Tag Archives: anti-Semitism

Katrina Lantos Swett returns her Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit

Népszabadság reported this morning that Katrina Lantos Swett, president of the Tom Lantos Foundation and Institute for Human Rights and Justice, returned her Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit. With her gesture the number of those who expressed their disgust over the decoration of Zsolt Bayer by returning their own awards has increased to 109.

Katrina Lantos recalled that her father was the only Holocaust survivor who served in the U.S. Congress. He was a real Hungarian patriot who, despite all the tragedies he witnessed, “never lost his love for the country. For three decades he did all he could for Hungary.” She herself continued in this tradition and tried to pass the linguistic and cultural traditions of her family on to the younger generation. She was hoping to give the Knight’s Cross to her children one day and is sorry that by returning the decoration she will not have this opportunity. “The Hungarian government bestowing the Knight’s Cross to Zsolt Bayer stained this noble decoration.” She added that if her father were alive he would ask the government “to take back this unearned decoration from Bayer.” I should add that Judit Járai, the Washington correspondent for the Hungarian Telegraphic Agency (MTI), didn’t find Katrina Lantos’s announcement newsworthy.

Katrina Lantos Swett

Katrina Lantos Swett

A few words about the foundation and the institute that is being financed by the Hungarian government. Tom Lantos died suddenly in 2008, and shortly after his death it was proposed to establish a foundation and institute in his memory. But by the time the institute began to take shape there was a change of government. The new prime minister, Viktor Orbán, had had a somewhat strained relationship with Tom Lantos. The last time he asked for an interview in Washington, Lantos made him wait for three days, and at the end of the meeting there was no joint press conference. Orbán left and Lantos had a few measured words to say about their differences.

As was expected, the Tom Lantos Institute’s board was composed primarily of Fidesz faithfuls whose views were a far cry from Tom Lantos’s. For example, Maximilian Teleki of the Hungarian American Coalition based in Washington and Kinga Gál, Fidesz EP MP. The Hungarian American Coalition is a decidedly right-of-center organization that has always favored Fidesz. Just to give you an idea of their bias, here is a story in which I myself was involved. One day sometime in 2002 I read that the Coalition had paid for about 20 members of the Hungarian parliament to spend a couple of weeks in Washington to take a closer look at American democracy in action. They all turned out to be Fidesz PMs. When I asked the then president of the Coalition why they invited only Fidesz MPs, he told me that the socialists and the liberals had turned down the invitation. It was a lie, as I found out in no time from the leader of the socialist parliamentary delegation.

So, the Tom Lantos Institute has been a controversial project from the beginning, mostly because of Viktor Orbán’s insistence on making it a party foundation. After all, he must have figured, it is his government that sponsors it and therefore it is his. This is how his mind works. The fact is that the government has given a fair amount of money to the institute. The institute’s website has no detailed information about its finances. All we know is that under “Donors and partners” they list only two donors: the Hungarian Foreign Ministry and the U.S. Embassy in Budapest. We know that in 2009 the institute received 3 billion forints from the government to cover expenses for five years.

The staff consists of nine full-time associates, of whom five are researchers. The other four deal with finances, communication, and administrative duties. Otherwise, the focal points of the institute’s activities are “Jewish life and anti-Semitism,” “Roma rights and citizenship,” and “human and minority rights.” The institute’s publications are mostly texts of lectures delivered at conferences organized by the institute.

In 2011 Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, visited Budapest specifically for the opening of the institute. At that time I received a letter from a very reliable source who called himself “Diplomat Anonymous.” He begged Clinton not to go to Budapest. I published the letter in its entirety at that time. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s especially painful to hear that you may be coming here to bless the opening of the Tom Lantos Institute (TLI). I didn’t know the late Congressman well; we only shook hands once in Washington. But I know that he fought against prejudice, he fought for human rights. Yes, to his great credit, he cared about the Hungarian ethnic minority in the neighboring countries, and the Institute may well publish books or pamphlets on that issue. But what about media freedom here? What about anti-Semitism? Will TLI address these painful issues? I predict that it will not – it cannot — because the Orbán government authored this very restrictive media law, and it doesn’t believe there’s anti-Semitism in Hungary. As for the Roma issue, which is the most agonizing social problem here, please ask an aide to check out the background of Rita Izsák, TLI’s new Director. In the Roma community, of which she’s a member, she’s known as Uncle Tom. She will respect the wishes of the government, which, after all, is TLI’s sole financial backer.

Since then Rita Izsák has left the institute. In 2013 Anna-Mária Bíró became the new director. She hails from Transylvania, where in the 1990s she was adviser to the president of the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania or, as it is known in Hungarian, Romániai Magyar Demokrata Szövetség (RMDSZ), a right-of-center party. Most of the researchers are young women. Just recently the institute hired a young Hungarian program manager for Jewish life and anti-Semitism and a publications and communications officer from New Zealand. It is hard to pass any judgment on the work the institute is doing based on the scant information that is available.

But let’s return to the president of the Hungarian American Coalition, Maximilian Teleki, who was interviewed by Népszabadság in connection with Katrina Lantos’s return of the Knight’s Cross. He expressed his astonishment at the government’s decision to give a decoration to Bayer and added that “many of us supported some if not all steps of the Fidesz government. We especially approved of their announcement of ‘zero tolerance’ against anti-Semitism. Now we ask ourselves how they are able to go against their own pledge. Two steps forward and one big one backward?” Mr. Teleki, who by the way doesn’t speak Hungarian so his knowledge of the present political situation must be limited, came to the conclusion that the political views of Jobbik and Bayer are identical. Well, just for his information, Bayer is a member of Fidesz and without the blessing of Viktor Orbán he would not be able to publish the smut he does. The members of the Hungarian American Coalition should wake up and admit to themselves that, at least since 1994, they have been supporting a party and a government which no real democrat with a modicum of conscience should. Make a clean break instead of constant excuses. It doesn’t reflect well on the Hungarian American Coalition.

September 2, 2016

Zsolt Bayer, the purveyor of hate, in his own words

Decent, democratic Hungarians are stunned. The hate-filled, racist, anti-Semitic journalistic hack, Zsolt Bayer, on the recommendation of Zoltán Balog, received the third highest decoration the government can bestow on people of great achievement. János Lázár presented Bayer with the “Hungarian Middle Cross.”

The independent media could scarcely find words to display its disgust with the government, but some headline writers rose to the occasion. One headline read “By mistake Zsolt Bayer received the cross of the knight [lovagkereszt] instead of the Swastika.” Swastika in Hungarian is “horogkereszt.” A blog writer at Népszabadság titled his piece “The knight of the Godfather” since Viktor Orbán and Bayer are old friends and fellow founders of Fidesz.

Instead of trying to describe Bayer’s “literary output,” I think it’s best to let Bayer speak for himself. I will be only his English voice. In the past, every time I wrote about Bayer I always said how difficult it is to translate his prose. For starters, Hungarian obscenity beats American obscenity by a mile. Moreover, I hate to repeat this smut.

The first time I discussed Bayer at some length was in January 2011 shortly after András Schiff, the world-renowned pianist, wrote a letter to the editor of The Washington Post. Bayer retorted with an article titled “The same stench.” Here are a few lines from that piece.

A stinking excrement called something like Cohen from somewhere in England writes that ‘foul stench wafts’ from Hungary. Cohen, and Cohn-Bendit, and Schiff. Népszava appears with the red figure of the man with the hammer and demands freedom of the press. Most people think that this is something new and that war like that didn’t take place before. Nonsense. There is nothing new under the sun. Unfortunately, they were not all buried up to their necks in the forest of Orgovány.

A brief explanation. Orgovány, a small village on the Great Plains, was the site of massacres committed by the leaders of the Hungarian White Terror in 1919-1920. Most of the victims were Jewish. In plain language, Bayer is expressing his sorrow that not all the Jews were killed in those days.

Zsolt Bayer, leading the Peace March in Hungarian Guard uniform

Zsolt Bayer, leading the Peace March in Hungarian Guard uniform

A year later he got angry because Ulrike Lunacek, an Austrian MP in the European Parliament, criticized Hungary. Bayer, who at the time had a program on Echo TV, had the following to say about Lunacek in the company of two other right-wingers:

Then comes a half-witted [The Germans translated it as ‘brain amputeed’] impetiginous lying idiot, Ulrike Lunacek, and I expressed myself delicately … The whole rotten filthy lie from the mouth of a rotten filth bag.” In choice Hungarian: “Csak jön egy olyan agyament ótvar hazug idióta, Ulrike Lunacek, és milyen finoman fejeztem ki magam. … Az egész egy rohadt szemét hazugság egy rohadt szemét szájából.”

In 2013 Bayer wrote another hateful piece in which, although he didn’t use the word “Jew” or “Jewish,” anyone who is familiar with Bayer’s style and way of thinking knows whom he has in mind when he talks about those who have been doing their best to ruin the white Christian race ever since the 1919 Soviet Republic, which in far-right circles is considered to be a “Jewish affair.” Those who are antagonistic toward Hungary organize themselves “in packs and attack their victims like loathsome drooling hyenas.” And he continues: “For you only death is the proper punishment. Because you believe in death, in public executions while your victims are left alone, go bankrupt, their friends deny them, they lose their jobs, and come to a sorry end. This is your goal.” Their sins are immeasurable and they will be punished. Because these mysterious people don’t realize “what monster [they] are trying to resuscitate. In fact, [they] woke him up already.” All that sounds pretty threatening, but then comes the twist:

You don’t foresee yet that it will be only we who raise our voices in your defense. We, the marked victims. We are the only ones to whom you can turn for help. It will be only we who will hide you. Because we are good to the point of ruining ourselves. And take this all very seriously. You miserable ones.

In January 2013, in Berlin, Zoltán Balog proudly outlined the accomplishments of the Orbán government as far as its Roma strategy was concerned. Bayer wrote that

a significant portion of the Gypsies are unfit for coexistence. Not fit to live among human beings. These people are animals and behave like animals. … If he finds resistance, he kills. He voids where and when it occurs to him. … He wants what he sees. If he doesn’t get it, he takes it and he kills…. From his animal skull only inarticulate sounds come out and the only thing he understands is brute force… There shouldn’t be animals. No way. This must be solved, immediately and in any way. [In Hungarian: “Ezt meg kell oldani–de azonnal és bárhogyan.”]

This particular article was deemed to be racist, and the state media authority fined Magyar Hírlap, where it appeared, 200,000 forints. Since then Magyar Hírlap had to pay another fine, this time 250,000 forints, because he called all refugee boys over the age of 14 “potential terrorists.”

When it comes to the migrants, Bayer usually dwells on horror stories, like the IKEA murder in Sweden, which then gives him an opening to blame liberalism for being the source of all the trouble. For example, he expresses his sorrow that the two suspects cooperated with the police because otherwise “the police could have shot them as one does a mad dog.” Now the Swedes have two murderers from Eritrea and two dead white Swedes. “Surely, the exchange was worth it. Long live liberalism! Long live human rights! Except when we talk about the rights of the European, white, Christian race.” Here Bayer uses the word “rassz,” which is practically never used in this sense in modern Hungarian. Bayer’s conclusion is that Europe must be defended. “It must be freed from this horror. If necessary with arms in hand. If everything remains the same, there will be bloodshed. These hordes believe that only the blood of Europeans can be shed.”

Perhaps the most often quoted Bayer lines were written in 2006 after the tragedy that occurred in Olaszliszka when a Roma girl stepped in front of a car driven by a school teacher. The child wasn’t hurt. The man stopped when a group of about twenty men and women dragged him out of the car and beat him to death in the presence of his two young daughters. Bayer wrote at the time:

Anyone in this country who runs over a Gypsy kid acts wisely if he doesn’t for a minute contemplate stopping. In the case of driving over a Gypsy kid, we should step on the gas. If in the meantime Gypsies surround the car, we should step on the gas even harder. Those we run over are unlucky. Leaving the scene at the greatest speed, we should call the ambulance from the car and we should stop at the next police station and turn ourselves in. (Unfortunately, I know that this scenario cannot take place because if someone runs over someone, especially a child, one must stop. So, we will stop. But we will have to do something. It is a good idea to get a gun before leaving. If we hit a child, let’s stop, and if the animals begin to gather we should use our weapon without hesitation.)

I don’t always have the stomach to read Bayer’s articles that appear in Magyar Hírlap and lately on his own blog as well. I’m sure that others could come up with hundreds more quotations that would further demonstrate that this man’s decoration by the Orbán government is a disgrace.

As for the charge of anti-Semitism, analysts pussyfoot around when it comes to the Orbán government’s attitude toward the country’s Jewish citizens and their role in Hungary’s history. I don’t think that, with the decision to award Bayer this high honor, there can be any question where Viktor Orbán stands on this issue. Bayer’s decoration must have been cleared with Orbán himself, and he must have known that this move will be interpreted as the government’s approval of Bayer’s racism and anti-Semitism. It seems that Orbán doesn’t care what the world thinks of him and his regime. Bayer’s decoration strikes me as a purposeful provocation not only of the Jewish community at home and abroad but of democratic communities in Europe and the Americas.

August 19, 2016

Anti-semitism, racism, Huxit, or just a bad dream?

A few days ago I was toying with the idea of returning to my discussion of interwar Hungarian history as portrayed by Sándor Szakály, director-general of the government’s very own historical institute, brazenly named Veritas Research Institute. But we have all been preoccupied with the disruptive present.

The reason I wanted to go back to Sándor Szakály’s interview with The Budapest Beacon was because, as I indicated earlier, he gave an account of the Hungarian Holocaust that I knew would prompt rebuttals from academic historical circles. I was right. László Karsai, one of the foremost historians of the Hungarian Holocaust, tried to set the record straight about such critical points as when Miklós Horthy knew about the true fate of those Hungarian Jewish citizens who were sent in cattle cars to Auschwitz. I hope to return to that part of the Szakály interview sometime in the future.

Today, as the first topic of this post, I’m going to look briefly at the afterlife of Szakály’s unacceptable interpretation of the so-called numerus clausus, which limited the number of Jewish students to a mere 6% of the entering university classes. In Szakály’s opinion, the introduction of the law was unfortunate because it violated the concept of equality before the law, but from another point of view it was “a case of positive discrimination in favor of those youngsters who had less of a chance when it came to entering an institution of higher education.” The opposition parties immediately demanded Szakály’s resignation, and three days after the interview MAZSIHISZ, the umbrella organization serving various Jewish religious groups, also issued a statement in which it especially decried the insensitivity and indifference that Szakály displayed toward the victims of the Holocaust.

This time the government moved fast. Yesterday there was a meeting of the Jewish Civic Roundtable (Zsidó Közösségi Kerekasztal), comprised of Jewish leaders and members of the government, where Nándor Csepreghy, deputy to János Lázár, distanced the government from Sándor Szakály’s assertions. He indicated that János Lázár, who had left the meeting before the topic was brought up, was ready to discuss the matter further with MAZSIHISZ.

Naturally, this was not the end of the story. This afternoon János Lázár at his regular Thursday press conference announced the dismissal of László L. Simon, undersecretary in charge of the reconstruction of important historical monuments, and the “retirement” of Mrs. László Németh, undersecretary in charge of financial services and the post office. It was in connection with these dismissals that a reporter asked Lázár about the status of Sándor Szakály. The answer was that “in historical matters the government mustn’t take sides.” If a “scientific opinion” offends the interests or sensibilities of a community, then that group should exercise its rights against the offender. He himself is completely satisfied with Szakály’s work as director-general of the Veritas Institute.

I often see cautious journalists talking about organizations as being “close to Fidesz and/or the government.” Their circumspection is warranted. In the past, several law suits have been initiated against media outlets for not choosing their words carefully. But, in my opinion, there is no need to beat around the bush in the case of the Veritas Institute. It is a government research center, pure and simple. The Orbán government doesn’t even try to hide the fact the “employer” of the Veritas Institute is the government, which is represented by János Lázár. The law that established the institute in 2013 clearly states that it is Lázár who can appoint and/or dismiss the director-general, his two deputies, and the financial director of the institute. Mind you, the law also claims that the institute “functions independently,” but as long as the head of the Prime Minister’s Office can hire and fire the leadership of the institute one cannot talk about independence in any meaningful sense of the word.

János Lázár’s press conference made headlines not because of his praise of Szakály but because, in response to a question, he weighed in on how he would vote if a referendum were held in Hungary about exiting from the European Union. He said that he “wouldn’t be able to vote to remain in the European Union in good conscience” (jó szívvel). Of course, he immediately tried to blunt the sharpness of his statement by adding that he is still very much a supporter of Europe although he greatly objects to what’s going on in Brussels.

All democratic opposition parties immediately responded to Lázár’s outrageous remark. MSZP, DK, and Együtt, independently from one another, interpreted the announcement as an admission that the Orbán government wants to lead the country out of the union and that holding the referendum on refugee quotas is a first step in this direction. This idea is not at all new. Ever since Orbán announced the referendum, opposition leaders have warned the public of the dangers of participating in a vote that might be used by the Orbán government as an endorsement of their hidden agenda.

The government naturally denies the existence of such a plan. I am inclined to believe them. I find it difficult to imagine that the Orbán government would willingly forgo billions of euros and risk the political, economic, and social upheaval that would undoubtedly follow Hungary’s departure from the European Union.

What will Viktor Orbán say if Hungarians are discriminated?

What will Viktor Orbán say if Hungarians are discriminated against?

We have discussed at some length British xenophobia and racism as well as the reluctance of British politicians to point to racism as one of the reasons the Brits voted for Brexit. Well, Hungarian politicians don’t worry about appearances. Moreover, as Orbán has stressed often enough, they loathe politically correct speech. They like “honest talk,” which is missing in Western European countries. Thus, Lázár had no problem saying that “although there may be some demographic difficulties [in Hungary], the Hungarian government intends to remedy the situation not with African migrants but with Hungarians from the neighboring countries.” Fidesz politicians are not ashamed to share their racism in public. Yet during the same press conference he insisted on the rights of the mostly East European economic migrants in Great Britain, whose presence was at least in part responsible for the Brexit vote.

June 30, 2016

Orbán’s Veritas Institute looks at anti-Semitism in the Horthy era

It’s time to take a break from Hungarian party politics and the mess the Brexit referendum has created and talk about history. Specifically I would like say something about the recent activities of two historians working for the generously endowed Veritas Institute established by the Orbán government. The absurdity of an “Institute of Truth” serving a government doesn’t need to be spelled out, and I do hope that one day, in the not too distant future, the Institute of Truth will be thrown onto the garbage heap with the other debris Fidesz left behind.

The Veritas Institute is a large organization with 26 historians and administrative personnel who are doing research in three different areas: (1) the era of the dual monarchy (1867-1918); (2) the Miklós Horthy era (1919-1944); and (3) the post-1945 era. The two historians whom we meet most often in the pages of the daily press are Sándor Szakály, director, and Gábor Ujváry, senior research fellow.

Gábor Ujváry’s goal in life seems to be the rehabilitation of Bálint Hóman, the controversial minister of education in the 1930s. I had hoped that the Hóman case was finally closed when, in December 2015, Viktor Orbán gave up the fight for a statue of Hóman, caving under international pressure. Reluctantly he announced that no one who collaborated with the German occupying forces after March 19, 1944 can have a statue in Hungary. But, as I pointed out in my post of December 16, 2015, the idea of having a Hóman statue initially came from Viktor Orbán himself. Thus, his parliamentary announcement was a personal defeat.

Has he given up the plan to completely rehabilitate Bálint Hóman? I’m not at all sure. Ujváry’s efforts at whitewashing Hóman’s role indicate that Hóman may yet be portrayed as a hero. Ujváry is writing a book on Hóman’s life and political career, a project for which he as a member of the Miklós Horthy Era Team needed the approval of Director Sándor Szakály. The director of the Institute, as we learned recently, also finds Hóman innocent of most of the charges leveled against him.

Ujváry is a man with a mission. Instead of quietly toiling in libraries and archives, he grabs every opportunity to publicize his interpretation of Hóman’s political career–in popular magazines, in interviews, and at conferences. One of his latest salvos was a short article in the popular historical magazine Rubicon, in which he argued against the interpretations of those historians who “attack Bálint Hóman.” Among other things, he tried to justify the introduction of the numerus clausus of 1920. Since Ujváry’s targets were Mária M. Kovács and Krisztián Ungváry, the two historians answered him in Mozgó Világ in a joint article titled “Bálint Hóman in the captivity of the Truth Institute.” But Ujváry will press on, explaining to the Hungarian people what a great guy the former minister of education was. The Orbán regime’s efforts to rehabilitate Hóman unfortunately seem to be continuing with full force.

The other politically active historian of the Veritas Institute is the director himself, Sándor Szakály. About two years ago I wrote a post titled “Sándor Szakály: portrait of a historian” when Szakály in an interview called the deportation of approximately 23,000 Jews in July 1941 to German-held Soviet territories, most of whom were subsequently killed by the Germans, merely “a police action against aliens.”

Szakály burned himself pretty badly with that interview, but he is persistent. He wants to debunk mainstream historical thinking about the Horthy era and replace it with a more sympathetic interpretation. And so he decided to give another interview, this time to The Budapest Beacon. The interview is very long and covers a range of topics. I will look at only two issues, which are also part of the Hóman narrative of Gábor Ujváry. One is the assessment of Hóman as a historical figure and the second is the meaning of the numerus clausus of 1920, which restricted the number of Jews who could enter Hungarian universities.

Sándor Szakály at a conference on Bálint Hóman organized by the Veritas Institute

Sándor Szakály at a conference on Bálint Hóman organized by the Veritas Institute

Szakály’s limitations as a historian once again became evident when the reporter asked him about Hóman’s role as a historical figure. He either can’t or doesn’t want to go beyond a strict interpretation of the written word. Here is an example of what I mean. Historians point out that Hóman, along with many far-right politicians, remained a member of parliament even after the Szálasi takeover on October 15, 1944. Here is Szakály’s rebuttal. Hóman was not a member of the Arrow Cross parliament “because such a parliament simply didn’t exist.” It is true, he continued, that “after the Arrow Cross takeover a truncated national assembly (országgyűlés) remained in session and Hóman was a member of that body, but that doesn’t mean that he was a member of the Arrow Cross party.” Or another example of his inability to think either contextually or causally. When asked about Hóman’s attitude toward Germany and his views on the German-Hungarian alliance, Szakály announced that he doesn’t think that Hóman was in any way “a harbinger” of the German occupation because “at the time he had no political role to play.” So, the possibility that Hóman’s actions influenced events leading up to the German occupation simply doesn’t enter his mind.

The director of the Institute of Truth further manifested his astute historical thinking in responding to questions on the meaning of the numerus clausus law of 1920, which most Hungarian historians consider to be the first anti-Jewish law, not just in Hungary but in the western world. Admittedly, the law didn’t contain the words “Jew” or “Jewish,” but it was clear to everybody which group was being targeted. No other “nationality” or “ethnic group” was over-represented in Hungarian higher education. The aim of the government was to restrict the number of Jewish students to 6%, the same as the percentage of Jews in the population at large.

Szakály said that he doesn’t consider the law to be discriminatory. And why not? “Because the law stated that only those will be admitted to the universities who are absolutely dependable as far as their national loyalty and morality are concerned.” In addition to morality and patriotism, “intellectual abilities” were also considered, as well as ethnic quotas. As to whether the law was designed to restrict the number of Jews in universities, Szakály responded that “not only was the word ‘Jew’ not mentioned in the law, but at that time [Hungarian law] didn’t yet stipulate exactly  what ‘Jewish’ meant.” Perhaps, he added, they meant “people who belonged to the Mosaic denomination.” It is beyond me to make sense of this gibberish.

In Szakály’s estimate, the introduction of the numerus clausus was in hindsight “unfortunate” because it violated the concept of equality before the law, but from another point of view it was “a case of positive discrimination in favor of those youngsters who had less of a chance when it came to entering an institution of higher education.” So, said the reporter, “on the one hand and on the other?” Yes, in Szakály’s mind it is that simple and thus justified.

June 26, 2016

Decoding Fidesz’s coded anti-Semitism: the Németh-Szigetvári “debate”

Friday night Antónia Mészáros hosted a political “discussion” on her program, “Szabad szemmel.” Mészáros is a very able young reporter who has the ability to attract politicians who normally wouldn’t get close to ATV, both for interviews and for discussions with their political opponents. They agree to appear despite the fact that Mészáros is a hard-nosed journalist who doesn’t let her guests off the hook easily.

When two Hungarian politicians of opposite political views get together, the task of the moderator becomes impossible. No Hungarian journalist ever manages to keep order, and these encounters usually turn into shouting matches. This is what happened Friday night when Viktor Szigetvári, chairman of Együtt, and Szilárd Németh, the latest favorite of Viktor Orbán, got together for a friendly chat.

For half an hour one had to listen to parallel monologues about the pros and cons of the referendum on the “compulsory quota” issue. In that verbal pankration, as one of the newspapers called the encounter, Németh was the winner in the sense that he managed to outshout his opponent. Early in the conversation Szigetvári tried to interrupt Németh’s monologue, but it was hopeless. Once this man opens his mouth, it is hard to stop him. Mind you, it is not impossible, as another performance of his on the very same program a few months ago demonstrated. But more about that later.

Szilárd Németh decides to leave

Szilárd Németh decides to leave

The program would have been a total bust, just inarticulate screaming on Németh’s part, but for the fact that in the last few moments Mészáros introduced a different topic, I guess in the hope of moving the conversation along. She brought up a brand new article that appeared in Politico according to which it is hard to be a Hungarian in Brussels. For one thing, people both inside and outside the offices of the European Union are suspicious of Hungarian officials. For another, non-Hungarians–Belgians as well as people from other countries living in Brussels–look upon Hungarians as a heartless people who should be ashamed of themselves. Mészáros wanted to know what Németh thought of this.

Németh responded: “This is simply a lie. The situation is that they will try anything to minimize the importance of the referendum. This is what I’m talking about: they will use everything … including their Hungarian politicians, their domestic economic enterprises, they will….” At which point Szigetvári chimed in: “And surely, also the Jews, isn’t it so?” A few seconds later, after Szigetvári had refused to take back his words, Németh got up and left in a huff.

Szilárd Németh, close and personal

Szilárd Németh, up close and personal

Naturally, opinions on the incident differ greatly, depending on one’s political views. The right-wing media accuse Szigetvári of calling Németh an anti-Semite, which they consider totally unwarranted. After all, he didn’t utter a word about Jews. András Schiffer, who tries to be an independent political player, took Németh’s side by saying that “just because someone is a boor and a slanderer he is not necessarily an anti-Semite. Just because someone is an automatic speaking machine he is not an anti-Semite. If we call someone an anti-Semite just because he seems to have discovered the geopolitical chess games played in Hungary, we only help the arguments of the anti-Semites.”

On the other side are Viktor Szigetvári and his supporters. Coded anti-Semitism has been going on for years in Fidesz circles, and it is time “to decode” the mantra of clandestine powers, foreign agents, and opposition politicians serving foreign interests. As Szigetvári wrote on his Facebook page after the incident, he is sick and tired of this practice. It is time for Fidesz politicians to say whom they actually mean when they refer to banker government, representatives of foreign interests, George Soros, colonizers, clandestine powers, people with foreign hearts in their bosoms (idegenszívűek), etc.

Viktor Szigetvári is right of course. Viktor Orbán and his fellow Fidesz politicians have sent coded messages of this sort for at least 20 years. Indeed, it is time to ask outright: Who are these awful people, lurking in the background, who want to ruin Hungary and who use Hungarian opposition politicians for their evil plans? Fidesz supporters are perfectly aware of the identity of these foreigners. They can easily decode those words. It is enough to read some of the comments following the articles on the Szigetvári-Németh affair.

At the beginning of this post I referred to another political discussion that took place on the same program a few months ago. Antónia Mészáros invited three politicians to discuss the government’s plan to introduce emergency powers in case of a “danger of terror.” The guests were Szilárd Németh (Fidesz), Tamás Harangozó (MSZP), and András Schiffer (LMP). I’m no fan of András Schiffer, but I must say that the sight of Németh, sitting speechless, unable to utter one word against Schiffer’s barrage of facts, was a pleasant experience. The “speaking machine,” as Schiffer called Németh, can be stopped, but few people are up to it.

May 15, 2016

Scare tactics: The coming of an Islamic Europe

Reactions to the election of Sadiq Khan as mayor of London depend on people’s attitude toward Islam and multiculturalism. Those who are optimistic about the integration of the newly arrived refugees from the Middle East welcomed this tremendous victory by the son of Pakistani immigrants. It capped a distinguished political career over the last ten years or so. Khan served as minister of state for communities and minister of state for transport in Gordon Brown’s government.

Yesterday Khan gave an interview to Time Magazine in which the name of Donald Trump came up in connection with the presidential candidate’s anti-Muslim sentiments. Back in November Trump told Yahoo News that he would consider requiring Muslim-Americans to register and mandate that they carry special identification cards. By December he was calling for a complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States. Although Khan would like to meet with the mayors of New York and Chicago, he said in the interview that “if Donald Trump becomes the President, I’ll be stopped from going there by virtue of my faith, which means I can’t engage with American mayors and swap ideas. Conservative tacticians thought those sorts of tactics would win London and they were wrong. I’m confident that Donald Trump’s approach to politics won’t win in America.”

Trump’s answer to Khan came yesterday in an interview with The New York Times. He said that “there will always be exceptions” to his proposed ban, and naturally Sadiq Khan would be exempt. He hoped that Khan will do a good job “because I think if he does a great job, it will really — you lead by example, always lead by example. If he does a good job and frankly if he does a great job, that would be a terrific thing.” As you will soon see, Trump sounds like a raging liberal in comparison to the Hungarian right’s attitude toward Muslims in general and the election of Sadiq Khan in particular.

To illustrate the hate campaign being waged in Hungary against Muslims I’m turning today to an opinion piece written by one of the shining lights of Fidesz journalism, János Csontos. On paper he looks terrific. Since 1991 he has published 13 volumes of poetry and 22 volumes of prose, has produced five theatrical productions and at least two dozen documentary films, and has received 11 prizes, most for his documentary films on architectural monuments. However, he also received a couple of prizes for “journalistic excellence” from strongly right-leaning groups. His only literary prize came last year from the Orbán government, which considered him worthy of the once prestigious Attila József Prize. I managed to read only one poem by Csontos, “A sentence on lie,” which calls up Gyula Illyés’s famous poem written in the 1950s, “A sentence on tyranny.” Csontos’s alleged masterpiece is about Gyurcsány’s speech at Balatonőszöd.

His article, “Londonistan,” is full of factual errors, as an article written by Elek Tokfalvi, a pen name that is a mirror translation of Alexis de Tocqueville, points out. First of all, Csontos wants his readers to believe that the municipal election in London was not a battle between the candidates of the Conservative and the Labour parties but a “desperate struggle … between the child of a penniless [csoró] Pakistani immigrant and the rich Jewish child of a Rothschild,” which, by the way, Goldsmith is not. Csontos, following Samuel P. Huntington’s thesis, considers the outcome of the election a victory for Islam over Christianity.

For Csontos it is especially galling that the people of London could overwhelmingly elect a Muslim because, “after all, London is not a small town somewhere in one of the Benelux countries but it is the second largest financial center of the world whose first citizen will frequent mosques in his spare time and will ask the help of Allah against the faithless giaours [non-Muslims].” Surely, Csontos writes, it would be time to stop talking about Christian anti-Semitism. Instead, “in the spirit of the Scriptures, Christians and Jews should unite against Muslim expansion.” Csontos is obviously trying to set Jews against Muslims and minimize the political fallout of anti-Semitism, which in his view is no threat to European Jewry.

Let’s not abandon the Jewish theme in this nauseating article so quickly. Csontos describes a horrid future for both Christians and Jews, but Jews have more to worry about than anyone else. Jews are wrong in thinking that “everything will be politically correct in Eurorabia, whose leaders will be worried about the proper way to deliver speeches at Holocaust memorials.” He continues: “Do you think that a Muslim Tarlós [the mayor of Budapest] would allow György Soros’s private composer, Lajcsi Lagzi, to slink around on Vörösmarty tér in the hope of a tip?”

In order for non-Hungarians to understand this sentence I have to give some linguistic and cultural cues. Of course, Soros’s private composer is Iván Fischer, conductor of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, here thinly disguised as Lajcsi Lagzi, a musician who had a couple of popular programs on TV2 until he was arrested in September 2015 for fraud. “Lagzi” is the familiar form of “lakodalom” (wedding). So, we are talking about a musician who plays at weddings. Now we can move on to the verb I translated as “to slink.” The word is borrowed from the Romani language, “bazsevál.” It describes a Gypsy violinist who has focused on one of the guests, playing his favorite song in hope of a tip. And I don’t think it is a coincidence that Csontos uses another Gypsy word, “csoró,” to describe the penniless state of the Khan family.

Mayor Sadiq Khan and Chief Rabbi Mirvis. They seem to be getting along fine

Mayor Sadiq Khan and Chief Rabbi Mirvis. They seem to be getting along just fine.

Back to London (and reality). As Elek Tokfalvi noted in his article, the very first official act of the new mayor of London was to pay his respect to the millions of Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. A detailed description of the event can be read here.

But in Csontos’s view of the future, in the center of which is an Islamic Europe, little Prince George will be forced to marry an Arab girl one day. It will be politically incorrect to teach the French Song of Roland or the Hungarian Eclipse of the Crescent Moon, a twentieth-century novel popular among young readers. What a juxtaposition! Instead, Hungarian kids will have to watch a film about Suleiman the Magnificent from which they will learn that the depraved Hungarians deserved what they got in the Battle of Mohács (1526).

I assume Csontos is relieved that this apocalyptic future is not here yet. Hungarians can still assert their superiority here and there. Turks have complained about a children’s song, taught in Hungarian kindergartens, about a stork’s bloodied leg that was cut by a Turkish boy and healed by a Hungarian child. A French woman living in Hungary also had objections when her child had to learn the song. Not to worry, Hungarian psychiatrists responded. At this early stage in a child’s development, any anti-Turkish message the song might send will not plant any seeds of prejudice. I don’t know, but I wonder whether the children will ever ask how it can happen that the stork’s leg is healed by a pipe, drum, and a violin-shaped instrument (nádi hegedű) made out of broomcorn. I had to look up the last instrument, the description of which I found in the Hungarian dictionary of folklore available online.

Kindergarteners might not comprehend the message of the ditty about the Turkish and Hungarian boys, but the readers of Csontos’s piece will get the message just fine. After all, the Hungarian parliament just approved the referendum on unwanted immigrants.

May 10, 2016

The neo-nazi kuruc.info discovered the Jewish Hungarian Spectrum

This morning I woke up to the news that Hungarian Spectrum was the subject of an article that appeared on the notorious neo-Nazi website kuruc.info. Actually, it is surprising that it took the editors that long to discover the site–or at least to deem it worthy of excoriation. After all, Hungarian Spectrum will celebrate its eighth birthday in June.

Over the years I have written about kuruc.info numerous times. In 2009 I told the story of the farcical “investigation” the Hungarian police conducted that naturally came up empty-handed. Everybody knows that kuruc.info is written and edited in Budapest, but the Hungarian national security team and the police act as if they were powerless because the site is on an American server. In fact, Viktor Orbán went so far as to blame the U.S. government for refusing to cooperate with the Hungarians’ honest efforts to eradicate this blight from the Hungarian-language landscape of the internet. I also indicated that Előd Novák, one of the most radical anti-Semites in Jobbik, is most likely behind kuruc.info.

This first piece was followed by another post titled “The hunters and the hunted: Kuruc.info’s list of anti-Hungarians,” which dealt with a blood bounty on everyone who participated in a demonstration against László Csatáry, a former police officer in charge of the Košice/Kassa Jewish ghetto in the summer of 1944. One of the participants whose name appeared on kuruc.info’s hate list filed a complaint after receiving harassing telephone calls, like one that said, “If I were you, I would take out life insurance.”

A year later a journalist from Index discovered a huge billboard advertising kuruc.info. He began investigating the case on his own. As a result, his e-mail address and telephone number ended up on the pages of kuruc.info. You can imagine what followed. His life became a living hell. Kuruc.info trolls phoned him non-stop, and his e-mail inbox was overflowing. This time around, even Tamás Deutsch (Fidesz EP MP), who happens to be Jewish, gave 72 hours to the prosecutors “to put an end to this Nazi website. No more evasion. No more on the one hand and on the other. Stand up on your hind legs and act.” Of course, nothing happened then or ever since. Clearly, it is not in the interest of Fidesz to put an end to kuruc.info.

So now Hungarian Spectrum is the target. Since many of you are unable to read kuruc.info in the original, I will try my best to share some of the highlights of this article, which is not an easy task given kuruc.info’s base style. I also decided to translate some of the sixty or so comments which, if possible, are even worse than the article itself.

"They don't like kuruc.info--Everybody else do

“They don’t like kuruc.info–Everybody else does”

Hungarian Spectrum is not the lone target of the article. Kuruc.info’s editors also find Hungarian Free Press, a Canadian website, highly objectionable. What you have to understand is that, as far as the editors of kuruc.info are concerned, everything that is wrong in this world is the fault of the Jews. Also, in their eyes there are Jews and there are Hungarians. If you are Jewish, by definition you are anti-Hungarian. And, I guess, if you are perceived to be anti-Hungarian, you must be Jewish. It is in this light that one must understand the title of the article: “Hungarian Spectrum and Hungarian Free Press: Can One Be More Jewish about Hungarians?” Yes, I know it sounds strange, but it doesn’t make much sense in Hungarian either: “Hungarian Spectrum és Hungarian Press: lehet zsidóbbul a magyarokról?”

And here are the highlights. The article begins with a description of the state of the opposition media. On Klubrádió “a Jewish reporter talks to Jews, he interviews Jews, his expert is Jewish, the man who talks about Christianity is also Jewish.” However, “only a few of us know anything about those who dare to put the adjective ‘Hungarian’ in the name of their websites.” Clearly, they are also Jewish.

The author placed Hungarian Spectrum first because it is “a very influential” website. Then came a few words about the person responsible for the content of the blog: “if there is a disgusting Jewish reptile on the face of the earth it is the sole scribbler of the blog, Eva S. Balogh.” The writer claims that “this Zhidrakova even according to her own website has not much connection to Hungary.” Zhidrakova is supposed to be a Russified version of the Hungarian word for “Jew-Jewish.”

Hungarian Spectrum’s primary subject is “naturally” anti-Semitism. “It is only after that the usual topoi come: the extreme right, the right—which are, as far as she is concerned, the same. Both remind her of Szálasi.” Her main source of information is Klubrádió, which is “as much Hungarian as a pork chop is kosher.”

There is an English-language post every day, which is applauded by her many “pure-bred followers in the thoroughly filtered comments.” The pure-breds I guess refer to Jews. She put forth “an unusually long post last Sunday, which can only be described as ‘vomit.’” The author is referring to the post titled “József Mindszenty: An inveterate anti-Semite or a national hero?” “What conclusion did she come to about the non-Jewish leader of the Hungarian Catholic Church who was tortured by the AVO, sentenced to life, who spent many years in jail? You’re right. Balogh announced her verdict: The former prince primate was an inveterate anti-Semite.”

Magyar Narancs, in which Zoltán Paksy’s interview about Mindszenty’s anti-Semitism appeared, is also called a Jewish publication. And “the fact that [Paksy] is the author of a book called Arrow-Cross Movement in Hungary, 1932-1939, tells everything about this character.” “Quoting Paksy, she [the scribbler] comes to the conclusion that Mindszenty doesn’t deserve to have the memorial center built in Zalaegerszeg.”

“This is so nauseating that we should close this review of Hungarian Spectrum, but we would like to ask quite independently from what József Mindszenty did or did not write, on what basis did Menachem Begin, prime minister of Israel, receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978 when he, with his terror organization Irgun, blew up the King David Hotel in 1945 where 91 persons, mostly Brits, lost their lives?”

A quick response to this article. Quite independently from its anti-Semitic discourse, it ought to be clear to anyone who read my post on Mindszenty that kuruc.info distorts the whole drift of my piece. It is also a lie that comments are “thoroughly filtered.”  I have had to resort to the drastic measure of putting someone on the black list surprisingly few times. And yes, I tolerate neither anti-Semitic talk nor obscenity of the kind found on many Hungarian sites. I’m very proud of the high-level discourse that takes place on Hungarian Spectrum day after day.

Now let’s see some of the comments.

“One should hunt these people like MOSSAD hunted the Nazis.”

“The Führer said way back that every day that the Jewish press doesn’t wage a hate campaign against him he feels that he didn’t do his duty.”

“This is how things go in the West. Every Hungarian organization is eventually taken over by a Jew.”

“I call the attention of a few well-trained Hungarian hackers to these sites.”

“When the last Jew dies (megdöglik/used for the death of an animal) world peace will arrive.”

[To someone who dared disagree with the majority] “What’s up, you Jewish bastard? How do you dare to open your mouth, you inferior worm?”

April 27, 2016