international newsbrief

HUNGARY | United against Jobbik

Source: The Economist Tuesday, 11 December 2012, 17:33

Thousands of demonstrators arrived from across the country to hear speeches from Antal Rogan, parliamentary leader of the ruling right-wing Fidesz party, Attila Mesterhazy of the Socialists and Gordon Bajnai of the centrist Together 2014 movement. All pledged their solidarity with Hungary’s Jews, and called for Hungarians to take a stand against hate and extremism.

Mr Gyongyosi, who is vice-chairman of the parliament’s foreign-affairs committee, had called for the authorities to compile a national list of Hungarian Jews, especially those in parliament and government, who represent what he described as a “national-security risk”, allegedly slanting Hungarian foreign policy in Israel’s interest. The demand caused revulsion across the political spectrum and sent a shiver through Hungary’s Jews. More than 500,000 perished in the Holocaust, after the Nazis and their Hungarian accomplices used community lists to round up and deport Jews to Auschwitz and other concentration camps.

The initial response of the MPs present and the government was tepid. There was no mass walkout. The government spokesman condemned the speech. Viktor Orban, the prime minister, stayed silent. Laszlo Kover, the speaker of parliament, called for new rules that would outlaw hate-speech. The opposition were more outspoken. The Socialists say they will boycott the foreign-affairs committee as long as Mr Gyongyosi continues as a member.

Jobbik has 43 MPs out of 386 and around 8% support in the polls. Mr Gyongyosi himself is far from the stereotypical skinhead. As the son of a diplomat, he grew up in Egypt, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is well dressed, articulate and speaks perfect English.

Government officials admit they want Jobbik’s voters. Ministers have remained largely silent on the growing cult of Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s leader between 1920 and 1944. Admiral Horthy passed a series of anti-Jewish laws, dragged the country into war as an ally of Nazi Germany and stood by as Hungarian Jews were sent to their deaths. The government’s refusal to take a stand on his growing rehabilitation strengthens the far right, say critics. Hungary’s anti-Semites feel more emboldened. Orthodox Jews say they now expect to hear racist remarks almost as a matter of course while going about their business.

As outrage grew over Mr Gyongyosi’s speech, Fidesz’s political calculus seemed increasingly squalid. Even usually reliable allies turned on the government. A stinging article in Magyar Nemzet, a conservative daily, called on the country’s right-wing to “wake up” about the danger from the extremists.

On December 3rd Mr Orban finally spoke out in parliament, saying that Mr Gyongyosi’s remarks were “unworthy of Hungary”. He received Peter Feldmajer, the leader of Hungary’s Jewish community, and pledged that all Hungarians would be secure and protected.

Mr Gyongyosi later sought to downplay his comments and issued a qualified apology. Only Hungarian Jews with dual Israeli-Hungarian citizenship would have to be screened. Either way, he has been removed from a Hungarian government delegation to Italy. By uniting all three sides against anti-Semitism, Mr Gyongyosi has done his country a service, albeit not the one he intended.


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