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.