Pt. II: The Neo-Fascist Wears a Kippah

(Originally published as the second in a two-part series on Hungarian nationalism on The Diplomacist)

Fascist parties rarely concern themselves with demographic truths or rigorous ideological ammunition, and Jobbik, the ultra-nationalist party that controls forty-seven out of four-hundred-and-eighty-six seats in Hungarian parliament, was no exception. Establishing the tenuous causal link between world Jewry and the economic collapse of 2008 was no easy task—explicit neo-Nazism is a hard political pill to swallow for a nation with few Jews—and required the conception of a radically new national mythology. So, Csanad Szegedi, Jobbik’s No. 2 and representative in European Parliament, fought for the recovery of Hungarian runic script on street signs, and a renewed academic inquiry into the ethnic and religious “purity” of Hungary’s pre-Christian past. In apolitical autobiography, Szegedi claimed to be the descendent of a “thousand-year-old” Hungarian family. A similar campaign of historical rationalization was necessary for the Golden Dawn in Greece, where they were compelled to justify their flag—which evokes the swastika—as depicting the ancient Greek meander, and their salute—which resembles the Nazi salute—as an ancient Greek gesture of greeting.

The art of political subversion is well ingrained in the Hungarian psyche. During the Communist era, dissidents had to learn to both encipher and decipher implicit political messages so that activism could fly beneath the radar of state censors, and Szegedi’s re-formatting of familiar fascist tropes in the Hungarian setting seemed to be a crude reverberation of that capacity. Szegedi also marshaled the struggle for Hungarian nationalism in the present, conjuring demons that they could scapegoat for Hungary’s very real social and economic ills.

Young far-right recruits, while skewing the demographics of the party towards a younger, more radical population of supporters, also pushed Jobbik racism farther to the right on online platforms, compiling Holocaust denial, anti-Roma, and anti-Jewish facts through columns titled “Gypsycrime” and “Jewcrime.” These Internet-age extremists also employed methods known online as “trolling” to harass Jewish journalists, intellectuals, and public figures, making their phone numbers and email addresses public for adversaries to exploit. These tactics have also been employed by online activist group, Anonymous to intimidate far-right leaders in the United States. Disturbingly, kuruc.info, the umbrella website for Jobbik’s online campaign, was thethird most visited website in Hungary during the 2010 elections.

Szegedi’s strategy took hold. A 2012 poll showed that sixty-three percent of Hungarians felt hostile toward Jews, up from forty-seven percent in 2009. As a party dignitary, Szegedi’s glory was short lived. A disgruntled Jobbik footsoldier, Zoltan Ambrus, resentful of Szegedi’s unwillingness to publicly defend him after he was accused of murdering Roma in 2009, unearthed a goldmine of political blackmail: Csanad Szegedi is Jewish. Birth certificates proved that Szegedi’s maternal grandmother, grandfather, and half of his family had been sent to Auschwitz. Only the grandfather survived the attempted genocide. After marrying another Jewish survivor in an ultra-Orthodox ceremony, Szegedi’s grandfather distanced himself from his faith and practice in fear that “another Auschwitz” could occur, not an uncommon decision for Hungarian Jews after the Holocaust.

Today, in a surreal turn-around, the former anti-Semitic firebrand dons a kippah (the traditional Jewish head covering), attempts to keep kosher, and studies Talmudic law with a Hasidic rabbi. He has prayed the Western Wall in Jerusalem and paid his respects at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. Although his first forays into attending synagogue were met with glares and unreciprocated handshakes, he is slowly gaining acceptance into Budapest’s Jewish community. His shunning by former colleagues, friends, and supporters, as well as his ridiculing in the media, undoubtedly have motivated his transformation.

The revelations made Szegedi a pariah for the Jobbik party, who told their former colleague “the best thing would be if we shoot you so you can be buried as pure Hungarian,” and pulled out from a far-right clothing business jointly owned and managed with Szegedi. Without Szegedi’s strategic, behind-the-scenes work, Jobbik may be experience a promising rift in party discipline and unity. A recent Jobbik rally in London was silenced by anti-racism activists, and the auxiliary support received by the Hungarian far-right from their ideological compatriots in Greece has been complicated by a wave of arrests of Greek fascist parliamentarians and a crack-down on their ability to organize on the street.

As the Eurozone inches its way back toward some semblance of stability, those of us who have watched in horror as Fascism, that old foe of European stability, has found fertile soil for its message of hatred and bigotry, may soon be pleased to watch that decisive force subside. However, the rising antagonism to European fascism also makes urgent the necessity of legislative prohibitions against hate speech, Holocaust denial, and the formation of neo-Fascist parties—reactionary entities that should enjoy no moment of refuge in the democratic world.

From Wikipedia

From Wikipedia