Protest over Hungarian honour

Dr Katrina Lantos Swett

WASHINGTON – The daughter of the late Democratic congressman Tom Lantos is returning a state award she received from the Hungarian government to protest the same award being presented to a nationalist journalist described as racist and anti-Semitic.

Dr Katrina Lantos Swett joins about 100 other Hungarians or people of Hungarian heritage in returning the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit – to protest the recognition last month of the right-wing journalist and columnist Zsolt Bayer for his writings.

Lantos Swett, a former chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, was honoured with the award in 2009 for establishing the Budapest-based Tom Lantos Institute, which focuses on minority rights. Tom Lantos, who served in the House of Representatives for California, died in 2008. A native of Hungary, he was the only Holocaust survivor to serve in the US Congress.

Lantos Swett said she had hoped to leave her Knight’s Cross award to her children, but could not keep it after it had been awarded to Bayer.

In a statement, she said, “Despite the unspeakable tragedies that my father experienced in Hungary during that darkest time of history, he never lost his love for his native homeland. 

“During nearly three decades of congressional service, Tom Lantos was a stalwart advocate for a free and democratic Hungary and a devoted friend to the Hungarian people.”

She added, “Mr Bayer’s despicable record of overt and hateful -anti-Semitism and racism is beneath contempt.

“He deserves censure, not honour, for his loathsome writings and speech.

“I do not presume to know exactly what my father would do were he still alive. However, I feel confident he would call on Hungary to restore the honour and virtue of this award by stripping Mr Bayer of this unmerited recognition.”

Andras Heisler, the president of Hungary’s main Jewish umbrella organisation, Mazsihisz, returned his award last month. 

He described Bayer as a man “who is a racist, who is an -anti-Semite, who is polluting Hungary with his destructive sentiments and his burning hatred of the Roma, who is vigilantly protecting the traditions of the Hungarian extremist right, keeping alive feelings of fear and hatred.

“I do not wish to belong to any community to which Zsolt Bayer belongs, even virtually,” Heisler said.

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”.