There were outraged calls this week for a nationalist politician to resign after he raised a notorious anti-semitic “blood libel” case in Parliament. Zsolt Baráth of the nationalist party Jobbik had requested time to speak on the 130th anniversary of the 19th-century Tiszaeszlár case, in which Hungarian Jews were accused of the ritual slaughter of a 14-year-old girl.
Addressing an almost empty chamber after regular business on Tuesday, Baráth began by noting – a propos of nothing – that Tiszaeszlár is not far from Olaszliszka in eastern Hungary. A teacher was beaten to death in that village by local Roma in 2007 and like Tiszaeszlár it has become part of the far-right’s canon of racist dogma.
Baráth, 55, said the Tiszaeszlár case had been “whitewashed” and that Hungary’s “Jewry and its then leaders” were clearly implicated. Reading from a prepared speech the MP spoke of external pressure from foreign “circles”, among them Hungary’s creditors. For Baráth the case marked a “milestone” in the country’s history, not least because it signalled the moment when Hungary fell under the control of “external forces”. Et cetera.
Condemnation far and wide
János Fónagy, of the ruling conservative Fidesz party, said Baráth had confirmed what many already knew about the second-largest opposition party. “Jobbik has placed itself where many think it belongs,” he said, adding that Baráth had opened centuries-old wounds by raising the Tiszaeszlár blood libel case.
Baráth and those who applauded him “must count on being judged in the eyes of the world” just as the Tiszaeszlári case has been, Fónagy said.
The Socialist Party and the green-liberal LMP demanded on Wednesday that Baráth resign. Socialist lawmaker Pál Steiner told reporters that if Baráth’s mandate is not withdrawn it could be taken as proof that “Jobbik is a Nazi party”, state news agency MTI reported.
Steiner accused the conservative governing alliance and the prosecutor general of “complicitly tolerating” such voices.
The government condemned Baráth’s speech in the “strongest possible terms” in a statement issued later on Wednesday by the Justice Ministry. Baráth’s words were “absolutely unacceptable and run counter to every fundamental value of Parliament and the Hungarian government”, it said.
Hungary’s largest Jewish faith community MAZSIHISZ warned of a “return to the past”. The organisation’s president, Péter Feldmájer, and director, Gusztáv Zoltai, have written to president of Parliament Sándor Lezsák demanding prompt action against Baráth.
“Let us not allow modern Hungary to be dragged back into the middle ages… and become an object of mockery and scorn for the whole world,” the organisation said.
The Tiszaeszlár blood libel
Over a dozen local Jews were accused of complicity in the ritual murder of Eszter Solymosi in the village of Tiszaeszlár in 1882. The case hinged on the testimony of a five-year-old boy, who was encouraged to say he had witnessed several Jews cutting the girl’s throat and collecting her blood. It was eventually thrown out but only after 15 months of hysterical anti-Jewish pamphleteering and politicking.
Such “blood libels”, or tales of ritual sacrifice by Jews of Christians, had been part and parcel of European anti-semitism since the Middle Ages. Even the renowned Hungarian statesman Lajos Kossuth was compelled to intervene in the Solymosi case, issuing a furious condemnation of the actions of the Hungarian authorities from his exile in Italy.
Points to be scored
There was room for some political point-scoring in the mainstream after nationalist Jobbik lawmaker Zsolt Baráth raised the notorious anti-Jewish “blood libel” in Parliament. The Democratic Coalition (DK) party, led by former Socialist prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, criticised Prime Minister Viktor Orbán for staying silent and suggested that “there is still room for blood libel” on the regime’s palette.
A spokeswoman for Orbán’s conservative Fidesz party reacted by referring to the case of a socialist MP caught on camera joking about the Holocaust some years back. “Gyurcsány was in no hurry to react when János Zuschlag joked about the tragedy of Auschwitz,” Gabriella Selmeczi said. “To this day it does not offend his sensibilities to live in a villa that was stolen from its Jewish owner first by the (Hungarian fascist) Arrow Cross then the communists,” she went on.