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Sep 08, 2020 - Zoltán Kovács

That moment when the liberal opposition nominated a far-right candidate with a disturbing history of anti-Semitism, Part II

“It cannot be tolerated,” according to a well-known government critic, commenting on the opposition’s choice of candidate, “that a man who has made such anti-Semitic and anti-Roma statements, like Bíró, can enter an election with the support of parties that call themselves anti-racist, democratic and tolerant.”

 

A coalition of left-liberal opposition parties is nominating a candidate with a disturbing history of anti-Semitic and anti-Roma behavior, and it should be cause for serious concern. Let’s take a look at the odd story of the nomination and some statements made recently by opposition leaders.

A few weeks ago, shortly before the nomination deadline for the October 11 by-election in Hungary’s Tiszaújváros-Szerencs parliamentary electoral district, a group of opposition parties agreed on a joint candidate, one from the far-right, Jobbik party, a political figure with a history of outrageous, anti-Semitic comments. And yet, Jobbik itself could not officially be listed as a nominating organization due to its inability to submit changes in party leadership to the relevant court even though its last congress was more than seven months ago. Legally speaking, Jobbik does not have an official leader at the moment to make statements on the party’s behalf.

At first, the turmoil around the nomination might look like a minor, technical detail, but, in reality, it underscores how troubling the situation is.

For starters, László Bíró, the Jobbik member who has referred to Hungary’s capital as “Judapest” and now campaigning to fill the parliamentary seat, apparently gets a pass on his deeply disturbing, anti-Semitic and anti-Roma comments from left-liberal leaders.

In an interview with the left-leaning TV channel ATV, Bertalan Tóth, president of the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), confirmed that “even if Jobbik cannot be included as a nominating organization, all five of the remaining parties will maintain the nomination.” Meanwhile, according to Socialist MP Ágnes Kunhalmi,  Bíró has “come a long way” to become a joint candidate.

That’s a stretch, to the say least, consider Bíró’s and Jobbik’s history, a past that includes awful slurs, spitting in the Shoes on the Danube Bank Holocaust memorial, suggestions for listing all members of parliament of Jewish descent and openly promoting Nazi ideology on social media. Despite László Bíró’s lengthy track record of shameful statements, high-ranking Momentum and Párbeszéd politicians Gábor Kerpel-Fronius and Olivio Kocsis-Cake have both accepted his “honest apologies.”

It’s not a coincidence that, seeing Bíró’s nomination as the onset of a new wave of anti-Semitic and anti-Roma hatred in Hungary, prominent Jewish and Roma minority leaders have decided to speak up. Reminding left-liberal opposition parties that they have previously signed an agreement about refraining from putting forward racist candidates, Roma rights activist Jenő Sötét said that “the nomination of László Bíró goes directly against their choice of values.”

András Heisler, president of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, said that his organization condemns “acts of instigation against any ethnic, religious or sexual minority,” including László Bíró’s comments.

The issue is so controversial even among leftist journalists that even Gáspár Miklós Tamás (TGM), one of the government’s staunchest critics in Hungary, said in an interview with daily Magyar Nemzet, that “it cannot be tolerated that a man who has made such anti-Semitic and anti-Roma statements, like Bíró, can enter an election with the support of parties that call themselves anti-racist, democratic and tolerant.”

The episode has made one thing perfectly clear: In their endless quest for power, Hungarian opposition parties have abandoned even their most fundamental values, making you wonder what and who, given the opportunity, they would ever truly protect.