Hate-mongering, unacceptable words reminiscent of fascism and nazi ideology – these are some of the comments on the speech given by Viktor Orbán in Băile Tuşnad (“Tusnádfürdő” in Hungarian), Romania in July, at this year’s event of the annual “Tusványos Festival”. Several Hungarian organisations and public figures condemned the Hungarian Prime Minister’s remarks which warned against “miscegenation” with non-Europeans, and which detailed the rejection of a “multi-ethnic” society. Also, there were considerable international repercussions. However, the majority of those who criticised the speech did not describe Orbán’s controversial sentences as a result of his conviction but rather put it down to a politically motivated diversionary operation, with a deliberately or accidentally inaccurate use of the words. Many of those criticising the speech stress that it was made by the Prime Minister of a country where more than half a million citizens perished in the Holocaust. And in this country there are still survivors, and many people who lost part or all of their family as a result of the persecution in World War II.
This article was originally published on english.atlatszo.hu.
Orban’s “mixed race speech” was delivered at this year’s „Tusványos Festival” (Bálványos Free Summer University and Youth Camp) which has been held every summer for 31 years in Tusnádfürdő, Romania. Organised by Hungarian and Romanian NGOs (Kisebbségekért – Pro Minoritate Alapítvány (Public Foundation for Minorities), Magyar Ifjúsági Tanács (Hungarian Youth Council of Romania), it also has a Polish partner – VSquare wrote about in August. This festival has become an important event of the Hungarian political scene, where the leader of Hungary’s ruling party (Fidesz), Viktor Orbán (whether in power or in opposition) regularly gives a speech outlining his political vision for the coming year. Several members of his government and his party, and their ”entourage” (including political influencers and supporters) are regular participants at this event. It was here in 2014 that Viktor Orbán first spoke in detail about his infamous thoughts on illiberal democracy. (In this article we will use the expressions “Tusványos Festival” and “Tusványos speech” because the event is most often referred to in this way in the Hungarian public discourse.)
A part of Orban’s Tusványos speech on 23 July this year caused a kind of scandal (the Hungarian language version of the speech is available here). This was the part of the speech which several Hungarian organisations and public figures condemned and which caused considerable international repercussions. (Translated from the full Hungarian text published on the Prime Minister’s website.)
“In such a multi-ethnic context, there is an ideological feint here that is worth talking about and focusing on. The international left employs a feint, an ideological ruse: the claim – their claim – that Europe by its very nature is populated by peoples of mixed race. This is a historical and semantic sleight of hand, because it conflates two different things. There is a world in which European peoples are mixed together with those arriving from outside Europe. Now that is a mixed-race world. And there is our world, where people from within Europe mix with one another, move around, work, and relocate. So, for example, in the Carpathian Basin we are not mixed-race: we are simply a mixture of peoples living in our own European homeland. And, given a favourable alignment of stars and a following wind, these peoples merge together in a kind of Hungaro-Pannonian sauce, creating their own new European culture. This is why we have always fought: we are willing to mix with one another, but we do not want to become peoples of mixed-race. “
Following the speech, one of the Hungarian members of the European Parliament, Tamás Deutsch (head of the EP delegation of Fidesz) sent a circular to MEPs with a link to a written summary of the Prime Minister’s speech in Băile Tuşnad (“Tusnádfürdő” in Hungarian). Socialist MEP, István Ujhelyi drew attention to the fact that this summary (published on the website operated by the Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister) omitted the “critical”parts of the speech. Two days later (25 July) the English transcript of the full speech was also posted on the same website.
This year’s Tusványos speech was nowhere near the first incident where Viktor Orbán expressed thoughts with anti-semitic undertones. It is enough to think of how he attacked George Soros and the EU in a nationwide billboard campaign organised from taxpayers’ money. Soros, a 92-year old billionaire whose family was persecuted in Hungary during World War II by followers of Germany’s nazi ideology, has become the Orbán-government’s arch enemy. It is enough to think of his speech on 15 March 2018, as quoted by the The Guardian, and there have been many more such occasions.
“We are fighting an enemy that is different from us. Not open, but hiding; not straightforward but crafty; not honest but base; does not believe in working but speculates with money; does not have its own homeland but feels it owns the whole world.“
This is confirmed by a think tank, Political Capital, in a study, published in their blog hosted by Atlatszo.hu. The essay (under the title: “Viktor Orbán did not arrive on the far right by the “mixed races” speech”) underlines that “the Prime Minister has not said anything new; he did not just now crossed that particular ‘line’”, similar statements in recent years prove that the “extremist” detail of this July’s speech is not a mistake or a one-off, accidental slip of the tongue, but part of a conscious communication strategy. According to the authors of Political Capital’s study, Orbán regularly uses extreme right-wing expressions and makes them more acceptable in the public discourse, and then when there is a scandal, he is forced to explain himself.
“Ideas and slogans borrowed from the far right, and a deliberately ambiguous language, have long been elements of Orbán’s rhetoric, and have been a cornerstone of Fidesz’s political strategy and ideology for some time.”
The study by Political Capital recalls a similar incident from 2017 when Orbán spoke at the opening of the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s annual economic conference about the need to “preserve Hungary’s ethnic homogeneity”. Just like after this year’s Tusványos-speech, an explanation had to be provided by the government. First, the part about ethnic homogeneity was omitted from the transcript of Viktor Orbán’s speech, then it was pretended to be a coincidence, and finally it was argued, as it is now, that the prime minister was actually talking about preserving “cultural homogeneity”.
The difference was this year that he was using the word ‘race’, in a cultural sense, as the Prime Minister tried to explain it at a press conference in Vienna, after a meeting with the Chancellor of Austria. Karl Nehammer stated that “As Austrians, we reject and condemn all forms of racism or anti-Semitism in the strongest terms.” Following these words, Orbán said – among others – the following (translated into English by the author of this text from the video report published on Telex.hu):
“I have made sure that we are in full agreement on the most important issues of a spiritual nature. Hungary has achieved fantastic results in the fight against racism and anti-Semitism, and our government has been particularly at the forefront of this.There is zero tolerance in Hungary today, such acts are legally persecuted and are not even possible in public political discourse. It does happen that I sometimes use ambiguous language. I have asked the Chancellor to kindly put all the information about this in a cultural context. Because in Hungary, these expressions and these phrases and the position that I represent is a cultural approach. In Hungary, a biological approach to any political issue is not possible, only a cultural approach is possible.”
The official English version of this speech made in Vienna is slightly different:
“Hungary has achieved fantastic results in the fight against racism and anti-Semitism, and our government in particular has been at the forefront of this fight. On this matter there is zero tolerance in Hungary, such acts are prosecutable by law, they do not have any place whatsoever in the political discourse. This is why, in case doubts arise on any sensitive issues with historical, intellectual or civilisational dimensions, I have asked the Chancellor to always interpret the news about Hungary in terms of cultural considerations. In Hungary it is beyond the pale for any political issue to be approached on a biological basis; what is possible is a cultural approach. For me this is not a simple matter, of course, because you are aware that I am perhaps the only openly anti-immigration politician in the entire European Union. So I do not use rhetorical stratagems, drop hints or mince my words, but I have a very clear, direct position. I therefore define myself as an anti-migration and anti-immigration politician: I do not want Hungary to become an immigrant country, and I do not want migration to strengthen in Hungary. This is the position I have always taken and will continue to take. For us the basis of this is not biological, and it is not a racial issue: it is a cultural issue, and we simply want to maintain our civilisation as it is today.”
This justification is rejected by Political Capital’s blogpost, which stresses:
“This excuse is refuted by another speech by Orbán, his Tusványos-speech in 2017. In it, the Prime Minister clearly identified ethnic composition and cultural identity. ‘To change the ethnic composition of a country is to change its cultural identity. A strong country can never afford to do that, especially if it is not forced to do so by a world disaster’ –he said.”
The essay points out that “it is not simply that the Prime Minister refers to a “mixed-race world” because he or his careless copywriters are inspired by certain authors (such as George Friedman or Jean Raspail), but that these views have become an integral part of Fidesz’s ideology over the past few years.”
The blogpost also explains Orbán’s possible motivation: “Orbán’s party, Fidesz has been an active player and shaper of the far right, both in terms of actors and messages, adopting the themes and ideas of the far right, so it can take the wind out of their sails if necessary. And the latest speech in Tusnádfürdő can certainly be interpreted in this party-political context, since Orbán must now also ensure that Mi Hazánk does not become a centre party.”
This study puts Orbán’s speech into an international context this way:
“Fidesz, which had drifted away from the European People’s Party, has now established increasingly close links with the authoritarian right and far-right (Le Pen, Salvini, etc.), which have modernised and rebranded themselves as “sovereignist”. These are, not least, the same actors that Vladimir Putin, who is interested in weakening the European Union, is keen to support. These parties, in line with the ideology described, do not simply claim to defend national identity, but to defend ethnic or cultural homogeneity or the rejection of ‘racial’ mixing, which in most cases means opposing immigration.”
The explanation provided by Viktor Orbán at the Vienna press conference was also rejected by János Kertész, Széchenyi Prize-winning physicist, member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. In an interview to Spirit FM radio station (quoted by ATV.hu television channel’s website) he stated:
“I can in no way consider Viktor Orbán’s words in Vienna as an apology, I think it is further confusion and misinformation” (…) “These words have meaning, and the Hungarian prime minister speaks Hungarian very well and he knows exactly what it means to be a mixed race, and he must also know exactly what associations and memories such a term evokes,” Kertész also said: “the most appropriate step would be for him to resign, but I don’t expect that of course“.
In the wake of the outcry over the speech, many claimed that Orbán used the provocative details – again – as a “diversionary tactic”. Those who believe this claim that just like in his anti-LGBTQ propaganda, he did not speak out of conviction but with a deliberate political purpose, to – among other things – attract undecided Jobbik (until recently Hungary’s most right wing party).
A similar opinion was expressed by historian Krisztián Ungváry, in an interview with the news outlet 444.hu. He believes that the objectionable part of the scandalous speech was made with the deliberate aim of causing offence, and it sought to divert attention from the fact that the whole theory Orbán outlined in his speech was not true. Ungváry said, that the speech, which According to him could be called fascist and which reminds of the Jewish laws of 1938, 1939 and 1941 in Hungary, was “basically a spin-off of the Putinist propaganda that Viktor Orbán has been spreading so far.” The historian adds that politically, it “pays” for Orbán to use “radical” expressions, because his “political background ranges from neo-Nazis to the centre-right, and he needs to be able to cover the electoral needs of his proxy party, Mi Hazánk (Our Homeland) as well.“
A rather forgiving interpretation of the Tusványos-speech was published on Index.hu (formerly the largest and most trusted independent news outlet, later appropriated by the government’s circles). This article (“This is why Viktor Orbán must have talked about a “mixed-race world”) tries to explain the ideological background of Orbán’s speech while focusing mostly on its potential sources. It is only at the end of the essay that it discusses directly the controversial aspect of the speech:
“Whether Orban’s speech referring to “mixed races” was intentional, and how exactly he meant it, or whether it was really just an unfortunate phrasing, is a question that only Viktor Orbán can really answer.“
This article then quotes – as an explanation – Orbán’s reply to a well-known sociologist (Zsuzsa Hegedűs) who has long been an adviser to the Hungarian Prime Minister and who resigned because of this year’s Tusványos-speech. (The sociologist later withdrew her resignation, claiming she decided to do so after hearing Viktor Orban’s explanation in Vienna.)
“You know better than anyone that in Hungary my government has a zero tolerance policy on anti-Semitism and racism. We have known each other for a thousand years. You know that I believe that God created every human being in his own image. Therefore, racism is excluded ab ovo for people like me.”
Ms Hegedüs, one of Orbán’s oldest allies wrote the following in her resignation letter, as quoted by Telex.hu:
“I sincerely regret that it was a disgraceful statement that has forced me to sever a relationship that, although increasingly difficult for me to manage since your illiberal turn, seemed sustainable in the short term. However, after such a speech, which goes against all my fundamental values, I have no choice: despite the fact that you never restricted my full freedom in any way, just as you originally promised when you offered my this position, I must now publicly break with you because of what you said in Tusnádfürdő.” (…) ”I don’t know how you didn’t realise that you were turning your earlier anti-migrant and anti-Europeanism into a pure Nazi text worthy of Goebbels when, as is your custom, you read through the speech. But due to the gravity of the fact I cannot, even after nearly 20 years of friendship with you, overlook that this time.”
In an interview to RTL Klub television channel Hegedüs said “the first thing that blew her fuse was the homophobic law“. With this the sociologist was referring to the law (among the opposition also known as the anti-LGBTQ act) that came into force in Hungary in July last year, which the government called a “child protection act” . This, among other things, banned the “promotion” and display of homosexuality in schools and the media for children under 18.
However, it is possible that the reaction phrased in the above article published on Index.hu reflected the real situation, and Orbán’s speech did not actually cause as much outrage and debate in the whole of Hungarian society as it did among left-wing voters. This is also suggested by the results that media lawyer Bea Bodrogi received through a new tool, operated by the European Observatory of Online Hate. This is a project supported by the European Commission to examine the fundamental nature of the dynamics of online hate, how hate manifests itself, the connections between the perpetrators and their influence as well as the related disinformation strategies. The participating organisations and experts, including Bodrogi, are developing a monitoring tool which will be available in the 24 working languages of the European Union, integrating data from a broad cross-section of mainstream and fringe social media platforms.
The dashboard – still in a research phase, only available for experts testing it – showed Bodrogi that “the mixed race-speech did not dominate public discourse” in Hungarian social media, but rather that NGOs, churches, opposition figures and public figures protested, according to her experience.
An opposition MP and former Prime Minister, leader of one of the opposition parties (Demokratikus Koalíció – Democratic Coalition), also considered to be a controversial figure among part of the opposition, Ferenc Gyurcsány in a Facebook-post stated that “Viktor Orbán’s speech on Saturday (at Tusványos) was a “Nazi speech”. He added:
“Orbán is the tragedy of Hungary. It will kill us if it stays that way. We will be pariahs. An immoral nation. Nobodies in somebody’s land. Yesterday’s Nazi text will wipe us out of the world of honest nations. We are Hungarians. We love our Hungarian character, it is the natural medium of our life. But my blood is no different from the blood of other men. My land is the land of the Creator, who loves all men. Man is not the master of another man. He who wants to be master and not servant of his people is not our leader, but our adversary. He who goes with him goes to nothing. Let us prepare ourselves for another way.”
Another opposition politician, independent MP Ákos Hadházy commented on the speech in the following way:
“Today the Prime Minister has written himself off the European political scene for good, and we must talk about this even if we know that he is deliberately provoking. He has deliberately thrown in a communication spanner in the works so that we talk about this and not about the energy price rise. Nevertheless, it has to be said: the phrase ‘We are not mixed race’ cannot leave the mouth of a sane person. Especially in a country where people have been killed, displaced as a result of such reasoning…However, I ask everyone not to waste any more words on this man’s statement, because that is exactly what he wants the debate to be about, instead of brutal price increases.”
Tímea Szabó, MP, co-president and parliamentary group leader of opposition party Párbeszéd Magyarországért, quoted Joseph Goebbels’s words in her reaction to the Tusványos speech:
“If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it and you will believe it yourself.” (Joseph Goebbels) Anyone who makes a Nazi speech is a Nazi. I don’t care that some people think Orban is not really a Nazi. For there is no way that a man of good conscience, if he does not mean these words, can be persuaded to utter such thoughts merely for political gain. “
The politician added, also commenting on the behaviour of Orbán’s advisor:
“Anyone who can say such things is not far from these thoughts. As (Antal) Rogán’s (Viktor Orbán’s Cabinet Chief) German predecessor, quoted above, said, if they did not believe it before, sooner or later they will say it with full faith. And we have already seen the consequences of that, and we will never allow it to happen again. I kiss Zsuzsa Hegedüs. For 12 years, she has not been bothered by the openly anti-Semitic anti-Soros campaign, the constant stigmatisation of the Roma, the scare about Muslim refugees raping women, the vile referendum against gays. Or even the grabbing of land from small farmers, the stealing of tobacco shop licences from the disabled, the criminalisation of homeless people.”
Gyurcsány was right to call this speech a nazi one – stated Tamás Bauer on Mandiner.hu (a conservative online magazine). Bauer is an economist who was an active member of the democratic opposition before 1989, and served as president of Demokratikus Koalíció from 2011-2014. He points out a detail which others do not mention and which – according to Bauer – further pairs the speech with Nazi ideology: the contempt for Western democracies.
“This is not a new idea for Orbán. It was rightly described as a Nazi speech by Ferenc Gyurcsány.” Orbán’s speech certainly cannot be considered complete, but the fact that a Nazi worldview runs through it is a risk.
Since the refugee crisis of 2015, he has repeatedly stated that we have to decide for ourselves “who we want to live with”, and those who oppose Orbán’s regime should have realised long ago that the prelude to this was the deportation of Jews and Gypsies in 1944: the Hungarian state decided and implemented the decision then as for who “Christian Hungarians” would or would not want to live with. The continuity here is obvious.
However, this is only one element of the speech delivered in Tusnádfürdő, reminiscent of the 1930s and 1940s. I mention two other elements. A deep contempt for Western democracies runs through the lecture. It is worth recalling here that, while the Soviet and Central and Eastern European communists hated and feared Western democracies, the Nazis had a deep contempt for them. Orbán’s lengthy talk of the West’s inertia and weakness, his description of the West as a “burning stable” to which his former Visegrád partners, the Czechs and Slovaks, have now returned after their change of government, “hitching their horses” to the “burning stable”, is indeed following the example of the Nazis.”
A contemporary writer, psychologist, Kata Tisza published her thoughts on Orbán’s speech on her Facebook page. Later this post was republished by Mandiner.hu (without the consent of the author). Following this, her Facebook page was inundated with malicious and threatening comments, some of them wishing her dead because of her “liberal views”. Later Tisza – in another Facebook post – repeated her opinion that she found the speech dangerous and unacceptable.
“It is life-threatening because, when a political actor of such power legitimises a racist theory, it does not, unfortunately, help dampen or resolve the ethnic tensions that are already running high in the region, but instead fuels them and gives them free rein, which can and does lead anywhere. Critical thinking cannot realistically be expected from the masses, so the responsibility for the messages that the ruling class conveys at all times is enormous, because it will be taken for the norm. This speech is a call for destruction and therefore cannot be accepted or allowed under any circumstances, and all responsible people, regardless of political views, should distance themselves from it immediately.”
Nearly 4000 people (among them numerous public figures) have signed the public statement written by the Eötvös Károly Policy Institute, rejecting Viktor Orbán’s speech in Tusnádfürdő. The document stresses that Orbán’s speeches – especially the ones delivered at the yearly Tusványos Festivals – have not been exempt from xenophobia and discrimination in recent years, yet this year’s speech – referring to mixed races and non-mixed races – went way beyond the ones before, evoking the darkest moments of the 20th century. Though the aim of such a speech is the diversion of attention and to provide something to debate about, it would be wrong to ignore it – claims the public statement.
“Hungary’s prime minister is now using Nazi language in 2022 to try to make political capital. He could never have been authorised to do this by the Hungarian society, which he is now trying to trick, increase its divisions and further deteriorate its moral condition by using the term “mixed race” (…) Hungarian society must realise that leaders who constantly refer to the nation but who actually act against the interests of the nation have always led the country to disaster throughout our history.”
The currently second biggest independent news site, Telex.hu asked the “historic” Churches in Hungary for their comments on Orbán’s speech. The journalists did not receive a reply from the Hungarian Catholic Church, nor from the Calvinist Church. Only the Evangelical-Lutheran Church bothered to reply, but they only wrote that they „do not wish to comment on general political statements”.
In the same article the news site summed up the earlier reactions from religious Jewish organisations. Chief Rabbi Róbert Frölich said that there is only one human species on earth, Homo sapiens sapiens. He added he does not deal with politics, but he will continue to stand up for universal human values and against racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and hatred.
Two days after Viktor Orbán’s speech, the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (MAZSIHISZ) sent a statement to the national news agency (MTI) in which they expressed how Orbán’s speech caused serious concern within the Jewish community, and that they were unable to interpret the part of the speech dealing with “racial mixing”. “(…) The organisation stressed that “the Prime Minister’s choice of words contrasts sharply with a practice that has so far provided the Jewish community with a unique security, even by European standards. Based on our historical experience and our family histories, it is important to speak out against misunderstandable manifestations of the public discourse.” András Heisler, President of the MAZSIHISZ, requested a meeting with Viktor Orbán, because “in view of the extremely difficult period ahead for our country, Mazsihisz considers it particularly important to prevent public debates from becoming heated by maintaining dialogue. This is in the interest not only of the Jewish community, but also of Hungarian society.”
Slomó Köves, the Chief Rabbi of EMIH-Hungarian Jewish Federation which has a good relationship with the government told Neokohn.hu, a “conservative-liberal” Jewish news site in Hungary the following:
“As I understand it, a large part of the speech was about the loss of space in Western Judeo-Christian culture and the challenges this poses. In many respects, one can even identify with this part of the thought process. (…) At the same time, one of the core values of Judeo-Christian civilization is that God created all people in his image. (…) For this reason alone, it is particularly unfortunate to speak of ‘races and racial mixing’“
“This is Nazi talk that Viktor Orbán’s supporters should tolerate as little as his opponents” – writes Miklós Tamás Gáspár, philosopher, who published an opinion piece (“Nazi talk or Nazi System”) on Transtelex.ro (Telex.hu’s partner publication).
“The Hungarian Prime Minister once again puts forward the basic fascist-Nazi thesis: races are not equal. The close contact of Hungarians and other Eastern Europeans with races of African, Middle Eastern and Asian origin results in the degradation of “our” superior mental and physical constitution, “we are degenerating into savages”. This is Nazi talk, which Viktor Orbán’s supporters should tolerate as little as his opponents.” Yet the philosopher stresses that the Hungarian regime is not a Nazi one:
“The regime in Hungary is not a Nazi regime. There is no mass movement – one of the main characteristics of fascism – and no subversive “revolutionaryism” and anti-elitism (hatred of intellectuals is not anti-elitism if it does not include hatred of the church, the bourgeoisie, the legal-political upper apparatus). There is no terror, no hundreds of thousands of people imprisoned and camped for political “crimes”, no militarism and war propaganda, no censorship.”
“Maybe words could be changed but the intention of the speech was clear” – said János Csák, Minister for Culture and Innovation in an interview to 444.hu. He added: those who believe Orbán is a racist, misunderstand him, because no other politician has done as much for the Roma or Jewish community as he has.
Orbán’s race theory speech is an attempt at resetting the topic of public discourse – said Márton Gulyás, Editor-in-Chief and host of an independent media enterprise, Partizán, in their video report on the Tusványos Festival. Gulyás believes this was a vicious trap for the opposition, because no party could afford not to react, not to distance itself from the speech, yet it was a difficult task, because in the recent past, Orbán has always emerged victorious when he criticised the liberal public discourse. Partizán’s host also highlighted that Orbán is facing a grave social crisis, and the most important thing for him now is to make sure there is no opposition which could become or seem like an alternative to his party, Fidesz. To achieve this, instead of facing and addressing real, risky political conflicts (such as the cost of life increasing radically, etc.), he needs to create other conflicts which he can control. Gulyás believes that being taken for a Nazi by the opposition’s public discourse is much less dangerous for Orbán (already before this speech, he was considered as one by many) than a strong, unified opposition and angry masses of people. Márton Gulyás stated: the masses of Hungarian people are not threatened by Orbán’s racist rhetoric, but rather by his austerity policies of tax increases and cuts for the poor. “What minorities need today is not an anti-fascist rhetoric and symbolic support, but meaningful, material support to ensure their dignity and livelihood.“– he said, adding that Orbán must have calculated that due to the number of grave international conflicts currently, his extremist sentences will trigger no more than the usual, compulsory, critical, distancing, pr-statements.
Péter Szijjártó, the Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade commented – as a reply to a question from ATV.hu channel at a press conference – on the reception of the speech the following way:
“I have personally worked directly with the Prime Minister for 16 years in various positions and I am fully aware that “one of the main focuses of his policy” is precisely that of zero tolerance of both anti-Semitism and racism. To accuse the Prime Minister of such beliefs is nonsense!”
The pro-government media tried to trivialise the speech. Magyar Nemzet, a daily newspaper operating as one of the mouthpieces of the government repeated what Orbán said at the Vienna press conference, that the Prime Minister was using the controversial expressions in a cultural sense. They add that the term “race” and related expressions are also used in official, liberal and internationally accepted documents, sometimes haphazardly. The author of this article, Tamás Fricz politologist, economist, in a similar essay on the same topic stated a few days earlier:
“The International Auschwitz Committee, the Raoul Wallenberg Committee, the Mazsihisz and Chief Rabbi Róbert Fröhlich, but also one of his former advisers and Prime Minister’s envoys, and many others – the parrot commando of the left-wing parties is not worth mentioning here – attacked Viktor Orbán, claiming that his speech in Tusnádfürdő contained racist elements and that Viktor Orbán therefore had no place in Europe. I would like to make it clear: they are wrong, Viktor Orbán’s speech was not a racist speech. Either they are wrong – they are sometimes wrong – or they are deliberately stirring up hatred against Orbán because they want to achieve their coveted political goal: Orbán’s departure from power, at any cost.”
An article on Mandiner.hu (under the title “Is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights a Nazi piece?”), written by one of Orbán’s main ideological supporters in the cultural field, Szilárd Demeter states, that “as always, the prime Minister was right.” and he offers a linguistic, semantic explanation of the word race. He writes:
“A storm broke out in the potty after the Prime Minister’s speech in Tusványos. The Commies are foaming at the mouth about Nazism, the difference between them and the justification of Russian aggression calling Ukraine Nazi is that the Hungarian left is not yet shooting. It could shoot, as their chief Gyurcsány proved in 2006. These fine thinkers use beautiful quotations to support their thesis that there is only one human race, whatever its skin colour, religion, sexual orientation or internet habits. It is a noble and worthy ideal, but it has a logical flaw.”
Not only Hungarian organisations and individuals were outraged by the speech, but international actors also expressed their concerns.
The Embassy of the United States of America issued a statement on 27 July, obviously reacting to Orban’s speech in Romania, yet not naming the cause of the statement.
“The U.S. Embassy condemns all ideologies, policies, and rhetoric that give oxygen to the doctrines of hate and division. We must never forget that what began as racist and xenophobic rhetoric by 20th century leaders, escalated, ultimately ending in the genocide of millions. Human dignity and equality know no national boundaries and we affirm that the diversity of our human family is one of its greatest strengths.”
Another, joint statement followed on the occasion of 2022 Roma Holocaust Memorial Day, signed by the following embassies and cultural institutions: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico, Moldova, Montenegro, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, The Netherlands, United Kingdom, United States, Austrian Cultural Forum, British Council, Italian Cultural Institute.
“On August 2nd, on the occasion of Roma Holocaust Memorial Day we remember with sombreness the tragic genocide of hundreds of thousands of Europe’s Roma people. Sadly, in 2022 the seeds of racist ideologies are still being planted and cultivated. These ideologies are not just wrong but dangerous, and they must be uprooted and replaced with a culture of equality and respect for human dignity. Diversity is not simply something to be tolerated but rather celebrated as a strength and an advantage for all. We add our voices to those who condemn xenophobia, discrimination, and racism in all its forms and stand with the individuals and communities that have been harmed by ideologies of hate and division.”
Also, as the Brussels Times reported “the US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price read to journalists a statement by the US envoy against anti-Semitism, Deborah Lipstadt, who commented that Orban’s words were “inexcusable”. Radio Free Europe quoted Lipstadt saying “she was deeply alarmed” by the right-wing nationalist prime minister’s “use of rhetoric that clearly evokes Nazi racial ideology“, adding that “decades after the end of the Holocaust, it is “inexcusable for a leader to make light of Nazi mass murder.”
The Executive Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, tweeted on 27 July, without tagging Viktor Orbán or his government:
“We are all different, our skins are different, our languages, cultures, beliefs. And yet we are all part of the same race, the human race. Racism is a poisonous political invention. There should be no place for it in Europe where our strength comes from diversity.”
When asked to comment on Orbán’s provocative statements about the European Union and European solidarity, and about the sanctions against Russia and Western values, the Foreign Minister of Romania, Bogdan Aurescu told a Romanian news site, Digi24.ro that
“It is regrettable that such views are being spread from Romania in the current global situation that we are all facing, all the more so because these views do not coincide with our official position, so it is clear that we cannot agree with them. Not to mention the statements on race, which are unacceptable.” (reported by hvg.hu).
“Even the countries or leaders that in the past would have jumped to Orban’s defence, including Poland’s main right-wing ruling party, remained silent in the wake of his comments.”
The paper also reminded that the International Auschwitz Committee of Holocaust survivors was among the organisations that demanded consequences following Orbán’s speech. In a statement the organisation’s Executive Vice President, Christoph Heubner called on the EU to continue “its massive opposition to Orbán’s ongoing basic racist tenor. By clearly distancing itself the European Union can show the world that Mr Orbán has no future in Europe.” The statement also stressed:
“The recent comments by the Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán have alarmed and shocked not only Auschwitz survivors in Hungary. The fact that Viktor Orbán is now adding racist positions to his right-wing populist and anti-European politics further proves that Orbán is now consciously trying to sever all ties with the values of the European Union. For this reason, the survivors of the Holocaust view his statements as hollow, ignorant and dangerous: they remind them of the dark times when they themselves were targeted with exclusion and persecution. The absurd petty-minded theories of the Hungarian head of government are adding grist to the mill of all racist and right-wing forces in Europe.”
Hungary is obviously not a Nazi regime, as Sándor Radnóti, a Hungarian literature historian, aesthete said in a recent interview to 24.hu: ”In a Nazi regime, the state takes political prisoners and murders”. It will be never known what Orbán’s real intentions were with his speech, but he uttered these sentences in a country where an arrow cross was graffitied on the wall of a synagogue in Budapest recently. As a reaction to this, the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (MAZSIHISZ) expressed their concerns “about the recent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Budapest and the country.” They remind that in late July, posters appeared in several places in the capital in the organisations name and with their logo, with the slogan “There are only two races, Jew and Gentile.”
At the beginning of August, Hungary’s radical right wing party, Mi Hazánk installed a bust in Parliament to commemorate one of the most controversial figures of Hungary’s history, Admiral Miklós Horthy. In 1993 a group of artists and public figures in Hungary protested against the public service television broadcasting the reburial and commemoration of Horthy, stating that “Miklos Horthy is a symbol of one of the most conservative and most anti-democratic regimes of the period in Europe,” and that “He was a leader of our country who started his operation by command or terror and morally prepared the ground for German occupation.” (Source: The new York Times, Sept. 5, 1993)
Written by Gabriella Horn. Cover photo: Prime Minister Viktor Orbán gives a speech at the 31st Bálványos Summer Free University and Student Camp in Tusnádfürdő, Transylvania, on 23 July 2022. MTI/Prime Minister’s Press Office/Benko Vivien Cher. This story was produced with the support of the Center for Independent Journalism.
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She has been working as a journalist and news editor for over 20 years now, at News Network Ltd., RTL Klub television and a number of national print publications. Freelancing for atlatszo.hu from the beginning, she joined full time in 2019. Based in Budapest, Hungary.