Hungary, a country in search of an identity

By Dr Frederick Wright


Hungary has had a variegated historical past but in common with many countries of the former eastern Bloc has ethnic tensions due to border changes, population displacements and autocratic leadership.  Today, in a similar manner to Ukraine, there is a tension in national identity with some wanting to be part of the EU, others looking for a unilateral identity, whilst still others are looking eastwards for a combination which would have been thought unthinkable in the past.

The Shoes on the Danube Promenade is a memorial on the banks of the Danube River in Budapest. It honours the Jews who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest during  World War II. They were ordered to take off their shoes, and were shot at the edge of the water so that their bodies fell into the river and were carried away.  The memorial represents the shoes left behind.  The sculptor created sixty pairs of period-appropriate shoes out of iron. The shoes are attached to the stone embankment,

Today the Arrow Cross are reformed as Jobbik who stand on a fascist, anti-Jewish-anti-Roma platform.

Hungary plans to build a memorial marking the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the German occupation, during which hundreds of thousands of Jews were deported to death camps. But many say the memorial fails to acknowledge Hungary's actions during the Holocaust.

More than 500,000 Jews are believed to have been deported from Hungary during World War II, most of whom were killed in death camps. The vast majority of the Jews who were deported, were sent after the German occupation began in 1944, but with help from Hungarian authorities.

Hungary has struggled to define its Holocaust past amid a resurgence in anti-Semitism, which saw Jobbik enter Parliament for the first time in 2010, and increase its seats to 10.4% in April this year.

Last November, Jobbik presented a Horthy statue in central Budapest in front of the main Lutheran church with far-right links, steps away from where the proposed German occupation memorial would be. This is in addition to a large orthodox cross.

In the recent election, Jobbik  put forward an agenda that gypsy criminals, along with Jewish 'suspects' and other undesirables, should be transported to Russia, based on a bilateral agreement that Russia would host prisoners on a "rent a prisoner" basis.  Reliable sources report that Jobbik is receiving financial support from Iran.  Prime Minister Orban's foreign policy of opening a new Economic and Tariff Association to the east, which includes building economical and cultural relations with Russia, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia is lurching even more to the right

Almost 1 million Hungarians voted for the party and its banned paramilitary group, the Hungarian Guard who some recently have taken to not only wearing their banned uniforms but some of the leaders are wearing the banned Arrow Cross uniform.

Amost 130,000 new voters were won across the country. Most remarkable, however, was that Jobbik finished second in 41 of the 106 single-member districts (see below), almost beating Fidesz-KDNP in the industrial city of Miskolc in the Northeast. The unexpected result, a few percentage points higher than expected in most polls, is as much a testament to Jobbik's strength and its relatively moderate campaign as to Unity's fundamental weakness.  The elections showed that Jobbik's success was not a one-time event, as it had been for the far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIÉP) in 1998. They demonstrated that Jobbik is the only really unified party challenging the Fidesz-KDNP.

Jewish life is strong in Hungary, Budapest boasting the world's second largest synagogue, but threats and increasing intimidation and anti-semitic statements becoming commonplace are causing a rapid upsurge in demand for aliyah in a nation that is ill prepared for the demand.

Hungary now is considered to second only to France and Belgium in anti-semitic  posturing and activities.

The sudden shifts are heralding a new wave of aliyah in Hungary as well as Ukraine.  Ezra has been working in Hungary in the past two years.