By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent reporting from Budapest, Hungary
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– There was an outcry in Hungary on Wednesday, February 20, over revelations that the country’s largest university has been involved in compiling lists of presumed Jewish students amid growing anti-Semitism in this nation of some 10 million people.
The files were compiled annually on freshmen by the student council of the Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE), according to a list obtained by Hungarian television network ATV and seen by BosNewsLife.
Referring to Jewish origins, the 2009 list shows the letters I of the Hungarian word Igen (“Yes”) and N for Nem (“No”).
The practice resembled prewar Hungary, which introduced Europe’s first anti-Semitic legislation as early as 1920.
Known as the ‘numerus clausus law’ it limited the number of Jewish students in universities, prompting intellectuals to emigrate, including scientist Edward Teller who left Hungary in 1933.
Critics say the legislation contributed to an atmosphere of hatred in Hungary, which eventually became a close ally of Nazi Germany during World War Two, when 600,000 Hungarian Jews were killed.
It was not immediately clear how the ELTE lists would be used, but the student council that compiled them has ties to the influential far-right Movement For a Better Hungary (Jobbik) party, investigators said.
Recently, a prominent legislator of Jobbik suggested to draw up lists of Jews “who pose a “national security risk”.
Jobbik’s Marton Gyöngyösi said the lists were needed following the brief conflict in Gaza and should include members of parliament.
HUNGARIAN JEWISH ANCESTRY
“I know how many people with Hungarian ancestry live in Israel, and how many Israeli Jews live in Hungary,” he told parliament in November. “I think such a conflict makes it timely to tally up people of Jewish ancestry who live here, especially in the Hungarian Parliament and the Hungarian government, who, indeed, pose a national security risk to Hungary.”
Jobbik, the second-largest opposition party in parliament, has also supported several paramilitary groups, wearing uniforms and waving flags resembling the Nazi-era.
The Action and Protection Foundation — a new Jewish watchdog on anti-Semitism in Hungary — said it was concerned about reports that lists are already compiled at ELTE university over a period of at least six years.
“This would be a grave breach of the constitution and those who contributed in compiling it committed several crimes,” the foundation stressed, adding that it had urged police to investigate the case.
Besides identifying “Jewishness”, the ELTE lists also specify Christians and other religious or ethnic backgrounds of first-year students. Additionally, the presumed political and even sexual preferences are mentioned, accompanied by profanities.
Hungary’s data-protection authority has made clear collecting this information without permission is “a big violation” of constitutional rights.
Questions remained Wednesday, February 2o, as to why the ELTE university leadership did allow the student council to compile lists at the near 400-year old famous institution of some 33,000 students, which also attracts foreigners.
A Belgian father told BosNewsLife he would suggest his son to remove the Budapest university from his study abroad wish list.
Vice-rector György Fábri denied he knew about the illegal profiling of students. “We would like authorities, such as the police, to step in and launch an investigation,” he said.
It comes at a time of growing pressure on Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s center right government to tackle anti-Semitism, which also included recent threats against Jewish people and attacks against Holocaust memorials and Jewish cemeteries.
FLIRTING WITH FAR-RIGHT
His ruling Fidesz party has been accused of flirting with far-right supporters to maintain its grip on power after the 2014 elections.
Last year, Parliamentary speaker and Orbán ally László Kövér appeared at a commemoration for pro-Nazi author József Nyírő, whose writings they recommended to Hungarian schools.
Additionally, a Fidesz-run council has tried to name a street after Hungary’s controversial regent Miklos Horthy and a new statue of him has been erected, though he was a close ally of Nazi-Germany.
Orbán has denied wrongdoing and says he wants to tackle anti-Semitism. In fact, Fidesz and other politicians have expressed concern about this week’s decision by the Constitutional Court to overrule a law banning displaying symbols of Nazism and Communism.
Yet, the United States Embassy in Budapest recently warned that, “The recurrence of anti-Semitic and other racist statements in the Hungarian parliament demonstrates the need to further empower voices of tolerance and peaceful coexistence in Hungary.”
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