Karl Pfeifer is an Austrian journalist who as a child spent some time in Hungary and learned faultless Hungarian. His Hungarian friends call him Karcsi. You can read more about him here.
* * *
Viktor Orbán, prime minister of Hungary, is doing everything in his power to obtain legitimacy for his antidemocratic policies from the next World Jewish Congress that will be held in Budapest (May 5-7, 2013). Does the choice of Budapest signify anything given the daily reports of growing Hungarian anti-Semitism?
Naturally, the Hungarian government is doing its level best to “correct” this widespread perception. Gullible foreigners are fed all kinds of half- or untruths about the situation in Hungary. They minimize the extent of anti-Semitism in the country while exaggerating the government’s effort at attempting to curb activities of neo-Nazi groups.*
I was there when the Hungarian ambassador to Austria, Vince Szalay-Bobrovniczky, declared in Vienna the other day: “If Hungary were a fascist country the WJC would not hold its congress in Budapest. One hundred thousand Jews live in Hungary and our prime minister made clear that he does everything in his power to defend the Jewish minority. I have never heard the Austrian chancellor say anything like that in the Austrian parliament.”** Now even the most ardent critics of the present government (I among them) never called Hungary a “fascist country.” And, thankfully, the Jews of Austria were never subjected after 1945 to the kind of verbal (and sometimes physical) threats as they are in present-day Hungary. Therefore the Austrian chancellor never felt he had to defend the Jewish minority in public.
The first question is how did the Hungarian ambassador arrive at the figure of 100,000 Jews in Hungary? According to the Nuremberg or the Hungarian racial laws of the early nineteen forties? Or does anybody seriously claim that there are 100,000 Hungarian Jews entitled to enter Israel and receive Israeli citizenship according to the premises of the Israeli law of return?
In the end it is a question of democracy. Can the state and its rulers decide the identity of its inhabitants? Should they have the right to define who is a Jew and to define Hungarian Jews as a minority? After all, Hungarian Jewry was never considered to be a distinct ethnic minority. Yet Viktor Orbán, in that speech the Hungarian ambassador was referring to, was talking about “our kind of Christian Democrats” as opposed to the Jews. Isn’t one’s personal identity a basic right of every citizen?
Hungarian right-wing media rehash the old claim that the Jews were responsible for Communist rule in Hungary. While the leaders of Hungarian Jewry use the old and failed method of appeasement.
In 1920, when French and British Jews lodged a complaint at the League of Nations about the law that restricted the number of Jewish students at institutions of higher learning, the Hungarian-Jewish leadership objected to foreign interference in the name of Hungarian patriotism. As a result of protests of the excluded students eventually the officials did lodge a complaint but added that the community concerned was not in a position to act freely: “… in view of the virulence of anti-Semitic agitation in Hungary, it will be readily understood that the Jewish community are scarcely free agents in this matter.” ***
So, when anti-Jewish laws were enacted in 1938 the Hungarian Jewish leaders’ position was already compromised when they tried to get help from British and French Jews. They didn’t receive much assistance. The Hungarian-Jewish establishment felt it had to come to terms with the country’s rulers and to acquiesce in “moderating” anti-Jewish legislation, hoping that would forestall the harsher measures advocated by the extreme right-wing elements. As we know, this was to no avail. Harsher and harsher laws were introduced until the final solution reached about 70% of Hungary’s Jewry. Jews were alone within the Hungarian non-Jewish society, almost without any support by the liberal and progressive elements.
How do the rulers of Hungary deal with the “Jewish question” today? Here is one example of many. György Konrád, who by an almost miraculous chain of fortunate circumstances escaped the Hungarian Holocaust to become one of the most famous dissidents and authors of his country, the President of the international PEN club of writers and President of the Berlin Academy of Arts and Letters, celebrated his eightieth birthday on April 2. He received congratulations from all over the world, was officially invited by the politically conservative president of Germany for a personal visit at his residence. But nobody from official Hungary, not the president, not the prime minister, not the mayor of Budapest, not the lowest government official in charge of cultural affairs saw fit to send him even a friendly word. On the contrary, one of the chief functionaries responsible for national culture (or rather the lack of it) publicly stated that Konrád was no Hungarian writer at all, only erroneously seen abroad as such.
While some might be tempted to restrict Hungarian anti-Semitism to the Hungarian Nazis and their political party, Jobbik, and trust the promises of Mr. Orbán, they should know that the nationalistic, “völkisch” policy of the government will continue unabated after the ladies and gentlemen of WJC and journalists like myself graciously invited as reporters will have returned to their countries of origin.
*http://www.hagalil.com/archiv/2013/04/17/gyor/ In Győr a Nazi demonstration was allowed in the center of town on April 13 and the Nazi were escorted by the Hungarian police.
**Austrian public radio has reported on the statement of the Hungarian ambassador in Vienna. http://oe1.orf.at/programm/335405 and I published on the same at http://www.hagalil.com/archiv/2013/04/25/ungarn-symposium/
***The Joint Foreign Committee of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Anglo-Jewish Association, The Jewish Minority in Hungary (London).