August 23, 2016
UNITED STATES HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM CONDEMNS CONFERRING OF HUNGARIAN ORDER OF MERIT TO ZSOLT BAYER
WASHINGTON, DC – On the occasion of Hungary’s national day, the Hungarian government granted a prestigious state award, the Order of Merit, to longtime Fidesz party member and journalist Zsolt Bayer. This award is intended to recognize individuals who demonstrate excellence in service to the country and “the promotion of universal human values.” Bayer has a long record of racist speech and has written highly provocative antisemitic and anti-Roma articles in the Hungarian media. He has referred to Jews as “stinking excrement” and has written hateful pieces about the Roma, calling them “animals” that “should not be allowed to exist.”
State awards in Hungary are approved by the prime minister and the president. The government has repeatedly stated a “zero tolerance” approach to antisemitism. And yet it was Janos Lazar, minister for the Prime Minister’s Office and the government’s point person for dialog and engagement with the country’s Jewish community, who personally presented the award to Bayer. In the face of protests by a growing number of prior recipients of the Order of Merit, some of whom courageously have returned their awards, Minister Lazar has reiterated the government’s approval of Bayer's record, which promotes hatred and racism.
The award of this distinction to Zsolt Bayer also reflects the long-standing refusal of the leadership of Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party to distance itself from Bayer, in spite of Bayer’s repeated pattern of racist, xenophobic, antisemitic, and anti-Roma incitement. This failure must raise serious questions for those who have stood by Fidesz and have justified their support by pointing to the danger represented by the racist, ultranationalist, and xenophobic Jobbik party. Bayer’s racist statements are as extreme as those that emanate from Jobbik.
Governments have a responsibility to combat hate speech that invites violence. This is especially true for countries like Hungary where systematic persecution and mass murder were carried out during the Holocaust with the active complicity of the Hungarian state.
If Hungary’s Order of Merit truly recognizes “the promotion of universal human values,” then Hungarian Prime Minister and Fidesz party leader Viktor Orban and President Janos Ader have no choice but to rescind Zsolt Bayer’s award immediately.
A living memorial to the Holocaust, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum inspires citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity. Its far-reaching educational programs and global impact are made possible by generous donors. Learn more at ushmm.org.
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