Between 10,000 and 12,000 people gathered for the March of the Living (Élet menete) on Sunday in commemoration of the 600,000 Hungarian victims of the Holocaust. The march, now in its 11th year, is estimated to have gathered more than double the usual turnout with numbers fuelled by concern over growing antisemitism and racism.
Starting from MPs’ offices near Parliament, it followed Carl Lutz rakpart on the Pest side of the Danube opposite Margit Island, and closed with the release of 600 white balloons in memory of those murdered.
“We have learnt from the past, we don’t want war, we condemn racism and we resist the threats that are re-appearing,” Agnes Hirschli, whose father Carl Lutz, as Swiss vice-consul, is credited with saving tens of thousands of Jews by issuing protective letters between 1942 and 1945, said.
She was joined by a number of Hungarian and international officials including Human Resources Minister Zoltán Balog, group leader of ruling Fidesz party Antal Rogan, main opposition Socialist leader Attila Mesterházy, head of the E-14- Dialogue for Hungary electoral alliance Gordon Bajnai, head of the Democratic Coalition Ferenc Gyurcsány, Israeli ambassador Ilan Mor and US ambassador Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis.
“Anti-racism has once again become especially timely and an urgently important issue in Hungary,” March of the Living Foundation board member László Bandi said at the start of the march. “Our aim is to teach the lessons of the Holocaust and to show future generations why we pledge every year ‘never again!’,” he said.
The march was greeted at Margit bridge by a small group bearing a banner addressed to Israeli President Shimon Peres and quoting a verse from 19th-century Hungarian poet Sándor Petõfi, which read: “You will take your whore of a mother but not our homeland.” Police removed the banner but did not detain anyone, while marchers whistled and called for “Nazis” to “go home”.
The event otherwise “occurred in peace and safety”, Budapest City Police press officer Viktória Kovács said.
Róbert Fröhlich, chief rabbi of the Dohány utca Synagogue, said civil society must take action to prevent the increase in racism. March of the Living Foundation chairman Gábor Gordon said the fact that more people attended this year’s march than ever is proof “there is trouble” and that increasing numbers of people are seeking ways to fight racism.
Far-right ban overturned
The March of the Living was due to coincide with a demonstration by far-right group Motorcyclists with National Feeling that was originally intended to pass by the synagogue with the slogan “Give it gas”. The rally was banned twice at the instigation of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán despite police acknowledging a modified route with another name.
The Metropolitan Court on Wednesday ruled the second ban to have been invalid because it was delivered within less than 48 hours of the start of the event and because of a lack of supportive evidence. The group will hold an “anti-Zionist demonstration” on 4 May, motorcyclist leader Sándor Jeszenszky said.
This demonstration is planned to take place as the World Jewish Congress Plenary Assembly gets under way the following day in Budapest. The three-day congress, whose opening session will be addressed by Orbán, is to be attended by 500 representatives of Jewish communities from 100 countries as well as by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest and president of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences Péter Erdõ and by special envoys to the Middle East, the World Jewish Congress has announced.
The congress is the 14th but this year is the first time it is being held outside Israeli territory, with the rise of neo-Nazi political parties in European countries and the situation in the Middle East as major points on its agenda.
Also, Baranya County Police detained 18 youths, including four minors, on Saturday April 20 as they embarked on a tour in Pécs organised by the Pax Hungarica Movement to mark the birthday of Adolf Hitler.