23 February 2010
The National Assembly of Hungary has voted in favor of making the denial or belittling of the Holocaust a criminal offense, punishable by up to three years imprisonment. The law, which was introduced by the governing Socialist Party, passed with 197 deputies voting in favor, one against, and 142 abstaining. If President László Sólyom signs the bill into law, it will enter into force 30 days later. The main opposition party, Fidesz, had submitted a motion to criminalize the public denial of crimes against humanity committed by Communist as well as fascist regimes, but it was rejected.
The president of Mazsihisz, the Jewish community federation, Péter Feldmájer, and several Holocaust survivors attended the voting. Earlier attempts to criminalize Holocaust denial were rejected by the courts for infringing the constitutional right of free speech. Efforts to modify the constitution to ensure the bill's legality also failed.
Parliament also made participation in the leadership of a dissolved social organization punishable by up to three years in prison, raising the seriousness of such activity from a misdemeanor to a crime. The bill was passed by 177 affirmative votes and 140 abstentions, as Fidesz did not support it. This measure is targeted at the extreme-right paramilitary Hungarian Guard, which was banned by the courts last year but has continued its activities.
Some 550,000 Hungarian Jews and around 50,000 Gypsies were killed in the Holocaust. Hungary's Jewish community of around 100,000 is among the biggest in central Europe.
The country will hold parliamentary elections in April, and currently the Fidesz led by former Prime Minister Viktor Orban is expected to return to power. Opinion polls also give the far-right party Jobbik 6 to 7 percent support, which could lead to it winning dozens of seats. Jobbik has been banking on deep public discontent over the economic crisis and rising resentment against Hungary's large Roma minority. It campaigns on what it calls "Roma crime".
Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai told the assembly: "This monster stands in front of our doors and is banging on the door demanding that we let it in. It became a movement ... from a movement a party, and it got into European Parliament, and now it wants to make it into the Hungarian parliament," the prime minister said. He will not run in the April election.
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