Saturday, October 16, 2010

We must, indeed, remember

Raoul Wallenberg was one of the great heroes of the Second World War, a man who selflessly and courageously saved thousands of Jews (particularly Jewish children) in Hungary from an appalling death and one who was eventually kidnapped and, one way or another killed, by the Soviet authorities, with the West doing nothing to help. Indeed, his story is a paradigm of mid-twentieth century history down to the suggestion that the Communist government in Hungary was planning a show trial in 1953 that would tell the tale of Wallenberg being murdered by the Zionists. And you know what? People in the West would have believed it. The idea was abandoned along with many similar ones after the death of Stalin and the fall of Beria.

So I was rather pleased to see an article in the Economist about Wallenberg and the need to remember him and his achievements. I was also pleased to see that another memorial to Wallenberg was unveiled yesterday the anniversary of the Nyilas (Arrowhead - the local Hungarian Nazis) take-over in 1944 on the wall of the building he had used as a sanctuary for Jewish children. Apparently it is now the British embassy, which has a pleasing symmetry. It is impressive that public contribution paid for the memorial. But I do wonder why it is still impossible to point out on it what actually happened (so far as we know) to this man.

There are other memorials to him in Budapest, there is a park, a statue and another plaque on the street that is named after him. But that is irrelevant except that I think the Economist article ought to have mentioned this as well.

What the article does is to use the Wallenberg theme to rant on a bit about its fear of growing right-wing politics in Eastern Europe, particularly Hungary.
In Hungary, like much of Europe, intolerance, racism and xenophobia is on the rise. The far-right Jobbik party, no friend of Hungary’s Jews or Roma minorities, won 16.7 per cent of the vote in April elections, making it the third-largest party in parliament.
We have a problem here. It is called a muddled approach, whether deliberately or otherwise. The Jobbik party is undoubtedly a very unpleasant, openly anti-Semitic and racist party with rather incoherent ideas: on the one hand they want Hungary to take its proud position in the world, on the other hand they want to shut Hungary away from the world. It has a support of around 16 per cent of the electorate.

However, the argument about the intolerance, racism and xenophobia being on the rise (surely that cannot be true while we are all members of the benevolent EU?) rests largely on calling such parties as the Sweden Democrats and Geert Wilders's Freedom Party as being far-right, though their openly expressed concern is with groups of people who arrive in Western Europe and refuse to adjust to its enlightened social and political structures, demanding that these should be abolished.

Today's Financial Times Magazine has a very silly article by Simon Kuper, who is wondering what happened to the Holland he knew that has now become so intolerant and full of nasty murders such as that Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh, which is all, somehow, the fault of all those intolerant people for whom Geert Wilders is a hero. A somewhat muddled and patronizing piece that is unlikely to please anyone. (I seem to be using the word "muddled" a lot.)

Charlemagne in last week's Economist even excelled that, garnering some very serious attacks from readers, I am glad to say. Geert Wilders, then still on trial, is a false prophet, the article opined and was mildly amused that Mr Wilders chose not to speak at a certain point in his trial. And he a champion of free speech. Tee-hee-hee. Clearly, the author had no understanding of what constitutes defence in court and reserving said defence.

Then came the muddled arguments:
Maybe the state should not be in the business of prosecuting politicians for their offensive views. But these are highly charged times in the Netherlands. The threat of murder hangs over the traditionally tolerant country. In 2002 Pim Fortuyn, an earlier anti-immigrant politician, was killed. Two years later so was Theo van Gogh, an anti-Islamist film-maker. Mr Wilders now moves only with a posse of bodyguards, and lives at a secret location.

Even more importantly, he has become the political kingmaker. His party came third in June’s general election, winning 15% of the vote, and will now prop up a minority government of the liberal VVD with the centre-right Christian Democrats. In exchange, Mr Wilders has secured the promise of tighter immigration rules, a ban on some Islamic garb and more money for care of the elderly. Newspapers are calling this the “Wilders 1” government.
The implication is that probably the state should be in the "business of prosecuting politicians for their offensive views" (something that a number of readers took exception to) if the times are, for some unexplained reason, "highly charged". The fact that two people have been murdered rather publicly and several people, including Mr Wilders, are under protection is, according to this argument, a good enough reason for prosecuting Mr Wilders for his opinions. And to think that once upon a time the Economist was, in every sense of the word, a liberal publication.

When it comes to Hungary, the muddle becomes even worse. Fear of the right is routinely extended to FIDESZ, the party that won a two-thirds majority in April, the first time any party managed to do this with Hungary's complicated election procedures. The reason for that is not terribly mysterious: the previous Socialist government was extraordinarily inefficient, corrupt and stupid even by East European standards. To some extent, the Jobbik rode into Parliament on that wave of disaffection, too.

FIDESZ is not an extreme right-wing party but a fairly muddled, vaguely centre-right one. They did flirt with the Jobbik for obvious electoral reasons (no longer necessary) and have announced that all Hungarians wherever they happen to live have a right to Hungarian citizenship, something that is viewed as a provocation to the surrounding countries.

Two days ago Der Spiegel also had a long article about the horrors of growing xenophobia and anti-Semitism in Hungary, particularly in Budapest. It is a curious piece, that starts off by asserting that Jews are being openly intimidated but presenting no evidence; going on to detail a number of disturbing episodes, some true, some not or just threats; interviewing various people but no-one, as one comment puts it, from the main-stream right or even centre-left; and finishing, after several divergences, with an interview with the far-left (which we are not told, this being less important than the fact that he is Jewish) philosopher and politician Gáspár Miklós Tamás, whose view is that Hungary is pretty well finished because the Socialists lost control even of the cities. (In Central Europe cities are traditionally more likely to have Socialist local government than the countryside.)

Somehow, I cannot agree that a completely feckless and dishonest Socialist government losing heavily in a free and fair election necessarily indicates a situation in which there will soon be a need for another Wallenberg.


  1. Excellent article, thanks.
    To what extent do you feel that Socialism in Europe reached a sort of high tide a few years back?
    I think what I mean is that what were accepted as neither Left nor Right wing views, the Centre politically, will be seen by history as being Leftish if not Leftist.
    Certainly I'm getting heartily sick of the 'Far-Right' as an adjective since it means nothing politically, or economically, the BNP for instance seem blatantly Socialist to me ?!?!

  2. Not sure I can answer your main question because it is so hard to tell whether something has reached a high tide or not. Have we not been told on numerous occasions that we were over the high tide of European integration?

    The BNP is largely socialist because national socialism is just that - socialism. Hard for the media and various commentators to grasp, I know, but it is quite straightforward. The trouble comes when the BNP or old-fashioned nasties like the Jobbik are lumped with Wilders's Freedom Party or other organizations that are out to defend certain very liberal values. So, you are correct: Far-Right means absolutely nothing except being in some unspecified fashion against immigration, no matter what kind of immigration and for what reason.

  3. But muddled is the perfect word for the Economist.They know a lot ,but understand nothing-they are thick, obtuse ,wet. Hell,they even endorsed Obama. Can one get more stupid than that?

  4. They are also largely in favour of European integration and keep whining that things are not working out the way they were supposed to be. Actually, this is exactly the way things were supposed to be.