A Jewish renaissance in Hungary

For us Hungarians, there is a special significance of anti-Semitism and indeed, of the Holocaust.

November 24, 2013 21:55
Danube river in central Budapest

Danube river in central Budapest 370. (photo credit: Laszlo Balogh / Reuters)

I’m a non-Jewish person, I’m a Catholic, but I also frequently speak with my hands – and I’m sure this is not the only thing that I have in common with the Jews.

We are engaged in a common fight, a fight against anti-Semitism, which means combating evil, death, the destruction of civilization; of the good side in fact, of human nature.

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So, in a way, it is a fight between good and bad. It’s a fight between life and death. As I understand it, we choose life. And I think this is the main message of this conference we are now having in the Hungarian parliament: “Jewish Life Today: Combating Anti-Semitism in Europe.”

Yes, indeed, we choose life, and life can never be defeated.

John Lukács wrote that when World War II was coming to an end, Hitler thought, “Okay, clearly I cannot win the war, but I can still win the war against the Jews.” But despite the murder of 6 million innocent lives, he didn’t win that war.

The State of Israel was founded, and Jewish life and culture were resurrected across the world. But as has also been noted, civilization is paper-thin.

We have to be vigilant, we have to be relentless. We have to get up every morning with the thought that this can never, never happen again. And yes, we also need the survivors to remind us, to warn us, to testify and to explain the truth.

So yes, anti-Semitism is indeed a crime against humanity, as we all know. It’s a crime against mankind. But beyond this universal message, I believe that for us Hungarians, there is also a special significance of anti-Semitism and indeed, of the Holocaust. This is because the Hungarian Holocaust was committed by and against Hungarians; both the perpetrators and the victims were Hungarians. And believe me, this is our biggest national trauma we have to live with, confront and cope with. So what shall we do? What can we do? The first thing, as was referred to by Deputy Prime Minister Tibor Navracsics, is to accept and admit responsibility. I would just like to underline that this statement was made on behalf of the Hungarian government and nation. Just like other statements, including mine, for instance, at the beginning of the “Wallenberg Year,” carrying the same message.

So it is a national tragedy, because there was a community that has lived with us for – some people say and I believe them – at least 12 centuries. A community that gave an immeasurably immense contribution to the progress and well-being of this nation, to Hungarian culture, literature, science, economy and so on.

Yes, it was precisely this constructive living together, as it has been referred to by Bishop Peter Gancs of our Lutheran Church, and indeed it was also the Fasori Gimnázium, if you think of the Nobel Prize winners. And yes, it was also the Revolution and the War of Independence in 1848, when our Jewish compatriots were fighting and dying for the freedom and independence of Hungary.

But I believe we must not only oppose the bad and the evil. We must also propose a future of good. And yes, we all believe in a Jewish resurrection, a Jewish renaissance in this country. That is also part of the message that we all choose life.

We now have a vibrant and flourishing Jewish community.

There are, of course, concerns, which have also been voiced by the conference. But the main point is that we live together. And we very much believe in a constructive living together for the next decades, indeed centuries.

Now let me tell you one or two words about foreign policy, because I happen to be the foreign minister of this government. It’s an old and never-ending debate, what foreign policy has to be based upon: upon values, or conversely upon interest, or indeed upon both – but there is a given proportion between the two. It’s no secret, I’m one of those who still believe that fundamentally, foreign policy should or has to be based upon values.

So if you want to follow values, you have to have ideas.

And if you want to have ideas, yes, you have to accept and you have to recognize responsibility. And when we spoke about our Middle East policy, when we speak about the State of Israel, we should never forget this historic responsibility we have. That’s point No. 1.

Point No. 2 is that we have a very, very special bond between the two countries. In fact, two bonds. That is, we have an extremely important Jewish community in this country, but at the same time, there is also a 200,000-strong community in Israel of Hungarian-speaking Israeli citizens – many of whom also Hungarian citizens.

Many of them, by the way, will also vote next year, in April. So this, I believe, is a very, very special bond between the two countries, and that’s why I think that our policy always has to take into account these fundamental facts and considerations.

Now, coming back to the conference, some people think – and they are probably right – that this conference is a gesture. Much has been said about gestures towards our Jewish community, or indeed, the Jews as a whole. It’s true. But we should not forget that this conference first and foremost helps us, and only thereafter the Jewish community. It helps us to live with, to cope with exactly that national trauma I was speaking about.

So we thank you very much for this. We are on the receiving end of the benefit of this conference. And I tell you this because, of course, I’m grateful to all who recognize the efforts we make to combat anti-Semitism and racism. We also thank those who remind us that these efforts have to be continued relentlessly and also, from time to time, must be made more robust. So that is the main message, which of course we fully accept.

I agree with Rabbi Ferenc Raj’s proposition that next year should be one of repentance and reconciliation. I would only add that this is something which should not occur just for a year, but should be a continuous exercise. Repentance and reconciliation will go on even after next year.

And that’s exactly the message that we should never give up. We should be vigilant, and we have to renew our strength and our resolve and our determination, to fight for the good and to fight against the evil. Whether this is domestic politics, or foreign policy, or international relations, we always follow the same principles and values.

The writer is foreign minister of Hungary. This op-ed is based on a speech he made to the conference, “Jewish Life Today: Combating Anti-Semitism in Europe,” in the Hungarian parliament on October 1, 2013.

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