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Jeszenszky defended against racism charge

November 3rd, 2012

In the wake of the uproar over Géza Jeszenszky’s textbook, prominent Hungarians from the USA and some liberal commentators defend the Ambassador while a right-wing editorial claims he was attacked by enemies of the government for simply stating an obvious fact.

One passage in Géza Jeszenszky’s 2006 textbook for foreign students at Corvinus University Budapest claimed that there are many “mentally ill” persons among the Roma because of incestuous marriages or sex. Jeszenszky could not recall his source but claimed he used scholarly research he found on the internet. (See BudaPost November 1, 2012). On November 1st, several bloggers discovered  and published a potential source, a 1994 Romology textbook from Pécs University where a teacher describes the situation of 24 disadvantaged Roma families in a small village and claims, among other things, that most of the elementary school pupils whose parents are likely to be related, are either physically or mentally impaired.

In an open letter, published in Heti Válasz, two renowned American academics of Hungarian origin, “who cannot be counted among the supporters of the present government,” Charles Gati, former advisor to President Clinton  and István Deák, professor emeritus at Columbia university state that they personally know Géza Jeszenszky and find , although the passage itself can be interpreted in an unfavourable light. The signatories acknowledge that they have not actually read the paper, but are convinced of the personal integrity of Jeszenszky and his dedication to fight racism in Hungary. They have never heard the least racist remark from him and “are proud to count him among their friends.” The passage may be misinterpreted, they say, but it cannot be taken as evidence of racism. In a separate letter 18 Hungarian-American personalities also reject the accusation of racism levelled against Jeszenszky.

Péter Csermely in a Magyar Nemzet editorial reacts furiously to what he considers the “double standards” of liberals and human rights groups who now attack a “modest professor” for “stating the obvious.” Jeszenszky, he claims, simply drew some conclusions from “evident facts”, “supported by many researchers.” Csermely quotes in detail the source mentioned above and claims that a simple search on the internet will show that the higher prevalence of consanguineous marriages among the Roma is noted in several publications. If Jeszenszky is wrong in claiming that there are many mentally handicapped children in such marriages, then “genetics as a science is wrong in its entirety,” he says.  But, he continues, the critics do not in fact target the statement; they target Jeszenszky the conservative politician. Csermely goes on to attack the leading staff of the Foreign Ministry for what he considers a half-hearted defence of Jeszenszky, namely for admitting that “the incriminating lines can be easily misunderstood”. Csermely, who is deputy editor of the main pro-government daily writes that “it would be hard to find such a spineless and cowardly crowd,” elsewhere in Hungary.

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