Budapest Great Synagogue.
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
On Sunday, Hungarian voters transformed the anti-Semitic Jobbik Party into a political power to be reckoned with.
Jobbik, or the Movement for a Better Hungary, was catapulted to 47 seats in the 386-seat legislature in the second round of voting. In parallel, the ruling Socialist Party was dethroned, falling from 190 to just 59 seats while its coalition partner, the Liberal Party, which enjoyed strong Jewish support, lost its parliamentary presence altogether.
In Austria on Sunday, meanwhile, Barbara Rosenkranz, the Freedom Party candidate for presidency, who is also known as the “Reich mother,” earned 15 percent of the nation’s votes. She was never expected to win the presidential race, which went to incumbent Heinz Fischer, who won almost 79% of the vote. In fact, Rosenkranz’s showing was lower than the expected 17%. Nevertheless, the present Austrian political climate is hardly congenial to Jews.
Right-wing elements in Austria are already attempting to delegitimize Fischer, voted in on an extremely low voter turnout of just over 49%, with the claim that he represents less than half of the voters. They hope Rosenkranz’s high profile campaign will pave the way for FP leader Heinz-Christian Strache to be voted the next mayor of Vienna later in the year.
The very fact that Fischer’s only plausible rival in the race was the far-right challenger from a party repeatedly tarnished by Nazi associations is indicative of a “terrifying shift to the right” across Europe, according to Germany's Central Council of Jews.
There is nothing new about anti-Semitism in Austria and Hungary. Austrians have managed to avoid culpability for the Holocaust by claiming they were victims of Nazi aggression, even though the 1938 Anschluss was positively received and Austrians were disproportionately represented in Nazi leadership.
What has become the “founding myth” of Austria’s Second Republic has facilitated the integration of former Nazis into key positions over the years. In February 2000, after the FP, then headed by the late neo-Nazi Jorg Haider, was included in the country’s government coalition, Chaim Chesler, then-treasurer of the Jewish Agency, called on the Jews of Austria to immigrate to Israel immediately.
In post-communist Hungary, anti-Semitism has been fueled primarily by claims of a Judeo-Bolshevik nexus. Historically, Jews played key roles in the short-lived Bolshevik Revolution of 1919 led by Bela Kun and after 1945 a small clique of Hungarian “Muscovite Jews” rallied around the ultra-Stalinist Matyas Rakosi, whose rule ended with the 1956 popular uprising against Soviet rule.
In 1990, after the fall of communism, Istvan Csurka, the vice president of the Hungarian Democratic Forum, a popular political party at the time, openly blamed “Jewish Stalinists” for having destroyed the self-esteem of the Hungarian people.
THERE ARE an estimated 50,000 to 80,000 Jews in Hungary and 9,000 to 20,000 in Austria. What’s keeping them there?
As historian Matti Bunzl has pointed out, post-Holocaust Jews of Austria have throughout the years disavowed any Austrian identity. They may have Austrian citizenship, but this is rarely experienced as anything but a formal arrangement. It is safe to assume that many Hungarian Jews feel the same, which explains the high rates of aliya from both of countries until the end of the 20th century.
In the last decade, though, a strong Zionism has gradually been
replaced by hopes that the European Union would offer a political
entity that provides affiliation regardless of ethnic belonging or
nationality – similar, ironically, to what was offered in the 19th
century by the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg Empire.
Jews might have difficulty integrating themselves in a specific
European state characterized by a distinct culture, history and
religion. But they would find it easier to define themselves more
generically as “Europeans,” a term devoid of all the ethnically charged
particularism surrounding “Austrian” or “Hungarian.”
Now, perhaps the time has come for the Jews of Austria and Hungary to
reassess the European reality. Between the influx of large numbers of
Muslims, who are gradually becoming the main perpetrators of
anti-Semitic violence in Europe, and the rise of a rabidly xenophobic
Right, as evidenced in the recent elections in Hungary and Austria,
Europe, or at least a goodly part of it, is becoming a very unwelcoming
place for Jews.