Hungary passes landmark Holocaust denial law

Those who hurt the dignity of victims may go to prison for up to thee years.

hungary jewish memorial (photo credit: Courtesy)
hungary jewish memorial
(photo credit: Courtesy)
BERLIN – A broad coalition of Christian-Jewish organizations and Attila Mesterházy, of the Hungarian Socialist Party, played a crucial role in convincing Hungary’s government to enact legislation earlier this month to punish deniers of the Holocaust.
The law is “a major breakthrough” because it was passed at a time when “an anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli extremist movement [the Jobbik party/Movement for a Better Hungary] is set to gain” in next month’s parliamentary election, Peter Morvay, a prominent Hungarian television and print journalist, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
The legislation will come into force in early April. “Those who publicly hurt the dignity of a victim of the Holocaust by denying or questioning the Holocaust itself, or claim it insignificant, infringe the law and can be punished by prison sentence of up to three years,” the law reads.
The Socialist-sponsored bill was approved in a 197-1 vote, with 142 abstentions. According to Morvay, MP Robert Repassy, from the main opposition party Fidesz – Hungarian Civic Union, which abstained in the vote, said “it intended to draw up legislation after the general election which penalizes sympathy expressed for the Nazi- and Communist-era crimes on equal terms.”
Hungary joins a string of Western and Eastern European countries that have criminalized the denial of the Shoah. The law’s passage was helped by January’s visit of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus to Budapest and the caucus member’s discussions with the main Hungarian political parties, including with Mesterházy, a faction leader and the prime ministerial candidate of the Socialist Party.
Josh Reinstein, director of the Christian Allies Caucus, told the Post, “We are excited by this” development. Reinstein said that the Reverend Sándor Németh of the Faith Church Hungary and its roughly 140,000 members were “influential in getting the legislation passed.”
Andras Patkai, a member of the Faith Church who was involved in promoting the law, told the Post that there had been several attempts over the past 20 years to pass legislation to ban denial of the Holocaust. He expressed “surprise” that the law was passed “at a time when there are so many other issues” on the political agenda. “The president [László Sólyom] is known to swerve toward the right” and had previously opposed criminalizing the denial of the Holocaust, Patkai said.
Faith Church is one of Europe’s largest pentecostal-evangelical churches, and the country’s fourth most supported church, based on the 1 percent tax designation to churches. It is a strong advocate of Christian Zionism, and well-known for its support of the State of Israel.
Karl Pfeifer, a Vienna-based journalist and expert on Hungary, told the Post that “the main opposition against the law came from the now defunct Liberal Party. Their leaders had the illusion that there will be a civil society in Hungary which will curb Nazi activities. They were wrong.”
According to Pfeifer, an Austrian Jew who writes for Hungarian publications and lived in Budapest after fleeing fascist Austria in 1938, Fidesz “is most likely to win the elections on April 11... The question is, will Fidesz as a government party enforce this law? This depends on the outcome of the election. If Fidesz has a comfortable majority it could be interested to improve its bad image abroad and bring Holocaust deniers to court. If Fidesz will ally itself with the national-socialist anti-Semitic Jobbik party, the chances are slim for that.”
Pfeifer captured the view of many who were involved in passage of the legislation: “A law without enforcement is not worth the paper it is written on.”