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Mayday: are communist symbols acceptable?

May 2nd, 2013

A left wing weekly writes that communist symbols pose minimal danger and the ban on them is based on a myth, invented by the Hungarian right to silence their left- wing rivals, namely that Communism and Nazism were equally destructive regimes. A centre-right weekly objects that there are billions still living under repressive communist regimes around the world, while Nazism was annihilated once and for all almost seventy years ago.

There have been repeated attempts to impose a ban on exhibiting the red star and the hammer and sickle, along with Nazi symbols. A new version of the law has come into force after the previous regulations were struck down by the Constitutional Court. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has, repeatedly condemned Hungary for imposing fines on Communists wearing a red star (twice on Mayday). See BudaPost, February 22 and 23.

Magyar Narancs paints a picture of thousands of people marching with red stars and hammer-and-sickle banners, shouting “long live Hungarian-Soviet friendship” and “long live the Party”. Would this be a danger to public safety? – the editor asks in his usual unsigned editorial. He contrasts the scene with a march carrying Nazi symbols and shouting “Sieg Heil!” and “Blood and Honour”. The latter, they claim, would cause far greater fear in Hungary. The columnist argues that the “equal distance” strategy was invented by József Antall, the first Prime Minister of Hungary after 1990, to keep “enemies (commies, kikes, and lefties) at bay and give some cover for his own extremists.’ (The party of Antall – the now mostly defunct MDF – included a group, later expelled by Antall, whose message was anti-Semitic.) The red star should therefore not be banned, Magyar Narancs concludes, although it is not in good taste to wear it.

In Heti Válasz, Attila Michnai posts a furious reply, accusing  “the cowardly anonymous author” of “trampling on the tomb of a revered prime minister.” He finds it strange that Magyar Narancs should identify Jews with Communism. He argues that Magyar Narancs’s liberal heroes, used to be communists themselves, which is why their followers don’t find the red star as repellent as the swastika. (In addition to György Lukács, a life-long supporter of communism who died in 1972, and his one time student Ágnes Heller, Michnai mistakenly mentions writer György Konrád as well, who was never a Communist.) In response to the accusation that the law is aimed at repressing Jews, among others, the Heti Válasz columnist quotes Slomó Köves, a young up-and-coming rabbi with a more conciliatory attitude towards the right, who said he would like to make the Jewish community more visible in Hungary, for he believes “the cause of virulent anti-Semitism is the passivity of Jews, which is typical in Hungary.”

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