Hungary revisits blood libel conspiracy
Apr 18, 2012 | Sharyn Mittelman
Far-right political parties appear to be making a comeback in Europe, especially in Hungary and in Greece.
In Hungary, the radical nationalist party commonly known as Jobbik – (‘The Movement for a Better Hungary’), has been growing in power and popularity and is considered by many scholars to be fascist and antisemitic.
These concerns were reinforced when on April 3, Deputy leader of Jobbik, Zsolt Barath made a speech in Budapest Parliament that revisited the Tiszaszlar Blood Libel Claim. In 1882 the local Jewish community in Tiszaeszlár were blamed for the murder of a young girl Eszter Solymosi who disappeared shortly before Passover. A group of 15 accused Jews were later acquitted in a court trial. The victim has since become a martyr figure for the Hungarian right – several years ago a memorial was constructed in her honour and it is now a pilgrimage spot for Jobbik members and other far-right activists. Barath said in his speech:
“As we can see, there is no clear explanation, we do not know what happened to Eszter” but added “Nevertheless, there is one point common to the known variants: The Jewry and the leadership of the country were severely implicated in the case.”
The ‘blood libel’ claim – the false accusation that Jews murder non-Jewish children to use their blood for religious rituals – has a long history of leading to mob violence and pogroms against Jewish communities, especially during Easter when Jews have often been singled out for persecution.
Jobbik has also been criticised for other antisemitic remarks. In 2009, European Parliament Member Krisztina Morvai wrote in an internet posting:
“I would be greatly pleased if those who call themselves proud Hungarian Jews played in their leisure with their tiny circumcised dicks, instead of besmirching me. Your kind of people are used to seeing all of our kind of people stand to attention and adjust to you every time you fart. Would you kindly acknowledge this is now OVER. We have raised our head up high and we shall no longer tolerate your kind of terror. We shall take back our country.”
In addition, a newsletter published by a group calling itself ‘The trade union of Hungarian police officers prepared for action’, the following was allegedly printed:
“Given our current situation, anti-Semitism is not just our right, but it is the duty of every Hungarian homeland lover, and we must prepare for armed battle against the Jews.”
The editor of the union, Judit Szima, is a Jobbik candidate in the upcoming election for the European Union parliament. Haaretz alleged Szima “didn’t see anything wrong with the content of the article.”
Jobbik was originally established as the Right-Wing Youth Association by a group of Catholic and Protestant university students in 2002, and later founded as a political party in October 2003. In 2010, Viktor Orban’s nationalist conservative Fidesz party came to power winning two-third majority of seats in parliament, and Jobbik won 17 percent of the vote becoming Hungary’s third-largest political party. Jobbik is not a formal member of the ruling coalition, but Fidesz leaders try to appeal to their constituents.
Jobbik denies that it is fascist and antisemitic but also agree that they are not democrats. Its leader is thirty-three year old Gabor Vona, who is known to have previously founded Magyar Garda, or Hungarian Guard, a paramilitary organisation whose members would wear fascist insignia condemning “Gypsy Crime” and demanding segregation.
Jobbik’s rejection of democracy has also led to an affinity with Iran. James Kirchik comments in his article “Meet Europe’s New Fascists”:
“The Islamic Republic might seem like a strange ally for a group that describes itself as a ‘radically patriotic Christian party.’ But given Jobbik’s virulently anti-Europe rhetoric, anti-Western worldview, and undisguised anti-Semitism, it’s not hard to see why.”
Kirchick also explains that Jobbik’s alleged antisemitism may stem from its embrace of the cultural philosophy known as ‘Turanism’ – a pan-Turkic ideology emphasising the alleged origins of Hungarians among the peoples of the Central Asian steppes. Kirchick writes:
“Ferenc Szalasi, the leader of Hungary’s wartime fascist Arrow Cross party, espoused the existence of a ‘Turanian-Hungarian’ race. One of the unspoken functions of Turanism is to emphasise the racial peculiarity of Hungarians and thereby establish Hungary as a country in which the Jews and the Roma have no place. While the Communists suppressed Turanism, since it challenged their own claims to universal brotherhood, the Hungarian far right, with Jobbik in the forefront, has revived it. Jobbik leader Vona has declared that ‘an alliance based and developed on the principles of Turanism instead of the Euro-Atlantic alliance would be more effective in serving the needs and interests of our nation.'”
Barath’s speech was condemned in the legislature by Janos Fonagy of the governing Fidesz party who said, “mentioning the blood libel case of Tiszaeszlar tears open centuries-old wounds.” Hungary’s Central Prosecutor’s Office of Investigation is also investigating Barath’s remarks. As a result of the speech, the Parliament adopted a socialist proposal which will set up a permanent ethics committee to penalise racist, antisemitic, xenophobic and islamophobic attitudes by members of parliament.
However, such remarks by Jobbik members, and Jobbik’s popularity highlight the growing problem of antisemitism in Hungary. A public opinion survey by the Anti-Defamation League in February 2012 reveals that the level of antisemitism in Hungary is the highest in the European Union. The poll of antisemitic attitudes in Hungary found that 63 percent of the population holds antisemitic views, up from 47 percent in 2009. Three out of four Hungarian respondents agree with the statement, “Jews have too much power in international financial markets” and 38 percent of Hungarians believe that “The Jews are responsible for the death of Christ.”
Kirchick also notes the problem of Hungary’s underlying antisemitism, he writes:
“‘There’s a joke in Hungary about the researcher who is studying anti-Semitism,’ Matyas Eorsi, a former member of parliament from a now defunct liberal party, the Alliance of Free Democrats, told me. ‘And he goes to a small village in Transylvania and asks an old man, ‘Excuse me sir, can I ask you: is there any anti-Semitism in your village?’ He replies: ‘Sir, not at all. But there’s a huge demand for it.’ ” This apocryphal tale hints at a reality of Hungarian politics, which is that anti-Semitism has typically required clever ideologists and an adverse political and economic environment to make it truly dangerous.”
Hungary’s new constitution which came into effect on January 2012, is another serious issue as it appears to deny Hungary’s culpability for the murder of its Jewish citizens during WWII. Prior to WWII, there were approximately 742,800 Jews in territory controlled by Hungary, of which 568,000 were killed by Nazi Germany and by the pro-Nazi party, the Hungarian Arrow Cross.
Rutgers University Professor Michael Curtis writes that:
“A paragraph in the Prologue can be read to deny any Hungarian responsibility for wartime actions in the country: ‘We do not recognize the suspension of our historical constitution due to foreign occupations. We deny any statute of limitations for the inhumane crimes committed against the Hungarian nation and its citizens under the national socialist and communist dictatorships.’ The implication, though not overtly stated, was that as Hungary was invaded and occupied by the Nazis in March 1944, and then later by the Red Army, its government and citizens could not be held responsible for the deportation of Jews to extermination camps. In more venal fashion this disclaimer could also limit payment of restitution claims by Jews against the state.”
Many have spoken out against the constitutional change – forty prominent Hungarian historians signed a call to the government to refrain from whitewashing Hungary’s Holocaust role by legislation. Peter Feldmájer, chairman of the Association of Hungarian Jewish Religious Communities said,”This politically motivated reinterpretation of history will inevitably keep society from facing up to its past – a process that has proved so beneficial in post-war Germany.”Professor István Deák, a widely respected Hungarian historian at Columbia University, New York, noted, “I cannot overstate how much Hungary would gain in its international standing if, after seven decades of deceitful evasions since the war, it would at last face up to its responsibilities from the past.”
Feldmájer contends that the Hungarian Holocaust began long before the German Nazi invasion of the country and that:
“the occupying forces were welcomed here by an unquestionably independent national government as well as a cheering population. During the Holocaust, the deportations of Hungary’s Jews were carried out with gratuitous savagery, largely by the Hungarian gendarmerie under the direction of Hungarian officials and with very little physical assistance rendered by the German invaders. Only the Jews of Budapest escaped mass deportation when Admiral Miklós Horthy, the Hungarian head of state, chose, under intense diplomatic pressure, to discontinue the transports, at a very late stage in the war.”
This constitutional change may have a significant impact on future court decisions on issues of restitution for Holocaust atrocities and could also affect how the Holocaust is taught in schools and education. As Thomas Orszag-land writes in the Jerusalem Post:
“The significance of the legislation is historic, public and legal. As written, the constitution appears to equate the nature and magnitude of the Nazi regime with those of the Communists during the subsequent grim decades of Soviet oppression and thus negates the unique place occupied by the Holocaust in all human history. The constitution therefore strongly implies that today, Hungary cannot be held accountable for its wartime policies, which included the active murder of the Jews as well as Gypsies,homosexuals and political dissidents, since these crimes were imposed upon Hungary by foreigners.
Furthermore, now enshrined by the nation’s fundamental legislation, this new historical interpretation, which was dictated by the government, will define the perspective adopted by state-controlled museums with regard to sensitive issues, such human rights and personal responsibility in times of national crises. It will be reflected in the national Holocaust curricula from elementary school through higher education, including teacher training; teachers in state schools who deviate from the official state line could be dismissed. And finally, the provisions of the new constitution will have immediate effects on issues relating to Holocaust restitution.”