As a man who’s rightly proud of his Hungarian Jewish heritage and knows well the experience of Hungary in the 20th century, Paul Lendvai should have known better than to stoop to references like this to raise the familiar charge of ant-Semitism. Hungary’s Jewish community is, in fact, living a renaissance. But this is not the only thing wrong with the new additions to his book The Hungarians.
In an attempt to talk about Hungary today, in light of the last ten years of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s governments, “without hatred, bitterness and bias,” former communist collaborator and strident Orbán-critic Paul Lendvai decided to extend his book The Hungarians: A Thousand Years of Victory in Defeat with two additional chapters.
“I couldn’t leave out Viktor Orbán,” Lendvai said in a recent interview with Vienna-based daily Kurier, adding that “thirty out of a thousand years might seem insignificant, but they are important.” According to the “Hungary expert,” in 2010, “there was not just a change of government, but a change of regime.”
Well, I couldn’t agree more. Since 2010, Hungarian people have voted on three occasions for an alternative to left-liberal government that had driven the country to near bankruptcy, voted for leadership that has helped Hungary reach its current standing as part of the EU’s emerging, central European economic engine. Over the last two years, we slashed Hungary’s state debt and reached a record-low unemployment rate of 3.6 percent before the coronavirus crisis hit.
What’s more, Hungarian families are now doing better than ever, with a comprehensive family policy supporting them every step of the way and demographic data gradually turning positive.
Of course, these insignificant facts don’t get mentioned in Lendvai’s liberal analysis, giving way instead to drone on about how the “demons” from Hungary’s past have returned, including “nationalism, hatred of people, corruption and authoritarian tendencies.” For a moment, I thought Lendvai was going to miss out on the opportunity to raise a popular anti-Hungary criticism: anti-Semitism.
But, in the end, he couldn’t resist: In the two extra chapters of his book, Lendvai refers to Hungary’s current political system as, wait for it, “Führerdemocracy.” Really? It’s particularly low coming from someone, like Lendvai, who is rightfully proud of his Jewish heritage, someone who knows well what Hungary went through in the 20th century. He knows better but couldn’t resist giving in to sensation.
None of the anti-Semitic nonsense about PM Orbán’s government squares with reality. On the contrary, Budapest is one of the few places in Europe where nobody looks twice if someone’s wearing their kippah on the street. Even if we put the government-financed synagogue constructions and renovations aside, and ignore the fact that Prime Minister Orbán was the first Hungarian premier to openly apologize for Hungary’s role in the Holocaust, the Jewish community in Hungary, according to prominent Jewish figures who have recently visited the country, is living a renaissance.
However, if Paul Lendvai, the liberal mainstream’s favorite “Hungary expert,” would ever like to write about the real anti-Semitism in Hungary, then I will be more than happy to give a few pointers. Like László Bíró, Jobbik and the coalition of Hungary’s left-wing parties and the radical far-right.