The Orbán government and the international Jewish community

Today’s topics are seemingly unrelated: the lobbying activities of Tamás Fellegi in Washington and the Orbán government’s proposal to establish another Holocaust Memorial in Budapest.

On November 8, in my piece on the new American ambassador to Budapest, I mentioned Fellegi’s lobbying efforts. I also gave a link to the article by Lili Bayer of politics.hu that detailed his activities. For those who didn’t read her article, here’s the upshot. Fellegi is the Hungarian government’s chief lobbyist in the United States who simultaneously heads a U.S. foundation which claims that its leadership is independent of the Hungarian government. The complicated setup of three different organizations is most likely designed to get around U.S. tax laws regarding the nonprofit status of  an organization funded by a foreign government. In order to understand this complicated story, one really ought to go to Bayer’s article.

Here, however, I would like to concentrate on something else, the targets of Fellegi’s lobbying activities. According to the document filed with the U.S. Justice Department, Fellegi’s lobbying  activities include building and developing contacts in “Congress, the Executive Branch, think tanks, the investment community, the Jewish community, and the Hungarian-American community.” What struck many of us was the inclusion on this list of “the Jewish community.” What does the Orbán government hope to achieve by trying to influence U.S. Jewish organizations and individuals?

And that leads me to the latest government effort to influence the international Jewish community, perhaps even Israel, by demonstrating its commitment to bringing into the open the atrocities the Hungarian Jewish community suffered in the past. And naturally, to show that the current Hungarian government is doing everything in its power to curb anti-Semitism, a constant topic in the foreign media.

I don’t think they can fool ordinary Hungarian citizens of Jewish ancestry, but they might succeed when it comes to the official Hungarian Jewish organizations. Perhaps they can even impress the state of Israel. And obviously the Orbán government decided to target the American Jewish community. Fellegi as a lobbyist was an excellent choice because he is a Jew, and he makes sure that everybody in the American Jewish community is aware of that fact. I might add that another member of the group, Gábor Róna, is also Jewish. He was once secretary of the Council of Europe’s program against racism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia. The third person is Péter Heltai, who is not Jewish; he was reported to have been an informant for the Romanian Securitate.

So, let’s move back to Budapest where a mega-project is underway. Out of the blue, with unusual speed and a lot of money the Hungarian government doesn’t have, the decision was made to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust with a new museum. Spearheading the “Hungarian Holocaust Memorial Council 2014” is János Lázár. And overseeing the project is Mária Schmidt, director of the House of Terror where only one room out of dozens is devoted to the Hungarian Holocaust and its 400-500,000 victims as opposed to the few thousand victims of the Hungarian communist period. Moreover, Schmidt has rather odd ideas on Hitler, the war, and the Final Solution. Here are a couple of examples: “We stayed on the side of Nazi Germany in order to defend the Hungarian Jewry.” Or, “It was Germany that forced the 1938-1939 anti-Jewish laws on Hungary.” Both are false.

The site of the new museum will be an old, abandoned sideline railroad station in Józsefváros (Josefstadt), the notorious VIII. district, that badly needs refurbishing. It will be called the “Sorsok háza,” which most Hungarians understand to mean “House of Fate.” The word “sors” also appears in the title of Imre Kertész’s Nobel Prize-winning book: Sortalanság/Fateless. Some naturally objected to Lázár’s choice of Mária Schmidt. My distinct impression, having heard her talk about her ideas for the project on György Bolgár’s program, was that Schmidt will try her best to inflate the number of Hungarians who risked their own lives helping their Jewish compatriots.

The future site of a new Holocaust memorial devoted only to child victims / Józsefváros Railway Station

The future site of a new Holocaust memorial devoted to child victims
Józsefváros Railway Station

Others objected to the name of the museum, saying that it wasn’t fate that destined these people to be transported to Auschwitz and other concentration camps. Rather, it was the decision of the Hungarian authorities who were eager to rid the country of its Jewish citizens. Still others couldn’t figure out why this particular station was picked as the site of the future museum since almost no transports left for Auschwitz from it.

I should mention that in order to justify creating another Holocaust Museum instead of giving more generous support to the existing one this new museum will be specifically devoted to the children who were victims of the Holocaust. Lázár explained the choice this way. “We chose the ‘child Holocaust’ as the theme because we were trying to find a point which cannot be relativized: no explanation, no answer can be accepted when it comes to the murder of a child.” As if the murder of adults can be relativized or explained. Some people commented that if Lázár had made such a statement in another country he would have had to turn in his resignation.

It’s an open question whether it is at all possible to finish the project by April–this date is no coincidence, since that’s when the election most likely will take place. But the members of the advisory board have already been chosen: Anne Applebaum (journalist), Annette Lantos (widow of Tom Lantos), Chava Baruch (Yad Vashem), Gabriel Gorodetsky (Oxford), György Haraszti (historian, Hungarian Jewish University), András Heisler (Mazsihisz), Joshua Muravchik (Johns Hopkins), Michael Wolffsohn (Universität der Bundeswehr), Rabbi Andrew Baker (American Jewish Committee), Mária Schmidt (House of Terror), János Szász (film director), and Yehudit Shendar (Yad Vasem). According to András Heisler of Mazsihisz, some of the members expressed sharp criticisms. He didn’t elaborate.

It is unlikely that these people can have much influence on the whole process. After all, there are only four and a half months before the planned opening. As you can see from the picture, the station is in very bad shape. Moreover, the inhabitants of the 23 service apartments within the building must be evacuated and provided with comparable or better apartments. All that takes time. Restoring the building will cost 6.6 billion forints, and then there are still the expenses involved in transforming it into a functioning museum. As a point of comparison, the Hungarian government gives only 240 million forints a year to the Holocaust Memorial Center on Páva utca.

I don’t know why the government is establishing a new museum and why in such a hurry. I don’t know why the Orbán government is lobbying American Jewish organizations. All I can say is that it never acts without a good, self-interested reason. Perhaps in time that reason will become more transparent.

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tappanch
Guest

The Orban government has given money, via Kerenyi, to reprint the works of the anti-Semitic writer Tormay and made other anti-Semitic writers part of the curriculum in schools.

They should also give money to reprint Bela Zsolt’s Nine suitcases, 34 years after its only Hungarian edition and make it part of the curriculum. Of course, they will not.

tappanch
Guest

As a matter of fact, there were deportations from the Jozsefvaros railroad station to concentration camps in late 1944. For instance, forced laborers (musz) were handed over to the Germans in November 1944. The trains went to Bergen-Belsen, for instance.

varese
Guest

I have it on good authority that Schmidt Maria’s mother is/was Jewish. Schmidt Maria, therefore, is also a Jew. It doesn’t change the fact that she’s pretty nuts. She studied Hebrew quite seriously at one point as well.

tappanch
Guest

@varese

Her husband was Jewish. Imredy or Khadafi may have been 1/8 Jewish (i.e. 7/8 not Jewish), but they did not like Jews too much… Ms Schmidt sounds pretty anti-Semitic to me, independently of her %’s.

gdfxx
Guest

Lobbying the “Jewish community” reflects the sickening ideas of most anti-Semites about the all-encompassing power (mostly financial but also otherwise) of the Jews of the world and especially those in the US. Why else would they lobby this community and not some other one?

Guest

Well, I wonder what the Jewish community will say when they read this by our ardent admirer of “His Serene Highness Miklós Horthy, Regent of Hungary” and Orbán:

A Jewish mafia and Socialist ex-prime ministers vs. Hungary

http://politicsinhungary.wordpress.com/2013/11/12/a-jewish-mafia-and-socialist-ex-prime-ministers-vs-hungary/

Please don’t comment on that site – the creature’s probably waiting for anything to reply to …

petofi
Guest

Why? oh Why???

Let’s proceed from a specific Felcsutian mindset: how can this help ME?

Ok, so the government will spend billions and, heading into the election, the increasingly impoverished will question the totally useless expense. Result? A spike in anti-semitism
in the land. Now, Orban will round into action to answer and appease the masses–thus,
the ‘sensitive’ ear of the downtrodden, abused in society. In fact, taking the ‘play’ away from
Jobbik as Orban appears to set things right…probably by a few oppurtunistic acts in response
to the hubbub. Possible? Do Felcsutians eat dogs?

letomuaddib
Guest

wolfi :
Well, I wonder what the Jewish community will say when they read this by our ardent admirer of “His Serene Highness Miklós Horthy, Regent of Hungary” and Orbán:
A Jewish mafia and Socialist ex-prime ministers vs. Hungary
http://politicsinhungary.wordpress.com/2013/11/12/a-jewish-mafia-and-socialist-ex-prime-ministers-vs-hungary/

Somehow I doubt they would distance themselves from the Lauder-mafia.

true pain true pain
Guest

Most Hungarians will recognize and feel only one pain.
Its name is Communism. Communism will haunt all nice Hungarians for ever.
Every other competing pain is called anti-Hungarian, and will be labeled as an insult to the patriotic victims of Communism.
Judged by the hysteria, the number of victims of Communism must amount to over 10 millions.

Jano
Guest

About Schmidt and the House of Terror: The problem is not that there is only one holocaust room. They decided to focus on the Rákosi period but still have a Szálasi room. Their decision, nothing wrong with that. There already is a holocaust museum, and as you say the second one is on the way. The problem with HT is that it’s extremely superficial and theatrical (much like the Schindler factory in Krakkow) which is against my personal taste. I still nevertheless recommend my foreign friend to check it out as most Westerners barely heard anything about what was going on in the 50’s, so any info is better than none.

An
Guest

What is the point of establishing such a museum? The same as establishing the Veritas Historical Society… to falsify history and to create division (my guess is that they will try to drive the existing museum out of existence once the new one is ready. They’ll direct all state support to their new museum and those Jewish organizations that back Fidesz’s version of the story of the Holocaust (and the Hungarians’ role in it). It’s an excellent strategy to divide the Jewish community and score good points in the West for seemingly fighting antisemitism.

andy "goggles"
Guest
Thought provoking and infromative editrial by Éva. By 2:30 am CET time there’s already 9 comments os the topic. Orban’s Trojan Horse: New museum to the holocaust’s 6 million people murdered in one gulp. We are in Hungary just at a discovery level by the general public of the extent and emotional depth of the crimes committed at the instigation of Nazi Germany. In current conceptual terms the effects of the Tsunami that was begun by a single individual, Adolf Hitler. Like a nuclear reaction, he was the initial ‘robbanószer’ (explosive generator) of the plutonium that had been laid around a wide area over the years. And, in true fission-like behavior his sizziling negativity put the continent on fire aginst the Jew’s alternate behavior and thinking. The continent was in financial trouble and Europe badly needed a unified scapegoat. The power of official structures were in the hands of the Christians. — and a part of the finacial bulwark was by then in the hands of the Jews. In the effort to get rid of Jewish inluence the official stucture used its ‘self-legalized powers’ to exclude the Jews from the playing field. Orbán and Co. have been playing somewhat of… Read more »
Priory of Sion
Guest
1. This is a construction project. And whatever it is, Fidesz wants to build it — Fidesz’ most important olgarch support base comes from the construction business. This is a nice project. Granted, not comparable to the railway track renovations or Kossuth-tér, but a nice project nonetheless. Do not underestimate its importance. 2. The American Jewish community is an important constituency when it comes to Fidesz’ goal to establish itself as a simple, non-anti semitic conservative party. Anti-semitism is one of the easiest and more lethal criticism which may come from the West. The West – as we have seen time and again – does not understand (and does not really care about) the nature of the authoritarian system in Hungary. The new Basic Law is too complicated. The power relations between Orban and the courts, the Constitutional Court, the National Bank of Hungary are impossible to follow for a foreigner, and at first sight they look OK (but they are based on personal loyalty and are personal power relations as opposed to institutional ones). The media system is too complex and in it power is wielded through friends and not through overt legal instruments (ie, Fidesz can always claim… Read more »
Guest

Dear Priory, just read my comment above (# 6) and follow the link – there you see the mind of a typical Fidesznik …

Re understanding Hungary:

I’ve been following the political development in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet Empire – those almost 25 years have been really crazy …
Of course some backlash was to be expected – like the Kazinsky brothers in Poland or the Czechs’ Klaus and countries like Serbia still have a long, long way to go.

In my opinion most of Eastern Europe is still in the mindset of the nationalist and fundamentalist 19th Century with its conservative “Christian Family Values” and afraid of democracy, liberty, tolerance etc – all the things we in the West take for granted …

PS:

In some respects the former parts of the Austrian Empire have even regressed compared to the situation around 1900 – Prague and Budapest were really worldwide renowned cultural centers and now ?

cumulonimbus
Guest
Why is Fidesz lobbying Jewish organizations? Not just to pre-empt the charge of anti-semitism but, very likely, also to spread the idea that Fidesz is the only credible force that can counter the rise of Jobbik and Hungarian Dawn. Instead of wasting Hungarian taxpayers’ money on a hypocritical PR campaign, however, the ruling party should stop trying to have it both ways. Decent-sounding declarations made at international venues are worthless so long as Fidesz is using a militant rhetoric with increasingly ominous overtones in the domestic arena. Supposedly banned, the successor organization of the Hungarian Guard holds uniformed marches and ceremonies in downtown Budapest, with policemen present politely looking on. István Tarlós, Fidesz-appointed mayor of Budapest (whose decision to appoint a well-known anti-Semite to head a Budapest threater resulted in a scandal two years ago) recently revived a time-honored anti-Semitic trope when he observed that it is not by chance that members of the opposition DK party always reach for the Old Testament when they quote from the Bible. Or take economist László Bogár, a former adviser of Orbán and the mastermind behind his “unorthodox economics,” a favorite of pro-Fidesz media outlets. In opinion columns, public talks and interviews he… Read more »
Bowen
Guest

@ Wolfi …
The site you’ve linked to is interesting, but …

Either it’s a particularly weird and unpleasant form of political sock-puppetry, or it’s the real work of a particularly sad and unpleasant man.

Either way, I’m not convinced it deserves the extra traffic.

Bowen
Guest

I took a friend to both the ‘Terror House’ and the Holocaust Museum in Pava utca last year.
The latter was very informative and moving, and after that, you won’t be able to look at Budapest (in particular) in quite the same way again.

The Terror House is unremarkable except for two things. Firstly, it’s rather theatrical, and it’s difficult to quite take it all seriously when you’ve got action-film-style music telling you what to think all the time.

Secondly, it all culminates in a final room full of large TV screens. All of them show Orban giving his famous 1989 speech, intercut with photos of Russian tanks leaving. So, in effect the whole museum is the story of 40-or so years of communist “Terror” (with the very small, and incidental token inclusion of the Holocaust at the beginning) which ends with Orban Viktor.

I dread to think what a Fidesz-KNDP Holocaust museum will look like, or indeed the new Trianon museum they are proposing.

Czerkóf
Guest
Wolfi: one thing. The CEE is a rather poor region. The Czechs not so much, Slovaks are pretty modern as well, Poland is coming up, and the Baltics are nice too — but these are still poor countries compared to the West. And especially an average Russian, Hungarian, Serb, Bulgarian does not feel fantastic. Especially when they see that just a couple of hours away people have 4-5 times as much disposable income and everything seems to work. These countries entered globalized world only 23 years ago (many of them, like Hungary already significantly indebted) of which the first 3-5 years could be compared only to the Great Depression (GDP decrease of 30%). Slowly the people realized that they have not much to offer to the world, while the world produces already everything one could possibly need (well, the Russians have energy). There is no need for their work in the global economy, only for their market. These people are simply superfluous in the globalized economy. It’s almost impossible to compete withe German or Dutch or French companies which have been fine-tuning their business models, brand and know-how for often upwards of 100 years. And since these countries want to… Read more »
Earnest
Guest

@Priory of Sion – I had to laugh a bit about your remark that the Hungarian political and media systems are too complex to understand for foreigners. The contrary is true in my opinion. It seems to me that foreigners are the ones understanding what is really going on in Hungary and the (majority of) Hungarians do not seem to grasp it or are turning a blind eye. Only passing the many billboards with Fidesz propaganda ‘signed’ with the Hungarian state logo is sufficient to remind me I’m not living in a true democracy.

Guest

Czerkóf , Hungarian companies have problems obviously in competing with the global players. My favourite example is the typical package from Aldi or Lidl which has the description in 20 languages for 25 countries – so who cares if one of these markets goes missing. But bigger countries have that problem too in the age of globalisation – and I don’t really care where the company has its headquarters, as long as the products I buy are good.

On the other hand their is an old connection between Hungary and the DACH countries and Hungarian workers are generally welcomed – just this week several of our acquaintances are leaving again for work there during the winter season and in Hungarian terms they will make a lot of money as you remarked. And from my experience some of them will not come back.

So why not use this connection and the goodwill more intensively ? Instead Fidesz is building up again the old “Popanz” (http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Popanz) that “everybody is against us” …

Priory of Sion
Guest

Earnest, agreed, you have a valid point. Of course what I wanted to say was that Fidesz successfully defended its authoritarian system against the EU several times (and in some cases the foreign challengers were obviously ill-prepared against Mr. Szájer or whoever it was at the time) so much so that Hungary is now completely off the agenda, even though nothing happened at all in Hungary, if anything the system got worse. Some of the EU commissioners even dared to talk about fair compromises. Neither the EU, nor individual member states (their experts and advisers) seem to care.

Surely, many foreigners who happen to live in Hungary understand the intricacies, but those who live outside (and obviously they represent the majority of foreigners) or who are in a position of influence re Hungary in some capacity unfortunately haven’t a clue. Neither have they the time or inclination to understand it really. Why would they? Does Hungary matter (to them)?

Guest

Andy: ‘self-legalized powers’

Admirably concise expression for unrestrained super-majority legislation.

Earnest
Guest

@Priory of Sion – Thanks for explaining. I understand and fully agree. It also surprises me that the EU seems content with Hungary at the moment. It reminds me in some ways of certain restaurants in Budapest that have two menus – one for foreigners and one, with real prices, for Hungarians. Fidesz is pulling the same kind of trick: what they tell the EU is not what is really going on in Hungary. Same goes for the beautiful economic report card Hungary is now boasting about. Looking around in my daily life I don’t see anything improving. Sadly enough.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

I’m still amazed at the decision process on cultural matters (the same could be said about the future “Robert Capa Center” announced this summer). My guess is the Memorial won’t be ready in 2014, won’t be called that way, and that the focus on children will slowly vanish (Sarkozy tried to pull that one in France too).

However one has to admire the composition of the Advisory Board: it is great Fidesz. Not only have Anne Applebaum, Gabriel Gorodetsky or Joshua Muravchik never published anything serious on the subject – but their main field of interest in history has always been (anti-) Communism, neo-conservative style.

Board meetings might be fun though if you consider that Applebaum for instance once criticized Poland and Hungary for their “selective use of war memories and postwar memories to make political points”… How time flies!

truth above all
Guest

The incompetent Lantos Foundation leadership must be supervised by Kim Scheppele, or Charles Gati or Laszlo Bito.

The legacy of Tom Lantos has been violated by their current managers.

Their unsuspecting donors have to wake up.

Priory of Sion
Guest
Earnest, one more thing, lately I began to follow German politics a bit closer. Although Angela Merkel is often named as the most influential or powerful politician in Europe, she has been – rightly in my view – strongly criticized for being a completely bland politician who has been notoriously refraining from taking any real action about anything. This weird impotency, wait and see attitude has been successful so far, as far as Germany is concerned, its problems (seem to to have) disappeared. Or maybe its economy is in a good shape, so why bother people with ‘issues’? It is now clear that it was a total naivity to expect anything from Chancellor Merkel re Hungary, she was not going to do anything, she did not care. The tragedy is that the EU itself became totally impotent politically and this has been realized by the various industrial lobbies which are using the same techniques which have worked in the US well. And since it is naturally the directly affected lobbies which have the most interest to see something killed or put into law, while the people’s interests are not so focused and urgent, the lobbies are much more successful in… Read more »
Derfio
Guest

Marcel: Marcsi Schmidt is on the board. In a prior life she (before becoming a chief anti-communist ideologist of Fidesz and CEO of Terror Háza) was actually a holocaust historian. Her husband, who is now decease and left her with a couple of billions of forints from some interesting real estate privatization deals, was Jewish by the way. At least she knows who are those who are more reliably anti-communists and can be helpful in this project. The whole project could have been her idea, who knows. Fidesz certainly wanted to have their very own holocaust project. They had to have it. Do not underestimate Fidesz’ smartness in these games. They understand ideology, psychology and are very much focused on results (politics-wise, not policy-wise). And they are relentlessly pushing the ideology, the latest: erecting a four meter high statue of Mary on the Castle hill. Since the Left has no ideology whatsoever and is anyway hopelessly timid, we will be left with all the John Paul, II squares, Trianon-museums, Turul, Horthy, Bethlen etc. statues.

Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10)
Guest

@Derfio: indeed. But a Shoah memorial in a European capital is also a pan-European affair – it’s not only about the ‘international Jewish community’. Now, the list of board members was published by Népszabadság yesterday, and it’s rather weird by XXIst century standards for that kind of project – it’s not like Hungary was pioneering anything.

Of course the political benefits at home are more immediate, but past the initial PR international success of the press release, the whole thing may backfire.

Guest

A bit OT but an honour:

The influential composer, György Kurtág, and the distinguished pianist András Schiff, are to be awarded one of music’s most esteemed honours, the Royal Philharmonic Society Gold Medal.
http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2013/11/london-gold-goes-to-two-hungarians.html

Kirsten
Guest
Czerkof: “The CEE is a rather poor region. The Czechs not so much, Slovaks are pretty modern as well, Poland is coming up, and the Baltics are nice too … an average Russian, Hungarian, Serb, Bulgarian does not feel fantastic. Especially when they see that just a couple of hours away people have 4-5 times as much disposable income and everything seems to work.” It can be 10 times in the not so far future with economic policies designed by Viktor Orban and supported by people who go to peace marches and label their fellow citizens anti-Hungarians when suggesting policies that could make Hungary “pretty modern as well”. Hungary was richer than Poland twenty years ago so why is “Poland coming up” and Hungary does not. “There is no need for their work in the global economy, only for their market.” If these people have money aka income, otherwise these markets will be considered too small and irrelevant. “These people are simply superfluous in the globalized economy.” You are perhaps not trying to escape poverty to please the globalised economy. Hungary should be doing this in its own interest. I wonder how to make the idea more popular that passive… Read more »
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