Painting a Poisonous Picture
Roma and Jews in Hungary targeted in spate of vulgar racist vandalism
It may be over 70 years since the terror of the Second World War but Hungary still cannot rid itself of a vocal and violent minority of right wing extremists.
The latest in a long line of shows of hatred against Roma and Jews in the country involved gruesome graffiti, with racist slogans and signs etched on walls, homes, statues and memorials.
On the morning of Tuesday 29th May, residents of Nagykanizsa in Zala County (near the Croatian border) woke up to a very unpleasant surprise. Swastikas, the public display of which is outlawed in Hungary, were accompanied by messages of pure malice.
Spray painted on the wall of one shop was the illegal swastika, the name of Hitler and the threat “gypsys, you’ll be slaughtered.” If this was bad, and it was indisputably bad, there was worse to come.
“Those marked by an X will burn” was pasted on the same wall and, across the town, at least 12 houses and one vehicle had been branded with an ominous “X”.
While police search for the perpetrators, the Romani families in Nagykanizsa have been left understandably shaken and fearful for their lives.
For all Roma, such scenes bring back haunting recent memories of the hate crimes in 2008-2009 during which six Roma were killed including father and son, Robert Csorba and Robert Csorba Junior, in the town of Tatarszentgyorgy in February 2009.
These sickening acts came only a few days after another of Hungary’s minorities, the Jews, had been the target of similarly vile vandalism in the capital city of Budapest.
Slurs such as “this is not your country, dirty Jews” were emblazoned on the martyr memorial to the Holocaust by the Danube River overnight.
In a reference to atrocities committed by the Nazis in the Second World War, the racist vandals had also painted “this is where you’ll be shot into.”
Prior to this, the statue of the revered wartime Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved tens of thousands of Jews in World War 2, had been covered in pig’s feet, a deeply offensive statement to the Jews.
Some labeled the anti-Semitic desecration as acts of retaliation after lawyer Peter Daniel had drenched a new statue of the infamous Miklos Horthy in Kereki, Somogyi County in red paint.
Horthy was the Regent of the Kingdom of Hungary from 1920 until 1944 and formed an alliance with Nazi Germany in April 1941. Horthy has been criticized for his failure to stand up to Hitler and compliance in the Holocaust.
Even before this, by 1938 and under Horthy’s leadership Hungary had imposed discriminatory laws against Jews excluding them from employment in certain fields such as law and theater.
Official (and conservative) figures state that at least 600,000 Hungarian Jews were killed in the Holocaust. In the absence of comprehensive research, the total number of Hungarian Roma murdered remains the subject of much debate but academics believe the figure to be between 5,000 and 50,000.
Whatever sparked such vulgar vandalism is not relevant. Of serious relevance however is the official reaction to these acts. Suspects for the Jewish attacks have reportedly been arrested and, if proven guilty, the courts will be under great pressure to dispense a sufficiently severe punishment.
The same applies for the anti-Roma offences in Nagykanizsa although, at the time of writing, no suspects had been identified.
The government has already condemned the attacks but the vulnerable Romani and Jewish minorities will be looking for proper protection.
Racism is not the preserve of the spray paint-wielding vandals, it has reared its ugly head in the world of diplomacy too.
Earlier this month, Israel’s ambassador to Hungary, Ilan Mor, cancelled a visit to the city of Eger after local tourism officials had been caught describing Hungarian Jewish actor Jozsef Szekhelyi a “filthy Jew.”
The latest public outbreak of racism represents a chance for Hungary, which has in the last 6 months been heavily criticized for its upholding of Human Rights by the EU and for its treatment of its Romani minority by the US State Department, to send a message that racism and intimidation will not be tolerated.
We hope they take this chance. Otherwise, these minorities’ feeling of vulnerability will only grow while racism and terror festers in the 21st century, which is the aim of the perpetrators.