Antisemitism in an Era of Transition

Continuities and Impact in Post-Communist Poland and Hungary

by François Guesnet (Volume editor) Gwen Jones (Volume editor)
©2014 Edited Collection 301 Pages


The post-Communist transition in Eastern Central Europe has brought about democratic reform, liberalized economies and accession to the European Union, but also the emergence of political movements that revert to antisemitic rhetoric and arguments. This volume compares the genealogies and impact of antisemitism in contemporary Poland and Hungary. Leading and emerging scholars contrast developments in both countries from the last quarter of the nineteenth century to the present, analysing the roles played by organised religion, political leaders, media and press, but also by Communist Parties. They present historical analysis as well as the results of qualitative and quantitative research on contemporary public memory, the image of the Jew, antisemitic media, political constituencies and the interplay of prejudices, specifically anti-Roma racism. A topical bibliography of research on antisemitism in post-Communist Eastern Central Europe offers pathways to further research.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Editors
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Antisemitism in Poland and Hungary after 1989: Determinants of social impact: François Guesnet Gwen Jones
  • Why Do Polish Catholics Hate the Jews? A reasoned answer to a stupid question: Brian Porter-Szűcs
  • An Old-New Story: The continued existence of the Tiszaeszlár blood libel1: János Dési
  • The past
  • The beginnings
  • The present
  • Revival of the blood libel
  • Between Realpolitik and Redemption: Roman Dmowski’s solution to the ‘Jewish question’: Grzegorz Krzywiec
  • Miklós Horthy (1868-1957) and the ‘Jewish Question’ in Hungary, 1920-1945: László Karsai
  • Revisionism
  • Horthy, the Arrow Cross and the anti-Jewish laws
  • Hungary’s entry into World War II
  • The safe haven myth
  • The road to the Hungarian Holocaust, 1944: Who knew what, and when?
  • 19 March 1944
  • Baky’s coup
  • Epilogue
  • Jews and the Communist Commitment in Hungary and Eastern Central Europe after 1945: Victor Karady
  • Preliminaries
  • The Jewish-Communist nexus before World War Two
  • After the Shoah
  • Jews and Communism: a liaison dangereuse
  • Communism and the Jewish over-investment in matters of identity
  • Conclusion
  • Antisemitic elements in Communist discourse: A continuity factor in post-war Hungarian antisemitism: András Kovács
  • Public Memory in Transition: Antisemitism and the memory of World War II in Poland, 1980-2010: Adam Ostolski
  • The Eighties: a paradigm shift
  • Features of the current paradigm
  • Poland in the context of Europe
  • The Poles and the Jews
  • The end of the transitional phase?
  • The work of antisemitic art in the age of digital reproduction: Hungarian publishing revivals since 1989: Gwen Jones
  • Methodology, tendencies
  • Banned books
  • Reprints
  • The afterlife: taboo subjects
  • Useable pasts
  • From margins to mainstream
  • The Emergence of Antisemitism in Times of Rapid Social Change: Survey results from Poland: Mikołaj Winiewski and Michał Bilewicz
  • Jews in Poland before and after systemic transition
  • Antisemitism in Polish political life after 1989
  • The expression of antisemitism in public debate
  • Antisemitic behaviour: violence and vandalism
  • Surveys on the scope of antisemitism
  • Attitudes toward Jews: Change over time?
  • Jews as scapegoats: The belief in Jewish power
  • Behavioural aspects of antisemitism: Social distance
  • New antisemitism in Poland? Attitudes toward Israel
  • Secondary Antisemitism: Victimhood competition in Poland
  • Conclusion
  • The indicators of Hungarian national populism: What does antisemitism show?: Pál Tamás
  • Populism: its Hungarian form and contents
  • Forms of antisemitism
  • Radicalism: periphery, or hidden centre
  • Measurement indications
  • Perspectives
  • Conclusion
  • Old and New Fora for Antisemitic Discourse: Reflections on Poland since the 1990s: Hanna Kwiatkowska
  • Prosecution of hate speech
  • Radio Maryja and Nasz Dziennik
  • Antisemitic discourse on the internet – brief overview
  • The internet forum: a new space for a public debate or a platform for antisemitism? Case study
  • Final comments
  • Divida et Impera: (Re)Creating the Hungarian National Gypsy: Claude Cahn
  • Background(s)
  • The Fejér County Events
  • Zámoly
  • The Zámoly Roma Events in Political Discourse
  • The End of Liberalism
  • Jobbik
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Works dealing with antisemitism in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary
  • Works dealing with antisemitism in single countries
  • Poland
  • Czech Republic, Slovakia
  • Hungary
  • Politics and Economics
  • Politics and Economics – single countries
  • Poland
  • Slovakia
  • Czech Republic
  • Hungary
  • Analytical Studies
  • Analytical Studies – single countries
  • Poland
  • Czech Republic
  • Slovakia
  • Hungary
  • Opinion surveys
  • Institute For Global Jewish Affairs
  • Institute For Jewish Policy Reseach
  • About the contributors

Antisemitism in Poland and Hungary after 1989: Determinants of social impact

François Guesnet

Gwen Jones

On 20 November 2012 Brunon Kwiecień, a lecturer at the Agricultural University of Kraków, was arrested after his preparations for a terrorist attack on the Polish parliament, the Sejm, and the upper echelons of state administration were uncovered. The Polish and international press immediately named him the “Polish Breivik”, after the Norwegian terrorist who exploded a bomb in the government district of Oslo and singlehandedly killed 72 youths on the island of Utøya in July 2011. In his social network posts Kwiecień, who has considerable expertise in handling explosives, had done little to hide his xenophobic, chauvinist and antisemitic vision of the world, and his supporting comments referred to the right to defend Poland from “Judeo-European globalization”.1

Less than a week later, on 26 November, the day on which the Hungarian parliament voted in a controversial and short-lived new election law,2 Jobbik MP Márton Gyöngyösi proposed that in view of the ongoing conflict in Gaza, a list be drawn up of Hungarian parliamentary representatives whose dual nationality with Israel posed a security threat. This mention of a “Jew-list”, from which Gyöngyösi distanced himself the next day claiming misunderstanding, drew immediate domestic and international criticism: Jobbik and its proscribed satellite groups whose uniforms reminiscent of Arrow Cross units are already well-known to observers of Hungarian politics. Later that week in response, anti-Fascist activists dressed in concentration camp prisoners’ striped uniforms leafleted central Budapest advertising a demonstration protesting Gyöngyösi’s statement and the radical right more broadly.3

These two incidents, both of which carried considerable international media coverage, are recent examples of the persistent role antisemitism continues to play in the formation and expression of antidemocratic attitudes, and conventions of defining “us” and “them”. However, in order to further qualify these occurrences ← 7 | 8 → of political actions with a strong antisemitic resonance, a more precise inquiry is necessary. The presence and utilization of antisemitism is hardly surprising, given the role it has played in the political culture of Poland and Hungary since the nineteenth century. And, although recent polls suggest that antisemitic worldviews are not markedly more frequent or intense in this part of the world today when compared to the West,4 it can be argued that national communities in Eastern Central Europe followed a distinct pathway in the transformation from early modern versions of Jew-hatred to modern and contemporary forms of antisemitism. Although more comparative research needs to be carried out to establish commonalities and differences in anti-Jewish mobilization during the nineteenth century among Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, Lithuanians and others in the region, it seems that the imperial context framing national aspirations impacted early on discussions about the Jewish presence in society. The higher visibility of Jews, in comparison to Germany or western Europe, added a specific sense of urgency or even plausibility to these exclusionary visions of the polity, and left a mark on some — certainly not all — strands of various independence movements in the region, which were also characterized by a strong emphasis on social, economic and political issues, and less by the impact of pseudo-scientific, bio-political arguments concerning race.

One objective of the present volume is to investigate the degree to which one can identify continuities in this specific Eastern Central European pathway of anti-Jewish ideologies and worldviews from the early twentieth century to the post-war period, to the end of Communism, and beyond. Its main focus, however, is to assess how post-Communist transition has affected the societal impact of antisemitism, and ask: what do we need to look at in order to find out? We proposed to continue the investigation into antisemitism in this region by encouraging scholars to enter a debate about the relationship between antisemitism and broader phenomena of transition in the aftermath of the fall of Communism. More specifically, our intention is to enable specialized investigators to discuss the questions: (1) whether mobilizing antisemitic stereotypes offers immunity from social and cultural change by re-connecting to earlier political traditions that included antisemitic attitudes (a process also described as “hibernation” in the context of studying post-dictatorial societies5); (2) whether social segments adhering to antisemitic attitudes and stereotypes strive for comparable strategies of building in ← 8 | 9 → formal or formal organizations; (3) what the political and societal reach of these organizations is in Poland and Hungary; (4) and whether the internet, obviously enhancing group constitution and communication, has helped these organizational efforts in the late 1990s and early years of the new millennium.

Over the course of the research project, experts on antisemitism in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the Baltic States, Russia, Poland and Hungary shared their expertise with us. Instead of a broad survey, however, the editors decided to focus the volume on a contrasting comparison between the latter two cases. Such a comparative mise en relief relies on the juxtaposition of a number of issues and perspectives: the role of the church and of authoritarian leaders, the identification of Jews with Marxism and Communist rule, the continued impact of past imageries, and socio-empirical insights into the role of contemporary antisemitism. We believe that both the similarities and differences in what István Rév has termed the “prehistory of post-Communism”,6 as well as transitional trajectories, yield highly relevant results.

There is a case to be made for a number of similarities. Many generations of cohabitation between Jews and non-Jews contributed to a complex fabric of inter-group relations. In the early modern period, these relations were based on the relatively strong legal position of autonomous Jewish communities, a clearly defined socio-economic role of Jews as intermediaries between nobility and the rural population and between the countryside and the towns, and strong competition between Jews and burghers, balanced by a relatively reliable alliance between Jews and the crown and/or the nobility. Distinct and lasting boundaries separated Jews and non-Jews on the grounds of religious difference, and contributed to the status of Jews as “meaningful Other”, with varying sources and degrees of rejection, and the periodic mobilization of inter-group conflict. These “partnerships of alterity” functioned for the longest periods of early modern cohabitation on the basis of a recognition of the “Other” as part of the landscape, tolerated when necessary, and rejected when expedient. They were warranted by the essentially contractual character of the presence of Jewish communities in the early modern commonwealths in Eastern Central Europe, and also by the assumption that the boundaries between communities would remain stable.7 ← 9 | 10 →

Regarding the political and ideological mobilization around the Jewish presence, antisemitism as a modern exclusionary vision of the nation had a strong impact both in partitioned Poland and in Hungary, offering a new axis of mobilization for traditional, often religious forms of anti-Jewish resentment.8 The presence of large Jewish communities made the coexistence of non-Jews and Jews one of the issues high up on the political agenda, and may be considered a catalyst in mobilizing these kinds of exclusionary tendencies. Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz’s (1757-1841) phantasmagory “The Year 3333, or A Nightmare” (written in 1817, first published in 1858), offers a vision of Jews having taken over the highest echelons of power in the Polish capital Warsaw, a poignant illustration of the fears related to the presence of a seemingly uncontrollable Other.9 Earlier than in Hungary, Polish authors developed a complex argument about the harmful presence of “the Jews”. Thus in 1859, Henryk Schmitt (1817-1883) argued against the emancipation of Galician Jewry, citing both their foreignness and unwillingness to acculturate, and, more importantly, arguing that their very presence lacked democratic legitimacy, since it was based on agreements concluded between the no longer extant crown and aristocracy, rather than the Polish nation as a whole.10 ← 10 | 11 →

At the same time as the new term “antisemitism” was introduced in the late 1870s in Germany, accompanied by the huge and rapid growth in popular support enjoyed by this movement, the development of pseudo-scientific, racist arguments in both Poland and Hungary added new credentials to a politicized and ideologized rejection of the Jewish presence. In Polish antisemitic discourse, economic, political and societal arguments remained hegemonic at least until the turn of the century, with prominent spokesmen such as the priest Stanisław Stołajowski (1845-1911), politicians such as Teofil Merunowicz (1846-1919), and journalists such as Jan Jeleński (1848-1909) and Teodor Jeske-Choiński (1854-1920) at the forefront of political agitation seeking to demonstrate the Jews’ detrimental influence on the Polish nation.11 Only around the turn of the century, did Roman Dmowski (1864-1939), the leader of the National Democracy movement, integrate racist arguments into this larger societal and political argument.

In Hungary, the first wave of political antisemitism in the 1880s was not clerical in character, but modern. The mobilization of the medieval blood libel by MP Győző Istóczy and other founders of the National Antisemitic Party proved limited in terms of short-term political gains. However, it established early on a nexus for clerks and magistrates from the provinces, many of whom were ex-Liberals, who questioned the “reception” of Judaism and oppose civil marriages. These would later be joined by clerics close to the Catholic People’s Party and anti-capitalist small landowners. The over-representation of Jews in medicine, law and journalism would continue to fuel competition for prestigious middle-class positions up to and beyond World War One.

The aftermath of the war propelled the status of the Jews to the political foreground: in Poland, large segments of society resented the imposed inclusion of minority protection clauses in the constitution, while in post-Trianon Hungary, the three-month revolutionary episode under Béla Kun in 1919, and the dissolution of historical Hungary under the 1920 Treaty of Trianon were perceived by many non-Jewish Hungarians in the illiberal, early interwar years as a prime example of the pernicious influence of “the Jews”. In both states, the political right based considerable parts of its programme on xenophobic and antisemitic visions of the polity, and contributed considerably to the increasingly authoritarian character of political life. Exclusionary antisemitism in popular sentiment and administrative policies led to the establishment of numerus clausus for Jews in public universi ← 11 | 12 → ties, a strong indicator of the far-reaching impact of antisemitism as a cultural code legitimizing exclusionary practices.12

In the late 1930s, radical right-wing worldviews came to dominate the political arena in both states. In Poland, the death of Marshall Józef Piłsudski in May 1935 is widely considered the turning point, with authoritarian governments marked by a growing degree of anti-Jewish bias taking advantage of the political vacuum left after the disappearance of this larger-than-life political leader.13 Notwithstanding the similarity of anti-Jewish legislation in Poland and Hungary in the years preceding World War Two, the series of Hungarian “Jewish Laws” imposed quotas on Jews in the free professions (1938), tightened by the second law which also introduced a racial definition of Jewishness (1939), while the third law further increased the number of those defined as Jews and banned mixed relationships (1941). Comparable legislation was only introduced on Polish territories with the German occupation after the attack on Poland on September 1, 1939. In both Poland and Hungary, however, the persecution, segregation, and murder of the local Jewish population during World War Two were carried out systematically and ultimately aimed at their complete annihilation.

Various forms of involvement in or resistance against crimes against the local Jewish population emerged as central topics of public debate only in the late period of Communist rule in Poland and Hungary, though have gained considerable prominence since. This discussion has been undoubtedly influenced by the systematic de-Judaization of Jewish suffering during World War Two in a highly scripted commemorative discourse which knew only “the Hitlerists” or “the Fascists” and their indistinguishable victims. The high visibility of Jews in earlier social democratic and social revolutionary movements constituted a core argument on the conservative side of the political spectrum in both Poland and Hungary for proposing exclusionary political projects, and this re-emerged as a trope of anti-Communist opposition after World War Two — claims which, due to the underground, conspiratorial character of this opposition, were rarely challenged politically.14 In both states, this opposition to Soviet hegemony led to armed re ← 12 | 13 → sistance, although the differences in their reach and resonance seem to outweigh this similarity: whereas the Hungarian uprising of 1956 was significantly more successful than any of the violent expressions of dissent in Poland, the latter had, as has been argued, a more sustained impact and ultimately lead to “oppositional hegemony”.15

Antisemitism as an ideological marker played a crucial role then, and reappeared as such in the ongoing re-construction(s) of a useable past. As one political commentator observed in the case of the Polish parliamentary elections of 2005: “Instead of a modern Conservative Party, such as was able to modernize Britain or Spain, we find in Poland a cheap copy of the Endecja [the conservative National Democrats led by Roman Dmowski, the eds.] in which an old-fashioned pre-war nationalism mingles with a pre-Vatican II Catholicism, united in its rejection of modernization and mistrust of the West.”16 Likewise, Fidesz’s victory at the 2010 Hungarian general elections has allowed for the rehabilitation of certain personalities’ and aspects of Horthy’s Hungary. This has included the renaming of numerous streets and squares as well as public bodies, the erection of statues of the interwar regent around the country, and the inscription of zero responsibility into cardinal law: “We date the restoration of our country’s self-determination, lost on the nineteenth day of March 1944, from the second day of May 1990, when the first freely elected body of popular representation was formed. We shall consider this date to be the beginning of our country’s new democracy and constitutional order.”17

The differences between both cases, however, are as central to our inquiry as the similarities. The loss of the commonwealth through the partitions imbued the supporters of Polish independence with an almost messianic vision for their nation. Membership in and allegiance to the standard-bearer of this project, the Catholic church, achieved the status of a core element of Polish identity at a time when other European commonwealths, including Hungary, took first steps away from a religious definition of national identity. In Poland, the nobility reeled from the devastating consequences of a several failed attempts to reverse the parti ← 13 | 14 → tions, while the clergy, traditionally overwhelmingly hostile to the Jewish presence, grew to prominence in the preservation of Polish national identity. In Hungary however, where a significant political establishment existed, not only did the Hungarian nobility constitute a vanguard in shaping the Austro-Hungarian project of a modern and modernizing Empire, it also established a durable alliance with the upper echelons of the Jewish community, many of whom were subsequently ennobled.18

Although Polish Catholicism was far from being monolithic, it offered little to adherents of a liberal and inclusive worldview. The self-image as antemurale christianitatis allowed for political mobilization against the partitioning powers as well as a patriotic rallying call. Supporters of this fight for Polish independence had little more to offer to the local Jewish population than a limited participation in the insurrectionist effort, combined with a vague promise of emancipation in the case of success. These half-hearted efforts of political integration of Polish Jews by Polish noble and romantic patriots were successfully undercut by the partitioning powers: Prussia and Austria offered naturalization and, later, emancipation, and also pathways of social and cultural integration. In the Russian partition, a short-lived episode of Polish-Jewish brotherhood in the context of anti-Russian mobilization lost its appeal after partial emancipation of the Jews of Congress Poland in June 1862.

This may be contrasted with Hungary, where the leading political figures largely supported the Jewish presence, with stipulations. Around the same time as Baron József Eötvös campaigned for Jewish emancipation, patriotic endeavours by Löw Schwab, the rabbi of Pest, and Mór Ballagi, called on Jews to embrace secular education and the Hungarian language, while Lajos Kossuth also embraced emancipation and full assimilation, in other words the repudiation of all religious and political difference. Magyarization efforts were led by reformist rabbis such as Leopold Löw and Ignác Hirschler in the 1860s, and following formal emancipation in 1867, the education and urbanization of Hungarian Jews — the majority of whom came to discard German and Yiddish in favour of Hungarian — accelerated, until the “acculturation of Hungarian Jewry, in all but the most backward northeast region, was an accomplished fact”.19 Whereas Hungar ← 14 | 15 → ian Jewry pursued an overall successful process of integration, the final decades of the nineteenth century saw resentment grow among Poles against a Jewish community seemingly indifferent to the cause of independence. A sustained political mobilization of Jews took place in the Galician parts of the Austrian and Russian partitions, leading to the emergence of exclusively Jewish political movements, both secular (nationalist and social-democratic) and religious. The emergence of this highly visible Jewish political sphere quickly became a favourite topic on the conservative side of the political spectrum.20 Having assimilated and identified with the state in exchange for emancipation, Hungarian Jews had, in effect, ensured a slim Hungarian majority in the multinational eastern half of the empire. This Interessengemeinschaft between Jews and non-Jews remained valid for both parties until after the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, when Jews were no longer needed to maintain numerical superiority in former Hungarian territories and, following the collapse of the Dual Monarchy and the punitive territorial revisions delivered to one of the losers of the Great War, the identification of scapegoats proved expedient. Hungary’s numerus clausus law of 1920 was the earliest of its kind in Central Europe, designed to “rectify” the constitution of the middle class, given the Jews’ exclusion from land ownership and civil service posts, and thus gravitation towards finance, industry, trade and the free professions.21 The post-liberal antisemitic backlash that accompanied this forced many Jews and liberal intellectuals into temporary exile. One of them, critic and patron of the arts Lajos Hatvany, who had urged his fellow Jews in 1917 to christen their children and leave the caftan and the ghetto behind for good,22 wrote his semi-autobiographical novel of Jewish assimilation Urak és emberek [Lords and Men, 1927] in exile, and explained in a letter to Martin Buber in 1929 that: “My path as a Jew […] led to an imagined assimilation. I felt Hungarian, it was here I was at home, I wrote and agitated as a Hungarian until I was informed that I have no business here. After almost a decade in emigration and a disgusting trial, prison and ostracism became my fate.”23 ← 15 | 16 →

The trajectories of Poland and Hungary during World War Two diverged significantly, with Poland being the first victim of a large-scale military offensive from Nazi Germany and Hungary allying herself to the latter. In Poland, members of the local non-Jewish population colluded in the persecution of the terrorized Jewish community, with the Polish underground condemning the actions of the German occupier, and many non-Jewish Poles risking their lives in order to save Jews. In Hungary, the legal implements to disenfranchise and dehumanise Jews, including the introduction in 1942 of forced labour for all Jewish males aged 24-33, were put in place by a succession of Hungarian governments. Following the German occupation of 19 March 1944, the deportation of close to 440,000 non-Budapest Jews was carried out in under two months by Eichmann and his aides working together with the Hungarian authorities, police and gendarmerie. The ghettoization and summary violence carried out in Budapest under the Arrow Cross government (16 October 1944 – 7 May 1945) resulted in thousands of further deaths.

The Communist takeover of power after World War Two was complete in Poland by 1947, and in Hungary by 1948. While figures are approximate, it is estimated that around 70,000 Hungarians of Jewish origin left the country in two waves of immigration, the first between 1945 and 1948, and the second in 1956-1957. Up to 150,000 Jews left Poland in the immediate post-liberation years, followed by a further exodus of around 15,000 people after the last large-scale, state-sponsored antisemitic mobilization in the Soviet Bloc, in 1967/8. In the decades of Soviet control, antisemitic attitudes at times played a prominent role in the formulation and implementation of Party politics. This certainly holds true for the immediate post-war period and rather undercuts notions of Eastern bloc societies submerged in “deep freeze” for four decades. The consolidation period, high Stalinism, and the era that followed, differed in Hungary and Poland in terms of the state’s relationship to and use of antisemitism. In Hungary, show trials in the late 1940s concerned internal Party power struggles, and thereafter official silence reigned. According to a well-known joke, for example, a Hungarian sociologist visits a village and talks to elderly peasants. He asks them if there is any antisemitism in the village, to which the response comes: “No, but there is a demand for it.” The Polish Party later orchestrated prominent “anti-Zionist” campaigns in 1967-68: “These show trials allowed the newly established communist regime to reconnect to traditional antisemitic feelings in the population, thus deflecting anti-Soviet attitudes from these new regimes.”24

In considering which factors shaped the transition process of post-communist societies in Eastern Central Europe in general, and more specifically, Poland and ← 16 | 17 → Hungary, we find numerous examples of a reconnection with pre-war political movements and ideologies, for which antisemitism was an central rallying factor and indeed helped shape policy. This holds true for the political right and extreme right (ONR, the Polish “National Radical Camp”, and the Hungarian Arrow Cross). The key questions addressed by contributors to this volume, however, are: where did antisemitism surface first on the political spectrum? Who were the main promoters, in which contexts was it used, and to what extent were elites involved? Post-Communist public spheres have been shaped by a number of factors, including domestic politicians and intellectuals, the clergy, and international public opinion. Initiatives across the region to revive Jewish culture and combat antisemitism have been supported by a number of international organizations, including the Open Society Foundations (formerly Soros Foundations), the Ronald Lauder Foundation, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research, the Dutch-Jewish Humanitarian Fund, March of the Living International, Chabad-Lubavitch and others. Yet in terms of dealing with the recent and not so recent past, a complex picture emerges of self-image, notions of historical victimhood, and narratives of guilt towards the Jewish community. Since antisemitism hibernated in the traditions of the political and educated classes, revivals of pre-war antisemitism have constituted part of the effort to reconnect to ideological ancestors, thus lending an air of credibility and prestige to post-Communist political projects. Well-known public conflicts in Poland and Hungary, such as the protests against the Carmalite convent near the site of the Auschwitz death camp, the Polish reception of works by Jan T. Gross, and the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Imre Kertész in 2002,25 all illustrate competing versions of the national past.

Although an increased popular use of antisemitic vocabulary has been noted in both Poland and Hungary, one important difference between the two countries serves to illustrate the ways in which racism can be mobilized by the political Right in construction of “us” and “them”. Since the mid-2000s in Hungary, the Jobbik Movement for a Better Hungary (est. 2003) has successfully introduced the notion of “Gypsy criminality” into mainstream political discourse, complemented by “fellow traveller” websites such as kuruc.info and its tireless antisemitic, anti-Roma and homophobic haranguing of “genetic garbage”.26 Since 1989, the closure or privatization of major state employers and the withdrawal of the ← 17 | 18 → social security net has hit Roma communities particularly hard, compounded by local efforts at segregation in education and housing. The identification of Roma as a “parasite” on the national body has consistently been linked by the Hungarian radical Right to allegations of “Jewish” political machinations aimed at dividing what would otherwise be a healthy, thriving (and make-believe) community of white, Christian Hungarians, with Roma representing the low-prestige and Jews the high-prestige end of the “them” scale.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (April)
Antisemitism Post-Communist transition social stratification Antisemitismus authoritarian regimes anti-Roma
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 301 pp., 26 graphs

Biographical notes

François Guesnet (Volume editor) Gwen Jones (Volume editor)

François Guesnet is Sidney and Elizabeth Corob Reader in Modern Jewish History at the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at University College London. He specialises in the early modern and nineteenth century history of Polish and eastern European Jewry. Gwen Jones is Honorary Research Associate at the UCL Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies, and Web Editor for the Open Society Archives, Budapest. She specialises in early twentieth-century Hungarian literature.


Title: Antisemitism in an Era of Transition
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