Article ‘embarrasses’ Hungarian party

By Adam Lebor, April 4, 2008

One-hundred Hungarian public intellectuals and the leader of a conservative opposition party have condemned as antisemitic an article by a leading columnist in a mainstream right-wing newspaper.

Writing in Magyar Hirlap, Zsolt Bayer claimed: “Back in 1967, the Jewish journalists of Budapest were vilifying Israel. Today, the same Jewish journalists of Budapest are vilifying the Arabs and [the main opposition party] Fidesz, and us all. Because they hate us more than we hate them.”

Mr Bayer recounted how a famous Hungarian writer was swimming at the Lukacs baths, when he blew his nose into the water. When a swimmer asked him to stop, the writer supposedly jumped out and exclaimed: “The Jews are being insulted here.”

Mr Bayer wrote: “It is an emblematic moment worth remembering. It encapsulates the lives of all of us who live here.”

The article triggered a national furore. Ibolya David, leader of the Hungarian Democratic Forum, condemned Mr Bayer’s writings as “bewildering, revolting and scandalous... Magyar Hirlap has stepped beyond a line over which no one should cross.”

The intellectuals signed an open letter, asking Gabor Szeles, the newspaper’s proprietor, if he felt comfortable financing a newspaper in which a writer declares himself to be antisemitic.

Gabor Demszky, the mayor of Budapest, said he would no longer give interviews to Magyar Hirlap.

Mr Bayer, who often writes critically on Jewish themes, is a founder member of the main opposition party, Fidesz, and the author of the party’s official history. He does not hold an official party position but spoke at Fidesz’s 20th birthday party on Sunday.

The article is embarrassing for Fidesz at a time when it has reached out to Jewish leaders. During the recent furore over the extreme-right self-styled civil-defence force, the Magyar Garda, Fidesz leaders wrote to the Jewish community, assuring it of their support.

Tamas Deutsch-Fur, a Fidesz leader himself of Jewish background, said that part of Mr Bayer’s article was “unacceptable”, although he did not think the author was antisemitic.

Gabor Szeles, the owner of Magyar Hirlap, said in a public letter that there was no excuse for antisemitism, but that the scandal about Mr Bayer’s article was being “artificially fuelled”.

Peter Feldmajer, President of Mazsihisz, the Association of Jewish Communities, told the JC that Mr Seles should resign his position as head of the factory owners’ association. “Zsolt Bayer is a marginal figure but Mr Seles symbolises the new class of owners. It seems the richest people in Hungary are making an alliance with the far-right.”

Last updated: 2:48pm, June 8 2008