‘Gypsies are Animals’ - Racism on Hungary’s Right

by Carl Rowlands

“Most Gypsies are not suitable for cohabitation. They are not suitable for being among people. Most are animals, and behave like animals. They shouldn't be tolerated or understood, but stamped out. Animals should not exist. In no way."

- Zsolt Bayer, Magyar Hirlap, 5 January 2013

Zsolt Bayer, one of the founders of Hungary's ruling Fidesz party and personal friend of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, has been saying this kind of thing in public for many years. How has it become acceptable to openly express such sentiments in a European country?  Especially a country which played so prominent a role in the 1944-45 Holocaust? 

Hate speech has been a defining aspect of the Hungarian right-wing since well before the transition to multi-party democracy in 1989. The 'democratic opposition' to the communist system always contained elements sympathetic to the authoritarian pre-war Horthy regime, a semi-constitutional autocracy with a welfarist dimension that became less democratic and more antisemitic as the 1930s progressed, despite (or because of) the Admiral’s raging Anglophilia and enduring fascination with the English aristocracy. Despite appearances, the communist system did not displace such widely-held prejudices; rather, it tended to work around them, offering a world of fixed markers, casual bribery and calculated submission. By the late 1980s, communism had bred a kind of sullen torpor amongst many, best described, perhaps, in Laszlo Krasznaihorkai’s recently translated novel Satantango

The ruling party in 1990's first post-transition government, the MDF (Hungarian Democratic Forum) even included Istvan Csurka among its leaders. Csurka was an overtly nationalistic antisemitic politician, dedicated to restoring Hungary's pre-World War One borders. His presence at the centre of post-transition political life indicated the weakness of democratic forces, even at the height of their supposed triumph. The borders between mainstream, European centre-right politics and the Horthy-centric far right have never been firmly established. In 1993, even as Csurka was expelled from the collapsing MDF administration, the leaders of the government engineered a ceremonial reburial of Admiral Horthy's bones in his home village of Kenderes. Throughout the MDF government and its increasingly shrill and authoritarian Fidesz successors, the European People's Party—dominated by the German CDU and CSU—has been a loyal and largely uncritical supporter of the Hungarian right. 

The politics of hate are usually twisted, and few countries can boast nationalist sentiment more deeply warped than that of the Hungarians. Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin have suffered harsh injustices since the Mongol invasion in the 13th Century—the consequences of being on the wrong side in two world wars, the Turkish invasion, the Austrian invasion, occupation by the Soviets and the loss of territory under the bitterly-regarded Treaty of Trianon. The current generation of Hungarian right-wing politicians is dominated, however, not by the likes of Csurka, but by a younger group of friends, epitomised by the energetic and exuberant writer of our article, Zsolt Bayer, who really remembers only the tail-end of the Kadar years. 

The 1980s were a time when Hungary was opening up to the financial institutions of the West—when dissidents were harassed, imprisoned and sidelined, but not, generally, killed. Describing themselves as a Golden Generation, the Fidesz circle around Zsolt Bayer and Viktor Orbán came of age during the Thatcher/Reagan years, fashioning their politics on a vaguely anti-authoritarian liberal economics and contrasting their youthful dynamism with the musty reform communism of the 1980s. 

It could also be described as a ‘Finance Generation’—for the first time, Hungary was permitted to borrow on the international money markets, just when capital was riding the crest of a wave of deregulation. Whoever was quick to master the complexities of the new rules regarding ownership and finance would stand to win. The emerging professional classes have hardly been averse to hate speech, as can be seen in another recent headline case of antisemitism in Hungarian politics, involving Marton Gyongyosi, shadow spokesman on foreign policy for the far-right Jobbik party. In November, the privileged and monied Gyongyosi—a son of diplomats, graduate of Trinity College, Dublin and, most strikingly, former advisor with KPMG—demanded the compilation of an official list of all Jews representing a ‘national security risk.’ 

The MDF in the early 1990s had advocated a naive Thatcherism—the monetarism of Keith Joseph combined with the social conservatism of Rhodes Boyson—but its anti-communist opposition ideologues were quickly superseded by a younger, yuppified Fidesz party with some insight into the real workings of power, and a far deeper understanding of modern politics. Viktor Orbán, who spent a year in Oxford under the sponsorship of Gyorgy Soros, developed a political model which drew from the UK. Orbán and his friends observed that the real long-term beneficiaries of Reaganism and Thatcherism had been private contractors, defence industry specialists, arms dealers, advertising and communications experts, and capitalists with links to service providers in what had formerly been the public sector. The Hungarian Right therefore shifted from a literal interpretation of what we know as Thatcherism to an organisational-cultural interpretation. It wasn't Thatcher herself who became the key figure, but rather those industrialists and businessmen (the Lord McAlpines and Lord Hansons) who funded her. Fidesz is in many ways an abstract exercise. Its aim is to prove the possibility of emulating Thatcher's model of politics, whilst ditching large chunks of its policy base—which, arguably, merely represents a surface texture to the interests of big capital. Fidesz's rhetoric can therefore easily switch from liberalism to social democracy to outright religious nationalism, as if changing a slide on a projector. 

Bayer effectively represents a 'closed circle'—a central committee of inner Fidesz confidantes. Their takeover of the withered Hungarian state apparatus has been accompanied by widespread gerrymandering of public contracts and an insular, insider culture which aims to concentrate resources in the hands of a select few. By forming alliances with the most powerful players in domestic capital the Fidesz elites engage in a direct power-play, developing personal fortunes through land ownership to create an aristocratic, feudalistic bourgeoisie, with a fairly small middle-class clustered in the service sector. 

Serious resources are required to maintain stark cultural and personality-based differences in public life, whilst building up a circle of power at the core of the state. Sure enough, Fidesz devotes massive public resources to communication. Waging a kulturkampf to remove people of questionable loyalty from theatres, museums and opera houses, Fidesz reaps a double reward of engaging the opposition in yet another battle on the periphery, whilst ensuring that yet more budgets come under the centralised jurisdiction of the 'closed circle'. In addition, right-wing supporters have been quick to claim ownership of Hungary's barely-formed post-communist media landscape, whose early-1990s idealistic liberalism was quickly checked by brutal economic and technological realities. Zsolt Bayer can often be seen on Echo TV, part of a right-wing media empire which has emerged in the last ten years, including radio stations, television channels and newspapers such as Magyar Hirlap, where his anti-Gypsy article appeared. 

The Hungarian Right is loud, strident and radical, and benefits from embedded support within various institutions, not least the Catholic Church. The Church in Hungary has rallied support for the government’s policies of victimising the poor and concentrating power in the centre. This close relationship between the Church and the government may have a deeper meaning—that Fidesz has become the true Party of State, inheritors of the governing apparatus. The Catholic Church was chief among the many institutions contaminated by covert state operations, with widespread use of clerics as informants. Given that the MDF’s Istvan Csurka himself admitted that he was an informant for the communist authorities, it is highly likely that the upper reaches of Fidesz also include former opposition figures compromised by informal and covert operations. Some legacies of communism continue to damage public life, yet manifest themselves in hidden ways. 

The Hungarian Right has established prominent media platforms and built solid institutional networks. The final piece in the puzzle is its direct emulation of modern U.S. Republicanism, with its toxic brew of intolerance, fundamentalist Christianity and xenophobic nationalism. Fidesz national symbolism is strongly redolent of redneck Southern nationalism—the ubiquity of the flag on political platforms, and its placement on flagpoles outside large traditional-styled dwellings. Fidesz trades in a strikingly glossy, soft-brush veneration of nation, family and mum's apple pie (neatly counterpointed in Hungary by the inevitable cauldron of stew). Ranged against these Good Things are cosmopolitans (Jews), criminals (Gypsies), sexual deviants (homosexuals) and people who want to give prisoners an easy time (liberals). This straightforward approach defines the opposition as a set of grotesque caricatures before it has a chance to mount any kind of challenge. It is as brutally effective now as it was in 1964, when Harold Wilson was able to define the Tories as incompetent, grouse-hunting aristocrats. Fidesz does hard politics, delivered effectively. However, to reinforce the message, such a strategy has increasingly relied upon hate speech and castigation of different minorities. The resulting effluent provides rich pickings for neo-fascist groups. 

Of course, just as Clinton's New Democrats seemed to lead inexorably to Newt Gingrich's takeover in 1994, we can also add genuine economic populism to Fidesz's political repertoire. The interests of the little man are being ignored by neoliberalism. Jobbik, playing the wild younger brother to the striped-shirt-wearing Fidesz hacks, can issue loud, clear and well-received demands for social and economic autonomy, amongst its thinly-veiled aggression against minorities. Those elements of the left unaffected or unpersuaded by neoliberalism have been pushed to the fringes of political impotence, and so calls for economic solidarity often originate from the radical Right. The fragmented official opposition, mainly comprised of colourless liberals and social democrats, finds itself dancing a death tango with the combined, increasingly powerful forces of the Right, and each year sees the couple move closer to the brink of an as-yet unknown abyss.

Carl Rowlands is an activist and occasional writer based in Budapest

Front image: anti-Roma extremists rally, last year (via)

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First published: 01 February, 2013

Category: Europe, Racism, The Right

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16 Comments on "‘Gypsies are Animals’ - Racism on Hungary’s Right"

By Chris, on 01 February 2013 - 20:37 |

Sadly most British people aren’t much nicer in this regard

By Brian, on 04 February 2013 - 10:39 |

Also sadly, accusations about whether the so-called Right or so-called Left are better or worse when it comes to Roma are based solely on anecdotal evidence and not on any systematic analysis of evidence.  In addition, there seems to be lettle discussion of the prevalence or nature of racist or prejucicial behaviour.  The incident mentioned in this article is sad, but not confined to one group (political or otherwise).  I had the misfortune of experiencing anii-Roma prejudice when my daughter’s Roma teacher was subjected to accusations of incompetence by the mostly Jewish parents of students.  I was faced with a conundrum.  How to deal with such obvious (tome) prejudice by a Jewuih group without being accused of anti-semitism?  The teacher remains a friend and I know her to be a very able teacher (besides being educated as a lawyer, I am also trained as a teacher and taught for a number of years in North America).  I think oversimplification also is a problem and this article suffers from oversimplification and lack of objective evidence for its conclusions.  This will not help.

By Carl, on 04 February 2013 - 18:08 |

“The incident mentioned in this article is sad, but ...”

No buts. No ifs. No excuses.

Hate speech in any form, for any reason is inexcusable. If used by someone with access to power it is something that needs to be highlighted and a full campaign of awareness should be launched with clear demands for retraction and apology. Now that would be helpful.

By Copperfield, on 05 February 2013 - 20:03 |

I am a Hungarian living in Hungary. This article is a very accurate description of the present Hungarian situation.

By RedMan, on 06 February 2013 - 11:59 |

To give these disgusting comments from Bayer some context, they came after a couple of recent murders.  A teacher was involved in an accident with Roma girl who walked in front of his car.

The local Roma beat him to death.

And I think another two people were knifed and killed on the lavatory by two Roma.

It doesn’t excuse what he said, but it does bring some context to the tensions that exist.

By JamieSW, on 06 February 2013 - 15:36 |

RedMan: the entire article above was devoted to providing ‘context’ for Bayer’s remarks. If you disagree with it, it isn’t because it didn’t contextualise, it’s because it didn’t highlight violence by Roma as the most relevant bit of context to explaining the racism of Hungary’s Right. You haven’t, in my view, given any good reason to think that this was a mistake. 

Murders are committed all the time, by people of all different ages, nationalities, religions, ethnicities, and so on. The two murders don’t explain the racism: even if they were the trigger for Bayer’s comments, it must still be explained why they were interpreted in a racist way - i.e. why they were taken as evidence of a ‘Roma problem’, instead of being understood simply as two murders. The article above gives at least part of the explanation.

By OnlyAccurate, on 06 February 2013 - 21:34 |

It’s a shocking article, I agree. I got stuck at the “citation” from the article of Bayer, which was used as starting point. In cases like this two questions come to my mind:
1. who is the writer?
2. is the citation/translation correct? We all know the power of taking sentences out of the context.

The answers I got to these questions:

1. According to the profile present on The Guardian’s homepage (which also posted this article), Carl Rowlands ”is an activist and occasional writer based in Budapest.”

Very general description: activist… What kind? Based on this article, I would say anti-Fidesz activist.
Occasional writer? Sounds “very professional” ☺

2. Hungarian is my mother tongue so I looked up the original article by Bayer Zsolt. No surprise, the translation is not accurate (but what can we expect from an activist?).

Before going into details: I don’t accept any kind of discrimination, and I agree with JamieSW that the criminal acts that gave the starting point for Bayer’s article should have been understood as crimes by criminals and not by gypsies. However, Hungarians are also (as all the nations in the world) a mix of more or less imperfect human beings….

Now about the translation and selection of phrases:
Rowlands translates: “Most Gypsies are not suitable for cohabitation.” The original text says “important (=big) fraction of gypsies are not suitable for cohabitation”. Not much better? Maybe, but still the translation makes it worst and it is definitely not accurate.

“Most are animals, and behave like animals” In the Hungarian version it is clear that he calls animals those who are not suitable for cohabitation (“A cigányság ezen része….”). Is it rude, racist, etc. to call a human being animal? Yes. But what if we speak about someone who kills? 

“They shouldn’t be tolerated or understood, but stamped out”. I am not sure what “stamped out” means, I would translate this “It shouldn’t be tolerated or understood, but retaliated”. Maybe not very different again, BUT a very long passage is missing from before this sentence!!!!!!! A long passage is missing that explains the whole specific case that led Bayer to writing the article. Two young men were stubbed numerous times by criminal gypsies because some trouble around a bathroom (something like who can go first??). Unbelievable reason, but it seems that’s what happened. Referring to those specific criminals and that specific criminal act says Bayer that “It shouldn’t be tolerated or understood, but retaliated”. Anybody thinks differently? He is not referring to all the gypsies as Rowlands makes us believe in his very “original” translation and selection of sentences.

Rowlands also leaves out the part where the Hungarian writer speaks about how satisfied he was to see that in a Hungary that is continuously blamed of being racist, a young, very likable man of gypsy origin (Oláh Gergő) won the X-Factor. And at the end of the article he says that he wants to have all the “Oláh Gergős” living happily within the society, but none of the animals.  And this sentence is again freely used by Rowlands to end his “special” presentation of the article: “Animals should not exist. In no way.”

In spite of the fact that the original article of Bayer is not entirely “beautiful”, it has hope giving positive ideas and tolerance in general. It makes me sick to see how people like Rowlands manipulate the mind of people by shamelessly taking sentences out of the context just to fulfill his goal, which in this case is making the image about Hungary even darker. I know that dark aspects/elements exist in Hungary, but I also know that they exist in ALL countries. I don’t use this as an excuse, it just makes me wonder why it is so popular to speak only about Hungary in this context.

By Carl, on 07 February 2013 - 05:59 |

‘Jelentős resze’ does actually mean ‘most of’ in English. Though word-for-word it does mean ‘substantial’. That is a translation of the meaning so I stand by both the article, and the short translation. If Bayer is a ‘professional’ journalist I am very proud of my amateur status.

Here’s my longer translation - he even refers to ‘the other half’ of the Roma later in the article, so we can assume he thinks at least 50% of Roma are ‘animals’.

“These are the facts: most gypsies are not fit for co-existence. They are not suitable for being among people. Most gypsies are animals, and behave like animals.Whatever they see, they try to grab who and what they want. Whoever stands up against them, they kill. They excrement wherever and whenever they feel like. If they are prevented from doing something, they steal and kill. They have to have everything they see. If they don’t get it, they will steal and kill. Most gypsies are incapable of human communication. Inarticulate sounds pour out of their bestial skulls, and what comes out of their wretched world is a form of violence. At the same time, these gypsies understand how to exploit the ‘achievements’ of the Western world. Everybody look at that hairy rat [name deleted] and his mates on Facebook: you will see that all three of them are potential murderers. Eo ipso murderers.We don’t have to tolerate this and understand, we need to smash it. And this is the biggest crime in the idiotic politically correct Western world. From a simple calculation of their self-interest they expect us to tolerate anything in the name of human rights and equality. And the most terrible thing about this whole monster, is that in these moments, the half of gypsies who are normal are brought down. When [name removed] won the X-Factor, I thought what a good response it was to the Hungarian racist elements, when such a capable, pleasant and touchingly sincere young gypsy boy collected the most votes to become the winner. And with this, I thought that this likeable gypsy boy had done far more to solve the Gypsy-Hungarian conflict than any dodgy ‘human rights’ protestor. After this came New Year’s Eve, and once again forty wild gypsy animals came, who fought and then killed [name removed]. Because they couldn’t wait to use the toilet, when they arrived. Because they couldn’t wait two minutes. Because… no because. It’s because they’re not humans.Because they pulled out a knife, and they stabbed. They stabbed his heart many times. Good Lord, it is intolerable, to so ruin everything that is human. And there is no place for patience or tolerance in this’

By Brian, on 10 February 2013 - 11:28 |

Although racism and prejudice are hotbutton items that deserve vigilant attention, this article seems to capitalise on an emotional subject to achieve an ulterior motive, attacking Fidesz.  No politician is above criticism, but this article does not criticise, it propagandises.  

The references to the Catholic church and to Istvan Csurka are somehow supposed to be relevant to the discussion about how Fidesz is guilty of something but that something seems to be what happened during the socialist past.  What, I want to know, is the relevance and the logical connection?  Are former communists and socialists to blame?  For what?  Is the Catholic Church somehow to blame?  for what?  

The so-called Right has established media platforms, but so have other political parties such as MSZP and SZDSZ.  Is one party to blame or all of them.?  Is this bad or only if the so-called Right does it?  The use of flags at events and on buildings is nothing new.  It is endemic in the U.S. and other Western democraciies.  Is this habit bad in Hungary but okay in thise other places for some mysterious reason?  And the use of emotional language such as, “striped-shirt-wearing Fidesz hacks” cannot be justified in an objective article.  

Commentary about the effects of racism and prejudice are welcome except wnen they show prejudice and ulterior political purpose.  Let1s deal with the topic and not highjack it for questionalble and poorly presented ulterior purposes.

By OnlyAccurate, on 11 February 2013 - 16:25 |

My dilemma for the last days was: should I continue the discussion about how the “citation” from Bayer’s article has been translated and used. The reason for the dilemma is that the original Hungarian article has a strong language with which I cannot agree as a whole, but then on the other hand I cannot just stand and watch that someone translates and picks out sentences from the article the way they serve his interest best.

I know, the “citation” is a small fraction of the article, but it has a very important role: it provides an “example of what is going on in Hungary”, a shocking starting point for Rowlands propagandistic, anti-FIDESZ article. How reliable and worth of consideration is the rest of the article if the “citation” is manipulated?

As I wrote in my earlier comment, I am not sure that saying “significant part of gypsies ” is much more acceptable than “most of the gypsies”, but the latter is just not a correct translation! Clearly “significant part” is not bad enough (yes, it leaves a big space for acknowledging the non-problematic gypsies) for Rowlands and he doesn’t want to accept it. In his reaction to my comment he insists that his translation is correct. IT IS NOT CORRECT!

If someone read the comments for the same article on “The Guardian” site (which also posted it, however with a slightly tuned down title) would think that there is at least one more person who thinks that “most” is the correct translation, since “statemagnate” also says that this is the “standard translation”. Interestingly “statemagnate” posted exactly the same “longer” translation of Bayer’s article as Rowlands (which by the way it’s still not the whole article) and that makes me wonder what is the connection between the “two persons”.

It is said that Hungarian is not an easy language to learn as a second language, but the expression “jelentös része” does not leave place to any ambiguity. It does not require deep knowledge of the nuances of the language to know that it does not mean “most of”. It means “ significant, not negligible”. It can also be translated “substantial” if you wish, but in any way it is far from “most of “. Just ask anyone around you who has Hungarian as mother tongue and who can be objective in Hungarian political questions.

Translating “a cigányság normális felének” is more difficult. The world “fele” means indeed half, but this expression could mean the other/remaining part, and not mean the literal 50%. I accept: to understand this, one has to speak the language very well. I don’ t see any indication to think Bayer meant half, but even if he did, that is still not “most”.

Thus the citation is partly wrongly translated, partly is taken out of the context (I touched upon that in my earlier comment). As a consequence, it gives a false representation of Bayer’s article, but that serves Rowlands interest best….

By Carl, on 15 February 2013 - 20:27 |

Dear OnlyAccurate, the translation is entirely justifiable.

’ A cigányság ezen része állat,’

The substantial part of (the) gypsies

which I translated for simplicity to

‘most gypsies.’

If I went for a literal translation it would read something like

“The substantial group [majority] of Gypsies are not suitable for cohabitation. They…”

The meaning would remain the same. And the gist of the article, that Fidesz has a substantial following of racists, anti-semites and bigots, and many of them close to the central leadership of the party, would also stay the same. Not a message you like, I gather, but there it is.

By OnlyAccurate, on 16 February 2013 - 20:09 |

Dear Carl, I gather what the message of your article is, it is hard to miss it, but a journalist should keep it to the facts. The minimum requirement is to make the translations correct and don’t go wild with translating “the meaning” the way that serves your interest best. A translation should not be “justifiable”, but correct.

I wonder whether your Hungarian knowledge is so weak, or you just don’t care at all what you write down? “A cigányság ezen része állat” has nothing to do with “The substantial part of (the) gypsies”. It is just a completely different sentence! But after all, most who read you don’t speak Hungarian.

I also wonder what your readers think when you imply that “substantial group” equals “majority” (substantial group [majority]). The difference between these two words is just as big in English as it is in Hungarian.

You distort the original article, so why should anyone take you seriously when you present the “reality” about FIDESZ?

By Carl, on 18 February 2013 - 19:31 |

‘THE substantial group/portion/section of the gypsies are animals’

That is different from

‘A substantial…’ (egy)

That is the difference, and that is why ‘most’ is a fair translation of meaning.

Thanks for your interest.

By OnlyAccurate, on 27 February 2013 - 16:26 |

Wow, now you got me! Is there a difference between “the substantial part” or “a substantial part” in English? Since English is not my first language, I give you a maybe….
BUT, I can tell you that in Hungarian there is no circumstance where “jelentös resze” means “most” or “majority”. You cannot translate it word by word and evaluate it in English. You don’t have to have “egy”= “a” there in order to lose the “majority” meaning.

By Aaron Davies, on 09 August 2013 - 08:47 |

Every article has a slant. That doesn’t excuse inaccurate journalism, but it is the nature of the press, and wwweb. What the article does achieve is debate and, in turn, extension of knowledge. However, irrespective of inaccuracies, the FACT is the Hungarian government have introduced legislation that contravenes the European Court’s Human Rights Act. The rights of individuals are enshrined within this act, and specifically designed to protect individuals and minority groups from legislation that is prejudice to those rights. The Hungarian government has introduced legislation that penalises families that co-exist but are not married, which, perforce, extends to same sex partnerships i.e. the government does not recognise the rights of homosexuals. In addition, it has outlawed vagrants, which again means groups of no fixed abode are penalised and can be placed in jail (Roma, the poor, those with metnal health issues who cannot look after themselves but have no family, and so on). In addition, the state has demanded registration of religious groups, an act that blurs the line between the state and religion. As we know, the Catholic Church has a significant influence within Eastern Europe, so such an act can only be seen as a highly cynical ploy to build a quasi religious state whose morality is determined by an unelected power. The nail in the coffin: the ressurection of Admiral Hortay, an anti-Semitic who played a significant role in the murder of Jews! Whatever the debate about the detail in the article, one thing is clear, the Hungarian state is publicly heading in a direction that is right-wing and barely legal within the European Union. It is a travesty for the country, and for the people who do not share these beliefs, and who lost family and friends to the Nazis, and to the communist dictatorship. 

By Annuska Hippsakaniska, on 09 May 2014 - 02:56 |

I’m  a Hungarian Gypsy Living In america But What some of the comments saying roma areb dangerous or should be disippened  is so false my family in hungary would never hurt any one and these stories are most likely forgetting parts like the hungarian Attacted the roma first. i have very hurt feelings that people are Saying stuff like this. Gypsies are very nice people unless it comes to defending them selfs from un planned attacks or unnesarry attacks. 

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