Last Updated on August 9, 2011 by Steven Meurrens
I spent 6 months of law school studying in Budapest, Hungary. While I was there I lived on the border of what use to be old Jewish ghetto during World War II. I became fascinated with the history of the Jewish people in Budapest, and you can view some of my flickr photos of different Jewish related sites in Budapest here. Given this curiosity, it was with great interest that I read a recent Federal Court case involving an individual who claimed that he would face persecution if he had to go back to Hungary.
Ultimately, the case was dismissed partially due to a lack of evidence regarding whether the plight of Jews in Hungary was worsening.
Given my interest, I decided to have a look at what came up on Google News when I typed “Jews Hungary”.
The results were not particularly encouraging.
The Bankito Festival itself is a music and cultural extravaganza organized by a number of Jewish and non-Jewish NGOs, which is expected to attract hundreds of people from Hungary and further afield.
“There is a high level of intolerance and a lack of critical thinking in Hungary at the moment,” says Haver CEO Mircea Cernov. “The roots of this come from the schools and is deeply rooted throughout society. What we are trying to do is address the lack of debate on these issues.
“Radical voices are getting stronger in Hungary in the last few years,” Cernov says.
“There are concrete signs and cases of discrimination against people in the Roma community and the strengthening of hard anti-Semitic narratives.”
Anti-Jewish comments from the Hungarian daily Magyar Hirlap and the passage of a restrictive new media law in early July by Hungary’s conservative government have prompted sharp criticism from American and Austrian media outlets.
Zsolt Bayer, a columnist for the right-wing daily, had referred to Jews as “stinking excrement called something like Cohen.”
Bayer has a journalistic track record of attacking Jews, according to critics. In 2010, he asserted that the Hungarian Academy of Science has been infiltrated by Jews.
Earlier this year, the Hungarian daily Magyar Hirlap published an anti-Semitic tirade written by Zsolt Bayer and now the paper as well as the Hungarian government is taking the heat for it in media outlets all over Europe.The newspaper and columnist in question reportedly have ties with the current Prime Minister, Viktor Orban and the right-wing Fidesz party. According to Karl Pfeifer, an Austrian Jewish columnist and Holocaust survivor who was the subject of one of Bayer’s tirades, said Bayer has a history of attacking Jews and his ties to the current prime minister is why no action has been taken. According to Pfeifer, he was referred to as a “gas chamber deserter” amongst other epithets over the last year. However, the newpaper rejects those accusations.
More generally, as Balogh, Pfeifer, and other commentators have noted, Hungary is rapidly becoming one of the most xenophobic countries in Europe. Roma (Gypsies) face regular attack, and those who expose these crimes find themselves on the receiving end of nationalist opprobrium (“Gypsies are killing Hungarians every week,” one commenter lectured Pfeifer.)
The neo-fascist Jobbik party, which sports its own militia, has emerged as Hungary’s third-largest, combining an extreme right-wing loathing of Jews and other minorities with anti-Zionist rhetoric more commonly found on the extreme left. And just this month, Hungary made the headlines when a court acquitted 97-year-old Sandor Kepiro, accused of participating in a brutal massacre of Hungarian Jews and Serbian nationals during World War Ii.
I certainly don’t know enough about the circumstances of Jews in Budapest to know whether things are becoming dire enough to warrant the label of persecution, but it certainly seems clear that anti-semitism is becoming an increasingly significant issue in the Magyar country.