Neo-nazi Attack at Jewish Theater Prompts Renewed Fears in Hungary

An acid and feces attack at the Budapest Jewish Theater just before Rosh Hashanah has revived concerns about increasing anti-Semitism in Hungary.

The attack, which occurred after the premiere of a provocative parody of porn, is believed to be the first open and physical attack against Jews since the country’s democratic transition in 1989.

"Gecy" opened Sept. 27 at Siraly, this city’s trendy Jewish pub-cultural center in the area of the former ghetto. The next day, after the second performance, with the audience milling around the theater, six or seven masked neo-Nazis appeared on the street.

In what appeared to be a choreographed attack, one shot acid from a water pistol at the director of the show, Ferenc Sebo, then spilled a bucket of pig feces over him.

People standing near Sebo were splashed and shot with acid. The attackers beat Sebo when he threw his glass at one of them, then ran into the pub to shoot acid at others. A bystander trying to help Sebo was beaten badly and remained in the hospital this week. Police arrived too late to catch the attackers.

The theater’s director said people associated with the show had been receiving threatening messages for several weeks prior to the opening.

“Extremist Web sites and blogs have been agitating against us in numerous threatening writings these past three weeks," Robert Vajda said. “Some of us got such threatening calls that the lead actor decided to withdraw from his role a week before the premiere.”

Vajda said that neo-Nazis became furious after misinterpreting the meaning of the play, which was provocatively marketed on YouTube as a porn comedy version of the "Tragedy of Men," a famous national poem by the 19th century dramatist Imre Madach.

"These boys thought that this time they have really found something: cat-murdering Jews are turning a jewel of Hungarian cultural heritage into porn!" he said. "But when it turned out that the comedy had not much to do either with Madach or with real porn, they got even more furious.”

Adam Schoenberger, one of the organizers of Siraly, said the theater had requested police security for both nights, but only received it for the premiere. He said the police later told organizers that they had been wrongly informed that the Sunday performance was canceled.

According to a police communique, Tamas Polgar Tomcat, a neo-Nazi blogger, claimed on his blog to be an animal rights activist whose primary target was Zoltan Toepler, the "Gecy" playwright, whose award-winning documentary film recorded the killing of a kitten.

Schoenberger said that the "official" target of the attack may have been the playwright, but since they could not find him, they spilled their hate on everyone associated with Jews.

In a short movie circulated on Tomcat’s blog, made during and after the attack, one of the masked attackers openly admitted he was a "racist."

The attack on the theater is the latest — and most aggressive — in a string of incidents raising alarm bells in the Jewish community.

An incident in the spring involving a heated exchange between a customer and a store clerk at a store in a Jewish neighborhood led to a Molotov cocktail being thrown at the store and calls for a mob action against it.

Thousands of anti-fascists blocked the street on the day of the planned action. Among those who appeared to protect the store was Hungary’s prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany.

The attack at Siraly continues a trend of “the growing anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish, racist verbal attacks at public gatherings, media and Internet sites,” Peter Feldmajer, the president of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, told JTA.

Feldnajer said that while the performance did have “questionable content,” it is clear from the blogs that the perpetrators’ main problem was that it was presented by the Jewish theater.

Gyorgy Vari, a Jewish blogger and university lecturer, said that over the past few months, “there were general anti-Semitic instigations and threats on several blogs, which intensified and became more explicit before the performance of the Jewish theater.”

After the attack at the theater, a writer for Kurucinfo, a well-read extreme right-wing blog, wrote: “There wasn’t any scandal, the performance wasn’t disturbed, the disgusting Hebrews were not beaten in mass, all what happened was that some members of their crime-gang received a portion of what the material manifestation of their spirit is, a bucket of feces,” so that “that they can be really stinking Jews.”

Vari said the Siraly attack “was the first time since the change of the regime in 1989 when an openly anti-Semitic physical insult happened."

Schoenberger added, "This was a clear first step towards the direction when anti-Semites openly beat up Jews at Jewish places."

While the Jewish federation did not publicly condemn the attack — to the dismay of the theater organizers — Feldmajer told JTA that he blamed lax laws, indifferent courts and inadequate security.

The Jewish federation promised to take steps to introduce better legal measures and increase security, but emphasized that it is the duty of the police to provide lawful order.

Meanwhile, local authorities said they were investigating the incident. But theater organizers have turned to a civil rights organization, Company for Freedom Rights, to pursue legal remedies to prevent such actions in the future.

The neo-Nazi reaction to the show — and the local media coverage it inspired — helped fuel its popularity, with additional performances scheduled this week. For Vajda, this kind of response confuses the extremists.

“We do stand up and show that we are not threatened," he said. "The show must and will go on.”

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