Dear Helsinki Commission: stop twisting the facts

Yes, what happened recently at the Aurora Center is a shameful act, one that should and will be prosecuted. But no, it does not have anything to do with the Hungarian government, and it’s high time that our international friends understood that.

Last week, members of Légió Hungária, a neo-Nazi group whose actions resemble the worst days of the Jobbik-led Magyar Garda, attacked the Aurora Center, a community center that plays host to a number of groups, including LGBTQ, Roma and Jewish organizations. The extremists burned a rainbow flag and covered the building with fascist slogans.

Two members of the Helsinki Commission in the US Congress, Chairman Representative Alcee L. Hastings and Ranking Member Senator Ben Cardin, issued a statement that puts the blame for these despicable acts on the Orbán Government. You know, because George Soros, because Open Society, because the Stop Soros legislation.

Needless to say, their statement doesn’t square with the facts. Simply because the facts clearly point to a different, deeply alarming conclusion. But don’t believe me, let the facts speak for themselves.

From 2010, it was Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government that, among several measures to fight anti-Semitism, introduced a zero-tolerance policy towards anti-Semitic attitudes, banned the use of hate symbols, banned paramilitary extremist groups, introduced a national Holocaust Remembrance Day, increased the pensions of Holocaust survivors, came to an agreement with the Claims Conference after its predecessors failed to do so, and made it a priority to back the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation with financial support.

There’s more. It was an Orbán Government that established the Memorial Day for the Hungarian Victims of the Holocaust and founded the Holocaust Museum. During the second Orbán Government, in 2012, the Fundamental Law entered into force, recognizing Hungarian Jewry as an inseparable part of the Hungarian nation.

During a historic visit in 2017 – the first of a head of government of Israel in 30 years – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Prime Minister Viktor Orbán for “standing up for Israel in international forums,” and the Hungarian prime minister delivered a sharp rebuke of the failure of Hungary to defend its Jewish citizens during World War II, saying the country had sinned.

It was the Orbán Government that brought to justice the perpetrators of one of the most heinous crimes against Roma that Hungary has ever seen. The Helsinki statement draws a link between the crimes at the Aurora Center last week and an awful killing spree that took the lives of six Roma people. But the statement issued by Congressman Hastings and Senator Cardin fails to mention that those murders took place in 2008-2009, during the term of the Socialist-Liberal government, and the perpetrators were only arrested and convicted under the Orbán Government.

Those horrid murders recall an era when the Jewish and Roma community were intimidated by the provocations of the Magyar Gárda, an extremist paramilitary group that resembles Légió Hungária and was closely affiliated (before it was banned by the Orbán Government) with the far-right, anti-Semitic Jobbik party.

There is no mention in the Helsinki Commission’s statement of far-right Jobbik, which doesn’t have such an honorable track record when it comes to the Jewish and Roma communities in Hungary. Jobbik has maintained its strongly anti-Semitic appeal despite the former leadership’s clandestine attempts to pose as a center-right people’s party. Let’s recall some of Jobbik’s story.

Last year, Jobbik dumped a vice president by the name of István Szávay because he bragged about beating a Jewish woman. That in itself should give us all serious pause. But then to take his place as vice president, Jobbik named János Bencsik, who is on record defending a certain Márton Gyöngyösi, notorious for suggesting in Parliament in 2012 to draw up a list of all people of Jewish origin in the Hungarian Government and Parliament for the grave national risk that they pose.

Another shameful story belongs to a current Jobbik MP, Gergely Kulcsár, who has referred to the Holocaust as the “the Hoaxocaust”. He gained notoriety in 2011 when he spat in the “Shoes on the Danube Bank,” a well-known Holocaust memorial in Budapest. He even sent a photo of it to his fellow party members with a caption. “This afternoon,” wrote Kulcsár, “I felt like I could use some recreation, so I visited this happy place by the banks of the Danube that you can see on the photo. The photo was taken after spitting into the shoe.”

Hungary’s left-liberal opposition works in coalition with Jobbik. Not many have stood up to call them out on that – Ronald Lauder of the World Jewish Congress is still one of the very few to say anything – and the Helsinki Commission has been utterly silent on the matter.

Let the objective observer draw a reasonable conclusion: Who’s the real culprit here? Who’s inciting hatred towards minority groups in Hungary?