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Antisemitism in contemporary Hungary

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Antisemitism in contemporary Hungary

During the communist period in Hungary, antisemitism was not presented in its classic form. The main perception was that antisemitism represents the fascist-Hungarist ideology, and therefore the ruling elite made sure that all antisemitic literature was destroyed after World War II. During the 1989 transition from communism to democracy, and the introduction of free speech and a free press, antisemitism appeared almost immediately, and reemerged later on. This phenomenon has led into a heated debate - were the economic and social changes the cause of the sudden increase in antisemitism and the rapid spread of antisemitic views or whether covert hostility toward Jews was coming to the surface as a consequence of the new civil liberties.[1][2] Post-communism new-capitalism has led to "social nationalism", implying racism, xenophobia, fundamentalism and antisemitism is an identity - an identity based pseudo-response to socio-economic problems and culture based pseudo-answer to real problems. A cleavage structure in Hungary – reflecting historical contradictions between progress and nationhood – has created a situation in which high status groups attempted at transforming anti-semitism into a mobilizing cultural code. In his concept of "national antisemitism" Klaus Holz, pointed out the image of the Jew as a universal “non-identity” vitally threatening, destroying all particular identities and communities. That image has led to the perception of the Jew as the perpetrator and the nation as the victim.[3]

The appearance of antisemitism, in the post-communism era, was both on the periphery and in the mainstream. On the periphery, antisemitic and neo-Nazi groups emerged and were supported by Hungarian fascists living abroad. The ideologists of the Hungarian neo-Nazis and Hungarists included extreme-right publicists and writers. The newly established newspapers after the transition, Hunnia Füzetek and Szent Korona, were the first to bring back the motifs of traditional antisemitism and merge them with postwar elements, especially Holocaust denial. In the mainstream, antisemitism became eminent in the public discourse and in central forums of public life conducted by intellectuals, who took part in the anticommunist opposition’s activities, and figured importantly in political life after the 1989 transition, such as István Csurka.[4][5]

In the 21st century, antisemitism in Hungary has evolved and received an institutional framework, while verbal and physical aggression against Jews (and Roma as well) has escalated, creating a great difference between its earlier manifestations in the 1990s and recent developments. One of the major representatives of this institutionalized antisemitic ideology is the popular Hungarian party Jobbik, which received 17 percent of the vote in the April 2010 national election. The far-right subculture, which ranges from nationalist shops to radical-nationalist and neo-Nazi festivals and events, plays a major role in the institutionalization of Hungarian antisemitism in the 21st century. The contemporary antisemitic rhetoric has been updated and expanded, but is still based on the old antisemitic notions. The traditional accusations and motifs include such phrases as Jewish occupation, international Jewish conspiracy, Jewish responsibility for the Treaty of Trianon, Judeo-Bolshevism, as well as blood libels against Jews. Nevertheless, in the past few years, this has been increased with the Palestinization of the Hungarian people,[6] the reemergence of the blood libel and an increase in Holocaust relativization and denial, while the monetary crisis has revived references to the “Jewish banker class”.[4]



Between the years 1994-2006, 10%-15% of the Hungarian adult population held a strong antisemitic prejudice. Anti-Jewish sentiment was reactive to political campaigns: antisemitism increased in election years and then fell back to its previous level. This trend altered after 2006, and the surveys indicate an increase in prejudice since 2009.[1]

Support for anti-Jewish views, 1994-2011[1]
% Year
1994 1995 2002 2006 2011
Jewish intellectuals control the press and cultural sphere Fully agree 12 - 13 12 14
Agree 18 - 21 19 21
There exists a secret Jewish network determining political and economic affairs Fully agree 9 - 8 10 14
Agree 14 - 14 17 20
If would be best if Jews left the country Fully agree 11 5 5 3 8
Agree 12 5 6 7 12
In certain areas of employment, the number of Jews should be limited Fully agree 8 - 3 5 7
Agree 9 - 9 10 12
The crucifixion of Jesus is the unforgivable sin of the Jews Fully agree 15 23 8 8 9
Agree 11 23 9 12 12
The suffering of the Jewish people was God's punishment Fully agree 12 17 7 7 5
Agree 12 17 10 7 9
Jews are more willing than others to use shady practices to get what they want Fully agree - - - 8 9
Agree - - - 13 17
The Jews of this country are more loyal to Israel than to Hungary Fully agree - - - 8 12
Agree - - - 15 15

According to the ADL survey conducted between January 2–31, 2012, "disturbingly high levels," were to be found in ten European countries, including Hungary. The data shows that in Hungary, the level of those who answered “probably true” to at least 3 of the 4 traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes tested rose to 63 percent of the population, compared with 47 percent in 2009 and 50 percent in 2007. Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, has said that: "In Hungary, Spain and Poland the numbers for anti-Semitic attitudes are literally off-the-charts and demand a serious response from political, civic and religious leaders".[7] Regarding the 2007 ADL survey, Mr. Foxman has said that "The increase and high percentage of respondents in Hungary who hold negative views of Jews are disturbing. More than a decade after the fall of Communism, we hoped that such anti-Jewish attitudes would have begun to diminish rather than increase".[8]

The ADL Global 100 survey released in 2014 reported that Hungary is the most anti-Semitic country in Eastern Europe, with 41% of the population harboring anti-Semitic views. Unlike most of Europe, the level of anti-Semitism in Hungary is highest among the young, at the rate of 50% among adults under the age of 35. [9]

Socio-Psychological Analysis

Scholars were divided whether post-communism antisemitism – on the background of a cleavage structure with the main divide between universalist Westernization and particularist nationalist – become the cultural code playing a central role in political mobilization in Hungary. In a broader context of the historical Jewish role in the process of Westernization, the relationship to Jewry seems to be, for Viktor Karády, one of the main sources of the present ideological division.[3] Prof. Kovács, on the contrary, show not only an increase in the absolute percentage of antisemites, but also an increase in the proportion of antisemites who embed their antisemitism in the political context and who would be inclined, under certain circumstances, to support antisemitic discrimination. This phenomenon is linked with the appearance on the political scene of Jobbik, the far-right Hungarian party. According to Kovács, the causes of contemporary antisemitism in Hungary have not changed for the past decade: certain attitudes—such as general xenophobia, anomie, law-and-order conservatism, and nationalism—correlate significantly with antisemitism and well explain its potency. Moreover, as previous researches have shown, a small correlation between antisemitic prejudice and the socio-demographic and economic indicators was found. These attitudes do not obtain the same intensity of antisemitic feeling in each social milieu and in each region in Hungary. Hence, the differences correlate with the strength of Jobbik’s support in the various regions.[1]

Those findings have led to Kovács' hypothesis that antisemitism is mainly a consequence of an attraction to the far-right rather than an explanation for it. When examining the far-right antisemitic discourse, for substantiating the hypothesis, Kovács has found that the primary function of the discourse is not to formulate anti-Jewish political demands but to develop and use a language that clearly distinguishes its users from all other actors in the political area. By doing so, those who reject the antisemitic language are presented as supporters of the current political establishment, while those who use the antisemitic language as the radical opponents of it, who do not hesitate to capitalize on the pseudo-revolutionary resentments.[1]

By examining the anti-Jewish prejudice in contemporary Hungary according to a socio-psychological casual model,[10] Bojan Todosijevic and Zsolt Enyedi have found that:[11]

  1. Antisemitic attitudes are independently related to authoritarianism and parents' attitudes in approximately equal degree.
  2. Authoritarianism appears to be the most important explanatory variable for both children's and parents' antisemitic attitudes.
  3. Social mobility may lead to increased antisemitism.

Antisemitism in the Subculture

During the post-communist era, the quickly emerging extreme-right subculture also strengthened the traditional anti-Roma attitude. Many neo-Nazi, Hungarist, “nationalist rock” bands came into being and have used extreme racist language and symbols, including HunterSS, White Storm, Endlösung and others. These and many other bands perform at illegal concerts, as well as at the infamous Hungarian Island Festival (Magyar Sziget). These events typically involve the use of banned symbols, uniforms, lyrics, banners, signs etc.'. This subculture is linked with the nationalistic demands for [4]

Antisemitic Discourse

The anti-Zionism that ruled the mainstream discourse during communism did not disappear after the 1989 transition, and it was sometimes reemerged in the form of antisemitism. In the early years of the post-communist era, antisemitism in far-right papers and radio broadcasts was common but of limited impact.[4] According to both Jewish and non-Jewish public opinion which were conducted in the past few years, antisemitism in Hungary has gained strength in recent years, or, at the very least, has become more pronounced in public discourse. It manifests itself mainly in the media and in the street, and antisemitic voices increase in volume during election campaigns in particular.[12] In nowadays Hungary’s right-wing newspapers, antisemitism is still present with labeling of Hungary’s Jews as inherently “other”. Nevertheless, antisemitism should be seen as a complicated phenomenon, not as a characteristic held exclusively by the right-wing. According to János Gadó, an editor for Hungary’s Jewish periodical, Szombat, antisemitism is an increasing problem on the left of the political spectrum, as it is shrouded in criticism of Israel’s policies. “A significant proportion of the anti-Jewish rhetoric in Hungary’s right-wing press is characterized by the left-wing’s language of anti-Zionism … according to this Israel is ‘oppressive,’ ‘racist’ and tramples on the rights of Palestinians”.[13]

Attitudes of Hungarian Jews towards Antisemitism

A survey of contemporary Hungarian Jewry - conducted in 1999 by the Institute for Minority Studies of the Institute of Sociology at Loránd Eötvös University in Budapest - asked a series of questions designed to determine how Jews perceived the extent of antisemitism in Hungary. 32 per cent of respondents perceived little antisemitism in contemporary Hungary; 37 per cent thought that there was a high level of antisemitism, and 31 per cent thought that there was neither a high nor a low level of antisemitism. In response to questions asking whether people believed that there had been an increase or decrease in antisemitism in Hungary ‘in the recent past’, 63 per cent said they thought that antisemitism had increased. In an attempt to identify how respondents formed these opinions, it appeared that their attitudes towards the intensity and range of antisemitism in contemporary Hungary were based primarily on media reports rather than on personal experience of any antisemitic incident.[14]

Recent Antisemitic Incidents

In May 2014, Apáthy István László, the Jobbik representative from the city of Erzsébetváros, appears in public and exposes his antisemitic views that present the Holocaust in “a relative light” and diminish its scope. On April 20 he posted on his Facebook page an article claiming that “The Jewish background superpower” was responsible for the Holocaust. László also posted on his Facebook page “a documentary film” denying the Holocaust, portraying a quest to disprove clear and known facts related to the Holocaust.[15]

In May 2014, more than fifty graves have been desecrated in the Jewish cemetery in the city of Szikszó. The Jewish cemetery was closed after the Second World War.[16]


  1. ^ a b c d e
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^ a b c d
  5. ^
  6. ^ An ideology based on the idea of “Zionist crimes” are no longer limited to the Middle East but also extend to Hungary. Hence, the alleged “genocide” of the Palestinians and the fate of Hungarians have many parallels between them
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ There are three approaches to explain prejudices:
    • Personality - Approach that sees prejudices as being rooted in deep psychological processes - conscious and unconscious. In compliance with this approach, the authoritarian personalities are particularly inclined to accept general ethnocentric and specific antisemitic attitudes.
    • Social learning - Approach that avoids using psychoanalytic concepts and sees prejudice primarily as learned via socialization.
    • Group conflict - Approach that sees the prejudice as a result from conflicts, real or imagined, between groups.
    According to the model, the analyzed three approaches to prejudices should be conceived as complementary theories rather than exclusive ones.
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^

External links

  • Jews and Jewishness in Post-war Hungary
  • A Pártatlan Dokumentáció
  • Antisemitic Prejudices in Contemporary Hungary
  • Antisemitism in Eastern Europe: History and Present in Comparison
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