Hungary Jews Fret as Vote Signals Shift to Right

Ruling Party Wins and Anti-Semetic Jobbik Gains

Winner: Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who just won reelection, portrays himself as the best defense against the far right. Some Jews disagree.
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Winner: Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who just won reelection, portrays himself as the best defense against the far right. Some Jews disagree.

By Daniella Cheslow

Published April 16, 2014.
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In 2009, Csanad Szegedi was euphoric when Jobbik, the radical right-wing nationalist party he co-founded, placed third in Hungary’s elections for the European Parliament, winning enough votes to send three representatives to Brussels, including himself.

But after Hungary’s elections for parliament April 6, Szegedi is shaken. The party, many of whose leaders are seen as racist and anti-Semitic, increased its share of the vote to 20% from 16% in the 2010 parliamentary election. Now Szegedi, a former Holocaust denier who discovered in 2012 that he himself was Jewish, sees darkness ahead.

“It’s very bad for the Hungarian society,” said Szegedi, who today takes Torah lessons, wears a yarmulke and goes by the name Dovid. “This brings out such conflict that it will take tens of years to get it back to normal.”

With this election, Jobbik, whose leaders have depicted Hungarian Jews as a threat to national security, became Europe’s most successful ultranationalist faction. Its members will serve in a parliament dominated by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, leader of the conservative Fidesz party, who was re-elected for a third term. But Orban and his party, Fidesz, pose their own challenges to Hungary’s Jews.

Orban depicts his faction as the only bulwark holding back Jobbik’s surging radical right tide. Yet many in Europe see Fidesz’s staunch nationalism as a threat to democracy, too. Its support for rewriting Hungary’s history with regard to the Holocaust is one aspect of Fidesz’s role that gives Hungary’s Jews scant solace.

Three days after the election, about 100 Jewish and non-Jewish Hungarians joined together to protest the government’s construction in Budapest of a controversial memorial to World War II. The commemorative statue will depict Hungary as the archangel Gabriel, attacked by Nazi eagles. The protesters decry this memorial as a lie that covers up Hungary’s years of cooperation with Hitler during World War II under its leader, Admiral Miklos Horthy, and its deportation of some 437,000 Jews to Nazi concentration camps under his rabidly anti-Semitic successor, the Arrow Cross regime. In all, some 565,000 of Hungary’s estimated 600,000 Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.

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