Re.: Open letter to Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the European Commission

Honourable Vice-President,

I was shocked to read the interview you gave to the German weekly Die Zeit, in which, in answer to a question, you accused Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Hungary of anti-Semitism. On behalf of all Hungarians, whom you have deeply insulted, I refute this entirely unfounded accusation.

Based on the Honourable Vice-President’s statement, regrettably I am forced to conclude that, on this issue also, you are unfamiliar with the true situation in Hungary; your claims related to our country are clearly based on sources and opinions which are completely one-sided, and which can in no way be described as factual, unbiased and in good faith.

I would inform you that since 2011 the government led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has provided funding from Hungarian taxpayers of HUF 19 billion (EUR 61 million) for a variety of projects and religious activities for Jewish communities in Hungary. This funding has enabled the refurbishment and renovation of synagogues and community spaces in several cities and towns around the country; these include Kaposvár, Debrecen, Győr, Székesfehérvár, Szeged, Szombathely, Pécs, Vác, Mád, Keszthely, Kiskunhalas, and – beyond the borders –settlements such as Szabadka/ Subotica and Beregszász/ Berehove. I would also highlight that this government is funding a national programme for the refurbishment of Jewish cemeteries. We have introduced the Memorial Day for Hungarian Victims of the Holocaust, and in our Penal Code have made Holocaust denial a punishable offence.

The Government is also providing considerable funding for the maintenance and operation of Jewish educational and social institutions and the organisation of Jewish cultural events. New Jewish religious education textbooks are being published, children’s programmes and summer camps designed to reinforce Jewish identity are being held, and Jewish cultural programmes are being organised – including Holocaust remembrance conferences. In addition, every year since 2014 representatives from Jewish denominations have attended the interreligious conference jointly organised by the Government and the Hungarian National Commission for UNESCO. Jewish denominations also take part in the provision of public services in Hungary: they have established and operate old people’s homes, kindergartens, schools and hospitals. The Government also provides considerable funding for these purposes.

The Honourable Vice-President is obviously unaware that Hungary likewise provided considerable funding for a film adaptation of the Nobel laureate Imre Kertész’s book Fatelessness, as well as for production of the film Son of Saul, which centred on the Holocaust and went on to win an Academy Award. You are clearly similarly unaware that the Government has recently provided extraordinary funding for the rebuilding of a severely fire-damaged synagogue in Budapest – as it would for any Christian church.

I would like to draw the Honourable Vice-President’s attention to the fact that when a similar attack was most recently launched against Hungary last summer, a number of Jewish leaders in Hungary unambiguously refuted the anti-Semitic accusations, dismissing them as untrue and unsubstantiated.

Contrary to your statement and insinuation, Jewish people in Hungary live in safety. Indeed the Government supports the preservation and reinforcement of their identity – just as much as the preservation and reinforcement of the identities of the members of Christian denominations or of any nationality living in Hungary. I would like to inform you that Hungary is home to one of Europe’s largest Jewish communities, and positive and constructive cooperation exists between the denominations representing them and the Hungarian government.

Finally I feel compelled to draw the Honourable Vice-President’s attention to the fact that it is not Viktor Orbán’s statements or the decisions of the Hungarian government which jeopardise the European ideal and faith in the European Union, but rather your pubic statements. The faith of the Hungarian people in European institutions and their reliable operation will be shaken rather than reinforced by such a series of patent absurdities and libellous claims as those voiced by the First Vice-President of the European Commission.

Mr. Vice-President, you have gravely insulted our country, the Hungarian people and the Jewish communities living here. You therefore have no choice but to resign your office.

Yours sincerely,

Miklós Soltész

Ministry of Human Capacities

Minister of State for Church, Nationality and Civil Society Relations

(Ministry of Human Capacities, State Secretariat for Church, Nationality and Civil Society Relations)