12/02/2012 11:37 EST | Updated 02/02/2013 05:12 EST

Sound Familiar? This Man Wants a List of Hungary's Jews


In Canada we are shocked when the politicians of so-called civilized countries advance unambiguously racist statements and positions. Perhaps we are under the assumption that basic tolerance, fundamentally accepted here, develops in a straight line, and the civilized world moves together in one direction. This is certainly not the case.

Recently, Márton Gyöngyösi, the foreign policy critic of Hungary's ultra-far-right Jobbik party -- the third most populous party in Hungary -- said publicly what would cause Canadian jaws to drop if said by a Canadian politician here:

"I think such a conflict [the recent Israel and Gaza war] makes it timely to tally up people of Jewish ancestry who live here, especially in the Hungarian parliament and the Hungarian government, who, indeed, pose a national security risk to Hungary."

He wants to catalogue Hungary's Jews in a database simply for being Jewish. Something this deplorable requires no counter argument. Of course, he claims he was misquoted, but his backpedaling cleared up nothing. Really he meant to "call the attention to the threat posed by government members and in parliament by Hungarian-Israeli dual citizens." Not Jews, Israelis.

Disturbingly, the Hungarian government failed to immediately condemn this statement. They did eventually, and predictably, say they disagree with these sentiments as much as possible, but it came days later. If said here, Canadian politicians from every party would hungrily seize on the opportunity to rail against something so blatantly vicious. Of course, I'm not accusing the leading Fidesz party of making only a perfunctory condemnatory statement because they secretly agree; the problem is such a disturbing comment apparently isn't a huge deal because it's commonplace. Paul Steiner, a Jewish opposition MP, claims he "couldn't digest what we'd heard, we're so used to remarks like this from Jobbik." This is a story because it wasn't a story.

Jewish citizens protested in front of the Legislature in Budapest by holding signs and wearing the yellow arm bands with "Jude" written inside the Star of David, the ones Hitler notoriously forced Jews to wear in the period Gyöngyösi no doubt considers the halcyon days.

But now that it has made international headlines, what is there to say? It's obviously disgusting, and there can be no two opinions on the matter for civilized people. There's nothing to debate, yet it can't be highlighted enough.

There are two takes on it, both very problematic. One, Gyöngyösi's only error was saying what he actually thought instead of doing what every other bigots usually has the sense and savviness to do in public: cloak hatred in the fashionable words of the day. After sober second thought this is what he tried, but miserably failed, to do. Anyway, by then his first statement contained such stark bigotry it was impossible to retreat from it. But, had he more prudently disguised his hatred the first time around, the same odious man with the same odious opinions would have likely gone unnoticed around the world, let alone aroused condemnation. The second possibility is that this wasn't a slip of the tongue but was hatched and communicated precisely to mesh with widespread public opinion in Hungary. This is much more disturbing and requires no further unpacking.

There's no third possibility.

In Jobbik's world, "security risk" is code for "vermin." Gyöngyösi and his party dehumanize Jews and Roma by appealing to patriotism and myths of national honour. This is what ultra-nationalists do. Patriotism can be terrifying.

Most Canadians don't need to be told that minorities aren't secretly conspiring to tear apart the fabric of our society. A Canadian politician couldn't appeal to this notion anyway. Whatever outright bigots we have here don't constitute anything approaching a voter segment.

If there's a lesson to be gained from this it's that our lofty notion of tolerance isn't held in high regard in all corners of the "civilized" world, to say the least. That fascism is on the rise in Eastern Europe shouldn't surprise anyone. It's a breeding ground for that, especially in a brutal economy. And where fascism rears its ugly head, it's important criticism doesn't devolve into that pathetic pseudo-sensitive relativism, truly a modern affliction, that aims to appear balanced and sophisticated but misses what is starkly before its face: Gyöngyösi and his type are vile backwards pigs who can't be denounced too strongly and too often.