Hungarian far-right party claims that Jews are a threat to national security

By now major papers all over the world have carried the story of a far-right Hungarian member of parliament, Márton Gyöngyösi, who called for a list of Jewish members of the government and parliament because in his opinion they may pose a threat to Hungary’s national security. The condensed stories are often inaccurate and/or they don’t give the background necessary to understand the exchange in the Hungarian parliament that rightly received the condemnation of the whole democratic world.

BBC’s short article describes Jobbik, the party to which Márton Gyöngyösi belongs, as a nationalistic party. Sure, Jobbik is nationalistic all right, but it is also a racist, anti-Semitic party. In brief, it can be called a neo-Nazi party. Jobbik received 16.67% of the votes at the 2010 elections and 44 seats in the 386-seat parliament. Since then, their support has decreased; in the most recent poll their popularity stood at 8% among eligible voters.

Jobbik might have lost some support in the last two and a half years but their anti-Semitic propaganda has had its intended results. Anti-Semitism in Hungary has been on the rise. According to a recent study, Hungary is one of the most anti-Semitic countries in Europe.

Yesterday’s encounter between Gyöngyösi and Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Zsolt Németh was not entirely unexpected. After all, it was only about a week ago that Jobbik organized a demonstration in front of the Israeli Embassy in Budapest where the leader of the party, Gábor Vona, called on the Hungarian government to find out whether there are Israeli citizens among the members of the government and parliament. Vona also demanded an account of the “presence of Israeli capital in Hungary.”

Márton Gyöngyösi’s inquiries addressed to the undersecretary shouldn’t have come as a surprise either. Gyöngyösi is “the foreign policy expert” of Jobbik. Moreover, his sympathies toward the Palestinians, Iranians, and Arabs in general are well known. It was sometime in February that Gyöngyösi gave an interview to the British weekly, Jewish Chronicle. In that interview among other things he questioned whether 400,000 Hungarian Jews were really killed or deported from Hungary to Nazi death camps during World War II. “It has become a fantastic business to jiggle around the numbers,” he told the newspaper.

Gyöngyösi is not a run-of-the-mill Jobbik member. He is the son of a former commercial attaché who spent his childhood in Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, and India and graduated from Trinity College in Dublin. He also spent a year at the Friedrich Alexander Universität in Nuremberg. One can read more about Gyöngyösi in my post “Jobbik’s foreign policy expert: Márton Gyöngyösi.”

In connection with this affair there are several important points to make. One is that every time a Jobbik MP plans an anti-Semitic outburst in the House the party picks a time when the presiding speaker is Jobbik deputy-speaker Zoltán Balczó. The last time that happened was in April when a Jobbik MP rose to “commemorate” the non-existent ritual murder of a young girl in the village of Tiszaeszlár 130 years ago. Details about this particular incident can be found in my post entitled “Two scandalous events in the Hungarian parliament.”

I would like to quote the exchange as fully as possible because some of the descriptions I found in English-language versions of the story were barely comprehensible.

There is a time put aside in the Hungarian parliament for “immediate questions.” When an MP plans to ask a question he first has to submit his question in writing. Normally the question is addressed to the minister in charge, but the minister can delegate someone else if the MP agrees. Foreign Minister Martonyi delegated Undersecretary Zsolt Németh. These exchanges are by house rules very short. A few minutes.

In his prepared statement Gyöngyösi accused the Hungarian foreign ministry of bias toward Israel. Németh answered that the Hungarian government does not take sides but “represents the interests of both people.” He added that 200,000 Hungarian-speaking people live in Israel and about the same number of “our Jewish compatriots live in Hungary.” Moreover, a large number of people from Palestine live in the country. In fact, the largest Palestinian colony in Central Europe can be found in Hungary.

At this point Gyöngyösi had a minute or so to reply. His answer was impromptu:  “Naturally I also know how many Hungarian compatriots of ours [then corrects] how many people of Hungarian origin live in Israel and how many Israeli Jewish compatriots of ours live in Hungary. But I believe that the time has come, especially during such conflict, to consider making a list of Jews living in the country, especially those who are in the Hungarian Parliament and the Hungarian government, who, indeed, post a national security risk to Hungary.”

I watched Zsolt Németh’s face while Gyöngyösi was speaking; when he got to the point of making a list, Németh slightly raised his eyebrows. His answer was woefully inadequate. “Forgive me, but I cannot be a supporter of such research. I don’t think that the number of persons of Jewish origin in the Hungarian government is particularly related to the serious conflict that is taking place in the Middle East.” In the original: “Ne haragudjon, de ennek a kutatásnak nem tudok a támogatója lenni, úgy gondolom, hogy az, hogy hány zsidó származású személy van a magyar kormányban, az nem nagyon kapcsolódik ahhoz, hogy milyen súlyos konfliktus zajlik a Közel-Keleten.”  The Jobbik presiding speaker said nothing. A couple of times he indicated that the speakers had used more than their allotted time, but that was all.

Although the chamber seemed to be fairly full, there was no noisy outcry after Gyöngyösi’s “immediate question.” The House moved on to other business.

By next morning around 9:00 a.m. the government spokesman, András Giró-Szász , came out with a communiqué that Euroactiv described as terse. “The government strictly rejects extremist, racist, anti-Semitic voices of any kind and does everything to suppress such voices. The government at the same time makes it clear that it defends all citizens of the country from such insults.”

Well there is a little problem with this “terse” communiqué. It is a statement that is put away in some desk drawer in the office of communication to be pulled out every time there is an anti-Semitic incident. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the cause is simple vandalism in a Jewish cemetery, some insulting words directed against the Chief Rabbi, or in this case the horrendous suggestion of making lists of Hungarian Jews. Sharp-eyed journalists and bloggers dug up earlier government statements on anti-Semitism and these statements are practically copied from each other without any alteration. There is an amusing comparison of three recent government statements on anti-Semitisim in K. Funky’s blog. Definitely worth reading.

Finally, a few words about Zoltán Balczó’s chairing of the meeting and not interfering. A reporter managed to interview him this afternoon and asked him point blank whether he made a mistake when he didn’t stop Gyöngyösi. Balczó categorically denied any culpability. He claimed that the speaker of the house according to the house rules has no such authority in a case like that. The speaker has the right to interfere only “if the member of parliament uses insulting or indecent language,” and in his opinion there were no such expressions in Gyöngyösi’s speech. But Balczó added that Gyöngyösi made a mistake because “he gave the false impression that Jobbik wanted to make a list of members of parliament of the Mosaic religion or of Jewish origin.” Well, didn’t they?

By mid-morning Gyöngyösi himself decided to comment on the events of last night. He corrected himself. He was actually talking only about a list of those members of parliament who are also Israeli citizens. Just like Gábor Vona demanded in his speech in front of the Israeli embassy. He wouldn’t want a list of all Jews in Hungary. Előd Novák (Jobbik) who was sitting right behind Zsolt Németh seemed to be in full agreement with Gyöngyösi judging from his expression, and he shook his head in disbelief while listening to Németh’s claims of impartiality. But now he tried to defend his friend: “Marci only misspoke. He could be misunderstood.”

Today four members of parliament wore yellow stars in protest. The MSZP István Ujhelyi who happened to be the presiding speaker this morning and three DK members of parliament who still sit among the independents: Ágnes Vadai, István Kolber, and László Varju.

In the afternoon László Kövér also spoke up. His answer to everything is more restrictive house rules. However, knowing László Kövér’s almost pathological hatred of the socialists, it is most likely that he would use the more stringent house rules not so much against Jobbik whose ideas are not far from his own but against the MSZP members of parliament.

The only Fidesz politician who used strong language against Gyöngyösi was Antal Rogán. He rightly pointed out that Gyöngyösi’s revised version was no better than his original speech. It was refreshing to listen to him.

74 comments

  1. Thank you Éva. I shall be linking this account on my FB page – to counter the regurgitated Fidesz spin most of the media has sunk to.

    Congratulations to István Ujhelyi, Ágnes Vadai, István Kolber and László Varju for their protests, all the opposition MPs should have done the same.

    Any chance of a picture of István Ujhelyi wearing his star? It would be the first really cheering image I’ve seen out of Hungary in a long time.

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  2. Gyorgy Kakuk :

    Ms. Balogh thanks for this detailed account of the events. It has utmost importance to tell the World the current state of affairs of Hungary.

    I felt very much the same as Paul did. Very inadequate coverage. So, I tried to concentrate on the background and the details of the exchange.

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  3. Speaking of lists:
    Let us see how many ethnic German names are among Jobbik MPs:
    Lenhardt, Staudt, Kepli, Schön, Sneider, Volner – that is 13%, i.e. Germans are overrepresented among neo-Nazis in Hungary. :-)

    Gyongyosi’s antisemitism must have come from at least two childhood sources:
    1. the official Soviet antisemitism (which was fought off by Kadar inside Hungary, but which was probably all right among diplomats from Eastern European countries) and
    2. the popular Muslim antisemitism he absorbed in countries like Egypt or Iraq.

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  4. Eva S. Balogh :

    Gyorgy Kakuk :
    Ms. Balogh thanks for this detailed account of the events. It has utmost importance to tell the World the current state of affairs of Hungary.

    I felt very much the same as Paul did. Very inadequate coverage. So, I tried to concentrate on the background and the details of the exchange.

    As I said on an earlier thread, I have complained to both the Guardian and the BBC over their coverage of this. Can I suggest others do the same with their particular media outlets?

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  5. When Gyongyosi wanted to know who is Jewish in the Orban government, we can easily exclude all but one person, so he actually attacked Simicska’s (wo)man in the cabinet, who did work for an Israeli bank in the 1990s (of course, this does not mean that she is Jewish).

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  6. tappanch :

    Speaking of lists:
    Let us see how many ethnic German names are among Jobbik MPs:
    Lenhardt, Staudt, Kepli, Schön, Sneider, Volner – that is 13%, i.e. Germans are overrepresented among neo-Nazis in Hungary. ?m=1129645325g” alt=”:-)” class=”wp-smiley”>

    I don’t think that has anything to do with German origin. There is the saying that people who were not part of the majority ethnic group want to prove themselves to be more X, Y or Z than the members of the majority group. It is enough to think of Hitler or Stalin. But even my father who spent a year in a Croatian school in Osijek was telling me that the greatest Croatian nationalists were the children of German immigrants.

    I might add here to the list Kossuth or Petőfi.

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  7. Today on HirTV, Gyongyosi again used the same remark by Shimon Peres from 2008
    (he said jokingly to Israeli real estate investors that “we are buying up Manhattan, Hungary, Romania, Poland”) why true Hungarians must fear Israeli “colonization”.

    This is such red herring.

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  8. Paul :

    Sorry, Éva, but I can’t see any picture (or link). Is it just me?

    There are two possibilities of seeing the picture. When you click on Hungarian Spectrum, on top you see a “page”entitled “Ujhelyi with yellow start.” If you click on that tab there it is. But because I wasn’t sure that my attempt at “page” succeeded gave a link to Népszabadság in a comment. So, try both but it is the same picture.

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  9. Yes, I’m a threat to national security, because I think this guy is a Nazi asshole. To wash together Israeli right-wing policies (of which we understand little) with memories of the Holocaust in Hungary has been a terminal sickness with Hungarian Nazi infection . Jewry in Hungary has had absolutely nothing to do with the conflicts of the Middle East. It has everything to do with a symbolic decapitation of the nation, though. This guy should be banned from Parliament. Period. We’re still in the EU. (Or, are we?)

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  10. Eva S. Balogh :

    tappanch :
    Speaking of lists:
    Let us see how many ethnic German names are among Jobbik MPs:
    Lenhardt, Staudt, Kepli, Schön, Sneider, Volner – that is 13%, i.e. Germans are overrepresented among neo-Nazis in Hungary.

    I don’t think that has anything to do with German origin. There is the saying that people who were not part of the majority ethnic group want to prove themselves to be more X, Y or Z than the members of the majority group. It is enough to think of Hitler or Stalin. But even my father who spent a year in a Croatian school in Osijek was telling me that the greatest Croatian nationalists were the children of German immigrants.
    I might add here to the list Kossuth or Petőfi.

    You got me, Eva: on my father’s side I’m of Austrian origin…in fact, there is a family legend that we may be of royal blood since a Stark (with an umlaut over the a) was a doctor to Maria Therese….

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  11. Janos :
    Yes, I’m a threat to national security, because I think this guy is a Nazi asshole. To wash together Israeli right-wing policies (of which we understand little) with memories of the Holocaust in Hungary has been a terminal sickness with Hungarian Nazi infection . Jewry in Hungary has had absolutely nothing to do with the conflicts of the Middle East. It has everything to do with a symbolic decapitation of the nation, though. This guy should be banned from Parliament. Period. We’re still in the EU. (Or, are we?)

    What’s the use, Janos. Most of the country is terminally anti-semitic. Take note of the film
    “Music Box”, written by a Hungarian, though not a jew.
    If it wasn’t so, where’s the outrage of decent folk that should attend such outbursts?
    Where are the fiery speeches from the Catholic pulpits against such hatred?

    Hungary is a snake-pit…

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  12. Yesterday, on my Facebook’s feed I saw Agnes Vadai, István Kolber and László Varju wearing the yellow star, all I could feel is outraged and pain for them ; even though I’m aware it is a sign of protest.

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  13. Just for the record:

    The German SPIEGEL finds strong words for the incident here:http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/ungarn-drittstaerkste-partei-fordert-erfassung-von-juden-a-869614.html

    And it makes clear that this is not an isolated phenomenon, at the end of the article it says:
    ” In jüngster Zeit war in Ungarn die Zahl antisemitischer Zwischenfälle deutlich gestiegen. In dem von Deutschen in der Nazi-Zeit organisierten Holocaust starben zwischen 500.000 und 600.000 ungarische Juden. Viele ungarisch-stämmige Juden leben heute in Israel.”
    This should be understood without translation, I hope.

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  14. The thing that is really important here, in my opinion, is not that Márton Gyöngyössy is a Nazi. Most of us have realized a while ago that Jobbik is a virulently racist Neo-Nazi party. This is no news. It is also no news that the ruling party is willing to go to great lengths to avoid unequivocal and firm condemnation of Nazi talk (incidentally, the most disgracefully equivocal part of Zsolt Nemeth’s response was the formulation he chose: he said the number of Jews in government “is not particularly closely related” to the severity of the conflict in the Middle East /”nem nagyon kapcsolódik ahhoz”/)

    No, the most newsworthy aspect of this incident is the timing. Gyöngyössy’s statements came five days after the ceasefire in Gaza was announced. So there was nothing particularly topical about his sick proposal. In any case, thugs like him never needed a pretext for Jew-baiting. Why now then?

    Well, it so happens that, on the very same day that MGy made this demented proposal, the Fidesz supermajority put a stake through the barely-beating heart of Hungarian democracy by abolishing universal voting rights and introducing an exceptionally restrictive form of mandatory voter registration. You wouldn’t know this from the international media; but that’s precisely the point. Especially in the international media, but in Hungary too, the abolition of universal voting rights was completely eclipsed by this Nazi provocation. After all, viewed from London or Washington or Brussels it is so much easier to relate meaningfully to Nazism than to election technicalities in a small country. So much easier for a journalist to cover the former than the latter.

    But let’s put things in perspective. Unfortunately, there always were and there always will be sick racists who harbor genocidal fantasies. The fact that Hungarian society as a whole fails to ostracize such people and/or treat them as psychiatric cases is a sign of a civilizational breakdown. However, there is no real danger of Gyöngyössy’s proposal being realized (of course in this respect we all know that nothing is impossible). Without denying that anti-Semitism in Hungary has a very real potential to produce violent outbursts, I think it is safe to say that the only ethnic group in Hungary that currently faces systematic discrimination and harassment is the Roma. So MGy’s statement was just a provocation from the lunatic fringe, a purely symbolic act of transgression whose sole purpose was to shock and draw attention.

    Unlike MGy’s proposal, the election law passed on the very same day has very real future consequences. It drastically constrains the possibilities of Orban’s opposition. Let’s be clear about this: the introduction of severely restrictive voter registration rules in a country with a perfectly well-functioning central registry is an unprecedented disgrace. It is the most overt violation of basic democratic principles even in the sordid record of the Orban regime’s power grab. This is the outrage that is being overlooked amid the (absolutely justified) uproar about the latest Nazi provocation by Jobbik. Look at the foreign coverage of what happened on Monday in the Hungarian parliament: there is no reference to the election law, no reference to Zsolt Nemeth’s appalling non-response, while most outlets state that the Hungarian government has condemned the provocation “in the strongest terms” (if only…) The whole story is a PR coup for Fidesz. In keeping with the line of defense taken by diplomatic and journalistic apologetes of the regime, this incident has given Fidesz yet another opportunity for playing good cop to Jobbik’s bad cop.

    So we should ask one very simple question about the timing of this provocation: Cui bono? Who is benefitting from all of this? To my mind at least this incident is the strongest sign thus far of (tacit or not-so-tacit) co-operation between the Neo-Nazi Jobbik party and the ruling Fidesz supermajority. And let’s not forget here that Jobbik is the other party, beside Fidesz, which stands to gain from the new voter registration rules.

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  15. marton :
    The thing that is really important here, in my opinion, is not that Márton Gyöngyössy is a Nazi. Most of us have realized a while ago that Jobbik is a virulently racist Neo-Nazi party. This is no news. It is also no news that the ruling party is willing to go to great lengths to avoid unequivocal and firm condemnation of Nazi talk (incidentally, the most disgracefully equivocal part of Zsolt Nemeth’s response was the formulation he chose: he said the number of Jews in government “is not particularly closely related” to the severity of the conflict in the Middle East /”nem nagyon kapcsolódik ahhoz”/)
    No, the most newsworthy aspect of this incident is the timing. Gyöngyössy’s statements came five days after the ceasefire in Gaza was announced. So there was nothing particularly topical about his sick proposal. In any case, thugs like him never needed a pretext for Jew-baiting. Why now then?
    Well, it so happens that, on the very same day that MGy made this demented proposal, the Fidesz supermajority put a stake through the barely-beating heart of Hungarian democracy by abolishing universal voting rights and introducing an exceptionally restrictive form of mandatory voter registration. You wouldn’t know this from the international media; but that’s precisely the point. Especially in the international media, but in Hungary too, the abolition of universal voting rights was completely eclipsed by this Nazi provocation. After all, viewed from London or Washington or Brussels it is so much easier to relate meaningfully to Nazism than to election technicalities in a small country. So much easier for a journalist to cover the former than the latter.
    But let’s put things in perspective. Unfortunately, there always were and there always will be sick racists who harbor genocidal fantasies. The fact that Hungarian society as a whole fails to ostracize such people and/or treat them as psychiatric cases is a sign of a civilizational breakdown. However, there is no real danger of Gyöngyössy’s proposal being realized (of course in this respect we all know that nothing is impossible). Without denying that anti-Semitism in Hungary has a very real potential to produce violent outbursts, I think it is safe to say that the only ethnic group in Hungary that currently faces systematic discrimination and harassment is the Roma. So MGy’s statement was just a provocation from the lunatic fringe, a purely symbolic act of transgression whose sole purpose was to shock and draw attention.
    Unlike MGy’s proposal, the election law passed on the very same day has very real future consequences. It drastically constrains the possibilities of Orban’s opposition. Let’s be clear about this: the introduction of severely restrictive voter registration rules in a country with a perfectly well-functioning central registry is an unprecedented disgrace. It is the most overt violation of basic democratic principles even in the sordid record of the Orban regime’s power grab. This is the outrage that is being overlooked amid the (absolutely justified) uproar about the latest Nazi provocation by Jobbik. Look at the foreign coverage of what happened on Monday in the Hungarian parliament: there is no reference to the election law, no reference to Zsolt Nemeth’s appalling non-response, while most outlets state that the Hungarian government has condemned the provocation “in the strongest terms” (if only…) The whole story is a PR coup for Fidesz. In keeping with the line of defense taken by diplomatic and journalistic apologetes of the regime, this incident has given Fidesz yet another opportunity for playing good cop to Jobbik’s bad cop.
    So we should ask one very simple question about the timing of this provocation: Cui bono? Who is benefitting from all of this? To my mind at least this incident is the strongest sign thus far of (tacit or not-so-tacit) co-operation between the Neo-Nazi Jobbik party and the ruling Fidesz supermajority. And let’s not forget here that Jobbik is the other party, beside Fidesz, which stands to gain from the new voter registration rules.

    Quite true.
    But what a blight on the so-called intelligentsia of the Hungarian conservatives! The outrageousness of the fact that not one of these ‘conservatives’ has the integrity to stand up
    against such retrogade, uncivilized actions! Where is their self-respect?

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  16. This piece was published today morning on a Hungarian website.

    http://galamus.hu/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=177125:sarga-csillagok-barna-es-rozsaszin-haromszoegek&catid=9:vendegek&Itemid=66

    Surely this is for the Hungarian readers. “Yellow stars brown and pink triangles” reads the title of my article. Beside that I have expressed my disgust and outrage I also wanted to point out that in the Hungarian Parliament and in Hungary generally hate speech against jews, roma, gay or liberal people is an everyday practice.
    After I submitted the article to the editor all the so-called “corrections”, “apologies” and “out context” excuses arrived over this last infamous nazi speech. I felt that I have to write a short P.S. which basically says that: one can put lipstick on a pig that remains a pig.
    Neither the president nor the prime minister of Hungary stepped forward and condemned this speech.

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  17. wolfi :
    Just for the record:
    The German SPIEGEL finds strong words for the incident here:http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/ungarn-drittstaerkste-partei-fordert-erfassung-von-juden-a-869614.html
    And it makes clear that this is not an isolated phenomenon, at the end of the article it says:
    ” In jüngster Zeit war in Ungarn die Zahl antisemitischer Zwischenfälle deutlich gestiegen. In dem von Deutschen in der Nazi-Zeit organisierten Holocaust starben zwischen 500.000 und 600.000 ungarische Juden. Viele ungarisch-stämmige Juden leben heute in Israel.”
    This should be understood without translation, I hope.

    German is just complicated English!

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