Is the World Jewish Congress (WJC) a gathering of useless busybodies (“gittegylet” in Hungarian after Ferenc Molnár’s novel, The Boys of Paul Street) as the liberal Budapest weekly Magyar Narancs claims? An association of useless busybodies could never have gathered 500 delegates in Budapest for the occasion.
Is the WJC an entity that controls the governments of Israel or the USA as Hungarian conspiracy theorists claim? You must have lost any sense of reality to believe that.
Well, insofar as there was a discussion inside the WJC whether it was right to hold a meeting in Budapest, I can state that the conference was a clear and definite success. Rampant anti-Semitism and racism in Hungary have become the center of attention of the international media. All the delegates and journalists received a 20 page brochure entitled “Anti-Semitic Incidents in Hungary 2012” documenting the present situation.
When Orbán spoke about the Hungarians and the “Jewish people” in Hungary, that might have sounded good to an Israeli right-wing delegate who said to me accusingly: “Your definition of a nation is definitively European.”
Last autumn Prime Minister Orbán defined the Hungarian nation as an ethnically pure group held together by kinship and blood rather than by language and culture: “We are born into the myth of the Turul-bird just as we are born into our language and our history.” A crazy notion considering that there are no ethnically pure Hungarians. But it helps you to label all those who do not believe in the pagan foundation myth as “Jews”.
A few days before the congress took place the German journalist Keno Verseck interviewed János Lázár, the powerful head of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s office. “Lázár complained bitterly […] about the international criticism of Hungary, above all that ‘part of the world labels all of us as anti-Semites.’ It is ‘unethical,’ the 38-year-old said, when ‘injuries in politics and business life are retaliated against with accusations of supposed anti-Semitism.’”
Of course, Lázár did not and could not name any serious politician or journalist who has ever claimed all Hungarians were anti-Semites. Lázár’s statement was a demagogic variant of the paranoid theory that Hungarians are eternal victims of unjust prejudice. And the second part of his statement about the “accusations of supposed anti-Semitism” is the typical defensive counterattack which claims that anybody raising the issue of anti-Semitism is doing so in bad faith and dishonestly.
To quote from the brochure “Anti-Semitic Incidents in Hungary 2012“ handed out at the meeting:
“[…] The growing number of violent physical incidents clearly shows the impact on “street anti-Semitism” made by the anti-Semitic utterances of Jobbik in the Hungarian Parliament or by the relevant crimes committed during World War II. In 2012, the media reported several cases where individuals suffered slight injuries because of their real or supposed Jewish identity. Furthermore, the proliferation of hate groups, speeches inciting violence and assault at neo-Nazi mass demonstrations and the military training of radical paramilitary skinhead groups are raising serious concerns. Finally, Jobbik is steadily becoming one of the most popular political parties amongst young people and the camp of its sympathizers aged between 18 and 37 is rapidly expanding. This constitutes a huge threat to democracy and social tolerance in the long run. Young people, who often lack a secure future perspective, are increasingly influenced and radicalized by popular neo-Nazi websites, such as kuruc.info, which publish illegal contents and the authorities have not yet managed to close down.
In 2012, the Hungarian Jewish community were not subject to complete marginalization. Some members of the Jewish community have started to flee their community and country, mostly to the neighboring country, Austria. Although the government has reiterated a clear statement that Hungary provides a homeland and safety for the Jews, just like for any other minority, Hungarian Jewry witness a rise in anti-Semitic incidents, including media-reported incidents, graffiti and disgraced cemeteries, hate speech in both political and social forums, verbal abuse shared on social networks or personal stories that might never become public.
Anti-Semitism is not a problem of the Jewry but of the Hungarian society and government. In Hungary, there is evidence to prove that more and more people outwardly express their dismay towards Jews than those who are indifferent towards them or who are perhaps Philosemites. It is precisely for these reasons that this report has been prepared in order to shed light on the extent of anti-semitism in Hungary.“
When WJC president Ronald Lauder apologized to Orbán after the conference for not having mentioned an interview given by the Prime Minister to Eldad Beck of the Israeli daily Yedioth Achronoth, where he promised not to form a coalition with Jobbik or to depend on its tacit support, the right-wing media celebrated victory.
Yet how true Orbán’s statements are can only be measured if he ever needs to depend on Jobbik’s support to stay in power–be it after the elections of 2014 or later. I personally consider them part of his usual “pávatánc” (peacock dance), the deft if tortuous maneuvers by which he has managed, so far with considerable success, to be applauded abroad for his non-anti-Semitism while gathering support from the all too real anti-Semites of Hungary.
A footnote to the attitude of Viktor Orbán’s government toward the Holocaust. Yesterday’s Le Monde reported that the Polish president of the Auschwitz Foundation, Piotr Cywinski, recently visited the capitals of Europe asking for contributions for the maintenance of the camp. Some of the barracks are in very bad shape and need serious reconstruction. Professor Cywinski reported that he managed to collect 100 million euros from twenty-three countries. Even Turkey is among the donors. It was “only Hungary that offered nothing.” Cywinsky has difficulty understanding the Orbán government’s attitude “when Auschwitz is the burial place of 400,000 Hungarians out of the 1.1 million victims.” So much for Orbán’s pious words at the World Jewish Congress in Budapest.–ESB