bigotry, Ignorance, Hate and Thuggery – then it will just end in analysis paralysis. And you can analyse what drives things to your heart’s content.

    I see you are now embracing Mutt’s suicide allegory.

    You’ve missed out ‘Dentistry’.

    And yet, I wonder, is this part of Hungary’s problems? (I wonder out loud – I don’t want further debate.)

    A thug, is a thug, is a thug. We have discovered in England that the most effective way to deal with them is to make their lives uncomfortable. Disruption and interruption are the techniques. The police monitor them and wake them up at inconvenient times to check up on them. They hate it – and amazingly this has been effective.

    This is the way to deal with ignorant anti-Semitic thuggery. Forget any notion that you can ‘convert’ them with vicarious analysis.

    In England many of the older generation are rabid racists and anti-Semites. The post war climate allowed these thoughts to be openly displayed. Our laws have just driven it underground – but they are still rabid racists and anti-Semites. But hey guess what? They die!

    The climate for the younger generation is healthy and thriving – and we are proud of our muiti-culturalism – and our ability to live in harmony mostly. And that’s the key. The climate. We are slowly growing it out of the system. Ditto Northern Ireland and religious bigotry – but readers won’t understand me here.

    Now stuff ‘Hungary climate’ (the current one that is – not the hundred-year-old past) in your supercilious-intellectual-driving-analytical-sausage machine and see what comes out. Go figure.

    Don’t tell me the result please – some of us already know.

    This is my final contribution to this debate – claim the last word if you must.

    Regards

    Charlie

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  24. Dubious, thanks!

    Unbelievable – at times like this I’m glad that I can’t really read Hungarian. And my wife won’t translate this for me – she won’t even look at that …

    I’m so happy that she’s a real liberal-minded person!

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  25. Dubious :
    Why do they call Fidesz, Zsidesz?

    Because FIDESZ politics is not nationalistic enough by Jobbik’s standards.
    But how could this happen if they are all Magyars ? There must be some “treason” within Fidesz, ergo there must be some crypto-Jews inside Fidesz working to weaken the Magyar nation.

    The Jobbik-crowd will always end up finding what they are looking for in any such situation (a group, an association, party, etc. which they are “investigating” because of they don’t like the politics of that group, association, etc.). It really doesn’t matter that (let’s assume) it is demonstrable that there aren’t Jews in that group because this sort of anti-Semitism which has become in fashionable in Hungary is not about real Jews. The “Jew” of Jobbik is an imaginary fellow, a constructed concept which embodies everything which is non-Magyar and who works 24/7 to destroy the Magyar nation.

    They will always end up finding what they looking for because their ethnicity-test is actually a political test. If no Jew is found among the members of the investigated group then those who are the target of discontent, those whose actions don’t fit Jobbik-crowd standards of behavior, will be regarded/defined as Judaized-Magyars (thus Jews in a cultural sense) and treated “accordingly”. It is “head I win tail you lose”.

    (once again) Anti-Semitism in Hungary is not about Jews. It is a battle of the nation with itself. The ultra-nationalists are dividing the Magyars in two classes : the true-devoted-real Magyars (if possible all dressed identical in the national grab and with moustache) and in the traitors-enemies of the nation, the “Jews” (the non-Magyars).
    The “Jews” are all the Magyars whose acts are perceived as not patriotic enough, are perceived as acts which weaken and undermine the nation.
    So we get an quite a long list of “Jews”, for instance a catholic priest who refuses to ring the church bell for Trianon is a crypto-Jew (why ? because his actions prove it, no true sensible Magyar would do such thing, by definition).

    It is a battle of the nation with itself with. The “Jews” and anti-semitism in Hungary serves a symbolical function, it is used to label (to mean) “traitors and enemies within to be get rid off”
    (traitors according to the Jobbik-crowd).

    It is a civil war symbolically represented as an inter-ethnic war.

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  26. Just a very recent experience. I was discussing Hungarian politics with my Hungarian colleague. Both of us are working in international global IT company. He is very modest and intelligent person. But then when I asked about potential of LMP in next elections. I was shocked with his answer. He just mentioned: Its a Jew party.Financed and led by Jews. They can not get more then 10%. OK…I said…and changed the topic….If I would hear it from somobody on the street, OK…But from this person I really did not expect statement like this….

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