New York City—Human Rights First today welcomed the Hungarian government’s decision to cancel its plans to build a statue honoring notorious antisemite Bálint Hóman. The statue had previously been postponed following opposition from local Hungarian civil society organizations, Jewish advocacy groups, and the U.S. State Department.
“The cancelation of this statue is an important signal that antisemitism will not be tolerated,” said Human Rights First’s Susan Corke. “This statue should never have been considered, and we expect that it will never see the light of day.”
Last week U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Robert Berschinski, U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Nicholas Dean, and U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Ira Forman co-hosted a seminar in Hungary that brought together leading historians, civil society representatives, and faith-based organizations to discuss historical perspectives and public opinion on Bálint Hóman’s antisemitism. Human Rights First submitted a statement to be read at the event.
Human Rights First has advocated for the Hungarian government to abandon its plans to erect the statue in the town of Székesfehérvár and to withdraw all public funds from the project. The organization notes that antisemitism is not simply a human rights issue, as 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.
Bálint Hóman 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; and 420,000 Hungarians 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 antisemitic far-right party Jobbik has injected a new potency into xenophobic and antisemitic 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 reinforce 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 continue to lead internationally on public calls for Hungary to halt plans to commemorate known antisemitic 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 antisemitic positions.