Human Rights First Urges Hungary to Abandon Antisemitic Statue
Washington, D.C.—In a statement today Human Rights First urged the Hungarian government to cease its plans to build a statute honoring Bálint Hóman, a notorious antisemite, in the town of Szekesfehervar. The statement, which will be presented at a seminar co-hosted by the U.S. State Department, notes that the statue is at odds with Hungary’s role as Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Human Rights First also praises the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism for prioritizing this important issue.
“We will not stand idly by while Hungary pays tribute to those who espoused hatred and intolerance. Hungarian citizens deserve better,” said Human Rights First in its statement. “This is not simply a Jewish issue. We view antisemitism everywhere as a grave threat to human rights. Anti-Semitic violence prevents Jews from exercising their fundamental freedoms and promotes a climate of fear.”
Human Rights First notes that history shows that antisemitism is also a harbinger of broader societal dysfunction and thrives where intolerance takes hold. Left unchecked, it leads to further oppression, undermining democratic values and fundamental freedoms.
Balint Homan served as a government minister in Hungary in the 1930s and 1940s. He participated in the drafting of legislation between 1938 and 1939 that curtailed the rights of Jewish citizens. In 1944 he argued for the deportation of Hungary’s Jewish community; 420,000 Jewish were deported to Auschwitz that summer.
Since 2010, the Hungarian government, led by the conservative Fidesz party, has changed its constitution to erode checks and balances and instituted polices that threaten civil society and the press. At the same time, the openly anti-Semitic far-right party Jobbik has injected a new potency into xenophobic and anti-Semitic attitudes in Hungary, and currently holds 24 of 199 seats in the Hungarian National Assembly.
Human Rights First’s report, “We’re not Nazis, but…The Rise of Hate Parties in Hungary and Greece and Why America Should Care,” details how the Hungarian government’s actions over the past four years have violated religious freedoms, curtailed judicial independence and media freedom, and failed to reverse growing antisemitism and a rising tide of discrimination against Roma. These actions have led to a series of rebukes by the European Union, the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and from Hungary’s own Supreme Court.
Human Rights First recommends the U.S. government take the following steps, to buttress steps taken thus far, to curb Hungary’s slide toward authoritarianism, including:
- Apply smart diplomatic pressure to combat antisemitism, racism, xenophobia, and historical revisionism. The U.S. government and its allies should apply diplomatic pressure bilaterally and via Hungary’s membership in multilateral organizations, to hold Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to his zero tolerance pledge on antisemitism. The U.S. government should lead internationally on public calls for Hungary to halt plans to commemorate known anti-Semitic figures including Bálint Hóman.
- Support embattled civil society and the Jewish community in efforts to hold Hungary accountable to democratic, tolerant values. A civil society defense fund for Hungary should be created. Such a fund could include trainings on constituency building, investigative journalism, grassroots organizing, and fundraising. The U.S. Ambassador should monitor and speak publicly against any government efforts to crack down on civil society and advance anti-Semitic positions.
“Any steps that the Hungarian government takes to ‘rehabilitate’ the legacy of virulently anti-Semitic political leaders will further isolate it from the international community and send a troubling message to its citizens of reverence for a tragic and shameful period in history,” said Human Rights First.