The battle for the hearts and minds of Hungarians took a bizarre turn last week when, in apparent retaliation for the despoliation of a wooden statue erected to Admiral Miklós Horthy who served as head of state between 1919 and 1944, unknown assailants hung pigs’ feet on the bronze statue of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat credited with saving the lives of some 100,000 Hungarian Jews in the final years of the Second World War.
Horthy halted deportation
Ironically, Wallenberg’s heroic efforts to save Budapest’s Jews would have amounted to little had it not been for Admiral Horthy’s decision to cancel the deportation of Hungarian Jews in July 1944. Coming in the wake of the deportation of 437,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz on 148 freight trains between 14 May and 8 July, Horthy’s change of heart was not sufficient to redeem him in the eyes of Hungary’s liberal establishment, especially given the subsequent appointment of the head of the Hungarian Nazi party, Ferenc Szálasi, to prime minister.
Attitudes towards Horthy have become something of a political litmus test in Hungary. Conservatives see him as a patriot who was committed to preserving Hungary’s independence and to politically reunifying the nation. Liberals see him as an arch-conservative Nazi collaborator cut of the same cloth as Benito Mussolini and Francisco Franco.
The past 20 years have seen several attempts to rehabilitate Horthy. Recently the town of Gyömrõ renamed its main square after him.
Admiral Horthy is but one of several controversial figures of that period offered up by the radical right as role models, especially with regard to their particular brand of patriotic anti-semitism. In addition to being anti-Gypsy and more recently anti-European Union, the radical right-wing party Jobbik is unapologetically and unabashedly anti-semitic.
In its view Jews and Gypsies cannot be good Hungarians by virtue of their faith or nationality, and vice-versa. In 2010, ten days before national parliamentary elections were held, Gábor Vona used the occasion of his Easter Day greeting to remind Hungarian voters that “Jews crucified the Saviour” (even though this has not been the position of the Catholic Church for some time).
More recently Jobbik MP Zsolt Baráth asked the government to reopen the investigation into the alleged kidnap and ritual murder of a Hungarian girl in Tiszaeszlár in 1882 for which the accused were acquitted the following year. To a visibly astonished Parliament Baráth announced that “we can only break the power of the world conquerors by telling the truth”.
The notion that Jews are responsible for Hungary’s problems is proving to be as strong an organising political ideology today as it was in the 1930s. The rapid proliferation of virulent anti-semitic attitudes among unemployed youth and dispossessed members of the middle class helps explain the meteoric rise of Jobbik, ever at the ready to fan and exploit such irrational beliefs for its own political gain.
The detractors of Hungary’s Jews point to the fact that both Béla Kun (leader of the Hungarian Bolshevik party which briefly seized power in Hungary in 1919) and Mátyás Rákosi (communist dictator from 1945 until 1956) were “Jews” despite the fact that the former was baptised at birth and raised a Christian and the latter completely repudiated Judaism.
They also blame Jewish politicians for the rampant corruption that has plagued Hungary since it regained its political independence in 1989 and for “selling out the country” to foreigners.
In addition to frequent anti-Jewish pronouncements Jobbik has actively fanned the flames of virulent anti-Jewish public opinion through the issuing of right-wing publications such as Bar!kád (owned by Vona and Jobbik MEP Csanád Szegedi) and notoriously anti-semitic websites such as www.kuruc.info, whose editor is rumoured to be none other than EU flag-burning Jobbik politician Elõd Novák.
A few months ago Jobbik began distributing two million copies of its newsletter every month. That’s a lot in a country of just under ten million.
Jobbik claims of media bias notwithstanding, there does not seem to be any reluctance on the part of the mainstream Hungarian media to attend their press conferences, cover their rallies, interview their elected representatives or report uncritically their pronouncements on whatever issue the media happens to be reporting on a given day.
One suspects that much of the media coverage is paid for with advertisements placed by companies close to or even fronting for Jobbik. Or worse.
Flush with cash, apparently
At a recent party congress Vona touted the establishment of a right-wing academy and announced the goal of establishing a series of schools to educate the children of the party faithful. Perhaps he is inspired by the success of the Islamic schools – the Madrasah Islamiyyah – at radicalising an entire generation of Islamic youth across the Middle East.
One wonders where Jobbik is getting the money to maintain its media presence, kit out tens of thousands of civil guardsmen, distribute millions of free newspapers and establish its own network of private schools.
Jobbik is rumoured to have received millions of euros of illegal political contributions from the government of Iran. Let us hope for the sake of Hungary and the rest of Europe that such allegations are unfounded, and that the only thing Iran is exporting to Hungary today is Persian rugs and not revolution.