Anti-Semitism No Longer Taboo in Hungary as Jobbik-Led Culture War Rages

Community Vibrant But Old Hatreds Bubble Below Surface

Stones of Memory: An elderly man lights a candle on the Szabadsag square, where Hungarian government’s plans to build up a memorial site which critics say symbolises a whitewashing of the state’s role in the Holocaust.
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Stones of Memory: An elderly man lights a candle on the Szabadsag square, where Hungarian government’s plans to build up a memorial site which critics say symbolises a whitewashing of the state’s role in the Holocaust.

By Marton Dunai

Published May 21, 2014.
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(Reuters) — Budapest’s Jewish community is vibrant, visible and patriotic; and yet seven decades after the Holocaust, the taboo about expressing anti-Semitic views is breaking down among many fellow Hungarians.

Some Jews and academics blame this on the far-right Jobbik party, which has come from nowhere to become the second most popular party as one recession after another has held Hungarians’ living standards far below the European average.

Jobbik, which is expected to perform strongly in European Parliament elections this weekend, denies accusations that its rhetoric is allowing open anti-Semitism to become accepted in modern day, democratic Hungary.

But surveys show a remarkably large minority owns up to harboring beliefs - such as that a secret Jewish conspiracy controls political and economic life - that were common in the 1930s and 40s but were supposed to have been banished to the extremes by the horrors of the Holocaust.

This saddens members of Hungary’s Jewish community which numbers around 100,000 in a country of 10 million.

“I am deeply disappointed that we have come to this, that society tolerates tough talk again and tough talk spreads,” said Gyula Foldes, an 81-year-old Holocaust survivor.

“Obviously economic hardship and unemployment help stoke this, but I am disappointed still,” said Foldes who as an 11-year-old boy narrowly evaded capture in Budapest - not by German Nazis, but by their Hungarian fascist allies.

Budapest today appears typical of European Union capitals where diverse communities live side by side, including Jews.

On Dohany Street, the intricate domes of the Great Synagogue are a Budapest landmark. The square outside is thronged with tourists, trendy kosher restaurants dot the surrounding streets and Orthodox Jews in fedora hats and black suits walk round the neighborhood.

This year on the March 15 national holiday, people handed out to passers-by Star of David lapel pins fashioned out of ribbons in the red, white and green of the Hungarian flag.

Life seems normal. “On the basic level of safety, feeling safe, I never have second thoughts going out on the street at 11 o’clock at night, coming, going, which is very good,” said Rabbi Baruch Oberlander, a child of Hungarian Holocaust survivors.


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