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Sociologist Kovacs, two accused of anti-Semitism win high honors from Hungary

(JTA) – Hungary recognized a Jewish sociologist, Andreas Kovacs, and two citizens accused of making anti-Semitic statements with prestigious national awards.

Kovacs, 65, was one of 17 people presented the Szechenyi Prize on the occasion of Hungary’s March 15 national day. The prize, given to Kovacs for his decades-long research on postwar Jewish identity, anti-Semitism, minority rights and social history, recognizes outstanding contributions in academic life in Hungary. He has tracked anti-Semitism in Hungary as well as Hungarian Jewish identity since the 1970s.

Also March 15, Ferenc Szaniszlo, a television presenter for Echo TV, was awarded the Tancsics Award for journalists, despite the anti-Semitism accusations and calling Roma “apes” — a comment for which his station received a $500 fine from the Hungarian state media regulator in 2011.

Szaniszlo has made several anti-Semitic comments, according to the online edition of Der Spiegel. He has described himself as an “anti-szemét:” a term which in Hungarian literally means “anti-garbage” but is understood to be a wordplay on the closely sounding “antiszemita” – anti-Semitic. He received the award for “outstanding activity in the cultural area,” the news site Index.hu reported.

In the sciences, the list of recipients of the Order of Merit included Kornel Bakay, an archaeologist who according to Der Spiegel online has claimed that Jesus was not Jewish but a Parthian and that Jews had organized the slave trade during the Middle Ages.

At least six past recipients of the Tancsics Prize have renounced the award in protest of the award to Szaniszo, according to Professor Eva Balogh of Yale University, who writes the Hungarian Spectrum blog on current affairs.

“One must look upon this list of recipients as a gesture from the government [of Prime Minister Viktor Orban] toward Jobbik and the extreme right,” she wrote, referring to the ultranationalistic party that has gained strength in recent years.

Kovacs has published more than 100 scholarly works, including his 2010 book "Stranger at hand. Anti-Semitic prejudices in post-communist Hungary."

A professor at Central European University in Budapest and other institutions, Kovacs has carried out research for the American Jewish Committee, London’s Institute for Jewish Policy Research, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and other international Jewish organizations.

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