Friday, 15 March 2013


Popular anti-Fascist demo. Banner: Fascism, never again!

I wasn't going to post on this subject again, not so soon anyway, but when I posted the ELTE story yesterday on Facebook there was, quite rightly, cries of incredulity. That incredulity does the commenters great honour because, frankly, it is almost incredible. I tried to address the incredulity by posting as follows. I am doing this so it may be available to users of Twitter too. 

Why? Because it is important. Here is the text. Ludwig is that excellent German poet, Ludwig Steinherr, whose poetry is an example of deep humane intelligence. We met at StAnza and I immediately liked him as well as his poetry. It is he who first cried: Incredible!

Re: the posting anti-Semitic texts on the doors of 
Jewish members of faculty at ELTE

It is incredible in many respects, Ludwig. I have tried to write about the causes before. 

They involve the trauma of two major historical defeats - by the Turks in the 16th century and the loss of 2/3 of the state after the First World War. Other military defeats have contributed to a sense of grievance that is only complicated by the country's linguistic isolation. The deep psychological headline guaranteed to appeal to patriotic hearts is: 'Heroic Hungary Stabbed in the Back Again'. 

This leads to a latent anti-Semitism that is mostly suppressed but can easily be brought into the open when the political circumstances are right. The post 1945 Communist regime was mostly led by Jews as was the 1919 Bolshevik revolution. Jews are therefore associated with both high capitalism and radical left politics. They have suffered deeply for it.

I say associated, but most usually it is a matter of smearing. The ghost of anti-Semitism is easily woken. In today's politics, as encouraged by the Fidesz government, the two extremes of Jewish stereotype have been joined by the spectre of a 'criminal' left-liberal opposition also associated with Jews. 

The government project may not be anti-Semitism in itself, but the bonding of the nation to support the government - in fact the identification of the nation with the government, so that all opposition to the government may be portrayed as anti-Hungarian. 

The direction the current government is travelling in is, in my view, proto-fascist, with the rehabilitation of the 1930s, the introduction of fascist writers into the school syllabus, the renaming of streets and the erection of statues to 30's figures.

This development is not simply a concern for Jews but Hungarians themselves, and for Europe in general. The anti-Europe rhetoric in Hungary is increasingly fierce.

ps Jews constitute c 1% of Hungary's population. The attacks on the Roma are more overt and often physical. Roma constitute somewhere between 5-10% of the population.

This is a brief and crude summary, but I do try to understand the way anti-Semitism works and what it picks on. I think it is foolish to turn a blind eye to it. One has to see it then to counter it.


I really don't want to turn a national crisis into an exclusively Jewish one. The anti-Semitism is as much symptom as agenda. Being of a Jewish family - one deeply and directly affected by the Holocaust - I am naturally concerned by the drift of events in Hungary, but I don't forget - not for a second - that I am of Hungarian birth and that anything that happens in Hungary, to the country itself and to its long suffering and decent people is of concern to me. Fascism is not just a Jewish or indeed Roma matter.


Unknown said...

The Roma population of Slovakia is about 9%, but I have no Roma in my university classes.

George S said...

Comment by James Sutherland-Smith on Facebook:

'I teach in East Slovakia and despite Presov having 25% of its population as Jews before the second world War I doubt if there is a single practising Jew among the 180 students that I'm currently teaching at Presov University. I feel a great sense of loss of history and culture.'

In the case of the Roma, I believe there are some at universities in Hungary, but very few. Addressing the lack of Roma in education would mean trying to understand, and to come to an accommodation with, Roma culture. The great Roma musicians of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries put their gifted children through conservatoires, so there is a tradition of accommodation there to work with. Low social expectations, the tradition of independence and indeed aspects of criminality in certain classes of Roma are a problem, but problems are not insoluble with patience, intelligence and sympathy.

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Gwil W said...

I've just heard on the news today the latest from Iraq where I think the score so far today stands at 50 and then there was a statistic that on average 300 people are blown to pieces each month. Then there was from Nigeria a similar story and then from Pakistan another similar story. God knows what's going on in Syria. It appears that chemical weapons are being deployed and there are 15 dead today so far. I believe the new expression for all this is 'the islamic winter'.