BUDAPEST (Dec. 13)
Prime Minister Jozsef Antall, who was prodded to combat anti-Semitism in Hungary, died here Sunday after a long bout with lymphoma, a form of cancer.
The 61-year-old Antall was Hungary’s first non-Communist leader since the longtime pro-Soviet government was ousted in 1989.
Antall was the leader of the centrist Hungarian Democratic Forum, which has been increasingly leaning to the right.
Antall was perceived as a weak leader lacking charisma. He was not forceful in the face of constant criticism that he failed to repudiate and dismiss his second in command, Istvan Csurka, for a string of anti-Semitic comments in broadcast and print media.
In November 1992, Antall attacked Csurka for his anti-Semitic stance without mentioning him by name, only describing Csurka’s comments as stupid and foolish.
Criticisms came from Jewish organizations and from the U.S. government, which threatened to cut off American aid and tourist contacts if Hungary accepted Csurka’s beliefs.
Earlier this year, Antall finally dealt with the issue by cutting the position of vice president from the party.
The party expelled Csurka from its parliamentary faction in June and shortly thereafter from the party.
Csurka formed his own political party in July.
The organized Jewish community in Hungary, numbering at least 85,000, was unhappy with Antall’s reluctance to push for legislation banning increasingly pervasive extreme-right organizations and making it illegal to deny the Holocaust took place.
This came despite the fact that Antall’s late father, also named Jozsef Antall, had saved the lives of Jews during the Holocaust and had been named a righteous Gentile by the Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem.
Antall paid homage to his father at Yad Vashem when he visited Israel three years ago. He was the first Hungarian premier to do so.
Antall angered the Jewish community in May when he railed against comments that Jewish contributions to Hungarian culture outweighed “peasants trousers and apricot whiskey.”
Antall had warned that the comments of Rabbi Gyorgy Landesman “could cause the outbreak of anti-Semitism in Hungary.”
Antall asked Israeli Ambassador David Kraus to use his influence to obtain Landesman’s resignation. In response, the Jewish community agreed to abolish the post of chief rabbi altogether.
Antall’s behavior was further criticized in September when he ordered the reburial with honors of the Hungarian fascist leader Miklos Horthy, whom Antall praised as a “Hungarian patriot.”