Breaking of taboos unleashes wave of anti-Semitism

The Times by Adam LeBor | Monday, 18 June 2012 | Click here for original article

The Martyrs' Memorial in Budapest, which was defaced by anti-Semitic slogans Marjai Jnos/Northfoto
The Martyrs' Memorial in Budapest, which was defaced by anti-Semitic slogans Marjai Jnos/Northfoto

Pigs trotters have been tied around a statue of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust. Graffiti on a memorial declares "This is not your country dirty Jews - you are going to be shot there", pointing towards the Danube, where in 1944 Jews were killed and dumped in the river.

What the Federation of Jewish Communities describes as a "wave of hatred" is breaking over Hungary, with anti-Semitism reaching levels not seen since the fall of communism in 1990. This month J?zsef Schweitzer, the 90-year-old former chief Rabbi, was verbally assaulted in Budapest by a man who told him he "hates all Jews".

In other recent incidents a Jewish cemetery was desecrated, a Holocaust memorial in western Hungary vandalised, and a councillor in the northern city of Eger resigned after being caught on tape describing a famous actor as a "stinking Jew".

The cause, say many, is the deepening recession, coupled with the rise of the far-Right Jobbik party and the ability of the internet to fuel hatred. Most of those involved are stereotypical neo-Nazi skinheads, but many are well-educated and employed. Those between the ages of 16 and 20 are more likely to hold anti-Semitic or anti-Roma prejudice than those over 50, studies show.

"The political parties, which have already built their structures, are too big and too heavy to reform. They are mainly analogue political entities that rely on personal connections and low-tech tools," one Jobbik official said. "The young generation uses virtual communities in real life, knowledge and information-sharing. Street politics were necessary but without the internet we would not have one thousandth of our support."

Jobbik leaders deny that the party is anti-Semitic and claim that it is opposed only to Israeli investors. Nonetheless Jobbik's rise has helped to legitimise hate speech, says Andras Kovacs, of Central European University.

"People with hidden anti-Semitic attitudes became more openly antiSemitic having seen that representatives of the political elite openly express views that they themselves did not dare to express before," he said.

The rise in anti-Semitism was also rooted in the failure of the education system, he added. Under communism open displays of prejudice were forbidden, but when the old system collapsed, so did many of its taboos. Teachers did not know how to deal with Hungary's alliance with Nazi Germany and its role in the Holocaust, when much of the country's Jewish community was sent to concentration camps.

"A whole generation has grown up without historical knowledge or norms to orientate them," Professor Kovacs said.

Paradoxically, the resurgence in anti-Semitism comes as Jewish culture has enjoyed a renaissance. Hungary is home to about 100,000 Jews, the third largest community on mainland Europe, after Paris and Berlin.

The narrow alleys and tree-lined squares of Budapest?s historic Jewish quarter are now the hippest part of town and each year the city proudly hosts the Jewish Summer Festival, which draws thousands of visitors.

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