Laurie and Debbie say:
If you live in the U.S., and you’re not watching the news extremely carefully, you probably don’t know that a powerful Hungarian politician, Marton Gyongyosi, made a speech in the Hungarian parliament at the end of November, calling for “the authorities to compile a national list of Hungarian Jews, especially those in parliament and government, who represent what he described as a ‘national-security risk,’ allegedly slanting Hungarian foreign policy in Israel’s interest.”
Anti-semitism in Hungary, and all of Eastern Europe, is many centuries old, and runs very deep. Gyongyosi is the head of Hungary’s extremist Jobbik party, which denies being anti-Semitic, and denies being anti-Roma, but Anti-semitism has been on the rise in Hungary for some time. The Hungarian constitution has been rewritten in an extremely nationalistic vein. (For more information on the constitutional issues, see Kim Lane Scheppele, whom Paul Krugman frequently quotes or lends his column to.)
Miklos Horthy, the Hungarian leader during the Holocaust, who sent 400,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz, is being “rehabilitated,” with statues erected to him and town squares renamed in his “honor.”
Recently, the government adopted a new national core curriculum for Hungarian schools. Required reading will include, among other works, the writings of Arrow Cross author Nyírö [a member of parliament during the reign of terror of the national socialist Arrow Cross Party from October 1944 to March 1945] and his contemporary Albert Wass, a writer who was sentenced to death in absentia in Romania for war crimes and died in the United States in 1998.
Formal reaction to Gyongyosi’s call for registration was slow, but has been substantial:
Politicians from left, right and centre addressed a demonstration in front of parliament on December 2nd, called to protest against [Gyongyosi’s speech]. Thousands of demonstrators arrived from across the country to hear speeches from Antal Rogan, parliamentary leader of the ruling right-wing Fidesz party, Attila Mesterhazy of the Socialists and Gordon Bajnai of the centrist Together 2014 movement. All pledged their solidarity with Hungary’s Jews, and called for Hungarians to take a stand against hate and extremism. …
Our concerns about Gyongyosi and Jobbik are shaped both by our knowledge of Holocaust history and by having grown up as American Jews in the period when the world was coming to terms with the reality, scope, and horror of the Holocaust.
About 15 years ago, we were flying back from Boston together after a convention. We were at the gate with our carry-on luggage, when the gate attendant announced that the flight was very full, carry-on luggage would be limited, and most of what people were planning to carry on would be checked.
Without thought or discussion, we both immediately started re-packing everything, making sure that the things we had to carry on were within the parameters of the announcement. It wasn’t until we boarded the plane that we both noticed that hardly anyone else on the full flight had paid the slightest bit of attention, and everyone was carrying on as much as they normally would.
We looked at each other and said, simultaneously, “Jews.” Both of us were taken aback by our reactions … and horrified by them. In a situation with no threat, we had both reacted like people who know that one day we will have to leave without our luggage, and also like people who know that, while following the authority’s rules will not save you, it can sometimes keep their eyes off you this time.
Historically, racist movements grow locally, and those people in the larger world who care are in the dark until it’s too late. One of the strongest weapons we have against the Gyongyosis (and the Horthys and the Nyírös) is forcing them to act in the sunlight. So, from half a world away, we’re paying attention–and we hope you are too.