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Ambassador Jeszenszky rejects accusations of racism

November 2nd, 2012

Left-wing columnists and Roma rights activists are outraged over a textbook passage and have asked the Ambassador to resign. Jeszenszky says he did not intend to offend anyone and dismisses the accusations as unjust.

Géza Jeszenszky, Hungary’s Ambassador to Norway and Iceland, former Minister of Foreign Affairs (1990 to 1994), and Hungarian Ambassador  to Washington under the first Fidesz-government, was asked by the organizers not to attend a conference in memory of Raul Wallenberg in Oslo on October 30th, after a Roma Rights portal in Hungary published an excerpt from an English language textbook Jeszenszky compiled in 2006 for his lectures at Corvinus University in Budapest.  Jeszenszky trained as a historian and is an emeritus professor of Corvinus. The passage runs “the reason why many Roma are mentally ill is because in Roma culture it is permitted for sisters and brothers or cousins to marry each other or just to have sexual intercourse with each other.”  The Hungarian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that although the incriminated lines are easy to misunderstand, Géza Jeszenszky’s oeuvre and most recent publications prove that he is a champion of minority rights and cannot be accused of racism. Two small opposition parties, DK and LMP have called for his resignation.

A Népszabadság editorial notes with amusement that Jeszenszky does not seem to understand the uproar. The editorial finds the remark reminiscent of the one-time Christian elites in Hungary who, immersed in the culture of gentile anti-Semitism, usually claimed to know “decent Jews”.  The author admits that Jeszenszky has recently condemned “the ruling elite that betrayed, exposed and plundered Jewish Hungarians” during World War Two, but suggests that his sensitivity does not seem to extend to Hungary’s Roma.

Magyar Nemzet published the text of a HírTV interview with Jeszenszky who explained that he gave a general overview of the situation of minorities to foreign students, based on scholarly resources. He could not specifically recall where he read the claim that the Roma are more inclined to have incestuous relations. He emphasized that Hungary works hard to improve the situation of the Roma and solve “the problem” and there is reason to be proud of the dedication and the achievements of the present government in this area. In a separate communique, Jeszenszky apologised to those whom he ”might have involuntarily offended”, but described the charge of racism levelled against him as utterly unfair.

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