We debate whether democracy is in peril across the world.
A Hungarian official has begrudgingly retracted an article likening US-Hungarian billionaire and philanthropist George Soros – a staunch critic of Hungary’s government – to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, after strong condemnation and loud calls for his sacking.
“Europe is George Soros’ gas chamber,” Szilard Demeter, ministerial commissioner and head of the Petofi Literary Museum in Budapest, wrote in an opinion on Saturday in the pro-government Origo media outlet. “Poison gas flows from the capsule of a multicultural open society, which is deadly to the European way of life.”
The comments prompted opposition politicians to demand Demeter’s immediate dismissal and drew outrage from Hungary’s Jewish community.
“(It’s) a textbook case of the relativisation of the Holocaust, and is therefore incompatible with the government’s claim of zero tolerance for anti-Semitism,” said the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation, which called the article “tasteless” and “unforgivable”.
In a statement on Sunday on Origo, Demeter said he would retract his article “independently of what I think” and will delete his Facebook page.
“I will grant that those criticising me are correct in saying that to call someone a Nazi is to relativize, and that making parallels with Nazis can inadvertently cause harm to the memory of the victims,” he said in a statement.
In the article, Demeter, who was appointed by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to oversee cultural production, described Soros as “the liberal Fuhrer, and his liber-Aryan army deifies him more than did Hitler’s own”.
Soros, who was born in Hungary and is a Holocaust survivor, has been at odds with Orban’s government for years for pouring funds into liberal organisations and institutions in Hungary. In 2019, the Central European University he founded said it was being forced out of the country by the nationalist government and moved most of its operations to Vienna.
Government media campaigns targeting Soros have led to charges of anti-Semitism.
The article also noted the conflict over the European Union’s next budget, which Hungary and Poland are holding up over provisions that could block payments to countries that do not uphold democratic standards. Demeter referred to the two countries, both of which are under EU investigation for undermining judicial independence and media freedom, as “the new Jews.”
Gordon Bajnai, a former Hungarian prime minister, wrote on Facebook on Sunday that if Demeter was not removed from his post by Monday, “Hungarians and the rest of the world will obviously consider (his) statement as the position of the Hungarian government”.
The main left-leaning opposition party, the Democratic Coalition, called for Demeter’s sacking.
“The Democratic Coalition expects from the government that Szilard Demeter should be unemployed by the end of today. A man like him has no place in public life, not just in a European country but anywhere in the world,” it said.