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Tamas Deutsch, a 1989 revolutionary and co-founder of the Fidesz Party which is likely to rule Hungary next year, says a rise of anti-Semitic statements from within his party are merely ‘stupidity,’ and should not be condemned or censured.
Tamas Deutsch, a 1989 revolutionary and co-founder of the Fidesz Party which is likely to rule Hungary next year, says a rise of anti-Semitic statements from within his party are merely ‘stupidity,’ and should not be condemned or censured.

Beyond the Berlin Wall

Intolerance creeps in among those who brought down the Iron Curtain Add to ...

It sounded like a remark from the darkest recesses of European history, and was even more alarming coming from a party whose youthful liberalism played a key role in ending totalitarian rule in 1989.

"I love my homeland, love the Hungarians and give primacy to Hungarian interests over those of global capital - Jewish capital, if you like - which wants to devour the entire world, especially Hungary," parliamentarian Oszkar Molnar said in an interview this year distributed across Hungary.

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A mainstream European politician making a speech implying an evil Jewish conspiracy would normally be cause for instant sacking. Yet this and similar remarks aimed at Jews, homosexuals and members of the Roma (Gypsy) minority have been emerging from MPs from the conservative Fidesz party all year, without any significant criticism from its leader, 1989 anti-communist hero Viktor Orban.

It is part of an alarming trend in Eastern Europe in which dark messages have been emerging, unchallenged, from the fringes of the mainstream conservative parties of the 1989 revolution, groups lionized 20 years ago with the fall of the Berlin Wall for their resistance to totalitarian intolerance. In Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, mainstream 1989-linked parties have become increasingly willing to tolerate discrimination, racism and the tropes and images of fascism from within their ranks.

In Hungary, the transformation has been dramatic. After its birth in 1988, Fidesz was famous as a party of youthful liberty, banning anyone over 35 from joining and challenging the communists with images of freedom and fun. Today it has moved sharply to the right, and is most likely to become Hungary's governing party again in the spring's elections.

Mr. Molnar represents a new side of these parties.

After his party failed to reprimand him for this and other anti-Semitic remarks, Mr. Molnar made an even more outrageous speech declaring that women from the country's Roma minority deliberately disable their children by striking their pregnant bellies with mallets. Another MP, a member of the party's human-rights committee, argued that gay-pride marches should be banned because homosexuality is a mental illness.

Confronted with this during an interview with The Globe and Mail in Budapest this week, Fidesz party's co-founder and senior deputy Tamas Deutsch, a youth activist who delivered prominent speeches against the communist dictatorship in 1989, said there was no reason to condemn or censure such remarks.

"I haven't ever known a party in the world that had a guarantee against stupidity," Mr. Deutsch said, "but the truth is that stupidity is not extremism ... it is not a crime according to the penal code."

Mr. Deutsch, who is often described by his party as one of its two members with Jewish roots, described modern-day Fidesz as a mainstream conservative party similar to Germany's Christian Democrats, and denied that it had problems with a far-right fringe within its ranks.

In Poland, a similar indifference comes from the Law and Justice (PiS) party of President Lech Kaczynski, who began his political career as one of the Solidarity activists who negotiated Poland's freedom from communism in 1989.

Mr. Kaczynski openly supported the successful bid by his party's representative, Michal Kaminski, to become leader of the European Parliament's Conservative and Reformist faction, a broadly nationalist group that now includes Britain's Conservative Party.

During that bid, it emerged that Mr. Kaminski had been a member of the fascist and anti-Semitic National Revival of Poland party as a teenager, had worn a fascist symbol during the 1990s, and had fought against an effort by the Polish government to apologize for the massacre of 400 Jews in the Polish town of Jedwabne on the grounds that Jews were guilty of their own crimes.

Last month, Mr. Kaminski gave an interview to a British newspaper in which he defended the latter decision. "If you are asking the Polish nation to apologize for the crime made in Jedwabne, you would require the whole Jewish nation to apologize for what some Jewish communists did in Eastern Poland," he told journalist Martin Bright.

The tolerance of such figures in mainstream parties coincides with the rise of far-right nationalist and racist parties within Eastern European countries. In Hungary, the ruling centre-left Socialists have collapsed in the polls, making the leading opposition the ultra-right-wing Jobbik party, which is linked to a Nazi-style militia group, the Hungarian Guard.

Mr. Deutsch, the Fidesz co-founder, represents these links between the mainstream and the extreme: In 2006, he left his wife and married the daughter of Lajos Fur, a prominent leader of the fascist Hungarian Guard. He went as far as changing his name to Tamas Deutsch-Fur, which the Guard boasted was a de facto endorsement. Under pressure from his party, Mr. Deutsch removed the Fur from his name.

Yet the mainstream conservative post-1989 parties also seem to harbour some deep-seated conspiracy theories about Jews, who even respectable conservative figures seem to view as having been behind both communism and the liberal branches of anti-communism.

During an interview in Warsaw with the staff of the Sobieski Institute, the think tank tied to Mr. Kaczynski's PiS party, analyst Jan Filip Stanilko explained his understanding of what he and his colleagues see as the Jewish forces behind both communism and Poland's leading newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, a liberal daily founded by Solidarity members.

"The faction of this society, who were predominantly Jew, from Jew origins … you've got a Zionist path, you know, the people who created Israel, and you've got a communist path, because of the influential model of Marxism as a model of Talmudic thinking. And these people emigrated to the Soviet Union, they returned, they were very well educated by postwar standards, and biographically they are the crucial part of Gazeta Wyborcza."

While such theories are not by themselves anti-Semitic (the institute, like Mr. Kaminski and Mr. Deutsch and their parties, is strongly pro-Israel and officially opposed to discrimination), they appeal to atavistic beliefs among Eastern European voters, and allow some chilling ideas to flourish on the fringes of the party, a rising spectre of intolerance 20 years after the dictators were expelled.

Follow on Twitter: @dougsaunders

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