How many red lines must be crossed before we people of Europe resist encroaching evil? The increasing frequency and intensity of racist incitement against minorities in our midst is unmistakable; the response to it, shamefully, has been mostly undetectable.
Some weeks ago, the Hungarian daily newspaper Magyar Hírlap published a column by journalist Zsolt Bayer calling Roma “animals” that “need to be eliminated… right now by any means”. Bayer is not some fringe character. He is a co-founder of the ruling Fidesz party and a close friend of the Prime Minister. His diatribe – hardly his first pathologically anti-Roma screed – ruffled a few feathers but elicited no official condemnation from the government.
On 15 March 2013, the “Day of Hungarian Freedom of Press”, the Hungarian Government honoured journalist Ferenc Szaniszló as its “journalist of the year in Hungary”, awarding him the Tancsics Prize for his “extraordinary journalistic achievements”. Mr Szaniszló is most famous for spreading Jewish conspiracy theories and describing the country’s Roma minority as “human monkeys”. [Szaniszló subsequently handed back the prize at the request of Human Resources Minister Zoltán Balog – Editor.]
This barbaric and dehumanising rhetoric should set off alarm bells in Europe’s conscience. It is disturbingly reminiscent of racist incitement preceding another era of horror 80 years ago. Unfortunately, also reminiscent of that era is the see-no-evil official reaction. Where is the outrage?
Such incidents are ominous. 2012 saw European civilisation regress. For the first time in seven decades, parties that shamelessly espouse hate and racism and salute in “Sieg Heil”-style have gained power in European legislatures.
The most egregious of these – Jobbik in Hungary, the Golden Dawn in Greece and Svoboda in Ukraine – are movements proudly rooted in Nazi ideology and steeped in Nazi rhetoric, methods and acts. Each of these parties stands in spiteful violation of the very pillars of a united, civilised Europe, such as the “Copenhagen criteria” for EU membership “guaranteeing the respect for and protection of minorities”.
Currently the most powerful of these is Jobbik, a party whose parliamentarians have incited racist violence against Roma, recited blood libels and called for the creation of lists of Hungarian Jews because they pose a “national security risk”. For what purposes, pray tell, might such lists be useful?
Jobbik’s anti-Roma incitement is not harmless. Twenty-two recent cases of violence against Roma have killed seven people (including a five-year old boy) and injured scores more. Ten Romani homes were set on fire. [Six Roma were killed in a spate of armed attacks that ended in August 2009 with the arrest of four suspects in a Debrecen nightclub. The trial is ongoing. – Editor.]
If this happened to a more powerful, better-organised community, the uproar might be greater. But we should all feel some embarrassment at the quiet acceptance of this terror against any of our fellow Europeans, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity – or powerlessness. What coalition speaks on behalf of Roma?
It’s bad enough that Jobbik continues to incite with impunity, even from Hungary’s Parliament floor. Worse, the ruling party – even the prime minister – seems loath to object or condemn Jobbik’s racism. Red lines are crossed and are simply redrawn elsewhere.
Elsewhere in Europe
Other European governments seem headed in the same direction. Our flailing economies and intractable unemployment provide fertile ground for such movements to germinate among the disaffected.
But not all is lost. More than we realise, a peaceful and tolerant Europe lies less in the hands of preoccupied leaders and amoral governments and more in the hands of average, decent Europeans and their ability to choose a moral and tolerant path. We all have power.
Former British prime minister Winston Churchill understood this – even seven decades ago – prescribing a united Europe to prevent a Nazi-esque scourge from arising again. During a speech in Zurich – a full 47 years before the Maastricht Treaty – Churchill spoke about achieving European unification: “All that is needed is the resolve of hundreds of millions of men and women to do right instead of wrong and to gain as their reward blessing instead of cursing.”
There are good examples of showing such resolve even on the private level. Though the Hungarian government largely shut its eyes to the vicious anti-Roma column cited above, seven major companies agreed to stop advertising in the offending paper. One corporation went so far as to instruct its media agent to never again advertise in any medium whose content “hurts the dignity” of any minority. Bravo.
For the future of Europe we must act accordingly. As citizens, we must assume responsibility, whether it is through the ballot box, our wallets, lobbying our elected leaders or vocally standing up for minority rights and rendering racism socially unacceptable.
We must press the Hungarian and pan-European authorities to censure these parties of hate, to enforce EU hate crime laws and to bring Hungary’s criminal law in line with international hate-crime standards. We must also use education as a weapon against racism. Ignorance is the root of hate, and education the root of tolerance. We must teach our history, explaining how hate-based politics only leads to violence and destruction, and the dangers of waiting too long to confront forces of evil before they amass power.
As Churchill understood, the future of a peaceful, united and tolerant Europe lies in all of our hands. We must be proactive in the face of this dark, encroaching racism, hate and intolerance, and refuse to passively accept it. Our European future depends on it.
Source: The Budapest Times
Author: Moshe Kantor, President of the European Jewish Congress