Street protest halts unveiling of statue honoring Holocaust-era Hungarian lawmaker


(JTA) — A street protest in Budapest prevented the planned unveiling of a statue honoring a Holocaust-era politician who supported anti-Semitic legislation.

Organizers pulled the plug on the event after several dozen demonstrators gathered Wednesday at the place on Pava Street where the local government planned that day to unveil a statue of Gyorgy Donath, a lawmaker when Hungary was under the control of pro-Nazi governments.

The protesters, some waving European Union flags, shouted that Donath was racist, reported.

On Tuesday, the Mazsihisz umbrella group of Jewish communities condemned both the unveiling and the scheduled attendance at the event of officials from the Fidesz ruling party: Gergely Gulyas, a deputy speaker in parliament, and former Prime Minister Péter Boross.

It was the second time in three months the Mazsihisz challenged a statue for a Hungarian lawmaker from that era.

This “far-right, anti-Semitic politician deserves no statue in Hungary,” Mazsihisz wrote in a statement published Tuesday of Donath. But Gulyas, who left the event because of the protests, is quoted by Origo as saying on Wednesday that Donath is “a martyr, so he deserves to be a statue in Budapest.”

A communist kangaroo court executed Donath in 1947 on trumped-up charges. Many consider him a hero who died for Hungary’s freedom.

The district government that commissioned the statue said the unveiling will take place at an unspecified time in the future.

In December, Mazsihisz protested a plan to commemorate Balint Homan, a Hungarian Holocaust-era minister who supported and promoted the same laws. The unveiling of a monument in his honor was halted after Prime Minister Viktor Orban said he opposed it.

“For three years, we’ve been struggling against a government policy to rewrite history through symbols,” Rabbi Zoltan Radnoti, chairman of the Mazsihisz  rabbinical board, told JTA. “They want to hold up fascists as heroes. We fear the long-term consequences of doing so.”

In 2014, Mazsihisz briefly suspended contact with Orban’s center-right government in protest of its support of another controversial commemorative project — a statue dealing with Hungary under the rule of Nazi Germany and its pro-Nazi collaborators.

Unveiled in July that year in Budapest, the statue is an angel being attacked by a German eagle – a design that critics say glosses over Hungary’s active role in sending some 450,000 Jews to their deaths during the Holocaust. The Hungarian government disputes the interpretation, arguing the figure attacked represents all victims of fascism and not only the Hungarian state.

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