As the World Jewish Congress opens in Budapest amid a rise in anti-Semitism in Hungary, Colin Freeman visits the town of Tiszavasvári, twinned with Iran and the stronghold of the far-Right Jobbik party. As the self-declared “capital” of the ultra-nationalist Jobbik Party, the town of Tiszavasvári prides itself on being a showcase for how the whole of Hungary might one day look.
Since winning control of Tiszavasvári’s local council three years ago on a pledge to fight “Gipsy crime”, the party has been on a vigorous clean-up campaign, banning prostitution, tidying the streets, and keeping a watchful eye on the shabby Roma districts at the edge of town. It even swore in its own Jobbik “security force” to work alongside the police, only for the uniformed militia, which drew comparisons with Hitler’s brown-shirts, to be banned by Hungary’s national government. Yet Gipsies are not the only bogeyman that Jobbik has in its sights, as a sign on the well-trimmed green opposite the Communist-era mayoralty building suggests. Written in both Hungarian and Persian, it proudly announces that Tiszavasvári is twinned with Ardabil, a town in the rugged mountains of north-west Iran.
” You can see Jobbik’s true nature through this,” said Peter Feldmajer, the President of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, which today represents an estimated 100,000 Hungarian Jews, nearly 90 per cent of whom still refuse to disclose their Jewishness publicly. “They hate the Jewish people, and so does the Iranian government, and that is why they have formed this allegiance. It is a shame for Tiszavasvári, and it hurts the memories of those Jewish people who lived there.”
Such concerns will loom large in the minds of delegates of the World Jewish Congress, which opens amid tight security today at the Soviet-era Budapest Intercontinental Hotel overlooking the Danube. Normally the Congress meets in Jerusalem, but this year it has deliberately chosen to convene in the Hungarian capital to highlight what its president, the billionaire philanthropist and cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder, describes as a “dramatic” rise in anti-Semitism in Hungary.
Much of the blame for that is attributed to the Jobbik party, which was founded just ten years ago yet now represents the third-largest faction in politics, with 47 of 386 parliamentary seats. Also in Mr Lauder’s sights, though, is the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, whose ruling centre-right Fidesz Party competes for many of the votes that Jobbik now vies for, and who has been criticised for not taking a firm enough stance against anti-Semitism.
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