The New Face of Cultural Anti-Semitism

After the Wall Came Down


The eminent social scientist and one time politician, Oscar Jaszi described  the segregation of Jews in the post-emancipation period. “We must not forget” – wrote Jaszi in 1920, in the aftermath of the first Word War, – that the contrast between Jewry and the Christian world is much greater in Eastern Europe than in the West. The Hungarian people are much more rural, conservative, and slow thinking than the Western peasant people. On the other hand, Hungarian Jewry is much less assimilated than Western Jews, it is much more an independent body within society, which does not have any real contact with the native soul of the country.” [1]

Jászi, himself an émigré, was reiterating a stereotype that became the defining feature of the growing wave of interwar anti-Semitism, the leitmotiv of its Esperanto. The moment a nation is defined by the mythical quality of the “soul”, when identity resides in the metaphysical nature of communal roots, the Jews are by definition excluded from the nation.

.           The putative social segregation of the Hungarian Jewish community may be explained by the special nature of their emancipation. In the Nineteenth century Hungarian interest required the swelling of the “Magyars” in the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy. The only substantial number of people without “another” homeland were the Jews whose eminent interest was to gain political rights. The price, as set in the “pact of assimilation” was ethnolinguistic one. The person speaking “Magyar” was considered Hungarian. After the so called Trianon Treaty ending the First World War Hungary became independent of Austria. There was no need to prove their linguistic or ethnic dominance. Hence the Jews lost their function and could be disenfranchised without hurting the immediate interests of the newly independent though truncated country. Hungary lost a substantial part of its territory to the so called successor states, like Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and Romania. [2] The Jews lost their temporary homeland.


Anti-Semitism per implicationem


There is a historical heritage of anti-Semitism in Hungary, frozen during the years of communism and surfacing as a cultural divide in the contemporary public space.  As the sociologist Sándor Révész has put it, in today’s society there is a “strongly tainted sphere of communication,” where a vulgar and at the same time refined, open or covert anti-Semitism is present once again. Officialdom, government-circles deny the charge heard mainly abroad that there is considerable anti-Semitism in Hungary today.[3] Some marginal groups of society, they maintain, may give voice to racist slogans, but they have no influence at all on political life.

Open anti-Semitism is absent in public life today, but there is a special and in certain aspects a new type of anti-Semitism. Let us call it a coded or cultural anti-Semitism. It is not expressed openly, but it burdens public life all the same. It is populist demagogy per implicationem that aims at winning the masses to a point of view.

It is of course more than tactics. It is the attempts at national self-identification prevalent in the unexpected democracy sweeping down on East-Central Europe, wanting to define the nature and the earmarks of power that we are talking about.[4]

The search for identity centers now around the intertwined concepts of “national” and “Christian.” It is easier to define the latter which implies a kind of ethical standard and suggests continuity with millennial Hungary that entered Europe by adopting it a thousand years ago. Christianity is not discriminative except perhaps in the sense of being non-Communist. Its less felicitous lucky definitions include also the national aspect and define certain groups “more authentic,” “more national,” or “more Christian.”

The concept “national” is far more ambiguous. In the spirit of Spinoza’s omnis determinatio est negatio, let us first analyze what does not qualify as „national”. Strong political factors come into violent collision and probably draw the lines between those in power and their opposition. The term “national” presumes here namely an ethnic consciousness that establishes   its meaning just by being discriminative. There are loyal citizens in Hungary who are not ethnic Hungarians, and there are Hungarians living outside the borders as citizens of foreign states. So post-communist establishments did undertake themselves the task of creating democracy without a hierarchy in a political state but rather it wished to create a national state that was to shape its foreign and domestic policy, its legal system, its press, etc., in terms of a definite ethnic consciousness and its ideology.

This concept of the nation, just like that of Christianity, made clean of the rust of yesterday, became part of the dominant trend to express loyalty to the traditions of the nation, and to reject the colonial heritage of pseudo-internationalism by breaking with the supranational tendencies.

The only positive aspect of the concept “national” offered by today’s right-radical ideology is a kind of cultural identity: common history, common fate, common experiences, and common language. Should it refer only to these elements, it would remain within the boundaries of that mythicized romanticism from which it originates, and would not include the idea that everything is valid only in terms of ethnic consciousness. György V. Domokos  was probably the first to emphasize that the Hungarian minority within its own country is as entitled to be defended as any other ethnic group. This age old slogan is charged with memories. “Let Hungary belong to the Hungarians” – the adage was formulated so that it truly meant the expulsion of Jews from the public sphere they occupied through cunning at the expense of the native Hungarians. [5]

Take the case of the former dramatist, self-confessed informer of the secret police after the 1956 revolution and currently an influential president of a right-wing party in parliament. The weekly columns of Csurka in his Magyar Forum ventilates strong feelings of xenophobia, rambles about a secret conspiracy that allegedly prepares the space for immigrant Jews to be settled in Hungary to the detriment of the natives. Csurka, needless to say, vehemently denies being an anti-Semite. It is only in the interest of the country he raises his voice. Euphemisms and innuendoes cover up the message that is easy to decode. The Jews are our greatest misfortune as was said half a century earlier.

In 1992 August, being the vice-resident of the ruling party he published a pamphlet that caused quite a stir internationally. [6] It was not the content but the wording fueling the uproar. Attacking the prime minister of his own government Csurka wanted to steer his party to the radical right. A reformed government than should remain in power, gathering more strength to lead the country out of the abyss, and put an end to Bolshevism, to cosmopolitanism, to the foreign gangs dressed in liberal rags, to trampling the nation under foot, and to the rule of the left which has prevailed since 1945. After all, it will be the Christian middle classes that will create the Hungary that will finally belong to Europe, and then Hungary will belong to the Hungarians in the future, too. The borders will not be opened to all kinds of newcomers, and the Hungarian ethnic group will never be at the mercy of others. [7]

Csurka’s party is currently in the Hungarian parliament. The protest of the press long abided to register his provocations. He is accepted as a fixture in Hungarian political life, getting airtime on state television. By his presence he lowered the overall sensibility to racial and ethnic matters.

The origins of his populist demagogy are well known. It was the virulent proto-fascist thinking of the mid-war period that identified Liberalism with Bolshevism, foreignness with the Left, and contrasted all this with the “national” and the “Christian.”

The heritage of the past has, however, a new function today. In Adam Michnik’s words, it expresses a kind of fear in Eastern Europe that is now realizing its backwardness. “Post-Communist nationalism … brands cosmopolitanism, which expresses a never admitted fear of European tolerance, norms, and democracy.” [8]

Csurka argued that threat induced preemptive aggression. The essence of this aggression is that this train of thought involves an unsaid but obvious conclusion, namely, that those who argue against all types of newcomers today, question also the reason for the existence of the settlers of yesterday. For them, all who do not belong to an imaginary tribal community are aliens. And the synonym of “alien” is “Jewish”, as taught by the legacy of the populist tradition of the interwar years.

This conclusion cannot be attributed to Csurka’s shrewdness. It is a consequence of the tainted political force field, the logical consequence of a peculiar effort at legitimacy, of a tendency to distinguish between “us” and “them”, “national” and “foreign”, “patriotic” and “cosmopolitan”. It was also Sándor Révész who noticed the conclusions left unsaid in this context. In the  place  of the final conclusions in Csurka’s arguments there is a void or a vacuum where one can insert anything from the pool of associations preserved in subconscience of the followers of populist ideologies. There is a vocabulary of call-words easily set to motion to reveal their sub-context.  This vacuum “exercises a suction force that can absorb in only what is present in the historical consciousness of the day. It is a matter of tactics and decency, whether the factors inherent in the statement will be identified or not”. – so  Révész.

By saying that there is and there is no anti-Semitism in Hungary today we mean that a strangely presentable but none the less dangerous form of anti-Semitism is spreading here in penetrable disguise. It is anti-Semitism per implicationem, the unsaid dimension that lies beneath certain efforts at self-identification.

Allusion and intimation in political newspeak serves special functions. Not naming the culprit of all the woes of a nation – as one analyst remarked – attributes demonic forces to the enemy very well in line with the satanic powers attributed to Jews in religious ant-Semitism. “The alien is in disguise, unveiling him would diminish the sense of danger, a consequence of his being abstract, and would make the association less believable. The hiding Jew is a real danger, who appears either as a liberal or a Marxist” [9]

There is another explanation to the “words-as-disguise” syndrome. A denial of existing anti-Semitic trends is also due to image-projection in post-totalitarian countries. Clandestine language is a veil for Western eyes. In Hungary “undercurrents of anti-Jewish attitudes are largely repressed – as Yehuda Bauer states – because of the self-image Hungarian society wants to project to the West.” [10]



The Pitfalls of Dissimilation


The cause celèbre of cultural anti-Semitism raising its head again was to be found in the short diary notes of Sándor Csoóri.  The  noted poet was one of the founding fathers of the so called Democratic Forum that was transformed later from a grass-root movement into the political party winning the first free elections in Hungary „after the wall came down.” Csoóri in Hitel  place the question of Jewish assimilation on the agenda again in 1992. [11] The weight of his opinion is unquestionable. As Béla Bodor wrote, Csoóri had to understand “… that he was not a poet, a moralist and a publicist any more but the leading ideologist of the ruling party.” [12]8

In his note Csoóri spoke of new possibilities of cohesion between Hungarians and Jews. He said, it had only been natural for the Jews to assimilate to the Hungarians in the last century and share their fate. “However, the Hungarian Soviet Republic, the Horthy era and, above all, the Period of Disaster put an end to this mental and spiritual symbiosis”. [13]

From this concise statement, there emerged a rewritten history of Hungary, and, as Péter Hanák suspected, it was outlined from the point of view of another image of the future. [14]  Csoóri places the age of Jewish assimilation in the nineteenth century, though Hanák proves that it started much earlier than that. The Jews poured into Hungary not to reap the benefits of modernization, however ambiguous this process might have been, but to fight the battle of modernization hand in hand with the Hungarians even against the Habsburgs, proving thus the success of their assimilation.

As György Spiró says, “It is a historical fact that the great masses of Hungarian Jews were not assimilated aliens even hundred years ago but Hungarians who abandoned their religion, language, and traditions as early as the Reform Period, the war of independence, or in the Bach era at the latest, and assimilated to their environment with all their heart and soul.” [15]

Assimilation is for Csoóri a process to be underrated probably because he suggests that first from 1920 then from the Period of Disaster onward the opposite and irreversible process of dissimilation began.

Employing aspects of several periods of Hungarian history (i.e., the Hungarian Soviet Republic, the Horthy era, and the Rákosi era) must have served to obscure the responsibility for the supposed process of dissimilation. At the time of the Republic of Councils, the union with the Hungarian nation was supposedly rejected  up by the Jewish revolutionary elite in „matrimony” with Communism, and this is what makes understandable the reaction of the Horthy era which punished the Jews for their role in the Communist takeover. The supposed thirst for revenge of the Jews during the Rákosi era is used to explain, in turn, their behavior in that period.

What a series of calculated misinterpretations in a single sentence! Its logic is not extended further and leaves the obvious consequences are left unsaid, blaming whole group for certain allegedly historical crimes. The Jews are made responsible in toto, since this view of history defines them as an ethnic group, and a dissimilated social and spiritual community. They are blamed here even for their initiative of the strive for identity, and their assigned responsibility is mitigated at best by the assumption that their alienation is after all understandable if one takes into account the experiences in the “Period of Disaster”.

When the “Period of Disaster” was over, Jews played a special role in Hungary, the argument goes. Jewry seemed to desire vengeance on a whole nation for its fate. To speak of dissimilation in connection with the Jews coming home from the concentration camps or just freed from the ghettos rakes up and accepts the legend of the vengeful Jewry. “Some Jews…were just as mean as the fascists,” – asserted István Benedek, a professor of psychiatry, novelist. [16]  Some  of the Jews realized their thirst for revenge as members of the new Communist secret police, the legend goes. Dilettante historians have come forward with hair-raising figures as to the number of the Jewish members of the Hungarian secret police after the second world war. [17]

However, the ideology of the supposed revenge preceded the opportunity for its realization. It was first conjured up in the apocalyptic vision of László Németh at the Szárszó Conference in 1943. Németh, a prolific writer of essays, novels, and journalism was the spiritual leader of the so called populist writers of the interwar period. Relentless in the pursuit of „true magyardom,” he argued for a renewed contract with the Jews. By a strange logic, Németh criticized at the above mentioned conference the Hungarian decrees born in the wake of the Nuremberg laws for judging by the same standards the Jews and people who had long dissociated themselves from them. “And now we shall have a peace that will be dictated by them [the Jews – author]. A peace of which they will be the appointed redeemers. I have never made generalizations as to the Jewish question, as can be seen in my writings. However, it is but natural that vengeful Jews lacking self-criticism should have gathered strength in the last four or five years, and those who do not notice that Shylock wants hearts, have no ear for the sharpening of knives”.[18]

The image of vengeful Jew, was thus taken from a text before the war.  It was a myth, and  there is nothing to prove that the Jewish members of Rákosi’s secret police acted out of a thirst for revenge against the Hungarian people. [19] Another source of this alleged thirst for revenge was presented in a remark of the social historian László Lengyel. Rákosi exposed the trial following the arrest of Gábor Péter, former head of the secret police and a Jew by origin as a Zionist plot, so the atrocities committed by the secret police came to be ascribed deliberately to the Jews. [20] The motive of revenge in Rákosi, the communist dictator recurs in recent psychoanalytical analysis, stating that compensation for his Jewish origins has have played a role in devising his bloodthirsty acts.[21] The fact was, that Rákosi suspected clandestine and subversive conspiracies and one of his latest plans was to stage an anti-Zionist purge. [22]

It was not at all the thirst for revenge that characterized the Jews coming home at the end of the world war. They were rather hopeful that the new order, the new Hungarian democracy would grant them equal rights at last. The fact that certain Jewish intellectuals started to take part in political life is a proof of their share in these rights. The Jewish supporters of the Communist party were  not more numerous than were those who joined other political trends. Analyzing the electoral statistics, Charles Gati confirmed this fact. [23]

In addition the above statistics, the numerous discussions of the state of mind and attitude of those coming home from the concentration camps also deserve attention. [24]  Speaking of the years after the “Period of Disaster”, the writers maintain that assimilation seemed to be fulfilled at that time. As András Lányi, a distinguished author and filmmaker remarked, the Jews coming home “took it for granted or realized just then that they cannot possibly be anything else but Hungarians. Hungarians who had been discriminated, persecuted, outlawed, and deprived of everything. Still there was something that could not be taken away from them, and it was their being Hungarians. … This spiritual and psychological interpenetration is the accomplished work of generations of Jewish and non-Jewish Hungarians that could not be changed even by the genocide. It was Hungarians who persecuted Hungarians. Those who did not perish, survived. It was the pursuers who are less Hungarian for that, not the pursued”. [25]

Paradoxically, their experiences of the genocide made the Jews realize their Hungarian nationality. As Ákos Kertész, a fellow writer put it, it was just by their sufferings that the Jews paid for becoming real Hungarians. “Those who survived and returned from the death camps were convinced that there was no more Jewish question, and there was no difference between Hungarians and Hungarians any more. … Assimilation would be complete from then on, discrimination and racism had been fascist inventions and had lost ground for good. The survivors felt that in suffering the horrors of persecution and genocide, they had really paid for being accepted as Hungarian, and nothing more could be demanded of them… .” [26]

In his reply, Csoóri rejected this analysis of the historical situation. His partners in the debate considered the years after World War II as the age of an accomplished assimilation, while Csoóri saw in them the period of uninterrupted dissimilation. “… According to my own personal experiences,  assimilation in the years after the Period of Disaster had many other aspects than the one you can see. It could be flexible, uncertain, keeping its distance, convulsive, hiding, and pretending, and even had varieties that included also the possibility of  emotional dissimilation.” [27]

Emotional dissimilation? From what? Not necessarily from the nation, but only from those who let their fellow citizens be carried off by a foreign power. It is only the good shepherd who can expect loyalty from his flock.

Assimilation can, of course, never be a fully accomplished process. [28]  It is the endless drama of acceptance and accommodation, a matter of a continuous political and social bargaining. Assimilation was attacked the most bitterly just where it developed to its fullest extent as, for example, in the Germany of Emperor William. On the other hand, any inclination to dissimilation should be considered justified and not at all “pretending” if it is a response to aggression and discrimination. The exemplary statement of Freud in this respect, made in 1926, many years prior to Hitler’s takeover and Freud’s involuntary emigration, reads as follows: “My mother tongue is German, and I am a German also culturally and as regards my tastes. I considered myself a German also intellectually until I had to realize that anti-Semitism was present and growing in Germany and in German-speaking Austria. From that time on, I prefer  calling myself a Jew.” [29]

It is interesting to observe the nuances of this statement. Freud did not deny being a German from  an intellectual point of view even in a social crisis. However, he found a new identity in his community, with which he had been originally identified against his will. He did not become a worse German, but he did become a better Jew.[30]

The new Hungarian discussion on assimilation was not at all characterized by a sense for nuances. The debate was already an offense against decency when the opponents of Csoóri insisted upon their being flawless Hungarians, accepting by this the starting-points of the debate, however involuntarily. To put it even more simply, they accepted the dictate of assimilation.

What was actually the Csoóri debate? Was it another special way of raising the problems of modernization?  Was it an effort to create a new image of the Hungarian nation? Was it just calling names and abusing the Jews, as Péter Esterházy [31] and Gyula Hegyi wrote [32]23, or was it “a moving and honest confession?” [33]24

Ferenc Fejtõ, the doyen of Hungarian liberal radicalism, who lives in France, maintains that it is a new and unfortunate chapter in the debate over modernization: “It is really painful for the Hungarians that although the Jews, pouring into Hungary on the invitation of the liberal Hungarian ruling class in the nineteenth century, actually contributed to the bourgeois development of the country, they took the places of the slower ethnic Hungarians, who were less ready to modernize their ways and thinking. As László Németh put it, they replaced the Hungarian minority.” [34 / Fejtõ, 1990 #8868]25

The idea of László Németh that the Hungarians, being natives in their own country, are ethnically defenseless must have been one of the sources of Csoóri’s train of thought. His motive was actually something else. The Csoóri debate is much more than the revival of the question of modernization. It is the responsibility for the new Period of Disaster, i.e., the decades of Communism that it is all about. This is why the aliens and the Hungarians are counterpoised in his argument. The deteriorating Hungarian ethnic group is unimpaired only as regards its undisturbed national consciousness. It was the aliens who made compromises in the past decades. The true Hungarians went through the difficulties with undisturbed identity.

This is the real source of this “new” kind of anti-Semitism. As Rudolf Ungváry observed, this anti-Semitism really exists “and seems to have a new, a “historical” source of reference, namely, the interpenetration of the Jews (not only of the left-wing intellectuals of Jewish origin, but all  Jews) and the Communist takeover after the war. Even those anti-Semites who have long made their political compromise with the ruling regime and entered the Communist Party are influenced by this argument” [35]

Mátyás Rákosi, the communist dictator after the war,  elaborated the legend of the “guilty nation”. Hungarians were responsible for participating in the war on the side of the Germans. Today the new myth spread by Csoóri speaks of an “innocent nation”, saying that it was only the “lackeys of the Muscovites” who made compromises with the Communists. The true nation lived through oppression had  hibernated until freedom arrived.

To speak of a union between Communism and the Jews amounts to acquitting the middle class, the possible social basis of Csurka’s new order, of complicity and collaboration.


Freedom of Expression, used and abused


At festive and less festive occasions official statements speak of anti-Semitism as something outdated. At the same time, the public is poisoned by a latent and coded, still easily discernible racism that is given a special background and a social function by just such public denials.

At the moment, the structure of publicity in Hungary consists of two interdependent spheres conditional upon each other. On the one hand, there is the official side, the declarations flattering Europe, and including ecumenical ecclesiastical programs, as well as pathetic commemorations of the Holocaust. On the other hand, there are the attempts of the new Hungary at self-definition, saturated with arrogance and with the ideology of being chosen for a mission. All this has appeared again and again as a mere confusion about identity, in which the Jewish question now receives got a new and important role.[36]

The revival of anti-Semitism must be interpreted only in terms of this schizophrenic social background. This background is evidence of a transitory stage where several different political trends try to find their purpose. The political trends in Hungary today do not always have a clear-cut purpose and program, and are not always legitimate socially, either. [37]Some tendencies even contain coded racism and related nationalism as their only essences. [38]

Anti-Semitism has obviously not slept through the Communist dictatorship just to wake up and infect society again as if it were  temporarily neutralized virus. The anti-Semitism of today is not a symptom of the freedom of expression. On the contrary. While freedom of expression has actually expanded, coded anti-Semitism is seeking to narrow down this sphere by introducing double speak. [39]  On the face of it, it is the anti-Semitism of the mid-war years that has been restored to life. However, the cultural racism of yesterday based on the characterology of nations provides only a means to support a new set of arguments attacking with new tactics and an almost new content.

The anti-Semitism of today is far from being merely emotional. This is why it is unjust to blame a whole country for its revival. The rude and vulgar type of anti-Semitism pops up occasionally in pubs and in private life and can be considered negligible. [40]  It is not more than an error in communication under the conditions of an underdeveloped civil society. Those who use the names of genitals in each and every sentence in everyday dialogues, do not really think about what they are saying. When saying “Jew,” they only use the ancient synonym for evil.

It is not worth while to fight directly against this kind of anti-Semitism; it is also impossible. Just as anti-Semitism exists even without Jews,  abusing Jews also exists without anti-Semitism under the conditions of regressive rudeness that bring the déclassé elements away from a sensible social life. Social mobility today does not point to the creation of a new middle class. On the contrary, it lowers the social positions of the middle class and the classical intellectual occupations. There are only few who manage to rise successfully. It is mainly the new political elite, the upper layer of officials, and the thin layer of the new soldiers of financial fortune and other adventurers. The rest lag behind in this great transformation, whose direction is highly uncertain. It can lead equally to Europe and to the Third World. [41]

Anti-Semitism was given here a new function, drawing up  from the pubs to the intellectual workshops. Occasionally and implicitly it became a component of the search for national identity.


Who Are the Jews and Who Are the Hungarians?


There are numerous definitions of who are the Jews, who could be considered Jewish. We confine here ourselves to historical interpretations widespread in Hungary. [42]  The Jewish faith was accepted as religion at the end of Nineteenth century. Jews, however, were considered as a cultural sub-group of society. Euphemisms like “Hungarians of Moses’s faith” were common some hundred years ago, hinting in disbelief to assimilation that left a recognizable body of society easily identified and often targeted as non-Hungarians. Nowadays even the apostates are defined as what they refuse to be. Being a Jew was a burden also for a number  ill-fated literati who would have gladly sacrificed an arm to have been born in a detached farm in the countryside and to have used a language unmistakably from the provinces [43]  Today the former culture-czar of the Kádár-era, György Aczél is identified as  Jew again and again, and his numerous misdeeds are credited to that fact. [44]

The fate of this man is a case in the point. As a former actor he performed minor parts in Jewish plays during the second world war in the theater of the Jewish community. After the defeat of the Hungarian revolution he became a seminal figure in the hierarchy of the Communist Party and consented to the imprisonment of leading intellectuals who actively participated in the revolution. [45] 30 Most of the writers and scholars who served a term of imprisonment after the revolution of 1956 were of Jewish origin. The pragmatic Kádár believed that nobody’s heart would break for them.

The example of Aczél is very important. The figure of the Marrano or secret Jew is well-known in European history. They were the ones who practiced their religion  secretly and seemed to be assimilated to Christian society. Aczél was, however, no Marrano, though he was often accused of being one. If his fate seems to be a Jewish fate, it belongs to the category of “Jewish self-hate”. [46]

It is, however, noteworthy that the Jewish population of Eastern Europe today is mostly judged by its social position. Ironically, Jewry as an enemy can wear two contrasting masks: they can equally be Communists or capitalists. The personification of Scylla and Charybdis endangering “independent” national development goes back to such historically false identifications.

The above judgment attitude expresses also the whole problem of assimilation in a concise form. It is illusory to consider assimilation as a completed process, as György Spiró does. To become part of a nation is, namely, only the first step towards assimilation. A Jew can easily want to become a Hungarian, a Moravian or an Austrian, but the Hungarians, the Moravians and the Austrians will immediately put obstacles in his way. Nowadays, little is said about the social limits of integration, as though it were just the social barriers and not the national ones that have been fought against in the long history of assimilation. The greatest concern of the wealthy Jewish bankers around the turn of the century was how they could be raised to the rank of a baron and not their becoming Hungarians.

Ludwig Börne, the anti-Semite descendent of a rabbi and the favorite poet of Karl Marx, wrote: “Some blame me for being a Jew, some praise me for it. Some forgive me for being one, but there are none who would neglect it”.

There have been basically two types of assimilated Jews in modern Europe, the pariah and the parvenu. [47]  The parvenu is the relative newcomer in the ruling classes and has overemphasized his assimilation. This type is the alibi of the recipient societies, by the way. The one-time Minister of Defense of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, Baron Samu Hazai was one these alibi Jews. Just a small piece of Passover cake on top of the Hungarian pork cutlet will  not readily change the opinion of the ruling class as to the place of the Jews in Hungarian society.

The opposite of the parvenu is the pariah awakened to self-consciousness. He is an assimilated person who stays outside the society of the status quo or even attacks it. All Jewish intellectuals are, so to say, like so many little Ignotuses, journalists supporting the government party in secret, public revolutionaries of art, aestheticians, and bureaucrats of literature. Ernõ Osvát and baron Lajos Hatvany nearly fought a duel, like members of the gentry would, to settle their differences over art as fully assimilated Hungarians.

The connecting link between these two prototypes was the fact the both could conform themselves to the  requirements of society only through emphasizing their otherness, their prominence or through the frightening slavery of being a “domestic Jew”.

As Horkheimer and Adorno put it, “They were allowed to own the means of production only with difficulty and very late in history. It is also true that Christianized Jews held high positions in administration and industry in the course of European history and even in the German empire, but they had to prove their fitness by renewed zeal and strict self-denial. They were allowed to fill these posts only if their behavior confirmed the general verdict pronounced over the rest of  Jewry.”  [48]  Whenever the Jews wished to integrate themselves into the society around them, they had to play a role to be admitted.

The figure of the parvenu and the self-conscious pariah reappears now as the target of modern anti-Semitism. The revival of their image is strangely topical, since it materializes the fears of Eastern Europe. The Eastern European societies, standing at  cross-roads, are still afraid of the “self-conscious” pariah who, by waving his Communist party card, tried to ward off the return of fascism, and they are already afraid of the parvenu who wants to convert his inherited mobility to economic life and to getting rich in the process. Eastern Europe makes  demons of the Jewish Bolsheviks and the Jewish plutocrats by declaring all Bolsheviks and plutocrats Jews.[49]

The context in which the pariah and the parvenu play their parts is not valid, since not even the characters of the play are sure of  what play they are performing.

The troubled identity of the small successor states of the Monarchy also forced people to play roles. From the point of view of the Hungarian people, the peace treaty following the First World War in Trianon can be seen as the vengeance or whim of the God of the Old Testament. [50] There is no reasonable explanation though there may be some conjecture) for why just the territory of the Hungarian state should have been reduced most after the First World War. Trianon could not be digested without injury to Hungarian self-respect. Ideologies based on grievances are, however, prone to quick deterioration, and the resulting Hungarian sense of vocation is mistaken when it  assumes the familiar condemned role of the “chosen people.” Hungary’s neighbors have a rather unfavorable opinion of this sense of vocation, while the great powers are usually not interested in the  cultural aspect of  Hungarian delusions of grandeur. Csurka, the populist reformulated the Hungarian vocation into palatable and mild terms. “A new Hungarian role can be substantiated which not only sets an example but, by its open economy and society, it can neutralize the nationalisms of the region and pull to Europe not only the Hungarians of the Carpathian Basin but at the peoples living with them.” No need to textual analyses here. The dominant role of the Hungarians this time will be assured by the new magnetism of their advanced placement in the new world order, taking over the leadership of the region. [51]35

Who are the Hungarians? A community far from being unified from a religious point of view with a very mixed ancestry, whose racial characteristics  belong to the realm of mythology. Classical liberalism defines the Hungarians as inhabitants of a political nation state 36, excluding the Hungarians living in minority status in the neighboring countries, compressed beyond its original  frontiers by Trianon and Yalta. So the liberal definition is inevitably narrow, even if it is the best available definition. The political scientist Peter Kende in the wake of the new revisionist attempts wrote an article with a telling title: “Let us Break with the Idea of the Nation State.” The article argues that :”The concept of the political nation is receptive, that of the cultural nation is discriminative, and that of the ethnically unified nation is impossible. An ethnic group based on a common tribal past or linguistic characteristics as a morphological unit should not be mistaken for a nation which is a political category.”

The trend so many on the liberal side were fighting is called etho-culturalism. This view projects vision of Hungarian united. There are historical ties between Hungarian minorities in the counties surrounding the legitimate state of Hungary. The Hungarian minorities are legally citizens of rump Yugoslavia, Slovakia and Romania. On a higher level, the problem can be dealt with only metaphorically, since it has no geopolitical solution. It still gave rise to such highly criticized and ridiculed claims as that of the late prime minister, elected democratically for the first time after the war, who declared that “in spirit” he wished to represent fifteen million Hungarians.

This prime minister defined himself as the leader of the sober right-center, whose populist wing  fix the limits of the Hungarians as an ethnic unit. Recently reelected member of Parliament István Csurka is far from being a character in a comedy he himself might have written in his better days, but a conscientious politician. He is the epitome of the right-wing ideology of the populist bloc of the mid-war period. He is so saturated by this ideology that whenever he speaks in public, he uses the worst phrases of the populist tradition of the interwar period without referring to the sources. However, Csurka takes care not to speak openly enough so that he can refute accusations of anti-Semitism. Still there is implied anti-Semitism in several of his statements. It is enough to consider his implications and it becomes immediately obvious against whom his “ethnic unit” needs to be defended.

The anti-Semitism of today has restricted itself to a legally unprovable sphere 37: to populist ideology or to a covert numerus clausus that discriminates against former Communists, rewards ethnic identity, stresses the Christian character of the regime, and demands “moral” qualifications that are, by definition, not applicable to Jews, Gypsies, Slovaks, Serbs, or Croats.

In the communicative sphere of society, anti-Semitism is a context underlying all options and choices.  In classical rhetoric, epitropé as a method for drawing conclusions is left to the public or to the opposition. It is also classical rhetoric that warns the speaker or writer that by applying it, he may put the public at a disadvantage, forcing them to give voice to thoughts they have thus far deliberately avoided.

The method implies an exchange of roles forced on one partner, while the argument maintains that it is the disturbed sense of identity of the Jews that  is the issue, and that the Jews have to find a new identity and form of behavior.

However, the sense of identity of the surviving Hungarian Jewry does not seem to be in a crisis. On the one hand, the Hungarian Jews voted first when they decided which way to go after the war: to the Carpathian Basin or to Palestine. On the other hand, the conditions of assimilation or dissimilation are  dictated not by those who wish to assimilate or to withdraw, but by the recipient community, its leaders, and its public opinion. The minority can only rely on defensive tactics and can never take the initiative.

It is naive to think that this problem can be discussed by certain experts first, and then taken before the public. Anti-Semitism is too serious a problem to be entrusted to self-anointed experts, especially since it belongs to the sphere of public mental health for the entire Hungarian society, and each and every “patient” must have  a say in it.

There is, however, a sort of “cultural anti-Semitism” spreading both as an ideology and as public sentiment, resulting from the post-Trianon syndrome in Hungary, and from the defeat in the First World War. That peace treaty forced the successor states in Eastern Europe to find their new identity. At the core of their search for statehood was the remembrance of the Hungarian discrimination against minorities. As if in a mirror image, the Hungarians of the „mainland”  had to find a virtual spiritual community to forget the mutilation of the country and the severance of so many Hungarians from it.[52]

The First World War was followed by a mental transformation of patriotism giving rise to mystic nationalism, a search for scapegoats, and all kinds of racist ideologies. [53] The race is an entity that cannot be confined within national borders. Each and every person belonging to it is part of the national spirit and can contribute to its development. Let us only think of the characters of Dezsõ Szabó’s novels, pushed to the peripheries from a cultural point of view.

By racial theory I mean here not only its extreme national socialist version, but also its range from the debased ideas of Houston S. Chamberlain to the version glorified by Wagner and applied by pseudo-scientific anthropology, phrenology, the theory of destiny formulated by Leo Frobenius, and  the sociology of Werner Sombart. The coexistence of racism and dying positivism was a nightmarish legacy of the nineteenth century. Racism is the bastard offspring of declining German irrationalism and the „objective” science having lost its inspiration.

Anti-Semitism is not merely implied in these racist theories, being their covert but logical presupposition in defining all communities or ethnic units as races. Racial theory speaks mixed and pure races, hence of “bad” and “good”,. All racial theories are eo ipso hierarchical.

It is easy to demonstrate the social effect of racial theory from the 1920s in Hungary even in such seemingly innocent versions as the cultural concept of the nation. This concept is the sublimation of the former territorial supremacy, a kind of “intellectual imperialism” or the naive belief of school-teachers and others with a sense of mission that they can recover by force of cultural superiority what the armies have lost. In the inter-war period first it was Minister of Cult and Education Kunó Klebelsberg who tried to prove to the victorious peoples of Europe that the Hungarians were culturally superior to the people of the new successor states.[54]  Then it was László Németh,  who wished to convey the message of the cultural mission of the Hungarians in the successor states of the Carpathian Basin.

All versions of cultural supremacy were naturally based on exaggerated ethnic characterizations, and it followed from this that those who propagated them were required the termination of the liberal pact of assimilation. In the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, this pact of assimilation was in fact a giant with feet of clay. The central power and the court itself naturally supported assimilation as a prelude to the integration of the nationalities. Assimilation served the interests of the court also by weakening the national consciousness and surge of independence of the individual provinces. These territories yielded, in turn, to the pressure of modernization when they complied with assimilation, the milestone of liberalism. [55]

The problems inherent in assimilation appeared very early, as the example of Gyõzõ Istóczy reveals 38 or the anxiety of the agrarian party exaggerating the number of Jews emigrating from  Galicia.[56]

Although based on a fragile compact, assimilation in Hungary was after all successful. In no other part of the world were there more middle-class Jews without earlocks, wearing short Hungarian coats with lacing, and imitating Emperor Franz Joseph, or more amiable members of the gentry laughing at Jewish jokes. Bourgeois development liberated the Jews of the ghettos, emancipated them economically and in part also politically, and then, in the framework of another arrangement, let them influence public opinion. “Luckily or unluckily, a great number of Jews have come to our ill-fated Hungarian salt desert. There are many kinds of them, again to our luck or to our misfortune, and they number a million up to now. Most of them are corrupted, for the Jews have a special ability to master and even push to extremes  all harmful characteristics of the race in whose territory they settle down,” wrote the great national poet Ady, staunch advocate of the Hungarian-Jewish symbiosis 1908. [57]39

Ady’s optimism as regards assimilation was difficult to explain away afterwards, especially since he was so enthusiastic about it that he often went too far. He maintained that in three generations the Jews would be just as Hungarians culturally as any other „true-born native.

This enthusiasm of Ady was too much both for historians and writers of the inter-war period. A trendsetting book of enormous influence was Gyula Szekfű’s „Three Generations.” By the time of the appearance of this book the poet revered by the Hungarian reading public was dead. The appropriation of his legacy was one of the main goals of the generation of the twenties. In Ady the rare combination of the Hungarian genius was discovered, the visionary who predicted the downfall of his county. Just one feature of Ady had to explain away: his philo-Semitism. Szekfű failed to perform this almost impossible task. The poorest and nearly ridiculous passage of Szekfű’s „Three Generations” was the comparison of the former prime minister of Hungary, István Tisza and Ady. For Szekfű both represented the virtues and shortcomings of the true Hungarians. The suggestion here was that the amalgam of their features would have produced a genuine leader of the nation.[58]

In the footsteps of Szekfű the writer László Németh struggled to explain away the relationship of Ady and Hungarian Jewry in desperate flowers of rhetoric: “The decade and a half when Ady produced the best of his poetry fell in the time of the Jewish break-through! … His work is unthinkable without this break-through! … He demanded adoration with the covetousness of beautiful women, and sought  opportunities to enchant others. He needed a chorus behind him, and a brilliant one was fielded by the Jews, like in  the ancient Greek tragedies. But this chorus never deceived him in the most essential points. There is no better visionary of the Hungarian fate than Ady. He is Tiresias, aware of the sin of the unsuspecting Oedipus, who is Oedipus himself at the same time. It is not only that he notices rottenness beneath the glamour of the millennium, but he is aware also of the earlier incest, committed innocently, that tears us away from the deepest instincts of our culture.” [59]

The incest of course is the inter-marriage of Hungarian and Jews. These exaggerated metaphors take for granted what is still to be proved. László Németh distinguished between adaptable Jews who respected the values of society and “restricted themselves to their proper place”, and those who “forged ahead” and “streamed” even around Tisza. It was only the gentile writers of the first decade of the century  who “produced powerful antidote against the Jewish break-through.” (ibid.)  Part of Jewry evidently seeks to become influential here, and if an antidote is needed against them, they are obviously virulent and dangerous.

After Trianon, nobody approached the Jews in the way Ady had done. Gyula Szekfű, and also Dezsõ Szabó, took over from him his symbolism of the “curse fallen on Hungary” and of the “destruction of the Hungarian race”, but turned it upside down. Ady had hoped that assimilation would free the Hungarians from their “Asian backwardness and love of romance”, in other words, that it would make them adopt  bourgeois mentality. Szekfű, the talented propagandist of the after-war regime, maintained, however, that it was indeed the assimilated masses that caused stagnation for the Hungarians.

The idea that the assimilated might bend the recipient nation to their position and try to gain power appeared already in the writings of Gobineau and H.S. Chamberlain, but it could become a social force only in critical places like the Hungary of the 1920s.

Having his roots in Szekfű and debating with him during a life-time, it was László Németh who denounced assimilation almost endlessly. While Szekfű attacked assimilation around the Compromise and the end of the nineteenth century, Németh daringly went much further and dedicated his life to a crusade of a retrospective mental cleansing of Hungarian history. He tried to separate Ady and his ilk  from those who degraded their own Hungarian war of independence into the war for independence of art. “Hungarian art”, Németh wrote, “can be nothing else but the recovery of the Hungarian racial character.”

What does this “Hungarian racial character mean”? Németh does not give a definition. Race is for him the ultimate inspiration of art, the repository of the deepest character of the nation. He did not elaborate his specific  idea of the race in detail, because he could have made up a definition only of what is not racial and Hungarian. Should the reader take the measure of the content of the race as a concept, he would find unutterable conclusions. He would get to dimensions that are difficult to put into words and extend the concept to a degree that not even the prophet Németh could undertake to express.

László Németh did not take the consequences of his train of thought: “These lines have nothing to do with anti-Semitism. Eight million people live on the territory of Smaller Hungary, herded together by fate, which cannot and must not be ousted from here. The state should see to it that they be melted into an effective unit beyond all racial and religious differences, with each group in its proper place, and that all of them should prosper under the hegemony of the strongest that can be nothing but the Hungarian peasantry and the new middle class deriving from it.” [60]

The quotation comes from an article on Ignotus from 1927. At that time, Ignotus lived in exile, his name would soon be omitted from the cover of Nyugat, of which he was a co-founder and he remained the editor-in-chief even in contumatiam. The policy of the ruling classes by which they put the groups of society into their “proper place” was already under way. Let us only mention the numerus clausus. The purification of intellectual life was, however, still to be done. “Art is something else, it is the expression of race. The artist writes what is inherent in his character, and race is the common bond of characters. … Art cannot be state-governed, i.e., expressive all peoples living in a state. Art belongs to a people. Hungarian art means the Hungarian people. When Ignotus and his circle took up swords for the freedom of art, they wished – and  they could not wish for anything else – to offer their own character in Hungarian, i.e., to make Jewish literature in Hungarian.”

László Németh insisted that these statements were not anti-Semitic. It is the sensitivity of society and its threshold of response that determine the measure of pronouncements that qualify as anti-Semitic. When Jews can be beaten for being Jews and the offenders remain unpunished, as in inter-war Hungary at the beginning of the regime, this cultural variety of racism does really not qualify as anti-Semitism.

Space does not allow me to discuss here the debates of László Németh with his liberal contemporaries about his scattered remarks about the detrimental influence of Jews on Hungarian literature. Lajos Hatvany, a prominent Jewish writer and scholar  protested with indignation: “Németh determined an intellectual ghetto for the Jews.” [61]

Hatvany’s indignation was not shared by some writers of Jewish origin. Pál Kardos and László Kardos from Debrecen, and later also Aladár Komlós turned against the hard core liberals. Pál Kardos repeated the arguments of Németh saying that Hatvany and his circle were defending against László Németh the monopoly of representing freedom, democracy and humanity. [62]

The debate recalls a frightening déja vu, the problem of liberalism as monopoly, the divided reaction of the Jews, and the designation of the Jews as “aliens”. We are, however, interested here only in the shift of the threshold of sensitivity as regards anti-Semitism. This shift is the result of an entire period in history and is connected with the spread of populist ideas in the thirties.

The populist movements were not free from anti-Semitic features at all. As István Bibó, a remarkable political thinker (the State Secretary during the short-lived revolution of 1956, and political prisoner during the Kádár-era for almost a decade)  has put it, “It should be worth clarifying the reasons for the accusation of anti-Semitism resulted from the fact that nearly all leading members of the populist movement had made a statement that was very tinged and very specific, far from being anti-humanistic, but deviating from the expectations of both the Jews and philo-Semitic humanism.” [63]

The clarification, demanded by Bibó, has not been done  up to now. This much can, however, be established that, owing to certain historical reasons, the cultural discrimination against  the Jews in Hungary became an established fact, which in civilized Western Europe or Northern America  would qualify as anti-Semitism. [64]

The late László Németh is a useful guide to the transformation of today, as if it were his will that manages things now. It is not by chance that populism, claiming an official status nowadays, considers him its spiritual father. In the wake of his ideas, the gap between the civil and the cultural rights of the minorities and the various denominations is steadily growing. While the establishment guarantees the equality of civic rights  for all citizens of the state, it wishes to  maintain its hegemony as far as cultural rights are concerned. Arbitrary dismissals and assignments have created the praetorian guard of officials who serve, with the zeal of  vassal, the institutional enforcement of an exaggerated ethnic consciousness.

It is up to you to choose if you are a Hungarian or not, Gyula Illyés said once. His remarks has, however, been often extended by the demand of accepting the “Hungarian fate” or the „tragic” feeling characteristic of Hungarians. As if it were not enough to undertake to be a Hungarian as a gesture of assimilation, full identification is demanded, empathy toward the vital questions of the Hungarian people, something that an alien race is by definition unable to do, as László Németh advocated. Ethnic consciousness, anxious for the race, cannot tolerate the double allegiance of someone’s being a Gypsy and a Hungarian at the same time. Within the framework of cultural hegemony, the minorities can live only “restricted to their proper place”.

The ideology of ethnic consciousness as a common fate or empathy for the nation was not an invention of László Németh, just like the supposition that the presence of assimilated races poisoned the Christian society. Németh was a man of immense reading. More important than his direct sources is the fact that 47 his work is fitting into the overall criticism of European enlightenment, advocated from the 1920s by Marxists, Tolstoians, syndicalists, Christian legitimists, and proto-Fascists alike in the wake of the cultural philosophers of the first wave of romanticism, Herder and Friedrich Schlegel. Cultural anti-Semitism goes deeper than the efforts of the circles of Action Française in France, or the circle of Die Tat in Germany. The anti-Semitism of romanticism, illustrated  by an unparalleled writing of the young Hannah Arendt, goes back to the Enlightenment itself. [65]


Roots of Cultural Anti-Semitism


Cultural anti-Semitism has grown into an international trend in the wake of European secularization. Ironically, Voltaire and Diderot condemned the Jews as the people that introduced Christianity and threatened the rule of reason, and one that shelters a religion alien to Europe. [66]  Baron D’Holbach, the French philosophes proclaimed that “Christianity is nothing but reformed Judaism”, and that the Jews are worse than the Christians, because they represent an alien and primitive horde in the heart of Europe.

There are  numerous remarks against Jews in the early writings of Diderot who believed the Jews to be barbarians until he met Isaac de Pinto, an outstanding Jewish representative of the Enlightenment. Voltaire’s stubborn anti-Jewish attitude remained, however, unshaken even in his debates with Pinto.

While some representatives of Enlightenment sought to open up  vistas of assimilation by making the landless Jews – at home everywhere and, consequently, nowhere  – Europeans under a new climate, Voltaire and D’Holbach considered the Jewish faith an incurable illness and a deadly peril to mankind. [67]  Voltaire saw in the Jews oriental aliens, and the romantic criticism of the Enlightenment gave an ironic turn of this image considering them a nomadic European people. However, the Jews always remained outside the ethnic units accepting them. When the specific character of their language was discovered, the Hebrew came to be considered an oriental vernacular that cannot be adapted to the European way of thinking. This is how the slogan of romanticism came to be formulated by Heine: “A Jew can learn to read in German, to write in German, but he cannot learn to think in German.” [68]

Romanticism saw a demon in Jewry, the embodiment cultural well-poisoning.  This trend also had its role in the heritage of Europe, and in the search for cultural identity of the European nations. In Charles Maurras’s words, the spirit of anti-Semitism set out to conquer the world, and it did not miss Hungary, either.


Hungarian Varieties


László Németh’s „Kisebbségben” (In Minority) is not a hastily written pamphlet as the author himself used to call it, but an important and decisive stage in the belated criticism of the Enlightenment liberalism starting with Gyula Szekfű. They both blamed the Hungarian Enlightenment and the Compromise for Trianon – Szekfű as a pro-Austrian legitimist, and Németh as a leading critic of Austro-Hungarian dualism flirting with populism. „Kisebbségben” is a search for the deepest levels of the national spirit, the innermost identity of the nation, and qualifies everything belonging to rational liberalism as cosmopolitan. It wishes to find a new identity with all its features exclusively characteristic of the Hungarian race.

It must be mentioned, however, that „Kisebbségben” was written in a country threatened by the great powers and for a people decreasing in number. Its train of thought was, however, not motivated exclusively by these factors, since its arguments in a strangely elitist spirit divided the Hungarians into „deep” and „shallow” spirits. Those who qualified for „deep” were marginalized through history, while shallow spirits ruled. Farfetched as these categories may seem to those not initiated into detail of ideological fight in interwar Hungary, they had an unparalleled influence on younger generations. László Németh has a greater excuse for what he wrote in „Kisebbségben” than those who further his ideas on with minor modifications but still with a significant shifting of accent, on a socially dangerous level. This is the reason why we should return to the so-called Csoóri debate.

The debate had its roots in a few lines of an article by the poet-politician and dealt with matter that was actually extraneous: did the writer really mean it or not, did he hurt people or not, did he have the right to state what he did or not? Csoóri did nothing less than give notice to quit to the tenants who had been thrown out of the common home more than once before. He was even right in saying for the first time that Trianon put an end to the fragile process of assimilation. Csoóri is inclined to shift the responsibility to the historical process on the one hand, and on the “oversensitivity” of the Jews on the other. [13]

Csoóri did not take on this road a single step further than did Dezsõ Szabó, László Németh, and Géza Féja, populist writers of the inter-war period.  Let us only quote Németh’s article on Ignotus again: “The tragedy of Ignotus is not that he is not of Hungarian make-up, but that he is carried along by the current of a strong alien race that would produced nine similar characters out of ten children in a mixed marriage.” ( In Ignotus)

So Csoóri did not have to go far to find justification for his anxiety about the Hungarian nation being spoilt by mixed marriages with the handful of Jews in the population. It was enough to believe László Németh, the official ideologist and spiritual father of today’s populism that such a strong racial current existed.

It is interesting to note that the time when assimilation got out of shape and stopped short, i.e., when the intention of divorce became final, was pushed to an ever later date. Szekfű put it to the time of the Compromise, László Németh to the period of the beginning of the Twentieth century, while Csoóri to the Republic of Councils: “Ady’s time was probably the last when the problems of the nation, of the Hungarian race could really be grasped by the Jews as real existential and historical problems. They mastered not only the language but also the pain underneath. The Republic of Councils, the Horthy era, and especially the Period of Disaster put an end to  spiritual and emotional unity.” [69]

Let us now forget what the politician Csoóri thinks of the Jews. The real question is what he thinks of the Hungarians: “There are many people in this country who have had enough of the constant Hungarian jeremiad: Mohács, Nagymajtény, Világos, Trianon and thousands of other calamities. One can be tired of them, but they will always remain part of our insoluble problems.” [11]

The key word is “insoluble” in this context. Just like Ady, Csoóri also keeps in view the unfortunate Hungarian fate and the losses the nation had to suffer in the course of its history. But while Ady believed the Hungarians were strong enough to attract millions with all their unfavorable characteristics, the poet of today sees only the weakness of the nation. In his paroxysm of anxiety for the Hungarian race, Csoóri specifies spiritual and existential preconditions for “true Hungarians” that are arbitrary and discriminating.

Csoóri’s remark was, however, a revelation in a historical sense, since it shifted Hungarian self-recognition definitely and unequivocally to the sphere of unsolvable phenomena. This time, the politician was the prophet of depression and despair. At the same time, he did not notice that his tragic idea of the nation proves just the opposite of what it has been meant to prove, namely the fact that the Hungarian race can be determined only in terms of a political nation. The urge for modernization and liberalization reveals that the claim of becoming an empire of fifteen million Hungarians, however spiritually defined, had to be given up in the end.

The spiritual transformation of the modern concept of the nation is most probably a historical consequence. There are, however, alternatives that cannot be left out of consideration. Miklós Mészöly reacted, for example, very unfavorably on Csoóri’s ideas. [70] He dealt with creating a new kind of national consciousness as early as the early 1980s. He believes that there are two ways of reviving the consciousness of the nation. One of them relies on the particular and the other on the universal aspect. “Long-term solutions can only be attained by methods reckoning with the transformation of the concept of the nation in the direction of becoming universal. … A small nation can conclude from this that the traditional forms of self-preservation cannot be successful in the future. Its national existence can be assured only in a sublimated form that should not be mistaken for a mere material survival .” [71]

One can easily connect the periods of anti-Semitic flare-up to the strengthening of the urge for modernization and liberalization. The contemporaries might think that modernization is accomplished by “aliens.” The first step of modernization is, however, the establishment of the equality of the terms of competition. It is  the neutrality of the market that enrages those who define themselves as privileged. [72]

However many their motives might have been, the voters at the first free election in Hungary voted for a slow change of regimes. The ruling elite understood the message and its response contained  terms inherited from the one-time opponents of modernization, like “Christian morals,” “our middle class”, etc. Hungary in the early nineties was recreating capitalism with slogans inherited from romantic anti-capitalism, under the conditions of an ambiguous privatization and the political selection of a new middle class.

The background of all this is a latent anti-Semitism in various forms. Hidden anti-Semitism is creating a new version of history in retrospect. Retribution for Holocaust survivors was postponed indefinitely. Government-sources are hinting at a reexamination of the „Jewish Question” in 1999. Legal discriminations are not endangering the largest Jewish community in Europe. The hidden cultural discrimination, however, creates an atmosphere of despair. As there was a protracted struggle for cultural hegemony       proliferating stereotypes about the over-representation of Jews in the media etc.

Legal evidence of discrimination is naturally not to be found in any of these cases, since the separation of cultural and political rights, advocated by László Németh, is perfect.


Anti-Semitism – Why and How Much Longer?


Anti-Semitism can be observed today within the context of a struggle for cultural hegemony. As the number of the Jews decreases, there is less rudeness and vulgarity in using abusive language about them, but the cultural aspect hidden in overtones is getting more and more cunning. The confusion of self-definition that assigned the half-hearted believers of modernization, the romantic supporters of Hungarian consciousness with the task of modernization, encouraged the policy of imposing cultural protective tariffs. Proofs for this statement are the cases when the problems were attributed to the uncertain  self-consciousness of the other party. Jews are accused of „oversensitivity”. As a recent article wittily remarked, the government prescribes to what measure Jews are allowed to fear, because any  expression over concerns of their position may unfavorably effect the image of Hungary. [73]

It is a comforting feature of political anti-Semitism that, belonging to the sphere of tactics, it may disappear just as it appeared. Anti-Semitism is a concomitant of a crisis and not the crisis itself. It can be stopped or turned round by a comprehensive reform of the legal system, as the American struggle against racism and the success of the civil-rights movements there have proved. The suppression of racism can be, at the same time, the victory of social rationalism. Some dangerous ideologies in Eastern Europe serve their nations’ interests only in their rhetoric. The truth is that the elite of the nations – though not without exceptions – sacrifice the interests of the peoples in their struggle to fill the vacuum of the post-Communist period.

The rational concept of representing national interests favors the suppression of political and cultural anti-Semitism under the current conditions of international politics. Such a turn would not be without precedents. It took place, for example, in the birthplace of cultural nationalism, in nineteenth-century France. The case of Captain Dreyfus, condemned on the strength of false accusations, threatened France with the boycott of the world exhibition to be staged at the turn of the century. When the new parliament came to power, it voted for the presidential reprieve for Dreyfus by a two-thirds majority.

At the same time, the compromise of the various interest groups of society put an end to the influence of the Catholic Church in public life, reformed the system of military intelligence, and the police. The French academy refused to grant membership to those otherwise outstanding poets and critics who had compromised themselves with giving voice by anti-Semitic views.





ADDIN ENBbu 1.         Jászi, O., Magyar Kálvária – magyar föltámadás. (Hungarian Calvary – Hungarian Resurrection) Reprint Magyar Hírlap könyvek 1989 ed. 1920, Bécs. Vienna

  1. Cf. Király, B.K. and L. Veszprémy, Trianon and East Central Europe : Antecedents and Repercussions. War and society in East Central Europe ; vol. 32. 1995, Boulder, Colo.Highland Lakes, N.J.New York: Social Science Monographs ;Atlantic Research and Publications ;Distributed by Columbia University Press.
  2. Lipstadt, D., Anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe Rears its Ugly Head Again, in USA Today (Magazine). 1993. p. 50.
  3. Pearson, R., Back to the Future or Forward to the Past (Viewpoints On the Political and Economic Future of Eastern Europe). History Today, 1991. 41(JAN): p. 10-13.
  4. Varga-Domokos, G., KIsebbség és zsarnokság. (Minority and Tyranny Népszabadság, 1990 (április 29.).
  5. Pataki, J., Istvan Csurka’s Tract: Summary and Reactions, in RFE-RL Research Report. 1992. p. 15.
  6. On I. Csurka see:Husarska, A., His Kampf, in New Republic. 1992. p. 10.
  7. Michnik, A., A kommunizmus utáni Európa avagy: a bajok a demokrácia körül. (Europe After the Fall of Communism or Troubles around Democracy) Beszélõ, 1990 (szept. 29.).
  8. Zsolnay, J., The Role of Press in Contemporary Anti-Semitism in Hungary, in Anti-Semitism in Post-Totalitarian Europe. 1993, Franz Kafka Publishers: Prague. p. 281.
  9. Bauer, Y., On the Applicability of Definitions – Anti-Semitism in Present-Day Europe, in Anti-Semitism in Post-Totalitarian Europe. 1993, Franz Kafka Publishers: Prague. p. 57.
  10. Csoóri, S., Nappali hold. (Daylight Moon) Hitel, 1990(szeptember 5.).
  11. Bodor, B., Túl a mélyponton. (The Worst is Over) Élet és Irodalom, 1990(december 14.).
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