Ambassador of the Republic of Hungary rejects anti-Semitism at visit to the Oxford University Chabad Society

Thursday, 7 March, 2013 - 1:32 pm

Report of event by Hungarian writer and journalist Mátyás Sárközi


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On Tuesday night, the Ambassador of the Republic of Hungary to the Court of St James His Excellency Janos Csak and Deputy Secretary of State Ference Kumin was hosted at the Oxford University Chabad Society to speak to the Jewish students and the wider university community at the Slager Jewish student centre in central Oxford on 'The Hungarian  Journey & Jewish Relations'.


The Chabad Society regularly invites ambassadors accredited to London to present the situation of the Jewish communities in their country. The hosting of the Hungarian Ambassador was of particular interest as the association's president, Oxford Rabbi Eli Brackman, was born in England, but his grandfather, Imre Angyalfi, was a traditional Hungarian Jew born in Budapest in 1910 before he immigrated to England.


The issue of the challenges facing the Jewish community in Hungary would be well known to the Chabad Society in Oxford as it has connections to the work of the well established Chabad centres in Budapest, led by Rabbi Oberlander.


Ambassador Csak explained that his visit to the Chabad Society in Oxford is at the heart of his work to build bridges between countries and in this case time. He spoke openly about the history of Hungary as only recently regaining its freedom of expression after the communist era, which has allowed for a renewal of Hungarian society but also difficulties. He stressed that it’s important to understand that the current center-right governing Fidesz party by no means should be considered the same as the opposition, rival party Jobbik that has become known for its openly anti-Semitic sentiments.


Most of the political right wing members in Hungary are young people who are demanding social change in society. However, although the extreme right wing have increased in percentage, currently 16 percent of the electorate, allowing them representation in parliament, its growth in support, according to most recent surveys, has come to a halt.


The State Secretary Mr. Ferenc Kumin spoke about the detailed steps the current Fidesz government has taken to address the problems of anti-Semitism in Hungary and efforts to commemorate the tragic past of the Hungarian Jewish community. They established their own Holocaust Memorial Day on the anniversary of the deportations from Hungary to Auschwitz, in addition to observing the International Holocaust Memorial Day; they have established their own Holocaust museum, as well as included a Holocaust curriculum in the schools.


Hungarian Jewish public life is prominent in Budapest and each year there is a popular Jewish festival. The main synagogue, once of the largest in Europe, is a city landmark and is freely open to visitors.


The audience participated in a heated question and answer session after the presentations. A concern was that the government is condoning and sharing platforms with the extreme right wing. In response, Ferenc Kumin and the Ambassador openly recognized that anti-Semitism is a problem in Hungary however the government is fighting against it in every way possible and emphasised that the far right does not represent the government and there is no shared values whatsoever between the Fidesz government and the Jobbik party. Furthermore their presence in parliament will never influence government policy as their party is not needed for any aspect of government decision making due to a solid majority without them.


Finally, an interviewer complained that Joseph and Albert Wass Nyirő referenced in the literature curriculum in Hungarian schools is anti-Semitic. Ferenc Kumin emphasized that these works are not mandatory but optional literary themes as novels depicting the lives of Hungarians in Transylvania. A writer, he argued, must be allowed to be seen as separate from the person in creative works of literature, as is sometimes done in other countries.

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