As has been published recently worldwide, the European Union is examining the option to trigger Article 7 proceedings against Hungary, which may result in stripping certain rights from the country that are granted within the EU.
The basis of this investigation is the Sargentini Report, which examines 12 issues in which Hungary may be violating European values, such as:
– The functioning of the constitutional system,
– The independence of the judiciary and of other institutions,
– Corruption and conflicts of interest,
– Privacy and data protection
– Freedom of expression,
– Academic freedom,
– Freedom of religion,
– Freedom of association,
– The right to the equal treatment,
– The right of persons belonging to minorities, including Roma and Jews,
– The fundamental rights of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees,
– Social rights
First of all, since one of the arguments of the Hungarian Government is that the report is about Hungary and the Hungarian people, it has to be noted that the addressee in the report is, of course, the Hungarian Government, it’s authorities and institutions, not the citizens. The citizens of a country or a nation can never be considered a homogeneous society with people who share exactly the same values and beliefs.
But what does this “illiberal system” as Viktor Orban, prime minister of Hungary calls it, mean for the Jews in the country? To answer this question, we need to look at things from a much wider perspective.
Antisemitism in Hungary
Based on research and election results from the past 28 years, 5-10% of Hungarian citizens can be considered truly anti-Semitic. There is a much higher number of “hidden anti-Semites”, for example those who would oppose having a Jewish neighbor (according to research done in 2016, 31% of Hungarians agreed with this statement) but – unlike the 5-10% truly anti-Semitic citizens – their way of thinking is not driven by hatred.
After the fall of communism, democracy and freedom of expression brought the same effect into society that we are seeing now on social media: suddenly everything was allowed to be said and, unfortunately, nationalism was hijacked by the anti-Semitic and xenophobic groups.
The reason I call this unfortunate is that normally nationalism can be healthy; just look at the United States where it is absolutely normal to be a proud American and being a proud American has nothing to do with xenophobia. In the early ’90s in Hungary, however, demonstrators, who claimed to be nationalistic, appeared with red-white striped flags. This flag was originally associated with the founding dynasty of Hungary but the Arrow Cross Party, who were in power in Nazi Hungary in 1944-1945, had an almost identical flag. Therefore it’s not so hard to imagine why people started waving these flags as soon as they were allowed to, after the establishment of the first democratic government in 1990.
Despite the fact that Nazi rhetoric came into reality in the early ’90s, life for Jews was relatively calm and normal until the arrival of Jobbik, the far right and anti-Semitic party, whose rise in popularity was based on two pillars:
1) reach out to the young generation who can easily be brainwashed with hate (similarly to how ISIS and fanatical Islam, with their online presence, reach and radicalize young Muslims who live in Western countries)
2) reach out to the abandoned and poor citizens living in the countryside, whose everyday life became very hard, or more accurately, unbearable, due to their being terrorized – mostly by members of the Roma community. Here I have to note that the integration of Gypsies into society still remains one of the biggest challenges we face, but politicians continue to turn a blind eye when this question comes up.
The rise of Jobbik resulted in the legitimization of anti-Semitism and until 2010, there was no clear border between Fidesz and Jobbik in this issue. After losing two consecutive elections, from 2006 Fidesz needed Jobbik to do the dirty work for them: to legitimize hate speech and to turn every national holiday into an opportunity for violent anti-government protest with burning barricades and Molotov-cocktails in Budapest – this in order to create the illusion of instability. The ruling center-left and liberal government was not able to handle this new reality, especially while the economic crisis in 2008 and the corruption issues paved the way for a landslide Fidesz victory in 2010, after which the Hungarian political system changed dramatically.
The Orban era
Since then the ruling party Fidesz has won all parliamentary elections, there is no real opposition and as long as Viktor Orban is healthy and ready to lead the country, he does not have to worry about losing power. Even an economical setback would not endanger his personal cult and approval since many Hungarian voters are casting their votes in fear: fear of African and Muslim immigrants, who don’t even want to come to Hungary. The government is doing a professional job in playing this card and constantly keeping the immigrant crisis in the headlines of state run media.
Orban’s other stable voters are the fanatical supporters who consider Fidesz not really a political party, but a religion, therefore no matter what the political agenda is, they agree 100% with Orban, even if his current beliefs are exactly the opposite of what he said 5 years ago. These people come from a wide range in the political spectrum, some of them include homophobic, xenophobic, anti-Semitic citizens, who share two common beliefs: the opponents of Fidesz are traitors and Orban is the only true leader of the country no matter what. It should, however, be noted that this does not mean that Orban himself and the leaders of Fidesz share the same views as these voters. They don’t, since they don’t have views but have one goal: to stay in power.
After winning the elections in 2010 with an overwhelming 2/3 majority, Fidesz changed the rules of the game by redrawing the borders of the voting zones and reducing the 2-round general election to a 1-round, two ballot system. This resulted in what many expected: in the latest elections in 2018, Fidesz won exactly 2/3 of the seats in the Parliament while receiving only 49% of the total votes in the popular vote.
Orban’s rule can be compared to what is going on in Russia or Turkey, where officially there are several parties in the competition, but the government has such big influence on the media, the court and every state institution, that it can manipulate the voting system and in the end there is no chance of having fair elections.
The ordinary citizens of the country are living their normal European lives but there are those who are dependent on the state – the poor, the uneducated and the old citizens – who are manipulated into fear of losing the very small benefits they receive and these citizens – together with the previous group I mentioned –, thanks to the unbalanced voting system, keep on winning the elections for Fidesz.
The Hungarian Jews’ dilemma
So let’s go back to the original question regarding why this political system creates a dilemma for Hungarian Jews, most of whom are open minded and liberal. Well, exactly because they are open minded and liberal and the ongoing campaign in Hungary against George Soros (basically he’s seen as the devil and cause for every problem), the constant campaign against the Central European University in Budapest and the depiction of refugees as the new colonizers contradict liberal values.
But if we analyze the questions a little bit deeper, we realize that not everything is black or white.
1) George Soros is funding BDS and other anti-Semitic NGO-s who hide behind the criticism of Israeli politics while they are clearly anti-Semitic, and they are one of the main causes of the reality we are living in today in which you cannot have an honest debate about the Arab-Israeli conflict, because if you defend anything Israel does, you will be in the best case only verbally, in the worst case even physically assaulted.
2) The ongoing refugee crisis is bringing in a wave of people into Europe, refugees and immigrants from Muslim countries in which people grew up generation after generation learning that Jews are the descendants of apes and pigs and women are objects for pleasure. Their mindset cannot be changed by organizing lessons for them, like they tried in Norway. These lessons try to teach the fact that in Europe men and women go out together, have fun together, even flirt, but this does not mean that the man has the right to rape the woman.
3) If you do a Google search for “Students for Justice in Palestine Hungary”, you will see that there is one university in the country which hosts this organization: Central European University – which, by the way, is funded by George Soros. As we know very well, renaming “Students for Justice in Palestine” to “Students for the Elimination of Israel” or rather “Students for a Jew-free World” would be a more honest name for them.
The list of the government’s illiberal actions is much longer and the rule of Fidesz did cause historical wounds which will take generations to heal – if they ever do. Hungarian society is cut into two: those who support and those who oppose the government. Thanks to the rhetoric of Fidesz, there is a general consensus among the former that the latter is not part of Hungarian society.
The biggest crime of Orban, however, is that he joined his predecessors by doing nothing with the economy, which is still breathing only thanks to the funds arriving from the European Union. Ever since the collapse of Communism, apart from a short period in 1994-1995, none of the governments had the courage to really do the necessary reforms in areas like schooling, healthcare, pensions and in general the economy to put Hungary on a sustainable path for development.
Fidesz is the only party that would be able to pass reforms, because Fidesz, in reality, is a dictatorship. Orban is FIdesz and Fidesz is Orban and nobody from his party would dare to challenge him, his views or his decisions. Therefore, after his landslide victory in 2010, he would have been able to make the necessary sacrificial reforms for the sake of the economy. But he didn’t, instead he focused on nationalizing the energy industry in order to have total control over it, purchasing every independent newspaper, television and radio station, and making his close supporters and allies very-very rich from European taxpayers’ money.
But there are two more interesting parts of the story: thanks to actions by the government and its loyal media, Jobbik is now split into two. Radicals and Nazis stepped out of the party to form a platform that has the same ideology as Jobbik had 10 years ago. Currently both groups are further away from power than ever.
Although a large number of the population still view Jews as the bankers and traders who are causing problems for the country and they do have nostalgic feelings for the anti-Semitic political environment that was present in the 1920s and 1930s – and the government wants to satisfy them in words in order to be popular – Jewish life is flourishing in Hungary.
Unlike the capital cities of many Western European countries, you can walk around in Budapest wearing your kippah without the fear of being attacked and the government is a strong supporter and one of the closest allies of Israel within the European Union.
So to conclude: there are many reasons why one might want to change the Hungarian government. But which is better? Hiding your beliefs in a free and democratic country or living in semi-dictatorship with an extremely corrupt ruling party, but also enjoying support, safety and freedom that you didn’t experience for decades?
That is the dilemma.
Gabor Somlai works as an energy engineer and lives in Budapest, Hungary. He is strongly Zionist and spends much time reading articles and opinions on anti-Israeli social media so that he can respond to them.