antisemitism,  Hungary

Hungary and the “Jewish question”

By Karl Pfeifer

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán is doing everything in his power to obtain legitimacy for his antidemocratic politics from the upcoming World Jewish Congress meeting in Budapest (May 5th-7th 2013). Gullible foreigners are fed all kinds of half- or untruths about the curbing of Nazi activities by the government [1]. I was there when the Hungarian ambassador to Austria, Vince Szalay-Bobrovniczky, declared in Vienna: “If Hungary was fascist, the WJC would not hold it’s congress in Budapest. One hundred thousand Jews live in Hungary and our prime minister declared that he is defending the Jewish minority. I have never heard the Austrian chancellor say anything like it in the Austrian parliament.”[2]

Now even the most ardent critics of the present government (me amongst them) have never called Hungary a “fascist country”. And, thankfully, the Jews of Austria were never subjected after 1945 to the kinds of verbal (and sometimes physical) threats as Jews are in present-day Hungary.

Yet how did the ambassador arrive at the figure of 100,000 Jews in Hungary? According to the Nuremberg or the Hungarian racial laws of the early 1940s? Or is anybody seriously claiming that there are 100,000 Hungarian Jews entitled to enter Israel and receive Israeli citizenship according to the Israeli law of return?

In the end it’s a question of democracy. Can the state and its rulers decide the identity of its inhabitants? Should they have the right to define who is a Jew and to draw the bounds of a Jewish minority where there was none so far? Or is the determination of one’s personal identity a basic right of the individual citizen?

How do the rulers of Hungary deal with the “Jewish question” today? One example of many: György Konrád, who by an almost miraculous chain of fortunate circumstances escaped the Hungarian Holocaust to become one of the most famous dissidents and authors of his country, the president of the international PEN club of writers and president of the Berlin Academy of Arts and Letters, celebrated his 80th birthday on April 2. He received congratulations from everywhere and was officially invited by the politically conservative president of Germany for a personal visit in his residence. But nobody from official Hungary– not the president, not the prime minister, not the mayor of Budapest, not the lowest culture official– saw fit to send him any friendly word. To the contrary: one of the chief functionaries responsible for national culture (or rather the lack of it) stated publicly that Konrád was not a Hungarian writer, only erroneously seen as such abroad.

While some might be tempted to restrict Hungarian antisemitism to the Hungarian Nazis and their political party and trust the promises of Mr. Orbán, they should know that the nationalistic “völkisch” policy of the government will continue when the ladies and gentlemen of the WJC, and journalists like myself graciously invited as reporters, will have returned to their countries of origin.

1) In Györ a Nazi demonstration was allowed in the center of town on April 13 and the Nazis were escorted by Hungarian police.

2) Austrian public radio has reported on the statement of the Hungarian ambassador in Vienna:

I have published about the subject matter:

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