Controversy has erupted in Hungary over the government’s decision to give the prestigious Knight’s Cross award to Zsolt Bayer, a journalist known for making anti-Semitic and racist comments, resulting in numerous people returning their own awards in protest.
Journalist Zsolt Bayer, whom the Bloomberg report called a “close ally” of right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, received the Order of Merit of the Knight’s Cross – Hungary’s second highest honor — last week.
In protest, more than 50 past recipients of the honor have returned their awards.
According to the Bloomberg report, Bayer, a co-founder of Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, has been fined multiple times by Hungary’s media regulator for anti-Semitic and racist comments. His targets have included Jews, refugees, and the Roma. In one example of anti-Semitism, Bayer wrote of two Jewish politicians — Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Andras Schiffer — “unfortunately they weren’t all buried up to their necks in the Orgovany woods.” This was a reference, the report said, to the 1919 killing of suspected communists in Hungary, amongst whom were many Jews.
András Heisler, the president of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz), returned his own award as well in protest of the same award being given to Bayer.
Heisler wrote on his Facebook page that he was giving back the Knight’s Cross, which he was awarded in 2011, following the presentation of the honor last week to Bayer.
Heisler wrote that as an activist who promotes diversity and cooperation, he was proud of receiving the award, but he could not be in the company, not even virtually, of “a man who a racist, who is anti-Semitic, whose anti-Roma hatred and nation-destroying ideas pollute Hungary, and who is a staunch defender of Hungarian far-right traditions.”
“I value diversity, but not destructive extremism,” he stressed “As a civil activist I received the award, and as a responsible Hungarian citizen I am returning it. This is my own personal decision.”
Bayer, a co-founder of the ruling Fidesz party, has long angered Jews and others with his articles and op-eds in right-wing publications. In April, the Israeli ambassador to Hungary protested to the editor of the ‘Magyar Hirlap’ newspaper saying that Bayer’s columns “openly advocate anti-Semitic sentiments and incite against the Jewish people and the State of Israel.