BUDAPEST — Ostensibly, a rock concert sparked it, reminding us that culture is not the exclusive province of liberals, certainly not here in Europe. A young woman (who knows whether she was just intending to make trouble) walked into a ticket office in the traditionally Jewish 13th District in this Hungarian capital several weeks ago and asked about Hungarica, an obscure extremist far-right band.
The woman said the ticket agents called her a fascist and threw her out. The agents said that she spouted anti-Semitic abuse when told the office didn’t handle that event. A little later somebody tossed a Molotov cocktail outside the office. Then a blogger, Tamas Polgar, with the screen name Tomcat urged neo-Nazis to rally at the ticket office, and about 30 turned up on April 7 along with 300 counterdemonstrators. Tomcat called for a second rally, four days later, and about 1,000 more extremists were met that time, across police barricades, by 3,000 antifascists, including the beleaguered Hungarian prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany, and the former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder.
It’s hard to know whether to feel disheartened by the large showing of neo-Nazis or encouraged by the larger opposition to it. It turns out that aside from the well-documented rise of the far right, Jewish culture has also been conspicuously on the rise here.
That said, anti-Semitism can thrive even in the absence of a single Jew. History has proved that repeatedly. Hungarica served its purpose without having to play a single note.
Peter Gyorgy ... like everyone ... acknowledged that anti-Semitism is more out in the open today.
“Hungary is a deeply traumatized society since the First World War, and the Holocaust, of course,” Mr. Gyorgy said. “After the early years of Hungarian Communism, to be Jewish was one’s private affair. Then after Communism, in the early ’90s, when the multiparty system started, we missed our chance for a public discourse about this situation. Now there’s a confluence: the instability of the government, the hatred for the prime minister and the fact that Jewish culture has become more conspicuous. A new generation of Jews has emerged, which behaves like Jews.”
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