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'Nazis step down!'

Keno Verseck / nh, ai
December 4, 2012

Hungary's capital Budapest on the weekend witnessed a massive protest against anti-Semitism in reaction to right-wing politicians calling for all Jews to be put down in lists as a 'threat to national security.'

Protesters wave Hungarian national flags and hold placards, one reading "Never again fascism" (photo: EPA/LASZLO BELICZAY HUNGARY OUT)
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

"Nazis step down!" "Enough!" The shouts rang out again and again in Budapest on Sunday, as thousands gathered in front of Parliament in reaction to comments made by right-wing politicians that called for all Jews to be listed as 'threats to national security.'

Many of the protesters had come in from the Hungarian countryside, and many had the Star of David attached to their clothes to protest against the latest surge of neo-fascism in their country. Politicians from the most important democratic parties responded as one, promising to shield all Hungarian citizens from right-wing extremists, no matter what religious faith they have or which ethnic group they belong to. Hungary, they said, would never again allow racial fanaticism and genocide.

Last week, a politician from the right-wing Jobbik party - currently the third largest party in the Hungarian parliament with a total of 12 percent of the vote - made a call in parliament to have the names of Hungarian Jews written down in lists. That move caused Jewish communities, civil rights organizations and democratic parties to call an anti-fascist mass rally under the motto 'NEM!' ('Movement against neo-Nazis').

Parliament keeps quiet

The organizers - 30 organizations and political parties - had hoped for a record number of protesters. But eventually, a mere 10,000 people gathered on Kossuth Square outside the Budapest parliament. But it was still an historic event: for the first time in almost two decades in the deeply divided country, both government and opposition politicians held speeches at a rally. "The right-wing extremists have made a grand coalition possible," the popular internet portal index.hu commented.

Gabor Vona (photo: EPA/TAMAS KOVACS)
Gabor Vona , chairman of the radical nationalist party JobbikImage: picture alliance/dpa

During a debate in Hungary's parliament last week about Israel's attacks in the Gaza Strip, Marton Gyongyosi, deputy head of the parliamentary group of the right-wing extremist Jobbik party (translates as: "the superior ones"), demanded that the names of all Jews living in Hungary should be written down and checks should be made as to whether they represented a security threat for the country - above all members of the government and parliament. Zsolt Nemeth, state secretary at the Foreign Office, only gave a short reaction, saying that the number of Jews in the Hungarian government "didn't really" have anything to do with the conflict in the Middle East.

"Hungary protects its citizens!"

These demands caused public outrage in Hungary. In particular, because the parliamentarians attending the session, including those of the ruling "Hungarian Civic Union" (Fidesz) remained silent. The Jobbik Party, which gained 17 percent of the votes in 2010, has up to now cloaked its anti-Semitism in anti-Israel rhetoric. With its call for a "Jewish list" it has openly endorsed the racial fanaticism of the Nazis - as well as the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party, a Nazi party which existed during the Second World War.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his party have long fostered a right-wing rhetoric and failed to clearly speak out against right-wing extremism.

Members of far-right paramilitary Hungarian Guard march during the demostration named 'Security of the Provinces' (photo: EPA/ATTILA KOVACS)
Members of far-right paramilitary Hungarian Guard during a rallyImage: picture alliance/dpa

Antal Rogan, head of Fidesz' parliamentary group, joined the protests on Sunday (02.12.2012) which brought together politicians from the ruling party and opposition. Rogan spoke out against anti-Semitism more strongly than most other Fidesz politicians. "Together with millions of reasonable Hungarians we want to hang a sign around the neck of all evil to say: 'We won't allow this!'," he told the crowds and promised that "Hungary would protect its citizens."

The head of the socialist party, Attila Mesterhazy, reminded Rogan though that other Fidesz politicians have in the past honored anti-Semitic pre-war writers with statues and ceremonies. Mesterhazy also demanded that Prime Minister Viktor Orban would break his silence and distance himself from Jobbik.

Conservative doublespeak

Rogan's speech had been greatly anticipated. But it does not point towards a change of direction in the Fidesz policies, many observers believe. Pal Tamas is one of the most prominent Hungarian sociologists and he described it as a double edged strategy. "On the one hand, Rogan shows the moderate radicals in Hungary, that Fidesz is a radical and yet civilized party," he said. "At the same time he presents himself to the European community as a trustworthy partner for the post-Orban period."

Hungarian citizens take part in a demonstartion in front of the parliament building in Budapest (photo: ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP/Getty Images)
Some 10,000 people gathered in Budapest to protest against JobbikImage: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images

Historian Krisztian Ungyary, expert on Hungarian interwar history, sees Rogan's speech as "pulling the wool over people's eyes" and "a continuation of Fidesz's doublespeak."

"They honor anti-Semitic writers and at the same time condemn anti-Semitism," Ungyary said. "The want to win right-wing support in Hungary and at the same time look good to the international community."

The right-wing extremists themselves seemed unimpressed by the protests aimed against them. In its statement regarding the demonstration, Jobbik stuck to its anti-Semitic perspective, saying the "star of David protest" by the "grand Zionist coalition" had desecrated the advent Sunday.