Elie Wiesel tells Hungary to ban Holocaust denial

BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary should consider banning Holocaust denial to improve its image abroad and contain lurking hostility towards its minorities, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel said on Wednesday.

Hungary is grappling with its worst economic downturn in almost two decades and rising aversion towards ethnic groups, mainly the country’s large Roma population, lifted the far-right Jobbik party into the European Parliament earlier this year.

Hungarian-born Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel delivers a speech during a symposium of Jewish-Hungarian solidarity in Budapest’s parliament December 9, 2009. (REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh)

Based on poll readings Jobbik is also likely to win enough votes in next year’s elections to get into parliament.

“Wherever in the world I come and the word Hungary is mentioned, the next word is anti-Semitism,” said Wiesel, 81, who was deported along with hundreds of thousands of other Jews to Nazi death camps during World War Two.

“I urge you to do even more to denounce anti-Semitic elements and racist expressions in your political environment and in certain publications,” Wiesel said.

“I believe that they bring shame to your nation and they bring fear to its Jewish community and other minorities, such as the Roma,” Wiesel, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 told a meeting of Jewish and Hungarian leaders in parliament.

In July a court ruling dissolved the far-right Hungarian Guard, a radical nationalist organisation, which staged intimidating marches against Roma nationwide, in black uniforms and insignia, which critics say are reminiscent of the Nazi era.

“I ask you, why don’t you follow the example of France and Germany and declare Holocaust denial not only indecent, but illegal? In those countries Holocaust deniers go to jail,” Wiesel said.

Wiesel warned against what he called the perils of indifference and said Hungarians were responsible for how they handle memories of the past.

Hungary at present has no law protecting communities against imflammatory remarks. Attempts to outlaw such language have failed to pass in parliament or win the approval of President Laszlo Solyom.

Anti-Roma tensions have heightened in the country where 6-7 percent of the 10 million population are Gypsies.

“Hungary does not meet European Union standards in this respect as there is no efficient protection for communities against hate speech,” Gyorgy Kollath, constitutional law expert told Reuters.

After Hungary’s occupation by Nazi Germany in 1944 the Hungarian government actively collaborated in the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Jews to death camps.

(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; editing by Ralph Boulton)