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Hungary: political fight over resurgent fascism

Leigh Phillips

Hungary's far-right Jobbik party is radicalizing as fast as it is being mainstreamed. Prime Minister Viktor Orban belatedly condemned Jobbik lawmaker Marton Gyongyosi's call to create a list of Jewish politicians—the day after some 10,000 demonstrated in Budapest to protest the proposal. "Last week sentences were uttered in Parliament which are unworthy of Hungary," Orban told parliament Dec. 3. Gyongyosi called for the list during a Nov. 26 parliamentary debate on Israel's bombardment of the Gaza Strip. Gyöngyösi later clarified his remarks amid the outrage: He intended only to challenge the government's "one-sided support" of Israel in the Gaza conflict, and to "call the attention to the threat posed by government members and in parliament by Hungarian-Israeli dual citizens."

Protesters on Sunday Dec. 2 carried signs reading,  "I am not fascist, but Hungarian," "Jobbik is the biggest national security threat to Hungary" and "Racism is equal to Jobbik!” Some Holocaust survivors protested with a sign that read, "We already experienced this, and once was enough!” In a sign of hope, Hungarian Jewish organizations were among the protest's leadership. The speakers included leaders from across Hungary's political spectrum: Antal Rogan, parliamentary leader of the ruling right-wing Fidesz party, Gordon Bajnai of the centrist Together 2014 movement and Attila Mesterhazy of the Socialists.

Hungary’s third-largest party, Jobbik has 43 MPs out of 386, and a growing 8% support in the polls. Gyongyosi in calling for a "Jewish list" said: "I know how many people with Hungarian ancestry live in Israel and how many Israeli Jews live in Hungary. I think such a conflict makes it timely to tally up people of Jewish ancestry who live here, especially in the Hungarian parliament and the Hungarian government, who, indeed, pose a national security risk to Hungary."

Jobbik will almost certainly soon be portraying themselves as free speech martyrs. Lawmaker Balazs Lenhardt was arrested after he burned an Israeli flag at an protest Dec. 14. He was released after questioning. Lenhardt had left Jobbik in November, saying the party had gone too soft.

The Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation, headed by Chief Rabbi Slomo Koves, has announced plans to take legal action against Gyongyosi over his statement. Said Koves: "In a normal country there is some type of moral borderline where you don’t have to go to court because of something that is said in Parliament. All the members of the other parties should stand up and say 'this is unacceptable, this guy should just leave.' And it seems like in Hungary there isn’t that healthy moral stance. So that leaves us the only possibility to go to court, and if we don't succeed in the Hungarian court then we will maybe go to the EU."

The fact that it took days for the government to respond has fueled this reaction. Fidesz admits it want Jobbik's voters, and is itself tilting to the hard right. Ministers have remained largely silent on the growing cult of Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s leader between 1920 and 1944, who passed anti-Jewish laws, allied the country with Nazi Germany, and acquiesced in the extermination of Hungary's Jews.  (AP, Dec. 14; The Economist, Dec. 8; EJPJTA, Dec. 3; AP, Dec. 2; National Post, Nov. 29)

Jobbik hasn't retreated from the "dual citizenship" propaganda in the wake of the controversy.Jobbik's English-language website contains an open letter party leader Gábor Vona wrote to the Israeli ambassador "in which he asked him to give an account of how the state of Israel keeps records of dual citizenships of MPs andgovernment [sic] members..."

Jobbik this year led anti-EU protests that dueled with anti-austerity protests called by the left. Jobbik party thugs have rioted in Budapest, some in Nazi regalia. We aren't sure on what legal basis Rabbi Koves proposes to sue Gyongyosi, and we don't support the stupid, counter-productive laws criminalizing Holocaust denial in many European countries. But the calls for censorship are a response to a real threat, and the lack of a political answer to it. Jobbik may win the next elections, and they are in full 1938 mode already....

And lest we get too sanguine about how far removed the foibles of fascism-prone Europeans are from American politics, lets recall the very similar verbiage that is starting to emerge in US elite political culture.

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