The Hungarian dilemma by Quentin Bates

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I’m not even sure how to pronounce his name. Judging by the photo on his Wikipedia entry, Casnád Szegedi looks like a decent enough young guy, with a friendly, chubby face, well-groomed and with a neatly trimmed goatee beard. He looks like a hard-working plumber, someone with 2.4 children, two cars and dog, married to a lass who likes to cook and who looks like he could probably do well to spend an hour in the gym twice a week. But appearances can be deceptive. In fact, he is, or has been, a key member of and a Member of the European Parliament for the Hungarian Jobbik party, a right-wing movement that seems to be largely anti-everything.

Jobbik is against Jews, Gypsies, Muslims, the lot, and has its unsavoury roots in a long tradition of joyless extremism painfully reminiscent of a sulky teenager whining constantly that everything is always someone else’s fault. Jobbik is also anti-EU, and they don’t seem to like their immediate neighbours a great deal either. Although I can’t be sure, I doubt somehow they have much time for homosexuals, hippies, eskimos, morris dancers, goths or bleeding heart liberal crime writers. It seems a fair bet that apart from ethnic Hungarians, there aren’t many people Jobbik’s members get on well with. Their annual get-togethers must be an absolute barrel of laughs.

Jobbik has very close links with the dubious and now disbanded Hungarian Guard, which used the four red-and-silver heraldic stripes of the Árpád dynasty as its emblem. This is a historical motif for Hungary, but one that still has uncomfortable connotations as it was also used up to the end of the Second World War by the Arrow Cross (Nazi) Party that saw thousands of Jews murdered or deported to concentration camps under its rule.

So let’s get to the fun part. It has emerged that Casnád Szegedi is in fact of Jewish descent. His grandmother survived Auschwitz while his grandfather was a veteran of brutal forced labour camps under the Nazis and presumably the Arrow Cross party. More than half a million of Hungary’s Jewish pre-WW2 population perished in the Holocaust and Szegedi’s Jewish maternal grandparents were fortunate to have made it through the war alive. It seems inconceivable that he could have been unaware of this immediate and dramatic family history and anyone would have thought that this might have coloured his opinions, but apparently not. It begs the question of why he felt the need to deny that heritage to begin with.

His Jobbik colleagues have been merciless. Once the secret of his ancestry was made public, Szegedi was forced to give up his positions with in the party and finally to leave Jobbik. Now he is under pressure to resign as an MEP, but it seems he’s thinking it over and of course that generous MEP’s salary keeps coming through while he thinks. There has been much squabbling, back-tracking, recrimination and many excuses. It appears that Szegedi was aware of his own heritage and tried to hush this up, as well as which there are allegations that he offered bribes and favours as part of his efforts to keep his maternal heritage under wraps. Under other circumstances it might be easy to have a little sympathy over the man’s guilty secret and his fall from grace, but in practice it’s hard not to laugh at his misfortune and those grand ideas sabotaged by unfortunate reality, not least because Szegedi has been one of those most vocal in shouting about the insidious influence of Jews in government, as well as Gypsies, lefties, Muslims, goths, eskimos, etc.

I keep saying this. Fact is so much stranger than fiction. Szegedi’s misfortune – if it can be called that, as you’d have thought that being descended from an Auschwitz survivor ought to be a matter of some pride – is the stuff that fiction from the earliest times has been made of. Guilty secrets wanting to come to light and the struggle to keep them secret is what a slab of Greek tragedy more than two thousand years ago was all about, as has a great deal of fiction and drama since. Literature as a whole supposedly has only half a dozen plots, and this has to be one of them. In fact, the Szegedi saga (I won’t call it a tragedy, although that’s undoubtedly what it is for him) is a gift for a writer to explore, with all the potential there for skullduggery, angst, soul-searching and extreme measures to keep things quiet, not to mention the long-kept guilty secret and all the crushing inner turmoil that must have gone with it, followed by the embarrassment, writhing and excuses since he was outed.

You’d hope that Casnád Szegedi would embrace his heritage and reinvent himself as a champion of the understanding and tolerance that his former Jobbik and Hungarian Guard cronies weren’t able to show him. You almost want to yell at the man; ‘Go on! Do it! You know you want to!’ and hope to see him ditch all that miserable prejudice and those strutting stuffed black-shirted erstwhile friends to emerge as a brand new campaigner for equal rights. Will it happen? It’s a delightful idea but it seems doubtful. Sadly it’s unlikely that fact will take fiction so dramatically by surprise. Leopards rarely change their spots, but who knows?

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