Budapest — Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party unveiled a statue of wartime leader Miklos Horthy, who presided over the country’s alliance with Nazi Germany, in Budapest on Sunday, sparking protests and highlighting concerns about anti-Semitism in the country.
About a thousand Hungarians took to the streets of the capital to denounce the statue while the mayor of central Budapest and parliamentary leader of the ruling Fidesz party, Antal Rogan, warned the bust would provide an excuse to paint an unfair picture of extremism in Hungary.
Jobbik has stoked anti-semitism in the country, vilifying Jews and Israel in speeches in parliament, where it is the third-biggest party.
One of the organizers of Sunday’s ceremony was Jobbik’s deputy parliament group leader Marton Gyongyosi, who sparked outrage last year when he called for lists of people in Hungary with Jewish ancestry to be drawn up. He later apologised and said he had been misunderstood.
“As downtown mayor I consider the statue unveiling ceremony of Marton Gyongyosi a political provocation and I condemn it,” Rogan said in a statement. “This provocative action will obviously give the western European left-wing press an excuse to cry anti-Semitism and paint a malicious picture of Hungary.”
Protesters gathered in a light drizzle near a church in central Budapest where the large bronze bust of Horthy was put on display at the gates, a stone’s throw from the country’s neo-gothic Parliament building.
“It is outrageous that the new fascists erect a statue to Horthy, who is responsible for the Nazi rule and the Holocaust in Hungary,” said Bence Kovacs, a 22-year-old student who pinned a yellow Star of David to his chest in protest.
Hungary, which is struggling to return to growth after two bouts of deep recession in the wake of the global economic crisis, will hold parliamentary elections next April or May with Jobbik set to win 8-9 percent of the vote, according to latest opinion polls.
The far-right has held Horthy in high regard. He ruled Hungary for 24 years in an increasingly radical political era and, as head of state in the early years of World War II, entered an uneasy alliance with Nazi Germany.