Zsolt Bayer, a founding member of Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, has come under fire for writing a newspaper column in which he likened the country’s Roma minority to animals. "Most Gypsies are not suitable for cohabitation. They are not suitable for being among people. Most are animals, and behave like animals. They shouldn't be tolerated or understood, but stamped out. Animals should not exist. In no way,” Bayer wrote in Saturday’s edition of ‘Magyar Hirlap’. He also attacked the “politically correct Western world” for advocating tolerance and understanding of Roma, who make up around seven percent of Hungary’s 10 million-strong population and often are among its poorest and least educated citizens.
Bayer, who in the past referred to Jews "as stinking excrement called something like Cohen", wrote his article in reaction to a New Year’s Eve bar fight in which several people were seriously injured and some of the attackers were reportedly Roma.
Justice Minister Tibor Navracsics strongly condemned the article and said Fidesz had no room for anyone "who labels a group of people as animals”. Opposition parties said the Hungarian authorities had to decide whether Bayer should be prosecuted for incitement against a minority. They urged Fidesz to expel him. However, Fidesz spokeswoman Gabriella Selmeczi said at a news conference Tuesday that the party would not take a position on the basis of an opinion piece. “Zsolt Bayer wrote this article not as a politician but as a journalist, and we don’t qualify the opinions of journalists,” she was quoted by AP as saying.
The Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary (Mazsihisz) also condemned Bayer's article. "Each and every statement that stigmatizes a group of people by their origin and ranks them as animals is against God’s commandments and the norms of civilized societies," the Jewish umbrella group said in a statement, adding: "It is not the first time that this newspaper publicist is offering the annihilation of our fellow citizens." Mazsihisz called on all Hungarians to speak out against such manifestations of racism.
Bayer served as the Fidesz communications chief in the early 1990s. He is a friend of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and one of the main organizers of the Peace March, events in support of the Orbán government that have drawn huge crowds over the past year. Gordon Bajnai, a former prime minister and potential rival to Orbán at the next elections due in 2014, told the left-leaning daily Nepszava that Bayer was a "stain" on Orban and Fidesz.
On Tuesday, Bayer wrote in another column in ‘Magyar Hirlap’ that his words in the previous one had been willfully distorted and that his intention was to “make something happen” with the Roma issue. “I want order. I want every decent Gypsy to get on in life in this country and for every Gypsy unable and unfit to live in society to be cast out of society.”
In an article published last November in the Hungarian daily 'Népszabadság', World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder had urged Orbán to take decisive action against those who attack religious and ethnic minorities in the country. He accused the prime minister of not doing enough in the wake of recent anti-Roma and anti-Semitic incidents. “The protection of its minorities is a litmus test for Hungarian democracy,” Lauder wrote.