Tag Archives: racism

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

Another attempt to erect a statue honoring an anti-Semitic racist

Here we go again–another statue, another controversy. The figure being honored this time is György Donáth, whose name is not exactly a household word in Hungary. Although high school textbooks may have included a few sentences about Bálint Hóman, in vain would you look for Donáth, who was a minor figure in Hungarian far-right circles between 1938 and 1945.

History buffs interested in the 1945-1948 period might have encountered his name in connection with a series of trials that eventually led to the annihilation of the Smallholders’ Party, which at the first free elections after the war won an absolute majority but was nonetheless forced to form a coalition government in which the Magyar Kommunista Párt (MKP) held three portfolios. The first of these trials, inspired by the Communist Party, was the so-called Donáth trial. It resulted in a death sentence for Donáth and long prison terms for others.

At least two books deal with the political climate that led to the usurpation of political power by the Muscovite Communists who arrived with the Soviet troops. The 1956 Institute published a book of documents preceded by a lengthy study of the background of the trials by István Csicsery-Rónay and Géza Cserenyey, both former members of the group known as “Magyar Közösség” (Hungarian Community) whose leadership, among them György Donáth, was named in the trials. Mária Palasik’s book on the 1944-1945 period, published in 2000, includes a fairly long chapter on the Magyar Közösség. And Nóra Szekér wrote a Ph.D. dissertation, “A Magyar Közösség története,” in 2009.

We have a fair idea of the political views of this group since most of its members had earlier belonged to a secret organization called “Magyar Testvéri Közösség” (Hungarian Brotherly Community), established in 1925. Its original members came from Transylvania, and some of them were Hungary’s first national socialists. There was no question about the racist nature of the group. To be eligible to join one had to have a father and grandfather of pure Hungarian blood. No Germans or Croats need apply. Jews naturally couldn’t join, but even having a Jewish wife meant disqualification.

Donáth joined the group in 1939 at roughly the same time as he joined Béla Imrédy’s Magyar Élet Mozgalom (Movement of Hungarian Life). During 1943-44 he was editor of the far-right magazine Egyedül vagyunk (We are alone). Although his political career is not well documented, most likely he was unjustly condemned to death in 1947. Nonetheless, his activities between 1938 and 1945 are such as to preclude a statue ever being erected in his memory anywhere in Hungary, especially not only a few steps from the Holocaust Memorial Center.

It was the Politikai Elítéltek Közössége (Community of Political Prisoners) that came up with the idea of honoring Donáth. But just as it turned out that the planned Hóman statue was actually financed by the government, we cannot rule out the possibility that the former political prisoners received some financial help from the Orbán government. One thing is sure: Fidesz and its friends were heavily involved in the unveiling that was supposed to take place on February 24. Gergely Gulyás, deputy chairman of Fidesz, was supposed to deliver the eulogy, and Péter Boross, who has lately been behind the rehabilitation efforts of certain officials from the Horthy period, was also on hand.

At the end nothing came of the unveiling because some of the people who came to honor Donáth attacked the demonstrators against the statue. After a brief scuffle Gergely Gulyás called for a retreat. The incident was duly reported by Reuters. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency also published an article in which the reporter not only told the story of the present controversy but also reminded readers of the Hóman case and “another controversial commemorative project—a statue dealing with Hungary under the rule of Nazi Germany and its pro-Nazi collaborators.”

Donath

One must ask why the Orbán government insists on provoking the Hungarian and international Jewish community with its repeated attempts to whitewash historical characters with dubious pasts. Is it simple ignorance or is it a deliberate attempt to rewrite history? Perhaps sometime in the future we will have a clearer idea of what motivates Viktor Orbán.

My knowledge of the Magyar Közösség and its predecessor is limited, but I found some of the comments by István Csicsery-Rónay about Donáth intriguing. Although most of the people involved in the affair of 1947 didn’t want to restore the Horthy regime, as the prosecutors claimed, “such an outcome could be imagined by certain members of the group.” As he writes, “everybody could see the difference” between the more upstanding members of the group and the more radical faction, which included Donáth. Among the latter was István Szent-Miklósy, who drafted a general military order for the day when the Russian troops leave the country. This order included the takeover of the Hungarian army by members of the Magyar Közösség. In addition, the general order included the restoration of the legal continuity that was broken on March 19, 1944. At this point Csicsery-Rónay remarks that everybody was stunned with the exception of Donáth, because this doctrine was his hobbyhorse. Donáth’s “naïve theory about legal continuity” was one of the justifications for his death sentence because the judges interpreted it as a non-recognition of the existing order which must be overthrown by military means. Csicsery-Rónay’s book was written in 1998, and therefore he couldn’t have known that this “naïve theory about legal continuity” would one day find its way into Viktor Orbán’s new constitution.

Among the numerous documents related to the trials, Csicsery-Rónay published a couple of pages from Donáth’s last plea before the court, which apparently lasted five hours. In this brief section we can see that Donáth’s racism and anti-Semitism were as strong after the Holocaust as before. He defended his involvement with the program of the “race defense movement” (fajvédelem) because it was “the defense of a degraded people.” Later in his plea Donáth lectured the court, saying that “I am talking about Marxism which is of German origin because after all Marx lived in Germany. The fact that Marx was of Jewish origin is irrelevant in the opinion of the prosecution because we make no distinction between races.” Unlike, I assume, he did.

Surely this man, even if he was put to death for a crime he didn’t commit, doesn’t deserve a statue.

February 25, 2016

The two faces of Hungary

Today I would like to share two pieces of writing. One is an article written by Professor András B. Göllner, whom you already know from his astute comments on Hungarian Spectrum. The article originally appeared in Canada’s National Post, a nationally distributed newspaper based in Toronto. The other is a letter addressed to Chancellor Angela Merkel and signed by 43 well-known Hungarians deeply concerned about their government’s behavior. The letter was first published in Népszabadság. These concerned people might be in the minority, but they are the conscience of the nation during these difficult times.

* * *

András B. Göllner: Hungary facing a slow slide into despotism

Last week, Hungary’s nationalist strongman, Viktor Orbán, read the riot act to his diplomats. At a meeting in Budapest, he ordered them to go on the offensive in the Western media and come to the defence of his government’s approach to stemming “the Muslim tide” that is sweeping across Europe from the South.

In his speech, Orbán declared that he will not allow Hungary to become the victim of multiculturalism and promised to do whatever is necessary to ensure that Hungary remains a country populated only by white-skinned Christians. He told his listeners that Western media outlets, including those in Canada, are government mouthpieces that purposefully distort the truth about his country’s handling of the migrant crisis. He ordered his ambassadors to set the record straight. A few days later, his ambassador to Canada, Bálint Ódor, took up the challenge by writing an open letter to the news editors of the CBC and to Canada’s major newspapers, including the National Post. (The full text of the letter is available on the website of the Hungarian Embassy in Ottawa).

rendorseg roszke

In his letter, the Ambassador says that he wants to help our national editors to become better informed. He unfortunately starts off by telling them a monumental lie. He claims that 150,000 of the 160,000 aliens entering Hungary had asked for political asylum in his country. The fact is that hardly any of them did so. Most wanted nothing but to get out of Hungary as fast as their feet could carry them.

Everyone knows that Europe and the world are facing a refugee crisis of epic proportions, sparked by a meltdown in global conflict resolution. No one expected that Hungary, a small and poverty stricken country directly in the path of the tide, should have to solve the problem on its own. But everyone expected that in the process of struggling with the crisis, Hungary would uphold the values that are the sacred trust of the UN and of such bodies as the European Union. The latter expectations are now totally shattered.

The last time Hungary embarked on a racially motivated immigration policy, it was an ally of Nazi Germany.

Through a series of hastily passed laws that will go into effect on Sept. 15, Hungarians and any foreign nationals on the territory of Hungary will face the following conditions. Anyone entering Hungary illegally, regardless of his/her circumstances, will be classified as a felon and face a three-year prison term. Any Hungarian citizen who assists an alien will also be charged. Hungary has erected a 175 km long, four-meter-high razor-tipped fence along its southern border with Serbia. Anyone who climbs over this fence and survives will be faced by members of the Hungarian armed forces, who have been given orders to kill if necessary to arrest trespassers. Hungary’s security forces have been given the power to enter anyone’s home in search of aliens — no warrants are necessary. Those who may offer safe haven to a refugee could have their homes confiscated, and may face imprisonment. The security forces have been given unlimited powers to tap telephone lines, to inspect Internet correspondence, to censure the media that glorifies the felons. A new law is also on the table that will force all Hungarians to possess a face-recognition ID. Their personal data will be entered into a national data bank that can be freely utilized by the country’s security forces without any judicial oversight.

What Prime Minister Orbán is doing today is not unprecedented, but the circumstances under which he is doing them are novel. The last time Hungary embarked on a racially motivated immigration policy, it was an ally of Nazi Germany. Today it is a member of a community — the European Union — that doesn’t allow such discrimination. But this new turn in Hungary is part of a much more serious Volta Face. According to respected constitutional expert Kim Lane Scheppele of Princeton University, “The Hungarian government’s disregard for the rights of refugees in EU law presages its disregard for the rights of its own citizens in the coming surveillance state.  Over the last five years, the Hungarian government has eliminated all checks on its power and now it is using the refugee crisis to usher in a police state.”

Last year, in a highly publicized speech, Hungary’s Prime Minister declared that he will remodel Hungary’s political system according to the Russian and Chinese templates. It seems that he is staying the course and is doing his utmost to court the support of Harper’s Conservatives for his enterprise. A few weeks ago, the Orbán government gave over $100,000 to “The Victims of Communism” memorial in Ottawa, a pet project of the Harper government. The letter from Hungary’s ambassador to our national media is part of this manipulative exercise, and so far, the strategy seems to be working.

 

* * *

The letter of 43 Hungarian intellectuals to Chancellor Angela Merkel

Dear Chancellor Merkel,

We, citizens of the European Union who are signing this letter, are concerned. We are concerned for the thousands of refugees from civil wars around Europe who, as hostages of a failed refugee policy of the European Union and as pawns of a national government that is increasingly escaping any political control, are bound to face, in inhuman circumstances , a most insecure future in Hungary. For the Hungarians with a European sensibility who, for twenty-five years have taken pride in being the first to cause a fissure in the Berlin Wall, this situation is shameful and humiliating.

For several months the Hungarian Government, through billboards and telecasts, is continuously stirring up fear of and hostility against the refugees, thus smashing the stone tablets of European fundamental values. The activity of these politicians aims at criminalizing from the outset, through razor wire fences and administrative strictures, those who seek asylum with us, at creating a pretext for their deportation, and at endearing themselves with far right voters. The Government made a further dangerous step toward this political dead end last Friday when, with the help of the far right MP’s, it obtained authorization to introduce, beginning on the 15th of September, a kind of state of emergency under the pretext of the refugee crisis. This measure would permit the deployment of the army against the refugees. This constitutes a clear mockery of the democratic political system and a vain sabre-rattling. Certainly, these politicians who are openly reneging on solidarity and humanity are Hungarian, but they are also your party allies in the European Parliament. For several months they have been acting in Hungary as if the European People’s Party had announced the Caliphate of xenophobia and the Shariah of intolerance and national self-centeredness.

Resisting the hate campaign of the Hungarian Government, the citizens of Budapest have given proof of their European dignity; through spontaneous civil initiatives they are sharing their modest income and free time with the refugees who, for several weeks by now, have been camping in the train stations. Volunteers are sharing information, looking for interpreters, playing with traumatized children, caring for the sick – often wounded by the Hungarian razor wire fence, while Government politicians are playing their disastrous games on the European floor. Our daily experience teaches us that in these political circumstances we cannot expect from the Hungarian State either a fair assessment of applications for refugee status or a successful policy of integration of the refugees. When, on Wednesday, Mr. de Maizière emphasized the need for the elaboration of common European standards of refugee policy, he spoke from the very heart of all European citizens, including us. All of us are for a proportionate sharing of the burdens. The Hungarian Europeans have sufficiently proven their willingness through donations and their voluntary work in the transit zones. However, until there is a political agreement on the aforementioned standards and they are engraved through practical work of enlightenment in the marble tablets of the hearts and also until their practical implementation is overseen, we cannot entrust the refugees in Hungary to the inhuman machinery of a procrastinating bureaucracy that, from the outset, is aiming at their deportation. Were we doing so, they would remain the hostages of political intrigues.

We, the signatories of this letter, ask you to work on the unique European solution that this historical moment offers. Please help us keep our faith in a common European house and help the refugees of the civil wars to travel to Germany. Do not expose these miserable people to the Hungarian razor wire fence politics.

Sincerely yours,

Ágnes Aczél, sociologist
Judit B. Gáspár, psychologist
Tamás Bulkai, engineer
Margit Bulkai, engineer
Dr. Gábor Demszky sociologist, former Mayor of Budapest
Orsolya Dobrovits, art historian
Sára Gábor, university student
Balázs Galkó, actor
László Garaczi, writer
József Gehér, advisor
Balázs Györe, writer
Eszter Kállay, university student
György C. Kálmán, university professor
Mihály Kiss, educator
Mihály Kornis, writer
Dr. Ilona Kovács, university professor
József Kőrössi Papp, poet
Júlia Lángh writer, journalist
Júlia Lázár, high-school teacher, poet, translator
Júlia Lévai, publicist
László Miklósi, history teacher
Mihály Nagy, university student
András Nyerges, writer
Anna Perczel, architect, president of ÓVÁS! Association
István Perczel, university professor
Péter Perényi, CEO
Viktória Radics, writer, literary critic
Zoltán Radnóti, rabbi
András Schuller, doctoral student
Anna Soproni, physician
Ferenc Szijj, poet
István Sziklai, history teacher
Ádám Tábor, writer
Gáspár Miklós Tamás, philosopher, former director of the Institute of Philosophy of the Hungarian Academy of Science
József Tillmann, university professor
Ildikó Tóth, translator, interpreter
Erika Törzsök, sociologist
Annamária Uzelmann, CEO
Károly Vajda, associate professor
Péter Várdy, retired associate professor (Twente)
Anna Wessely, art historian
Gábor Zalai, real estate developer

Viktor Orbán reveals himself to be a racist

The Hungarian media, as usual, are split when it comes to evaluating Jean-Claude Junker’s state of the union address. Those on the left consider it a very tough speech with pointed messages to Viktor Orbán. After all, he condemned the Orbán government even though he didn’t explicitly mention Hungary, but everybody knows about the appalling conditions the asylum seekers have to endure once they cross into Hungary. He promised to look into the fate of the money given to member states that may not have been used for its intended purpose. He stressed that giving assistance to the asylum seekers is a humanitarian and not a religious question. He warned EU member countries to obey EU law, which includes offering asylum to those who are eligible for refugee status. As for the defense of EU borders, Juncker said that the answer lies in a joint effort at border defense. Juncker announced the introduction of the quota system. Moreover, he indicated that, if necessary, the European Commission has the means to force reluctant member states to comply with the directives of the European Union.

At the moment it is impossible to predict the final outcome of the struggle between “national egotism” and “Europe,” although Juncker optimistically predicted that the former “will be defeated in this migration crisis.” Still, he had to admit that at present “there is neither Europe nor Union.” Europe in this context means “European values” and Union, “solidarity.”

Juncker avoided any reference to “Christian values.” By contrast, one of Viktor Orbán’s arguments against accepting refugees from the Middle East is their non-Christian religious background. Slovak and Hungarian attitudes are very similar in this respect. Robert Fico announced that his country is willing to accept 250 migrants, but they must be Christians. The Hungarian government, which incessantly talks about “Christian Europe,” wasn’t that blatant until yesterday. Zoltán Balog, while attending a conference in Paris, defended the current Hungarian immigration policy by revealing that during 2013 and 2014 1,000 Egyptian and Iraqi Christian families received asylum and citizenship in Hungary. All this, he said, was done in secret. I must say that I am dubious about the truthfulness of this piece of news. I can’t see how in a relatively small country the government can grant citizenship to 1,000 families (or approximately 4,000-5,000 people) without anyone noticing it.

The newcomers’ faith is not, however, the only disqualifying criterion as far as Viktor Orbán is concerned. Orbán’s critics claim that racism is the moving force behind his steadfast opposition to admitting any of the asylum seekers. As we have discussed earlier, Viktor Orbán didn’t always oppose immigration. In fact, he thought it would foster economic growth. Most likely he still thinks that an additional 100,000-150,000 immigrants over the next few years would benefit the Hungarian economy. But not these kinds of people. Not people whose skin color is a shade darker than our own.

On what basis can we charge the Hungarian prime minister with racism? In the past, Orbán has always been careful to draft his speeches in such a way that it would be difficult to accuse him of racism, irredentism, anti-Semitism, fascism, or Nazism. But, according to his critics, in the speech he delivered to the Hungarian ambassadors on September 7 his caution abandoned him and he revealed himself to be an outright racist. Here is the passage:

Hungary’s historical given is that we live together with a few hundred thousands Roma. This was decided by someone, somewhere. This is what we inherited. This is our situation, this is our predetermined condition…. We are the ones who have to live with this, but we don’t demand from anyone, especially not in the direction of the west, that they should live together with a large Roma minority.

The first comment on this speech, as far as I could ascertain, came from András Jámbor of kettosmerce.blog.hu. He called Orbán a racist because he treats the Roma as separate and distinct, perhaps even a burden.

In my opinion, an analysis by one of the readers of Hungarian Spectrum is much more astute. According to Gábor Tóka, professor of sociology at the Central European University, this is “a clear plea to consider the Roma in Hungary an equivalent of refugees from Syria: ‘I do not ask you to take a quota of the Roma, so in return you should not ask me to take a quota of the refugees.'” There is only one way to avoid this interpretation but, in his opinion, it is not any better. Perhaps Orbán considers “both [the Mid-Eastern refugees and the Roma] a burden, an economically unproductive mass living on welfare. Here the problem is not simply with how wrong, prejudiced and evil this premise is, but with the idea that ethnicity means (under)class and vice versa. Whichever of the two interpretations you take, the end result is the same: Orbán declared himself to be not simply like-minded with the far-right on immigration but specifically highlighted his racism as a reason for this policy choice.” I consider Gábor Tóka’s analysis to be spot on.

This is what Viktor Orbán wants to avoid

This is what Viktor Orbán wants to avoid

In Hungary this crucial passage was largely ignored, perhaps because the “Roma issue” is something few Hungarians like to talk about. But this passage provides a window into Viktor Orbán’s mindset. Orbán is not so worried about the fate of Christian Europe as he is about racial purity, which has already been compromised by former colonial powers like Great Britain and France and lately by countries like Germany and Sweden.

And so the European Union now has a prime minster who not only embraces illiberal democracy if not worse but who also espouses racist sentiments.

Péter Boross on immigration, the European Union, and the United States

Péter Boross, prime minister of Hungary between December 12, 1993 and July 15, 1994, periodically makes outrageous statements. Today was one of those times and, as is usually the case, every internet organ is full of condemnation of Boross. This time the Hungarian media discovered that the former prime minister of Hungary is a racist. To my mind there is nothing surprising about this. It goes with the territory. Boross, who was born in 1928, would feel right at home in the Hungary of Gyula Gömbös and Pál Teleki, two prime ministers in the 1930s who were zealous “defenders of the race” (fajvédők).

Nowadays people who find the far-right regime of Viktor Orbán unbearable are apt to think of the Antall-Boross governments’ conservative system as a liberal heaven in comparison. But let’s not get carried away. Seeds of many of the political sins of today were sown by the conservative coalition of József Antall, whose good friend was Péter Boross. Thanks to that friendship Boross made a fantastic political career. First as undersecretary in the prime minister’s office and within months as minister of the interior. Once Antall died, he was chosen by his party to become prime minister.

Those of you who would like to learn more about Boross should read my post on him, which includes a brief biography. I also wrote a longer piece in Hungarian for the by-now defunct Galamus. In addition, I discovered a 2002 tongue-in cheek article by Gáspár Miklós Tamás (TGM) titled “An example for the progressive youth.” The conclusion is that Hungary’s former prime minister is a not very smart, reactionary, bigoted, narrow-minded man who was ill-suited for a political career in the first place. But, let’s face it, Hungary’s first democratically elected government was absolutely full of these characters.

The interview appeared in Magyar Hírlap, a far-right paper that is supportive of Fidesz. It was somewhere in the middle of the interview that Tamás Pindroch, a journalist whose views are not far from those of Boross, asked him whether he shares the widely-held view that the would-be immigrants cannot adapt to European norms because of their “cultural differences.” The civilizations where these people are coming from are so different from our own that adjustment is impossible. Of course, we know that this is the view Viktor Orbán holds who, in my opinion, defines “culture” in a very narrow sense. Since he denies that multi-national Hungary was a multi-cultural country, we must assume that for Orbán cultural difference means religious difference, Christian versus Muslim.

Boross, Magyar Hirlap

Boross, as it turned out, doesn’t share that view. Let me quote the crucial sentences:

Today no one dares to say that immigration is not a cultural but an ethnic problem. Namely, millions arrive in Europe whose languages and skin colors are different from those of Europeans. It is important to note that they don’t just come from different cultures but their psychic apparatus, their biological and genetic endowments are different. It is a well-known fact that in Western Europe third-generation immigrants oppose the nations that took them in. What kind of conclusion can we draw from this? If it were simply a question of culture, they should have adjusted a long time ago: they attended school in the countries they live in, they speak the language, they are familiar with the customs and behavior of Europeans. Cultural integration doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked with the Gypsies, although they have lived with us for hundreds of years. In this case, there is not much of a chance that it will work with masses of Muslims who are crossing our borders.

Liberal publications were shocked and condemned Boross for his racist remarks, but Válasz, a pro-Fidesz publication, was also critical. The article argued that after the appearance of this interview, all those who consider people “who don’t welcome the new arrivals with EU flags in hand bigoted and narrow-minded racists” will be able to point to the racist remarks of the former prime minister. Right-wing politicians in the West would never resort to such language. Listing cultural differences is enough for them.

Admittedly, Boross’s racist remarks were shocking, but I wouldn’t ignore some of his other observations which, though they might not touch on sensitive race issues, also manifest an attitude that is not far from the thinking of many Hungarians, politicians and non-politicians alike.

Although Boross covered many topics, I will pick only a couple that I found the most interesting. One such topic was the European Union. A careful reading of the text reveals that, as far as the former prime minister is concerned, Hungary would be much better off if she didn’t belong to the Union. He states that if there were only independent nation states in Europe, “this flood could easily have been stopped.” In what way it would have been easier to handle the problem, he neglects to tell us. But since the existence of the EU is a given, at least its important organizations shouldn’t be situated in Brussels, Strasbourg, and the Hague, which are strongholds of “western left-liberalism.” And since the EU is expanding eastward, it would be logical to change the venue of EU institutions. Somewhere in the former East Germany would be an excellent place.

What should the European Union do with the flood of immigrants? The answer is certainly not a quota system, which would divvy up the immigrants among the member states. What the EU needs is an army. Such an army, together with the military of the United States, should achieve peace by military force in the troubled regions, after which the immigrants can be sent back to where they came from. This joint military effort should be financed “from the money of the Americans because they were the ones who, without any thought for the future, began a war in the region.”

Boross then shared his golden thoughts on the United States. We learn that “the Americans live in a culture of competition without any human content.” When he talks about culture, he warns that the word must be put between shudder quotes because American culture is “the culture of the ‘half-learned'” (félművelt). Then he elaborates.

What I mean is that the Americans reward the stronger over the weaker in every case. In the United States the strong can trample on the weak without any interference. They call their system “absolute democracy.” After they became a superpower, they thought that democracy as it functions at their place will follow the “Arab spring.”… They are intellectually unfit to lead the world. Rome back then was wise because it left the conquered territories in peace and accepted some of the gods of the conquered as their own. Washington does exactly the opposite, it wants to force its own god, democracy, upon the conquered lands. (emphasis mine)

For Péter Boross democracy is something the Americans want to foist on every country, including Hungary. But Boross and his ilk want nothing to do with the god of the Americans, who after all are totally unfit to dictate anything to anyone.

It seems that Boross is right on one point: the United States doesn’t think that Hungarian democracy is thriving under Viktor Orbán. Moreover, it has the temerity to say so. This is the message Secretary of State John Kerry sent on the occasion of Hungary’s national holiday, which will be celebrated tomorrow:

On behalf of President Obama and the citizens of the United States, I offer heartfelt congratulations to the people of Hungary as you commemorate Saint Stephen’s Day this August 20th.

Today, we recall and pay tribute to the rich history of Hungary and to the great unifier, King Stephen I. The United States is proud to have honored his legacy by protecting the Crown of St. Stephen on behalf of the Hungarian people after the Second World War. This day is one of personal significance for me, moreover, as my own paternal grandmother was from Budapest.

The strong and enduring ties that exist between the United States and Hungary can be seen in our shared membership in the NATO Alliance, our mutual support for a sovereign and democratic Ukraine, our thriving economic and trade relationship, and a multitude of familial and cultural connections. To further our common interests, it is vital that we uphold transatlantic values including democracy and good governance, both in our own countries and around the world.

On this special day, the United States wishes the people of Hungary continued peace and a future filled with prosperity and joy.

Foolish, foolish, half-educated Americans still believe in democracy. Although the Americans, according to Boross, trample on the weak and the defenseless, Mr. Kerry most likely would be terribly shocked if he heard that a former prime minister of Hungary and an adviser to the present one thinks that human considerations must be set aside in the current immigration crisis. “Unfortunately, the opposition media, playing on human emotions, show crying children and thus manipulate public opinion. But in this question the fate of our nation takes priority. We must push human considerations into the background in handling this crisis.” Boross doesn’t have to worry. Viktor Orbán’s government has been doing just that for months by now.

Bálint Magyar on the failures of the socialist-liberal governments

After two edited volumes on the post-communist mafia state (Magyar Polip, 2013 and 2014), Bálint Magyar came out with a book of his own, A magyar maffiaállam anatómiája (2015), which offers a brief but penetrating analysis of the failings of the socialist-liberal coalition government that led to the “revolution in the voting booth.” His thoughts on the matter are especially significant since Magyar himself was a member of three of these governments. He was minister of education between January 1996 and June 1998 in the Horn government and again in the Medgyessy-Gyurcsány governments between May 2002 and June 2006.

As Magyar says, although “the Third Republic wasn’t killed by the left and the liberals, they had a share in adding to its vulnerability.” After listing the usual reasons for their failure–corruption, loss of credibility, overspending, and strategic mistakes, Magyar concentrates on the deeper reasons for the current sad state of the liberals and the socialists. He points to a “loss of identity” due to a lack of recognizable symbols associated with the left. “The democratic forces had neither a public ethos nor a modern vision of society.” (p. 39)

One reason that the democratic forces couldn’t come up with an identifying symbolism was that the socialists and the liberals “didn’t speak the same language,” and therefore they couldn’t formulate a common policy. The socialist politicians didn’t understand the importance of creating a spiritual link to their electorate. In times of plenty, perhaps such a link can be dispensed with, but in times of trouble only those politicians can ask for “blood, toil, tears, and sweat” who themselves have a vision over and above the promise of a slightly higher standard of living. By contrast, Fidesz, after 1993, easily revived the old “ideological instruments of the right”: God, country, family. These were simple phrases that could offer a framework in which the Hungarian everyman could find solace and hope.

There were few meeting points between the socialists and the liberals, but there was at least one question on which they could easily agree: the separation of church and state. Both considered religion part of the private sphere. But Gyula Horn’s decision in 1998 to negotiate with the Vatican, resulting in special privileges for the Catholic Church, put an end to that accord. In Magyar’s opinion the leaders of MSZP looked upon the church the same way that politicians did in the Kádár regime–as “an institution that can be influenced and bought.” The socialists didn’t realize that by the 1990s the Catholic Church was no longer fighting for its survival; it strove for a more prominent political and social role. Because the Church’s leaders had been compromised by virtue of their cooperation with the Kádár regime, they had no intention of cooperating with the democratic socialists. Horn hoped that the Church would stand by the socialists in the election campaign as a result of his generous financial settlement. Of course, they didn’t. They helped Fidesz with its “God, country, family” slogan, which fit the Church better anyway.

Already in 1990 the liberals and socialists lost the parliamentary debate over the concept of a modern, democratic nation. The conservative parties made August 20th the national holiday, a day that emphasizes events eleven hundred years ago:  the arrival of Hungarians in the Carpathian basin, the establishment of the state, and the acceptance of Christianity. The liberals and socialists wanted March 15th to be the national holiday, the day when a modern, democratic Hungary was born. They lost. They also lost the debate over the question of the coat-of-arms, which was the heraldic symbol of the Kingdom of Hungary. Eventually the left even lost the battle for the left-inspired 1956 revolution, which in the interpretation of the right has since become “the revolution of right-wing radicals.”

Not only the socialists but also the liberals “were deaf” when it came to the necessity of symbols in political discourse. Members of the democratic opposition, including Bálint Magyar himself, were suspicious of anything that might limit the freedom and autonomy of the individual. This secular intellectual elite’s self-assurance seemed like an “arrogance of rootless individuals.” The socialist-liberal government even missed the opportunity to support women’s issues and work out a concept of a modern family where women can be useful members of the national economy. In brief, they failed at the reinterpretation of spiritual, national and familial communities, and therefore “the road to national populism was wide open.”

imagination

Meanwhile Hungarian society went through some very rough times after the change of regime. Instead of the hoped-for welfare state came high unemployment and inflation. Neither the socialists nor the liberals had any viable answers. The socialists could offer only paternalistic solutions while the liberals clung to their belief in the invisible hand of the markets. They looked insensitive to the hopelessness of those who were victims of the change of regime.

Another problem was the quality of the personnel in the ministries. By the second half of the Kádár regime the quality of the higher echelon of the ministries was high in comparison to the other socialist countries. Since then, the quality of the leading government officials has deteriorated. In addition, every four years each new prime minister decided to reorganize the whole government structure. Magyar is especially critical of Ferenc Gyurcsány’s decision in 2006 to eliminate the position of “administrative undersecretary,” the person who was in charge of the everyday running of the ministry. Gyurcsány also made the mistake of placing the police under the ministry of justice, which “the doctrinaire liberals” liked because it fulfilled their desire to have control over the police, but in the fall of 2006 the minister of justice, a former professor of law, turned out to be unfit for the job.

Finally, Magyar bemoans the weakness of the Hungarian system of institutions that were supposed to provide those checks and balances that guarantee the democratic functioning of the state. Way before 2010, racist talk and action became commonplace and was tolerated. And, Magyar asks, didn’t László Sólyom’s silence after the formation of the Hungarian Guard in 2007 contribute to the increasing acceptance of racism? Or, when he reacted far too late to the serial killing of Romas in 2008 and 2009? Or what about the courts that waited until the Hungarian Guard had grown into a sizable force and then took years to disband it?

The Constitutional Court also played a role in the demise of the Third Republic. Magyar mentions two milestones in the twenty-year history of the court. The first, when in 1995 the court ruled against a large portion of the austerity program of Finance Minister Lajos Bokros, which wanted to put an end to the populist policies practiced in Hungary. With this act the Court made “equitable and rational political discourse” impossible. And in 2008 the Court gave its blessing to a Fidesz referendum question on the annulment of college tuition fees and co-payments at doctor’s offices. Some members of the “independent” Constitutional Court were politically motivated in this case. Their decision heightened the population’s “unrealistic expectations and paralyzed the government’s capacity to act.” Indeed, this was the last nail in the coffin of the Third Republic.

The first stop in the European Union: Refugees keep arriving in Hungary

The refugees keep coming despite the fact that the Hungarian parliament passed amendments to the law on refugees, making it a great deal more stringent. The government is so eager to have this piece of legislation in place that it asked János Áder to sign it as soon as possible. It can’t, of course, solve the refugee crisis either in Hungary or elsewhere in Europe.

A headline in one of the Hungarian papers proclaimed: Leaders of the Catholic Church offer their help to the government in solving the refugee problem. I couldn’t believe my eyes. But then I read the whole article. It was the Czech Catholic Church, not the Hungarian. The latter, as far as I know, has done nothing. The same holds true for the Calvinists. The only exception is the small Hungarian Lutheran Church, which gave a modest amount of money to one of the few charitable organizations involved. And, as usual, Gábor Iványi, head of the Methodist Magyarorszáagi Evangéliumi Testvérközösség, not officially recognized as a church in Hungary, became involved.

There are charitable and kind-hearted Hungarians

Concerned citizens who find Viktor Orbán’s hate campaign against the refugees unacceptable have organized and begun collecting food and clothing for the “unfortunate people” (szerencsétlenek), as volunteers usually refer to them. The first such group was formed in Szeged, close to the Serbian border, where the refugees usually start their journey either to Debrecen or more often toward the West by train. MÁV, the Hungarian State Railways, made the refugees’ stay in Szeged difficult by locking up the waiting rooms for the night. That meant that the refugees, often with small children, had to spend the night outside, trying to sleep on the pavement. It was at this point that concerned citizens, many of them from the university with English-language skills, came to the rescue. At first there were no more than a handful of people, including a professor of medicine who is of Syrian origin, but by now hundreds are at work who have given food and clothing to those in need. The babies received diapers and the children toys.

What the refugees also need, and what the Hungarian authorities don’t provide them with, is information. After they are registered, they receive a document written only in Hungarian that allows them to board a train to one of the refugee camps. But how to get there is sometimes unclear even to the natives. For example, in Szeged the volunteers who call themselves Migráns Szolidaritás, or MigSzol, didn’t know that in order to travel from Szeged to Debrecen one has to change trains in Cegléd. Or, I heard about lost refugees who were supposed to travel to the Western Station in Budapest, but no one told them that because of renovations the station is closed and the train stops elsewhere. The result was that a group of refugees wandered around the station, not knowing where they were and how to get to their destination.

A group similar to MigSzol was formed in Cegléd. The Szeged and Cegléd groups are in constant communication. The Szeged activists phone ahead to Cegléd, telling them when the refugees will arrive, and the Cegléd group waits for them at the railroad station. These groups already have more than 2,800 members on Facebook. They have helped at least 700 people in Cegléd alone.

Amnesty International just released a report titled Europe’s borderlands: Violations against refugees and migrants in Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary which states that “refugees who make the perilous journey [via the Balkan route] are met with both violence and indifference by the authorities.” The refugees, greeted with such kindness on the part of Hungarian volunteers, are extremely grateful.

Neo-Nazis’ hate campaign against the refugees

This is the laudatory side of Hungary but, unfortunately, there are many who loathe the refugees, especially since the prime minister has for months been inciting hatred and fear of the refugees and has repeated time and again that he will defend the country from these intruders.

On Sunday night Jobbik organized a demonstration near the Debrecen refugee camp where Gergely Kulcsár, a Jobbik MP, spoke. As a reminder, it was Gergely Kulcsár who spat on the shoes placed on the bank of the Danube in memory of those Hungarian Jews who were shot and thrown into the Danube in late 1944. Although the demonstration was peaceful, according to one journalist who was present, right after the singing of the national anthem a few people complained loudly about the “black apes” inside the camp.

In Szeged 50 or 60 members of another neo-Nazi organization called the Army of Outlaws (Betyársereg) decided to put the fear of God into those civilians and refugees who are staying around the railroad station. I wrote about this group in 2011. Fortunately, in Szeged, unlike in Cegléd, the policemen guard both the refugees and the activists 24/7. Since there were about as many policemen as outlaws, nothing serious happened although, according to the report, the situation was tense for a while. The Szeged group has been in existence only for eight days, but there have already been three incidents around the railroad station.

Members of the Army of Outlaws arrived in Szeged

Members of the Army of Outlaws arrived in Szeged

The policemen cannot be everywhere, and in one of the villages along the border there is a young mayor, László Toroczkai, who is doing his best to stir up sentiment against the refugees. Toroczkai’s career began in MIÉP, an anti-Semitic far-right group, in 1998, but on the side he also organized a paramilitary organization, Special Unit of the Sons of the Crown, and later the Hatvannégy Vármegye Ifjúsági Mozgalom (HIVM/Youth Movement of the Sixty-four Counties), a reference to Greater Hungary’s counties. Because of the irredentist propaganda he conducted in Serbia and Romania he has been banned by both countries. In 2013 he was elected mayor of Ásotthalma in a by-election. I wrote a post about Toroczkai’s career, from the siege of the television station where he was one of the leaders of the football hooligans to the mayoralty.

Toroczkai is now in his element. He seems to know English because I’ve encountered him in several foreign-language articles as someone who informs journalists about the situation along the border. He is also busy on Facebook, where he writes not always truthful stories about the alleged atrocities committed by the refugees. One of his posts on Facebook described a situation in which a group of migrants sat down under a tree on the property of a farmer. According to Toroczkai, the mother who was alone in the house with two small children asked them to leave but they refused. An incredible number of hateful comments appeared immediately after Toroczkai’s short description of the alleged encounter. A reporter for a local paper visited the farmer’s wife, and it turned out that the family actually gave the refugees food and water who then peacefully settled in the shade of the tree and waited peacefully for the police to arrive.

And the “experts” in service of the government

But there are more dangerous propagandists who can influence public opinion through the media. One is György Nógrádi, a university professor and an expert on national security matters. He is a great supporter of a fence or a wall. He gives dozens of interviews and is the favorite man of the state radio and television stations. Even the liberal ATV made the mistake of inviting this windbag for a so-called conversation with another expert on national security.

Then there is László Földi, a former intelligence officer, who poses as an “expert on the secret service.” He is certain that the present refugee crisis is actually part of a war between the Islamic State and civilized Europe. In his opinion the leaders of IS want to conquer and convert the entire world. Their first move is to invade Europe. “This is war,” which can be handled only by warlike methods. This nonsense was uttered on, of all places, Olga Kálmán’s “Egyenes beszéd” (Straight Talk). Kálmán, looking grave, kept nodding. Mind you, Földi was also certain that last fall’s demonstrations were organized by the CIA to overthrow Viktor Orbán’s government.

People like Nógrádi and Földi are more dangerous by virtue of being “experts” in their chosen fields. I’m greatly disappointed in ATV, which gave a platform to these hatemongers.