Football fans' racist taunts reflect resurgent anti-Semitism, anti-Roma feeling in Hungary
BUDAPEST LETTER:Hungary will play probably its most important football match of 2013, an event that should have unified the nation instead highlighting its deep divisions, in a silent stadium of empty seats.
Fifa ruled this month that Hungary must play its crucial World Cup qualifier against fierce rivals Romania next month behind closed doors, as punishment for what football’s governing body called “abhorrent” anti-Semitic chanting by Hungary supporters during a friendly against Israel last August.
Hungary’s football association is to appeal against the decision, and the far-right political party Jobbik intends to hold a rally outside the stadium during the March 22nd fixture to show support for the national team and protest against the ban.
Jobbik’s rapid rise has alarmed many in Hungary and abroad, who see it as a symptom of resurgent anti-Semitism and anti-Roma feeling in the country. Its promise of simple, radical solutions for Hungary’s economic and social problems is proving popular, however; Jobbik is the third-largest group in parliament and is particularly strong in Hungary’s poor provinces and among young people disillusioned by the corruption and cronyism of the mainstream political elite.
Late last year, Jobbik deputy Marton Gyongyosi proposed that Hungary “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”. Gyongyosi, who studied at Trinity College Dublin and worked in Ireland for several years, apologised for causing offence and said his remarks had been misunderstood. But in a country that allied with Germany during the second World War and sent more than 400,000 Jews to their deaths in Nazi extermination camps, his comments caused uproar.
Thousands gathered in Budapest to protest against anti-Semitism, and prime minister Viktor Orban condemned Gyongyosi’s remarks. Soon afterwards, the government announced an increase in pensions for Holocaust survivors and the creation of a committee to prepare events to mark next year’s 70th anniversary of the mass deportation of Hungary’s Jews. Orban had to be seen to act, having been criticised for taking Hungary sharply to the political right.
As well as regularly railing against “foreign interference” in Hungary’s affairs, he has allowed wartime Hungarian authors with fascist tendencies to be included on school reading lists and permitted the erection of memorials to 1920-44 leader Miklos Horthy.
Orban’s rightist Fidesz party sees such moves as part of a reassessment of national history, necessary after decades of communist and socialist rule. But they have only added to the sense that Hungary is drifting away from the mainstream of European politics.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel last year renounced a major state award, accusing Orban’s allies of “the whitewashing of tragic and criminal episodes in Hungary’s past”.
Orban says he adheres to the values of “old Europe” and has questioned what critics “mean exactly by nationalism that should be a cause for worry”.
“In my point of view, the feeling of belonging to and being loyal to a nation has been the strongest community-forming force in Europe for the last two centuries, and I expect this to remain so for the moment,” Orban told The Irish Times last November, before the visit to Budapest of Taoiseach Enda Kenny, whose Fine Gael party is an ally of Fidesz in the European Parliament.
Orban also dismissed the threat of Jobbik, insisting that the “majority of Hungarian people have never been receptive to extremist views, and this is no different today”. The words and actions of some of his closest allies continue to suggest, however, that Fidesz is wooing far-right voters.
This month, Orban’s friend and co-founder of Fidesz, Zsolt Bayer, wrote in a newspaper: “Most Gypsies are not suitable for co-habitation. They are not suitable for being among people. Most are animals, and behave like animals ... They shouldn’t be tolerated or understood, but avenged. Animals should not exist.”
Bayer later claimed that his words had been distorted.
“I want every honourable Gypsy to get on in life in this country,” he explained “and for every Gypsy unable and unfit to live in society to be cast out of society.”
Dezideriu Gergely, executive director of the European Roma Rights Centre, said Bayer’s remarks were “inflammatory and potentially dangerous in the current climate”.
“Government commitments to Roma that exist on paper are undermined by this kind of racist, dehumanising language that scapegoats one part of the Hungarian population.”