On July 20, 2014, news emerged that the Ministry of External Economy and Foreign Affairs had nominated the well-known pro-government author, poet, translator and editorialist Péter Szentmihályi Szabó to serve as Hungary’s new ambassador to Italy (source in Hungarian).
Szentmihályi Szabó has published several science-fiction and historical novels as well as volumes of poetry and translated Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World into Hungarian, though he is best known for the regular column he writes in the pro-Orbán newspaper Magyar Hírlap in which he castigates the domestic opposition, liberalism, capitalism, the West and the European Union in the vitriolic, name-calling vernacular of Fidesz-friendly journalists (see previous post In Defense of Illiberal Democracy).
The political opposition immediately protested: not only did Szentmihályi Szabó lack previous diplomatic experience and speak no Italian, but he had voiced explicitly anti-Semitic and anti-Gypsy viewpoints on several occasions, particularly during the years in which he was a regular contributor to Magyar Fórum, the weekly newspaper of the radical-nationalist Hungarian Party of Justice and Life, or MIÉP (source in Hungarian).
In a December 2000 article in the Magyar Fórum, for example, Szentmihályi Szabó referred to Jews as “pharisees, hypocrites, agents of Satan” (source in Hungarian). Writing in the same newspaper in September 2002, Szentmihály Szabó declared “We will leave our Hungarian homeland to the Roma, the Romanian, the Austrian, the Jew, the Serb, German and the Slovak, let them fix what they messed up so bad” (source in Hungarian).
Szentmihályi Szabó in fact, ran unsuccessfully for the National Assembly as a representative of the Hungarian Party of Justice and Life in 2002 before gradually drifting between the similarly radical-nationalist Jobbik party and Christian-nationalist Fidesz following MIÉP’s collapse after 2006.
On October 21, 2007, Szentmihályi Szabó recited a poem in honor of the Jobbik-sponsored Hungarian Guard at the radical-nationalist paramilitary organization’s initiation ceremony on Heroes’ Square in Budapest (source in Hungarian).
However, Szentmihályi Szabó has not always been an ardent Hungarian nationalist. His 1977 book of poetry Dream of the Mind (Az ész álma) included the following lyrical poem in praise of communism (Orange Files translation, source A and B in Hungarian):
“Raw Supplication to Communism”
Where do you tarry, communism,
my happiness, my pure love?
Our happiness, our pure love.
The basket of plenty! The table of law!
Daylight of the spirit!
Eat, drink, embrace, sleep!
Weigh yourself against the universe!
Instead of exclamation points,
question marks fall upon us.
I know, it is not urgent.
As the apocalypse, only to the
your unfulfilled state
sorrows not many.
Where do you tarry, communism?
The forces of production, the conditions of production,
the machines rumble,
and the consciousness . . . our subconscious
the state does not want to wither.
Where do you tarry, communism?
Spring comes upon spring,
my child’s eye blinks old;
communism, you, promised one,
flex all your muscle,
shake off the parasites.
Communism, grow my little child.
On July 23, the New York-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL) wrote a letter to Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini and President Giorgio Napolitano of Italy asking them not to accept the credentials of the “known anti-Semite” Szentmihályi Szabó (source in English).
In a July 25 opinion piece entitled “Intolerance and Anti-Semitism. The Ancient Poison of Prejudice” in the liberal Milan-based daily Corriere della Sera, the newspaper’s former deputy editor Pierluigi Battista asked the Italian government to seriously consider the ADL’s request to reject Szentmihályi Szabó’s appointment as Hungary’s ambassador to Italy (source in Italian).
That same day, the Hungary’s Ministry of External Economy and Foreign Affairs issued the following terse statement (source in Hungarian):
Péter Szentmihályi Szabó today informed the leadership of the Ministry of External Economy and Foreign Affairs that he does not want to fill any ambassadorial position of any kind and from his perspective regards the issue to be closed.
In a July 26 interview with Corriere della Sera, Szentmihályi Szabó said that “The reason I stood aside was because I did not want to disturb relations between Italy and Hungary.” Szentmihályi Szabó claimed in the interview “I don’t regard myself to be an anti-Semite. All racist and xenophobic sentiments stand very distant from me. If you want to know my opinion, the contention was not directed at me, but against the Hungarian government and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán” (source in Hungarian).
The Fidesz foreign ministry’s unretracted appointment of Szentmihályi Szabó to serve as Hungary’s ambassador to Italy represents another instance in which Viktor Orbán’s party has flagrantly contradicted its official condemnations of racism through promotion and recognition of authors (József Nyírő), journalists (Szentmihályi Szabó, Zsolt Bayer and Ferenc Szaniszló) and others who have demonstrated anti-Semitic and anti-Gypsy attitudes and minimization of the role that Hungarians played in the persecution of Jews and Gypsies in Hungary during the Second World War (see: What Is Truth?, Round About Midnight and Human Resources Minister Zoltán Balog’s claim that no Gypsies were deported from the country during the war).
The Fidesz appointment of Szentmihályi Szabó also reflects the incongruity between the party’s vociferously anti-communist ideology and the communist past (source in Hungarian) of many of its officials, advocates and supporters.