Hungary Sliding Back to Nazi-Era Anti-Semitism?
BUDAPEST, Hungary - The Shoes on the Danube is a memorial to Budapest's Jews who were rounded up during World War II and told to take off their shoes before being shot and pushed into the Danube.
Today, Hungary's Jews are fearful again because of a return of anti-Semitism.
Hungary has been going backwards economically since before the financial crisis of 2008. Old scapegoats have come back to life in a nation that was flattened by globalization: foreigners, bankers, and Jews.
Tapping Into the Psyche
Hungarian political ads are tapping straight into the Hungarian psyche.
One shows ordinary Hungarians saying:
"More and more installments we have to pay. Are banks allowed to do what they want? While we keep working they just steal. Are political criminals allowed to do what they want? I'm already afraid to go into the streets. Are Gypsy criminals allowed to do what they want? There are no Hungarian products on the shelves. Are multis (multinational corporations) allowed to do what they want? We've had enough of parasitism. If you have too, vote for Jobbik on Oct. 3."
It's an ad for Jobbik, now the third largest party in Hungary and a strong contender to finish second in Hungarian elections April 6, creating the possibility it could join a coalition government.
Evangelicals in Hungary are very concerned, and have created a website called SaveHungary.
Far-right racist parties are fairly common in Eastern Europe. But Jobbik is different. It's stronger, better organized and offering solutions to real problems that Hungarians face - even if some are the wrong solutions and their bogeyman is an American-Israeli conspiracy.
Feeling the Anti-Semitism
Budapest Rabbi Schlomo Koves said Jews can now feel the anti-Semitism in the street, although physical attacks on Jews are rare.
"There's a joke in Hungary in which someone comes to a village and he asks, is there anti-Semitism here? And the other guy answers, 'No, but there's a great need for it,'" he told CBN News.
"When society is not in a good state, when people have a hard time making a living, all these extreme ideas can come back," he said.
One Jobbik member of parliament has called for a list to be drawn up of all the Jews in government because he deems them to be a security threat.
"They consider the entire Jewish community as the agents of America and Israel," Pal Steiner, A Hungarian Jew and member of parliament, said.
"They say that through the Hungarian Jewish community, Israel and America are turning Hungary into a colony," he said.
Steiner lost half of his relatives in the Holocaust and now, 70 years later, he is receiving death threats. He says anti-Semitism isn't returning to Hungary - it never left.
"It's clear that Jobbik's basic principles are very similar to the Nazis, especially considering the so-called 'Jewish problem,'" he said. "And I need to stress that there is a part of Hungarian society that has a secret sympathy towards Jobbik."
A Sicker Society?
Miklos Horthy ruled Hungary during World War II when it was a Nazi ally. Horthy returned to a place of honor in Budapest when a bust of him was unveiled at a church. Opponents demonstrated by wearing yellow stars.
Jobbik once started a militia - the Magyar Garda - but it was outlawed. Jobbik claims it was a service organization but it looked like Arrow Cross, a Nazi-era party that killed thousands of Jews.
It's now very dangerous for Hungary's Gypsies, who have higher than average rates of criminal acts and are hated more than Jews.
CBN News asked one of Hungary's leading political consultants, Viktor Szigetvári, if Hungarian society is getting healthier, or getting sicker. He told us,
"Sadly, I have to say sicker because of growing intolerance, because of growing poverty," he said.
Could Jobbik end up in a governing coalition someday as some predict, or is it too politically radioactive for other parties?
"They are radioactive, but it is possible we might have a minority government formed after the 2014 general elections and it will be interesting to see what role Jobbik will play," Szigetvári said. "I believe (Jobbik as part of ruling coalition) is a no-go area; not in Hungary, not in Europe."
Jobbik leaders turned down our request for an interview.
"We do not want to help you on the issue of anti-Semitism," they said in a written statement. "Jobbik is dealing with much more important problems right now: the sellout of soil to foreigners and to oligarchs close to the government, the corruption scandals, the chaos in education and the catastrophic state of public safety."
Poisoning the Population
Jobbik repeatedly denies that it is anti-Semitic. On its English-language website it seems to disavow some of the positions that its leaders have spouted publicly.
They say they do not deny the Holocaust but they also do not like Israel.
CBN News spoke with one former Jobbik member from a rural area who said he never heard talk of anti-Semitism at Jobbik meetings he attended. But we also interviewed a former Jobbik leader who had to leave the party when he discovered he was a Jew.
"The problem is there are clever people in Jobbik," Hungarian Journalist Ferenc Szlazsánszky, with channel ATV, said. "It's a two-faced party - what they say amongst themselves and what they say in front of the public."
"The other problem is they are inciting hatred," he added. "They are poisoning the population in Hungary."
Steiner and others told CBN News that Jobbik should be considered "very dangerous."
And even if Jobbik never rules Hungary, critics say it's a legally elected party spreading dangerous ideas.
But fpr many, Jobbik seems to be only a symptom in a nation that is still clinging to old-fashioned anti-Semitism.
And now there is a chance that Jobbik could help rule Hungary.
*Original broadcast December 2013.