Hungary’s alarming climate of intolerance
January 18th, 2013
11:07 AM ET

Hungary’s alarming climate of intolerance

By Lydia Gall, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Lydia Gall is the Eastern Europe and the Balkans researcher at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are her own.

A prominent columnist calls for a “final solution” for Hungary’s Roma population. A member of parliament calls for drawing up a list of Jewish people involved in Hungarian politics. Two-thirds of those asked in an opinion poll say they wouldn’t let their child be friends with a Romani child. Another poll suggests a similar number believe Jewish people have too much influence. One doesn’t have to be a student of history to be worried about the growing climate of intolerance in Hungary.

The hatred clutching Hungary has deepened since the present government took office in 2010 and made a gradual shift to the right. The ongoing campaign by Fidesz, the ruling party, to undermine the rule of law and its clampdown on human rights has contributed to the current state of chauvinistic attitudes in the public domain toward minorities and other vulnerable groups. Government silence has allowed right wing parties such as Jobbik to accelerate hate speech against minorities as well as people within its own ranks, while paramilitaries close to Jobbik carry out intimidating marches through Roma settlements.

The latest example came on January 5, when Zoltan Bayer, a member of Fidesz and a close friend of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, wrote a column in Magyar Hirlap, a right wing paper with close ties to the government. The article was a response to the stabbings of two Hungarian youths on New Year’s Eve, allegedly by Roma assailants. Bayer wrote:

"A significant part of the Roma are unfit for coexistence. They are not fit to live among people. These Roma are animals, and they behave like animals. When they meet with resistance, they commit murder. They are incapable of human communication. Inarticulate sounds pour out of their bestial skulls. […] These animals shouldn't be allowed to exist. In no way. That needs to be solved - immediately and regardless of the method."

Bayer’s column was widely condemned. The deputy prime minister, Tibor Navracsics, spoke out against it shortly after, and EU Commissioners Viviane Reding and Neelie Kroes condemned Bayer’s statements. But there was no official condemnation by Fidesz or crucially from Orban himself. The newspaper initially distanced itself from Bayer’s statement before changing tack, supporting Bayer’s right to free speech and calling on readers to support the government.

Racist speech even finds a platform in parliament. In November, Marton Gyongyosi, a Jobbik member and vice chairman of the parliament’s foreign affairs committee, made headlines when he asked for a list of Jews in government and parliament as they may “present a national security risk to Hungary.” One week later, Orban finally condemned Gyongyosi’s statement.

The Hungarian government has included the works of openly anti-Semitic writers as obligatory reading in public schools, and is paying tribute to Hungary’s interwar regent Admiral Miklos Horthy by allowing  statues of him in public space and keeping silent at right wing attempts to rehabilitate him. Horthy was responsible for the deportation of 400,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz.

In August 2012, the government’s initial silence was deafening when Hungarian supporters were chanting “Dirty Jews” during a friendly game between Hungary and Israel, an incident for which FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) penalized the Hungarian football federation. It took the government a week to issue a condemnation of the anti-Semitic chants, though condemnation should have been immediate and uncompromising.

While the government is doing precious little to curb the downward spiral of intolerance, the all-powerful and politically appointed media council is busy trying to silence opposition voices in the media who could speak out against people like Bayer. It has tried repeatedly to deny Klubradio, a leading independent radio station, a license. The state broadcaster, MTVA, has fired hundreds of journalists, officially due to financial cutbacks. But it’s not hard to conclude the real reason is to rid itself of critical voices. Journalists working for the state broadcaster report that editorial interference is the norm.

While freedom of expression is a cornerstone in any democratic society, it also follows that democratically elected governments must guarantee that freedom to everybody without discrimination and not only to media outlets loyal to the government. Yet, freedom of expression is not absolute, and the government should publicly condemn at the highest level speech that incites discrimination or hostility toward specific groups and dissuade others from following suit.

With violence and discrimination against Roma a pervasive and longstanding problem, and anti-Semitic attacks on people and memorials increasing, there is an urgent need for the Hungarian government and prime minister to address these alarming trends and for Hungary’s international partners to impress upon its leaders  that the situation is not acceptable. In May, unknown assailants scrawled slogans on a Jewish monument in Budapest, such as “This is not your country, dirty Jews” and “You are going to be shot here.” In October, a Jewish leader was attacked in Budapest. During a demonstration on the national holiday in October, Jobbik supporters burned Israeli flags and chanted “Dirty Jews!”

If the Hungarian government fails to firmly distance itself from and condemn speech inciting hostility and discrimination toward the country’s most vulnerable minorities, vigilante groups and right wing parties could interpret the silence as tacit consent to further whip up ethnic tensions. That would deepen the climate of intolerance and risk wider – potentially fatal – violence.

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Topics: Europe

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soundoff (112 Responses)
  1. Paul

    Please take a couple of hundred thousand gypsies to the U.S, teach them how to behave like civilized human beings then send them back to Hungary. Good luck!

    January 20, 2013 at 9:33 am | Reply
  2. Christian Raven

    LET'S HOPE OTHER EUROPEAN COUNTRIES WILL TAKE THE SAME ACTION AGAINST THE JEWS. THEY ARE THE CORRUPTED SIDE OF THIS WORLD. LONG LIVE TO WRIGHT WING IN HUNGARY AND TO PEOPLE LIKE Zoltan Bayer.

    January 20, 2013 at 10:15 am | Reply
    • Thomas

      Zoltan Bayer is a fiction.... Do you know who wrote that publication? Do you know anything about Hungary, or just write silly comments like that?

      January 20, 2013 at 2:08 pm | Reply
    • Thinker23

      Some countries already "took action" and got rid of their Jews. Look at the wonderful life the people of these countries got as a result... Look at Germany in the 1940s, Poland in the 1950s, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Algeria today... All these countries "took action" against the Jews and all were/are doing just fgreat, don't they?

      January 21, 2013 at 5:34 am | Reply
  3. Kawasaki

    It's a precise presentation and analysis. The exact name of the mentioned member of Fidesz and a close friend of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who wrote a column in Magyar Hirlap is not Zoltan Bayer. His correct name is Zsolt Bayer.

    January 21, 2013 at 5:12 am | Reply
    • Hungarian

      No, this is a lie and manipulation. The author's view are strongly biased, she does not want to make a fair assessment of the situation in Hungary. Instead, she misuses her position in Human Rights Watch, her "research" is just a pretext to conduct a propaganda war against Hungary. This woman is an embittered enemy of my people. In the reality, the present Hungarian government does not tolerate any kind of racism and hatred against Jewish and Gipsy people or other minorities. It was very strange for me, that Ms. Gall did not find problematic that during the previous postcommunist ("socialist", as they disguised themselves) government people were stripped of their right of assembly, they were subject of police violence for no reason (just in order to intimidate them). Ms. Gall did not find problematic that in those days, in 2006, 14 people were shot in the eye by rubber bullets (two of the became blind). Ms. Gall did not find problematic, that in 2008 (during the postcommunist goverment) Gipsy people were killed by a serial killer gang, and did not mention, that those killers now stand trial. She did not mention, that the present govenment banned the rightwing guard that was free to intimidate Gypsies during the postcommunist (2002-2010). I believe her shameful motive is to please her communist masters. Do not believe a word of this venomous snake!

      November 11, 2013 at 4:34 pm | Reply
  4. ibritter

    Please express condemnation to your senator of the Hungarian governments's failure to put down hatred and intolerance. In an Internet age where ideologies and examples spread overnight, we can not have any patience or passive allowance of the putrid acts of hate and intolerance taking place at frightening levels in Hungary.

    January 21, 2013 at 7:54 am | Reply
  5. rightospeak

    The censors and enemies of free speech at CNN are at it again. I tried to respond to ibritter suggesting that we become tolerant in the US. and the abuses of intolerance mentioned in Paul Findley's books . The abuses against people questioning money spent on Israel need to end.

    January 21, 2013 at 4:05 pm | Reply
    • Thinker23

      So you're calling for TOLERANCE for your INTOLERANCE of Jews??? Pretty comical, don't you agree?

      January 21, 2013 at 6:01 pm | Reply
      • crappygovernment

        tolerance of Neocon crimes = Amorality and inherent corruption of the people

        February 13, 2013 at 11:16 am |
  6. rightospeak

    I also mentioned that the terrorism against a veteran of journalism, Helen Thomas, that I saw on TV myself should have no place in our society. The attacks on Mel Gibson should also have no place in our society. The labels of antiSemitism for disagreeing with a Jewish point of view belong to the Dark Ages, witch hunts.

    January 21, 2013 at 4:09 pm | Reply
    • Thinker23

      Anti-Semitism by definition is HATRED AND DISCRIMINATION of Jews. No one would blame you or anyone else in anti-Semitism if your "disagreement" was based on FACTS and if you've applied the same rules and criteria to Jews and everyone else.

      January 21, 2013 at 6:03 pm | Reply
      • rightospeak

        One can not have an intelligent discussion with racists like you , Thinker..You are like a Marxist fanatic that if told that Communism does not work ,that it sent millions to Gulags – will deny it. Palestinians can not be anti-Semites , can they ? They just love the people that stole their land. Tell it to the Palestinians !
        The Communist Party -both Menshevics and Bolshevics were dominated and overrepresented by Jews and must bear responsibility for Communist CRIMES. Read "200 Years Together" by Solshenitsyn – there are some chapters translated on the internet and you will understand what Hungarians are talking about. Better yet-if you want to know what happened in Hungary read David Irving's "Uprising" ,the best book on the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. If you want to know what people are complaining about in this country read Congressman Paul Findley's book "Speaking Out" with an introduction by Helen Thomas.

        January 21, 2013 at 9:19 pm |
  7. LABANC KURÍR

    Haha, now you can see with your own eyes how Hungary REALLY IS MOVING INTO A NAZI STATE. Just check the comments of the Hungarian citizens below, nazi hate speach is spread all over the state. Just check it, and think about a state, in which you have to face these primitives day by day. Do you want to reach this. NO? Than fight against rasics, intollerance, hate speach, antisemitism (and also islamophobia) day-by-day. The situation of Europe is fragile, some countries reached a state in which fasitic values overruled other basic porinciples of life.

    January 22, 2013 at 2:13 pm | Reply
    • Hungarian

      It is a typical communist lie. In the reality, Hungary is now politically very stable (goverment parties have 2/3 majority in the parliament), racism and hatred is not tolerated, Jewish culture is flourishing, public work is offered to unemployed Roma (Gipsy) people. Let me add, that it was the same party (FIDESZ, lead by Viktor Orbán), which introduced the Holocaust Memorial Day in Hungary, and the same, which established the Holocaust Museum in Budapest. So much about the "alarming climate of intolerance" in Hungary. What is alarming (for the communists only), it is that the previous communist party (called MSZP, i.e., Hungarian Socialist Party) is loosing all of its previous influence and power. They do everything to gain it back, and Ms. Lydia Gall is their agent.

      November 11, 2013 at 4:56 pm | Reply
  8. FerencKumin

    I tried to comment this post, but it didn't appear. This is just a technical test, whether a shorter comment works.

    January 23, 2013 at 4:25 am | Reply
    • rightospeak

      Good comments, Ferenc. The reason your initial comments did not appear, I would guess, because the Thought Police censors at CNN did not like your political content. Then, they may have been low on staff and went to the bathroom so your other comments went through . The enemies of free speech at CNN just can not handle the truth, they have to destroy it and have the means to do it to manipulate the public opinion. I have an idea who some of them are .
      While people are being kidnapped and kept in jail for a political statement in the US like Human Right Activist Ernst Zundel was, the author of this article is worried about Hungary.

      January 23, 2013 at 11:38 am | Reply
  9. FerencKumin

    OK, then it'll come in pieces:
    Part 1:
    Dear Ms Gall, taking the formal limitations of a comment into account, let me briefly react to your article. Using your words, one doesn’t have to be a student of media science to identify that your article is just another superficial Hungary-bashing with surprisingly lots of factual errors and missing of relevant information.
    I don’t know how seriously you take the opinion of Anti-Defamation League (ADL), but when it comes to extremism and anti-Semitism, I tend to listen to their voice, just as I did just a week ago, when I met Michael Salberg, its director of international affairs in Los Angeles, and I could personally express how pleased we had been, when a month ago ADL released a statement saying that it “welcomed the Hungarian government's approval of an amendment laying the groundwork to hold members of parliament accountable for hateful remarks.” (http://www.adl.org/PresRele/ASInt_13/6461_13.htm) Somehow you missed this point in your article.

    January 23, 2013 at 4:27 am | Reply
  10. FerencKumin

    Part 2:
    Referring to the football match incident, you also missed to quote the press release my office issued, claiming that the “Hungarian government condemns in the strongest possible terms the insulting behaviour of certain Hungarian football fans during the friendly match between Israel and Hungary on 15 August.” (http://www.kormany.hu/en/prime-minister-s-office/news/the-hungarian-government-s-response-to-the-insulting-behaviour-of-fans-at-the-recent-football-match-between-israel-and-hungary)

    January 23, 2013 at 4:31 am | Reply
  11. bixley

    Depressing how predictable it is: the same list of the atrocities of the Orban regime and the insanities of an increasingly lumpen-demotic society, followed by the same blatherings in the comment section of the Fidesz trolls and the genocide-brigade, the latter forever looking back to the stories Grandpa told about his wonderful youth in the Arrow Cross....

    Already, official figures show that Orban, in a mere two years, has driven away as many Hungarian citizens as left after 1956. A second term will, at this rate, lead to little short of a second Mohács, i.e. the century and a half of Ottoman occupation of the Pannonian basin after 1526. And even the Turkish yoke brought in paprika and mineral baths, I can't see what good will come out of poisoning the minds of an entire generation with cheapjack nationalism and genocidal hate.

    January 24, 2013 at 6:04 am | Reply
    • Thomas

      Hey bixley!
      Why are you worry about us? We vote to Mr Orban with 67% and thanks, we fine. There is no antisemitism or other bad ideas in our minds, but why are you wrote that? It's a simple lie, and I think you know that. Please don't talking about you don't know, right? Of course,right. ;-)

      January 27, 2013 at 8:33 am | Reply
  12. FerencKumin

    As the deputy state secretary for International Communication of the Government of Hungary, I have written an open letter to Ms. Gall, responding to her article, which suffers from imbalance and a number of errors of omission. You can read the open letter at my blog here:

    http://ferenckumin.tumblr.com/post/41356652683/an-open-letter-to-lydia-gall-human-rights-watch

    January 24, 2013 at 8:19 am | Reply
  13. magyarmishy

    This is interesting. Ferenc Kumin, Government of Hungary official, responds in an open letter:

    http://ferenckumin.tumblr.com/post/41356652683/an-open-letter-to-lydia-gall-human-rights-watch

    January 24, 2013 at 8:23 am | Reply
  14. KURVA ANYÁD

    MIT KÉPZELTEK MAGATOKRÓL PÖFESZKEDŐ EURÓPAI PARASZTOK.TI BIRÁLTOK MINKET OLASZOK EL ZAVARJÁK A ROMÁKAT A FRANCIÁK FELSZÁMOLJÁK A ROMA TELEPEKET A CANADAI KORMÁNY KITOLONCOLJA ŐKET .FRANCIA ORSZÁGAN ZSINAGÓGÁKAT GYÚJTANAK FEL EZEK UTÁN MÉG MERTEK POFÁZNI SZARHÁZI TETVEK.BLATTERNEK KÖTÉL KELL A NYAKÁRA MIKOR A MAGYAROKAT GYALÁZZÁK A ROMÁNOK A SZLOVÁKOK SPORTESEMÉNYEN NEM NYITJA KI A POFÁJÁT CSAK HA ZSIDÓZNAK.EZ AZ EURÓPA NEM KELL NEKÜNK EZ AZ EURÓPA SZENNY ÉS A MOCSOK A FERTŐ MELEG ÁGYA.

    January 25, 2013 at 9:54 am | Reply
  15. crappygovernment

    Here in the USA hostile anti-Christians won't even let us watch our national hero, Tim Tebow, play football!

    February 13, 2013 at 11:15 am | Reply
    • MB

      that is a lot of BS, mister crappygovernment

      May 24, 2013 at 1:59 pm | Reply
    • MB

      that is a lie, mister crappygovernment!

      May 24, 2013 at 1:59 pm | Reply
  16. Astounded

    I am just amazed by some of the comments. Especially the guy who keeps talking about the CNN thought police – even though his comments are here. Funny, scary and sad. Just like Hungary today.

    February 20, 2013 at 10:54 am | Reply
  17. Sad Hungarian

    Hungary and most of us Hungarians have always been pointing to "the others" (Jews, Romas, Habsburgs, Germans, Communists, Russians, the Americans, etc.) as being the reason for their problems, when in fact it us Hungarians who are our greatest enemy. The mentality of most Hungarians as well as the government that REPRESENTS them will bring Hungary to her knees. WE HUNGARIANS are our greatest enemy!

    March 16, 2013 at 7:17 am | Reply
  18. Renato

    Sad Hungarian – who are YOU???? who points who???? I dont see anybody pointing anyone, just liberal paty points Hungarians to be raccist. As a parent of half gipsy children, we never got pointed on us! Nor my family members!

    April 6, 2013 at 5:35 pm | Reply
  19. Moses kestenbaum ODA

    Anti semitic hungary is gonna lick ass. Hungary should disolve itself it has no right to call itself a nation among nations . It should go the way the NAZIS went down the toilet of history

    November 7, 2013 at 9:30 pm | Reply
  20. Moses kestenbaum ODA

    Hungary is a fckd up country, never buy anything hungarian because if you di you are supporting nazis

    November 26, 2013 at 8:53 pm | Reply
  21. weboptimiaindiaweboptimiaindia

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    April 8, 2014 at 2:01 am | Reply
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