Guest post by Karl Pfeifer
There is no other European country with the possible exemption of Lithuania where anti-Semitism has become such a part and parcel of mainstream politics and media.
A recent public opinion survey by the ADL confirms that the level of anti-Semitism in Hungary is one of the highest in the European Union. For example 73 per cent believe that Jews have too much power in the business world.
In February the foreign affairs spokesman of Jobbik, the neo-Nazi party poised to play a leading role in Hungarian politics, openly questioned the Holocaust and claimed that Jews are colonising the country.
Jobbik, which holds 47 parliamentary seats is advocating social demagogy, anti-capitalism, anti-Roma racism and explicit anti-Semitism.
On April 3, 2012 MP Zsolt Baráth (Jobbik) spoke five minutes in Budapest parliament, protesting against 130 years of history throughout which “the origins and religious affiliations of the perpetrators could not be named.”
Baráth provided the now-fashionable (in Hungarian neo-Nazi circles) account of the Tiszaeszlár Blood Libel Claim. Deep suspicions were aroused when, on April 1, 1882, a fourteen-year-old domestic servant, Eszter Solymosi, disappeared from Tiszaeszlár, a village in Northeastern Hungary. Because she vanished just three days before the Jewish Passover festival and was last seen near the local synagogue, a small group of parliamentary anti-Semites alleged that the Jews had murdered the girl to use her blood for baking matzoth, the unleavened bread eaten by Jews over Passover.
The extended investigation and trial, exploited by anti-Semites, turned the Tiszaeszlár case into one of the most famous “ritual murder” affairs of modern times. The acrimonious trial, accompanied by demonstrations of public furor, ended on August 3, 1883, with the acquittal of all fifteen defendants. The outcome was inevitable, following the prosecutor’s acknowledgment that the defendants were, in fact, innocent.
Demonstrations swept the country, with pogroms erupting in several places, which the government suppressed promptly and resolutely.
“Our task to pronounce the consequences is more and more urgent,” said Baráth about the case, given “the misconceived notion of solidarity” and “the effort exerted to whitewash the case.” According to Baráth, these only strengthen the suspicion that the local Jewry murdered the young woman.
Baráth said in parliament: “As we can see, there is no clear explanation, we do not know what happened to Eszter. Nevertheless, there is one point common to the known variants: the Jewry and the leadership of the country were severely implicated in the case.” His evidence: regardless of “almost a year of investigation, nationwide uproar and a media campaign” the verdict ended with an acquittal. This was “due to outside pressure.” Baráth insinuated that the judge presiding over the appeal in 1884 found enough evidence to convict the accused, but he obeyed orders shaped by higher state interests.
“What could have had such an influence on the independent Hungarian judge? Had he not done so, he would have prevented receiving a rente konverzió— a change of the conditions of the repayment of a loan to a longer period of smaller payments – from circles who had already dominated the economy of the world and our homeland at that time. This would have meant Hungary’s bankruptcy and the devaluation of the [Hungarian] forint.” The rente konverzió version of the Tiszaeszlár case is a particularly fashionable revision of the 19th century blood libel myth among fringe groups of today’s Hungarian extreme right. It has currency in particular with organizations like the Magyarok Nyilai Nemzeti Felszabadító Hadsereg (Arrows of Hungary National Liberation Army), a neo-Nazi group currently under investigation for terrorism charges. In 2009, the group was briefly associated with a certain Solymosi Eszter Csapásmérő Alakulat (the Eszter Solymosi Strike-Afflicting Brigade).
Though the brigade never sprung into action, its name nevertheless testifies to the cult status among Hungarian anti-Semites of Eszter Solymosi, the young woman at the centre of the case. She has proven to be the perfect stand-in for the role of the pure woman of the select race who is unsuspecting enough to become victimized by the murderous desires of the impure and the alien living amongst Hungarians. Jobbik is careful not to make its associations with the ideological adherents of these authors too obvious; what Baráth’s speech proves, however, is that they do not mind representing the views of the Hungarian neo-Nazi movement in the Hungarian parliament.
Preoccupation with the Tiszaeszlár case is not new in contemporary Hungary. On the 120th anniversary of Eszter Solymosi’s death, a new grave memorial was erected to her memory, which has become a veritable place of pilgrimage for Hungary’s avowed anti-Semites. (I am indebted to the translation of the excellent blog The Contrarian Hungarian.)
Eva S. Balogh, who taught East European history at Yale and published a number of studies on Hungarian foreign policy and party politics between the two world wars, made on her invaluable blog Hungarian Spectrum the following remark:
It seems that János Fónagy, undersecretary of the Ministry of National Development and a Jew, has the unpleasant task of answering these Jobbik anti-Semitic harangues in the Hungarian parliament. The last time he was called upon was when Előd Novák (Jobbik) during the discussion on the law on religions complained that too many Jewish religious groups were recognized by the state when their numbers don’t justify it. Fónagy on that occasion turned to Novák and said “I don’t know why you are so surprised that there are so few people who can be found in the largest synagogue of Europe when it was your spiritual kin who killed 600,000 of our compatriots.
This time Fónagy didn’t manage to be so eloquent. Even his first sentence was somewhat ambiguous because he began by saying that he doesn’t know whether he should answer Baráth in the name of the government or in his own name. In any case, Fónagy stressed that Jobbik is an anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi party. Therefore, Jobbik shouldn’t be surprised at its condemnation by the more sober segment of Hungarian society and the world.
Of course the condemnation of the world is not directed against Jobbik alone. The fact that Jobbik got into the Hungarian parliament with 17% of the votes cast two years ago reflects badly on Hungary itself. And the world also seems to realize that one Jobbik “demand after the other is being satisfied by the government party. [Prime Minister] Viktor Orbán badly wants to get the Jobbik votes, and to this end he is ready to make compromises with an outright Nazi party.
Orbán was careful not to say anything against this aggressive anti-Semitic speech, for he believes that by tolerating such things, he takes the wind out of Jobbik’s sails. Therefore it would be a gross mistake to reduce anti-Semitism only to the activities of Jobbik.
Pál Schmitt resigned on April 2 as president of Hungary after being stripped of his academic title because out of 215 pages of his dissertation, 197 pages were copied and pasted from another source. Just before Easter, the Tatabánya branch of the small government party KDNP likened the plagiariser Schmitt to Jesus. The implication is clear.
Leaders of Fidesz, the governing party, are coldly calculating cynics. After Fidesz lost the national elections in 2002, the party systematically resorted to character assassinations of their adversaries, who were stigmatized, criminalized and held up as scapegoats. Political communication by verbal aggression became the norm. The party consciously played on negative instincts and vulgar emotions from which it hoped to benefit, in contrast to the extreme right that was viscerally racist and anti-Semitic. By doing that Fidesz made the hate speech of the extreme right socially acceptable. The politically motivated search for scapegoats, the stigmatization and persecution of minorities, was turned into an instrument of governance.
In Hungary anti-Semitism has indeed become again creditable, and it would be a mistake not to see how during a pro-government mass demonstration on January 21 antisemitic posters were shown up. While Fidesz is not propagating open anti-Semitism, its rhetoric against foreign finance capitalism and foreigners meddling in Hungarian affairs is serving the explicit anti-Semitism of Jobbik.
To help the Hungarian people defeat anti-Semitism and racism, United Europe should investigate the racism and anti-Semitism that infects such broad areas of politics in Hungary.