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Commentary

Hungary's Anti-Semitic Double Standard

Two Hungarian dailies carried protests on their front pages against the new media law in Budapest on January 3, 2011: "There is no longer press freedom in Hungary."
Two Hungarian dailies carried protests on their front pages against the new media law in Budapest on January 3, 2011: "There is no longer press freedom in Hungary."
By Ben Cohen
Hungary's new media law, which went into effect on July 1, carries a distinctly unpleasant whiff of the country's fascist and communist past.

Under its provisions, all media outlets are required to register with a body called the Media Council. The council is empowered to impose fines of nearly $1 million upon those publications and broadcasters deemed to have "insulted" a particular group, along with an amorphous entity defined as "the majority." If a publication violates "public morality," it faces a fine. If its news coverage is judged "imbalanced," ditto. And woe betide any journalist who refuses an order from the council to disclose his sources.

With this one measure, Hungary has unraveled an emblematic achievement of those largely peaceful 1989-90 revolutions that brought communism crashing down across Eastern Europe -- namely, the freedom of the press. Instead of nurturing an environment conducive to free inquiry, the law creates a climate of fear and distrust, one of the hallmarks of totalitarian rule.

To add insult to injury, two recent cases have emerged that demonstrate that the media law is being applied with a scandalous double standard.

In the first case, "Nepszava," a liberal daily, is under investigation by Media Council commissioners over "insulting" reader comments that appeared in the online version of an article criticizing Pal Schmitt, Hungary's president. The comments were pretty mild by the coarse standards of online debate -- for example, Schmitt was called a "clown" -- but that is besides the point: the wrong political leaders were offended, so the media law was brought into play.

In the second case, by contrast, reader comments on an article in the pro-government newspaper "Magyar Hirlap" were riddled with anti-Semitic slurs of jaw-dropping foulness, yet not a peep has been heard from the Media Council.

Raging Anti-Semitism

The "Magyar Hirlap" article reported on an opinion piece penned earlier this year by Karl Pfeifer, the veteran Austrian Jewish journalist, in the Vienna daily "Die Presse." In that piece, Pfeifer relayed the contents of an article by Zsolt Bayer, a Hungarian rabble-rouser with close ties to the ruling Fidesz party who passes himself off as a journalist.

Bayer's style mirrors the screeching, obscene rants of Julius Streicher, the editor of the Nazi rag "Der Sturmer." His inchoate tirade included a reference to "a stinking excrement called something like Cohen," followed by an expression of regret "that they" -- meaning the Jews -- "were not all buried up to their necks in the forest of Orgovany," the site of a pogrom during the Hungarian "White Terror" of 1919-20.

Pfeifer's apt description of Bayer as a "fecal anti-Semite" for his obsessive linkage of Jews with human waste was interpreted by "Magyar Hirlap" as an attack on Fidesz. Hence, the online reader comments on its coverage of Pfeifer's piece didn't hold back. Pfeifer, a Holocaust survivor, was called a "gas-chamber deserter." Contributors invoked the imagery of classic anti-Semitism -- "Jewish scabs," "Jewish lice" -- along with its contemporary variants, including this choice line: "The Israeli Jewish occupiers...bring only conflict and ruin, while sucking our blood like parasites and draining our vigor."

Unlike "Nepszava," which has been victimized solely for hosting comments that discreetly poked fun at the Hungarian president, "Magyar Hirlap" has continued as if there were no media law, and the scurrilous attacks on Pfeifer remain online. The noted Hungarian-American scholar Eva Balogh offered the following explanation as to why that is:

"Despite his venomous writing, the old Fidesz leadership never disassociated itself from Bayer. Yearly there is a Fidesz birthday bash which is proudly attended by the founders, among them Zsolt Bayer. A few years ago after a particularly outrageous anti-Semitic attack, [Hungarian Prime Minister] Viktor Orban made a special effort to be photographed with Bayer as they were amiably enjoying some private jokes. It was Orban's way of saying, 'Bayer is our boy, we stand by him.'"

More generally, as Balogh, Pfeifer, and other commentators have noted, Hungary is rapidly becoming one of the most xenophobic countries in Europe. Roma (Gypsies) face regular attack, and those who expose these crimes find themselves on the receiving end of nationalist opprobrium ("Gypsies are killing Hungarians every week," one commenter lectured Pfeifer.)

The neo-fascist Jobbik party, which sports its own militia, has emerged as Hungary's third-largest, combining an extreme right-wing loathing of Jews and other minorities with anti-Zionist rhetoric more commonly found on the extreme left. And just this month, Hungary made the headlines when a court acquitted 97-year-old Sandor Kepiro, accused of participating in a brutal massacre of Hungarian Jews and Serbian nationals during World War Ii.

Fully cognizant of these toxic conditions, Pfeifer nonetheless sent a letter to Jeno Bodonovich, head of the Media Council, asking him how the new media law is going to be implemented against "anti-Semitic, racist, and homophobic hate speech." Thus far, he has not received a reply. Such silent expression of contempt is yet another sign that the bad old days are returning.

Ben Cohen is New York-based writer and broadcaster. He contributes regularly to the Huffington Post, Pajamas Media and other outlets, and was the founding editor of Z Word, an online resource dealing with anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. The views expressed in this commentary are the authors' own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
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by: freepresss from: earth
July 25, 2011 15:34
See who owns the press and make up your own mind:
http://totallyfreepress.wordpress.com/2011/03/14/public-enemy-number-one-the-american-press/

by: Juhasz Gergely from: Szlovakia
July 25, 2011 17:57
It is quite unnerving to see this ongoing hatred between Jews and Hungarians, that is fueled by lies from both sides, including mr Cohen here. We see the Hungarians calling Jews shifty and unpatriotic towards their country of origin, and we see Jews labeling Jobbik a Nazi/Faschist movement due to their anti-zionist sentiment. What mr Cohen here and other Jews have to realize, is that anti-zionism is NOT anti-semitism, and pretending otherwise will just innevetably lead to friction, and possibly REAL anti-semitism. I am a Jobbik supporter, like many others, and yet it might come as a shock for a lot of Jews that I could care less about what Jews are doing, and Jews are the absolute LAST thing on my mind when reviewing the policies of each political party. However, I would be lying if I said I am not annoyed about how certain Jews and Liberals propagate Jobbik to be Nazi of all things. The ignorance required to brand a Hungarian as a NAZI is trully bewildering. As a Hungarian born in Slovakia, I am trully a patriot, and have a very deep concern about the situation of Hungarian minorities in the Carpathian Basin. And it is a daily struggle for me, fighting for my language rights. And I have noticed, that whenever politicians (a.k.a. JOBBIK) in Hungary start raising the issue of Trianon, and the grave situation that me and all my other fellow Hungarians outside of Hungary are in, Jews start getting concerned for I guess in their eyes this brings back memories of Hungary's brief Faschist past. Now this is a BIG problem, and I believe is the direct source of tension between Jews and Hungarians within Hungary. Jews in Hungary have to realise that they are HUNGARIANS first, and Jewish second. As funny is it might sound, Jews need to make the first step, by extending a helping hand to Hungary and Hungarians when it comes to its efforts to raise awareness of the grave situation of the Hungarians living outside of Hungary as minorities, and the linguistic and cultural assimilation that is threatnign them. Hungarians need to see Jews acting patriotic, and once that happens, all anti-semitic remarks will trully be brushed off by our society as backward idiocy, and Jews and Hungarians will live happiliy again as they did before the Treaty of Trianon. If these steps are not taken, I believe, or fear rather, that one day the worlds second largest synagauge will trully be deserted, and will stand as a reminder to the rest of the world as to what can happen when two nations take themselves a tad too seriously.
In Response

by: Miroslav Sedlak from: Prague
July 26, 2011 11:43
If you don't like living in Slovakia, just move out. Noone's keeping you there. The only 'grave situation' is nationalist hungarians in southern Slovakia and enforce their 'rights' while not obeying basic laws, like required knowledge of the language if you want to be an entrepeneur etc.

Imagine if someone from Brazil moved to Budapest, and then argued that there is a 'grave situation' because he refuses to learn the language and enforces his own nazi ideals in the parliament. I lived in Budapest for quite some time, so I learned basic Hungarian and spoke English. Most Hungarians don't even care about Slovakia or Nationalism and such. It's just a bunch of immigrants in our country trying to boost their egos.

Don't like where you live? Move out.
In Response

by: Daniel Demeter from: Canada
July 26, 2011 20:28
Your aparent staggering ignorance of your own country's history is an insult to all Slovaks and Hungarians alike. If Slovakians do not respect Hungarian rights in Slovakia, then they should just move out. ;)
In Response

by: nimh from: Budapest
July 28, 2011 15:15
"Jews in Hungary have to realise that they are HUNGARIANS first, and Jewish second."

Hm. By the same logic, does that mean that Hungarians in Slovakia like you need to realize that they are SLOVAKS first, and Hungarian second? Or does this logic only apply to minorities in Hungary, but not to Hungarian minorities in other countries?

by: Zoltán Tóth from: Hungary
July 25, 2011 20:56
This article is extremely unbiased. The Hungarian government is actually very pro-semitic. The newspaper must seriously consider whether to allow the author of this article to continue writing here, as his extreme views degrades the brand of the paper.

by: Graham Donnelly from: Scotland
July 26, 2011 12:32
"Jews in Hungary have to realise that they are HUNGARIANS first, and Jewish second."

"As a Hungarian born in Slovakia, I am trully a patriot, and have a very deep concern about the situation of Hungarian minorities in the Carpathian Basin."

Mr Gergely

Are you Slovakian first and Hungarian second? You say that you are a patriot (last bastion of...?); but are you a Solvak Patriot or a Hungarian Patriot, or both?

Should we in this continent, so blighted by patriotism throughout its history, not have moved on from this nonesense. Should it not be the case that people in our great continent should be whoever they chose to be and not what YOU, or anyone else says they should be, or what they should feel. Go and be Hungarian and campaign for your right to speak your language, but don't tell other people who they should be and what they should think...that really is the way of the past.
In Response

by: Juhasz Gergely from: Szlovakia
July 26, 2011 20:24
I don't understand where your confusion stems from mr Donnelly. Hungarian Jews are Hungarians, and thats like me telling you that - assuming you were born there - you are Scottish. I am not telling you what to do by stating that, I am clearly just stating who you are in the sense of where you ancestry lies. You can amputate you legs and swim to Jamaica and it wouldnt bother me. I am not telling you what to do.
In Response

by: Zoltán from: Tóth
July 26, 2011 23:05
Very well said, Graham.
In Response

by: Lindsay from: US
July 28, 2011 02:57
"I am clearly just stating who you are in the sense of where your ancestry lies."

It's interesting that you said that becasue I've thought about this for a long time. I don't know if I agree with it. I'm an American of Slovak descent. I don't speak Slovak. I hardly know anything about Slovak culture. I only know how to make pirogi. I would never go into Bratislava and say, "Oh, I'm home!" I'd say, "oh, this is cool," or I'd just have a culture shock. I wish I knew more about my ancestrial culture, but I don't.

Having read the comments, it sounds like a common minority fear.

Someone said that the Jews in Hungary should take the first step towards peaceful relations. It's kind of hard for a minority to take the first step. How do they know they're not going to be spit on, beat up, or killed when they've had to be on guard for hundreds and hundreds of years?
In my country's history, blacks, hispanics, Asians, and almost every immigrant group have had to fight for their rights. In many cases, they're still fighting.
They're constantly onguard for any sign of hostility because of the fear that they inherited from their parents or grandparents who suffered from oppression and risked their lives to earn basic human rights.

If anything, I think the oppressor or the one who is the object of fear and hostility from these minority groups should reach out and do something to alleviate the issue. Then, maybe the minority group will respond. It's great if both parties act on it, but I think it's a lot to ask for from a group that has suffered so much for so long.

Also, if you're Hungarian living in Slovakia you're a minority yourself, right? So you're going to have your own fears about loyalty and disloyalty to the homeland. There was an article, somewhere, about the Polish being relocated to Siberia during the 30s. The Poles were mad at the Polish Jews and Ukrainians because they thought that they were traitors for talking too much to the Russians in the Gulags. But the Ukrainians spoke Ukrainian, not Polish, and the Jews weren't treated too well by the Polish, so why should either groups have any loyalty to the Polish? However loyalty was a big deal to the Polish now because they were in Siberia and because they probably wanted friends against the Russians who they could rely on. But what could they expect from the people who they really didn't treat too well?
It's like this minority mentality that never goes away and can be repeated by anyone, even by the opressor under certain circumstances.

by: magyar2lips from: Budapest
July 26, 2011 16:37
Ben Cohen’s article and analysis about anti-semitism in Hungary tells it like it is, as Radio Free Europe has so often done in the past. It is a safety valve for countries which have confused values, of which Hungary is a very good example.

I have friends here who wept with joy when Obama became the newest president of the USA, while here in Hungary the same friends support Orbán - a mini-dictator who in the early days of his budding political career, apparently wished his fellow colleagues a „Jew-free goodnight” when he was a guest of George Soros in New York.

Naturally, our Jobbik commentators will hotly deny this charge, just as most Fidesz supporters deny that Hungarians did any wrong-doing during WWII.

Perhaps psychologists could analyse why a large section of the population here simply pull down the intellectual shutters, and live in denial of history and facts.

When I walk down the streets in Budapest and see elderly people, I often think to myself....„Where were you while Jews were in ghettos? Where were you when Hungarian Arrow Cross were raping, killing and stealing from Jews, gypsies, or anyone they simply felt like tormenting? Were you one of the victims, or were you a perpetrator? If the latter, what do you think of your part in the bestial nightmare which happened here?

If Hungarians could begin to address their tragic part in WWII, then the country might be able to begin a healing process. But until the wounds are identified and addressed, we will continue to have cunning manipulators such as Orbán, who will foster denial and repression as part of their tactic. This is no different to anywhere else in the world.

The fact is, any one of us is capable of brutality, as well as mercy. Any one of us could have behaved appallingly, given the right amount of fear and intimidation, which was the keystone of living conditions during that sad era. As part of a healing process, Hungarians must accept that they are like everyone else in the world - human beings with a capacity to choose and reflect. If bad choices were made, then it is time to face them. Simply continuing to assert that Hungarians are lovely innocent people, as if they are a race apart from the rest of humanity, is infantile and counterproductive if we want to heal and move on.

But psyhcology is not the only thing needed here. As a member state of the EU, it stuns and surprises me that a stronger stance is not taken by authorities in Belgium to protect the rights of citizens here. A lot of rhetoric was given to the issue of the new media law, which seeks to curb any opposing political views in Hungary, and while some adjustments were made, no real concerted move to abolish it altogether has happened. As a consequence, the new law is already having its restrictive effect on free speech.

The main opposition radio station -Klub Rádio- is cleverly being phased out simply by making the reneweal of its license so prohibitively expensive that it
can no longer operate.

Journalists here, even some foreign ones who are now permanent residents, only report mild articles about the presiding government, for the obvious reason that they would lose their jobs and their income if they were too challenging and radically outspoken.

A journalist I spoke to said that when he and his colleagues get together, they discuss everything openly, but when they write their articles, they leave out the most important and controversial bits, for fear of repercussions.

We need Radio Free Europe and we definetely need hard-hitting reports by the likes of Ben Cohen.

Budapest
In Response

by: Zoltán from: Tóth
July 27, 2011 00:04
"magyar2lips", one can feel from your comment that you have not yet processed the hate in yourself towards Hungarians. Most Hungarians does not deny holocaust. But this is a new generation, and we just do not feel the responsibility of what was done by our ancestors. I am a Hungarian. I have never hurted any Jews and never wanted to, even if any of my ancestors possibly did, I am a different being. I do not feel guilt. A human being can feel guilt only for what _he_ has done or felt.

Please realize that in war and under dictatorship human beings do horrible things. This is not dependent on nationality! Hungarians are not more responsible for holocaust than any other nations for their own sins. And you can list only a few small nations on the globe that have not done anything wrong.

Just look at Korea: the same nation, the same people genetically, culturally - and yet how extremely differently they behave: south is one of the most advanced society on the globe, while in north insane brutality. What caused this difference? Fate in history - where they were born geographically.

If you lived in a dictatorship under war when life just is not worth any, when your direct military superior has the right to shoot you in the head any time if he thinks you are denying an order - would you tell him he may execute you because you are not willing to kill innocent civilians? I know the right answer here, but I am asking: would you posses the necessary strength to give up you life for your principles, knowing that with this act you does not save the lifes of those civilians? And add to that what brain-washing power a totally controlled media had at that time.

In recent years Jewish and American soldiers killed thousands of innocent Arab civilians. These soldiers were not even threatened by death, they just were convinced (by free/democratic media) that this is necessary collateral damage.
In Response

by: magyar2lips from: Budapest
July 27, 2011 16:07
In response to Mr. Toth, I would like to point out that I do not hate Hungarians, since I am one myself. As a responsible citizen, I have my views and am appalled by many of the things which are happening here under the present government, and with the approval of its supporters. I have every right to hold these views and I do not need to get personally offensive and accusatory, in order to get my ideas across.

I do not care if people are Hungarian, American, Chinese or from the planet Mars. I do care that when those who rule use their position to alienate whole groups of people, on the basis of religion or race, in order to gain supreme power. That is what is happening here, which Mr. Cohen has so accurately revealed.

And if my comment is read carefully, then it should be noted that I have not used the word „guilt”. I agree with Mr. Toth that the younger generation is not accountable for what happened before they were even born, and I have not suggested that they are. But surely if we take pride in past achievements in Hungary, it is equally important to acknowledge past events which are a great deal less than pride-worthy, in order to learn from them.

by: Rectifier from: Planet Earth
July 27, 2011 19:06
If someone from inside Hungary offers space for insults at the country's President, the publisher will be held responsible for it. If someone from outside pokes his nose where it does not belong, parroting false accusations based on biased information and political interests and receives response in kind, that is a different issue. So is the case of Mr Képíró who, after due conduct by the Hungarioan court, was acquitted of his charges. It may seem strange to some, but justice was served, even though it may not be liked by some Jews and Serbs. Mr Cohen did not scream when a Hungarian teacher was lynched in front of their minor kids by a gang of Gypsies; the Serbs did not protest when just a few decades back thei kin was massacring Croats, Bosnians and Albanians. So - shut your mouth up, and deal with your own affairs, ladies.
In Response

by: Tóth Zoltán from: Hungary
July 28, 2011 19:04
I also think that the government attacked the democracy, but I am quite surprised to read that they are alienating groups of people. What groups do you mean, [magyar2lips]? (Edited by modifier to delete name at request.)

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