U.S. Should Pressure Hungary to Abandon Plans to Build Statue Honoring Anti-Semite

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today called on the Obama Administration to pressure its Hungarian counterparts to halt plans to build a statue in honor of notorious anti-Semite Balint Homan, and warned that such a monument undermines efforts to combat antisemitism and extremism. The statue is planned to be erected later this month in Szekesfehervar.

“Hungary is a crucial ally to the United States and plays a pivotal role in the transatlantic alliance,” said Human Rights First’s Susan Corke. “As part of this multifaceted relationship, the Obama Administration has a duty to speak out when Hungary pursues a path contrary to democratic values and human rights. Paying tribute to those who once espoused hatred lends legitimacy to the far-right groups today who have picked up that mantle. This is not simply a Jewish issue. We know that antisemitism is a harbinger of societal dysfunction and thrives where there is broader intolerance. Left unchecked, it will lead 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 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 antisemitic figures including Balint Homan.
  • 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.

“Hungary’s plans to erect this statue and rehabilitate the legacy of Balint Homan is at odds with its position as the Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Moving forward with these plans would dishonor the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust,” noted Corke. “By publicly urging the Hungarian government to abandon its plans to build this statue, the U.S. government would be sending a signal to other countries that antisemitism will not be accepted.”

Press

Published on December 4, 2015

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