Viktor Orbán’s bad billing: From the World Jewish Congress to the European Parliament

Before I turn to the topic of today’s post I would like to call everybody’s attention to several documents that are now available in English concerning the latest amendments to the Hungarian Constitution. The first is the draft report of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (Rapporteur: Rui Tavares) on Hungary. This is the report that was the basis of today’s debate in the European Parliament’s LIBE Committe. The transcript of the debate is not yet available but let’s hope that it will be soon. You have to keep in mind that the European People’s Party (EPP), to which Fidesz belongs, has the majority. If the EPP delegation solidly supports Orbán, nothing will happen.

The discussion of the draft report already began in the Hungarian media. Magyar Nemzet described it as a “left-liberal ultimatum” and George Schöpflin, Fidesz EP MP, found the document “humiliating.” Népszabadság simply recounted the demands outlined in the document and came to the conclusion that, if accepted, the Hungarian government will be forced to withdraw practically all of the amendments.

Another document, also in English, can be found on the website of the Hungarian Foreign Ministry. It is an analysis written by three legal scholars who were asked by János Martonyi  to give their opinions on the fourth amendment to the constitution. The three scholars were Francis Delpérée, Pierre Delvolvé, and Eivind Smith. These are conservative legal scholars, and the Hungarian government hoped that they would fully support the Hungarian point of view. As you can see, this was not the case. They also found plenty to criticize.

And now let’s look at some reactions to Viktor Orbán’s speech at the World Jewish Conference. The speech is now available in English. Commentators critical of Viktor Orbán and his government found the speech no more than empty rhetoric while Magyar Nemzet not only praised his speech but also reported that yesterday Ronald Lauder apologized to Viktor Orbán because he was unaware of the Orbán interview that appeared in Yedioth Ahronoth, a Tel Aviv daily. In it, Orbán admitted that Jobbik poses a real danger. “We in Hungary must be especially careful to act as categorically as possible against this phenomenon. If we want to protect democracy, we must take a firm stand against Jobbik. Jobbik has developed a political ideology that quite obviously violates the human rights of Jews at both an individual and community level.” Well, I don’t think that Lauder had to apologize. It was easy for Orbán to say something specific about Jobbik in a Hebrew-language paper published in Israel. He was reluctant, however, to say a word about Jobbik in Hungarian in Budapest.

The foreign press was pretty hard on Orbán. According to Die Welt, Orbán’s words were only “half-hearted” and he refused to talk about any “tangible measures” he is contemplating to curb anti-Semitism in Hungary. The applause at the end of the speech “remained polite.” According to James Kirchick in Spiegel InternationalOrbán whitewashed anti-Semitism. “Orbán’s speech was notable more for what it left out than what it said.”

The reporter for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote that Orbán tried to minimize the problem in Hungary by pointing to the rest of Europe. The Austrian Der Standard carried an editorial by Eric Frey that was a strongly worded indictment of Orbán’s speech. Even the title was telling: “Anti-Semitism in Hungary: Orbán’s subtle complicity.” Frey argued that Orbán “plays on the same chauvinistic and xenophobic keyboard as the anti-Semites and gives them backing.” Frey extended his criticism by maintaining that “anti-Semitism is only one component–and certainly not the biggest–of the undemocratic, bigoted and anti-European masonry Orbán has built to secure his power for years to come.”

Naturally, everybody is waiting to see what will follow Orbán’s condemnation of anti-Semitism in general terms. Will they remove the name of the anti-Semitic Bishop Ottokár Prohászka from the streets and pack away his statues? Will they stop the ever-growing Horthy cult and direct local communities to get rid of the statues of Admiral Miklós Horthy? Personally, I very much doubt it.

There was, however, one interesting development yesterday. During the last three years it rarely happened that an MSZP suggestion to table a parliamentary discussion was ever accepted by the Fidesz majority. But, behold, yesterday it happened. MSZP suggested that the Hungarian government should make it possible for every Hungarian student to visit Auschwitz at least once. Earlier that proposal was voted down by the Fidesz caucus. Yesterday, however, Zoltán Pokorni, the chairman of the committee on education, announced that the government party would reconsider the proposal as long as such a trip would not be compulsory for the schools. It would only be a possibility.

Well, this isn’t much, but it is something. Although one can very well imagine that certain principals will simply refuse to participate in such a program. Even if it’s free.

Tomorrow will be a fateful day as far as Hungarian-European Union relations are concerned. One crisis after the next, but apparently the Hungarian prime minister thrives in such an atmosphere. So for a while he will be in his element. After this hurdle will come the question of the excessive deficit procedure. The Hungarian government is preparing for the worst.


  1. Stevan Harnad (@AmSciForum) :

    petofi :
    …there are old age homes and hospitals and schools that depend on the government subsidies and I think they are being mindful of them. Sometimes you have to swallow..for the better good.

    This is precisely the formula and rationale that keeps Fidesz (and the Fidesz mentality) in power. The WJC is the eyes of the world. An opportunity missed, for (hopes of) short-term, short-sighted gain. (And surprising to hear the usually vituperous Petofi condoning appeasement…)

    This was also the formula that got hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews to the gas chambers. I am with the old saying of “going down fighting” if you have to go down. Appeasement and cowardess, avoiding the issues or keeping your head down will get you first into the moral mire then usually to death. If you don’t learn from your mistakes you are doomed to repeat them!!!

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  2. “And in the below hundred IQ circle anything goes. ”

    This notion fits in with the meme that anti-Semitism anti-Roma and religious bigotry are the domain of the backward and ignorant. This at best ignores and at worst alibis the Hungarian RULING class (supported by a good part of the intelligentsia). Support for fascistic currents always derives from the propertied and entitled layers.

    The fish rots from the head.

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  3. @Lumpy – I couldn’t agree more, but you must admit that there must be a considerable layer amongst Jobbik supporters and even members, who support them through ignorance. And here I am not putting forward the really reactionary notion that the mass is ignorant and therefore can be fooled by anything. It is just that all parties have so far failed the people in that life is getting harder, people are getting poorer and it is the failure of the left in general that allowed these criminals to get their two third majority. Therefore people are thrashing around for an alternative and in their desperation they are prone to just listen to a few simple slogans and have no real appreciation of what Jobbik really stands for. What do you, or anybody else out there think of this?

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  4. JGrant: “all parties have failed the people”
    Yes, they have. But I do not know how such observation could change anything. Yes, the liberals, socialists, Budapest intellectuals have failed big time. And then what? If the broad public then expects that some strong leader is the best solution, possibly also because the democrats were unable to create a well-functioning democracy or at least a feasible vision of such democracy, and if people choose to be passive, I do not know how democracy should function. Autocracy IS then a logical implication. I still believe that interpretations of the current troubles as a conflict between town and rural areas or between the modern and the backward are of limited use because obviously it appears necessary that a government that wishes to be a government for the entire country should be representative of more than a narrow clientele. For that a national programme is needed that is neither only pro-MSzP, nor only pro-Fidesz. It has to be spread by people who are willing to get engaged politically more or less in grassroots fashion. With the politically active people only thinking in terms of insurmountable obstacles preventing compromise between people of different interests and caring only for their own narrow voter base, and a passive populace that waits for the good emperor, an ’emperor’ will emerge nearly out of necessity, only not ‘good’.

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