New York City—Human Rights First applauds the Hungarian government for postponing a planned statue to honor notorious antisemite Bálint Hóman in the town of Székesfehérvár. The announcement came following a visit to Hungary from U.S. State Department officials. Human Rights First continues to urge the Hungarian government to abandon plans to erect the statue and withdraw all public funds from the project.
“By sending a senior delegation to Hungary, the U.S. government made clear that it will not stand idly by while Hungary pays tribute to those who espoused hatred and intolerance,” said Human Rights First’s Susan Corke. “Hungarian citizens deserve better. We must continue to raise up the voices of civil society and the Jewish community to hold Hungary accountable to democratic, tolerant values.”
Yesterday 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.
Today Prime Minister Orbán reconsidered his position on the statue and announced that he “will not support the erection of a statue of someone who cooperated with the oppressors” and that this initiative is not permitted by Hungary’s constitution. Human Rights First urges Orbán to continue to oppose this statue, not only out of constitutional concern but based on an understanding that the Hungarian population does not want to dishonor the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust by erecting a memorial to such a shameful figure in Hungary’s history.
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 notes that antisemitism is not simply a human rights issue, and 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.
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.
“The U.S government should keep up the pressure on Hungary not to build this statue, which would dishonor the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust,” noted Corke. “Hungary’s plan to commemorate Hóman is a shameful dereliction of its role as Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.”