U.S. Officials in Hungary Should Strongly Urge Orbán to Drop Plans for Antisemitic Statue
The State Department is sending a senior delegation to Hungary to address that country’s plans to erect a statue in commemoration of Bálint Hóman, a prominent antisemitic politician whose actions in the 1930s and 1940s directly contributed to the death of hundreds of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. In this exceptional country visit, U.S. officials should forcefully urge Hungary to drop its plans for the statue and reiterate that any steps that Hungary takes to “rehabilitate” the legacy of virulently antisemitic political leaders will further isolate it from the international community.
The mayor of Székesfehérvár seems to have heard the message from the people of Hungary that this statue would not be welcome. He recently asked the Hóman Bálint Foundation to rethink its plan to erect the statue and to return the related public funds. But more needs to be done to ensure the statue plans will be scrapped.
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 will travel to Hungary. They will co-host a seminar on Tuesday that will bring together leading historians, civil society representatives, and faith-based organizations to discuss historical perspectives and public opinion on Bálint Hóman’s antisemitism.
Prime Minister Orbán borrowed the idea for the Bálint Hóman statue from the extreme far-right group Jobbik, which leverages its position as the second most powerful political party in Hungary to push an antisemitic, xenophobic, and racist agenda. Human rights organizations and Jewish civil society leaders, both in Hungary and abroad, have opposed the planned monument, which would dishonor the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust. Hungary’s plan to commemorate Hóman is a shameful dereliction of its role as Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
The Obama Administration has already raised concerns in bilateral communications to the Hungarian government, and U.S. Ambassador Colleen Bell condemned the statue in public remarks in October. The Co-Chairs of the House Bipartisan Taskforce for Combatting Antisemitism expressed “deep concerns” in a letter to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and Senator Cardin spoke out against the statue as well. But with no indication that Hungary is backing down, it is time to turn up the volume.
By sending a senior delegation to Hungary, the U.S. government is indicating that it will not stand idly by while Hungary pays tribute to those who espoused hatred and intolerance. Hungarian citizens deserve better. During their visit, these senior officials should pressure Orbán to honor his pledge for “zero tolerance” on antisemitism, and raise up the voices of civil society and the Jewish community to hold Hungary accountable to democratic, tolerant values.