Prime Minister Viktor Orban has declared zero tolerance against racist political views, Tamas Fellegi, Hungary’s former development minister, said in Washington D.C. on Wednesday.
Fellegi has been asked to speak as a witness at a US Congress subcommittee on European anti-Semitism.
There is a clear demarcation line between Hungary’s mainstream politics including its ruling centre-right party and the radical nationalist Jobbik, Fellegi said.
Jobbik has rejected being branded as anti-Semitic, and insisted the party did not discriminate against people based on their origins.
In his address, Fellegi conceded there was growing anti-Semitism in Hungary, and said this sentiment was feeding from a general disillusionment over the imperfections of Hungary’s democratic transition as well as the political, moral and economic crisis prevalent in the country since 2006.
He said that the 1989-1990 transition into democracy had allowed “previously suppressed frustrations and open debates we never had before about our troubled past” to surface, and “the same democratization itself made ever-present latent anti-Semitism manifest.”
However he said it was Jobbik which was an openly anti-Semitic party, that has “also cultivated an aggressive paramilitary arm”, while the centre-right government and all mainstream parties welcomed and encouraged what he called a renaissance in Jewish life currently thriving in Hungary.
“Several openly anti-Semitic poitical and civic organizations have surfaced, but they have never – and let me emphasize this point – never ended up in government”, he said.
Fellegi said that in Hungary, a new democracy, political parties and civil groups were both quick to recognise that anti-Semitism can be used to gain political support and sympathies at home and abroad.
“Anti-Semitism has become a political card to be used,” he said.
He said there was no doubt that the writings of some centre-right authors, such as “the infamous commentaries of Zsolt Bayer” are to be seen as racist. It is also a fact that “there are people associated with the center-right political community who support the rehabilitation of the historic period of Admiral Horthy. I am personally against his rehabilitation, and that applies to a wide range of political and literary figures of that era,” he said.
Fellegi outlined 16 steps Hungary had taken in seeking reconciliation with its Jewish communities, including observing a Holocaust memorial day and teaching the Holocaust at schools, setting up museums and the Tom Lantos Institute, of the late US Congressman, as well as regulating to curb hate speech and to ban paramilitary organisations.
Speaking as a witness Andrew Srulevich, director of the Anti-Defamation League, suggested that Jobbik was seriously jeopardising Hungary’s democracy. He also welcomed the Hungarian government’s joining a protest against a Jobbik lawmaker’s call for compiling lists of Jewish deputies, who, in the proponent’s view, pose a national risk to the country.
Katrina Lantos Swett, head of the United States Commission on Religious Freedom and Tom Lantos’s daughter, also welcomed the Hungarian government, parliament and leading opposition parties’ condemning the contested remarks.
Rabbi Andrew Baker, representative of OSCE’s office to fight anti-Semitism, said that though the Hungarian prime minister raised his voice against anti-Semitism in general, he had not objected to including writers representing extremist views in the national curriculum.
Jobbik’s spokesman Adam Mirkoczki told MTI on Wednesday that there were essential differences between their party and all other parties, but this was not discrimination based on ethnicity, but rather, “the difference between constructive and destructive parts of society”.
“It is not our fault that most of the Roma fall into the latter category” and that “Israel is a leader in hurting Hungarian interests,” he said.