Pugnacious Fidesz publicist awarded Order of Merit

August 19, 2016

Augusztus 20. - Állami kitüntetések átadása
Zsolt Bayer (left), receiving the state honor from Minister János Lázár

Update: Within a week of Fidesz publicist Zsolt Bayer receiving the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit, some 88 previous recipients of Hungary’s third highest state honor have announced their intention to return the state award, including András Heisler, the president of Hungary’s Alliance of Jewish Religious Organizations.  Furthermore, the Washington Holocaust Museum has openly called on President Áder to rescind the award.

“For exposing numerous national matters and for his representation in that field, especially the credible and worthy presentation of the fates of the prisoners of the GULAG camps and the life of Hungarians in Transylvania, and in recognition of his exemplary journalistic activity”

Budapest city assemblyman and former parliamentary commissioner for minority rights Jenő Kaltenbach announced today that he would return his Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit of Hungary in protest over Fidesz publicist Zsolt Bayer receiving the same state award on Thursday, reports Népszava.

Opposition politicians have called on Hungarian President János Áder to rescind the award, citing the fact that Bayer’s op-ed pieces appearing in pro-government Magyar Hírlap are frequently belligerent, racist, and obscene, so much so that only a few months ago the Fidesz-controlled National Media and Infocommunications Authority felt compelled to fine Magyar Hírlap  HUF 250,000 (USD 912) for publishing an op-ed piece in which Bayer stated that every refugee over the age of 14 was a “potential killer”. The authority found that the piece incited hatred.

On The Vatican’s reaction to the European refugee crisis, Bayer wrote that “the Pope is either a demented old man who is completely unsuited to fill the post of Pope, or a villain.”

Responding to a series of op-ed pieces penned by Bayer in March and April this year seeking to justify political anti-semitism in Hungary under the title “Intolerable” (“Tűrhetetlen”), Israel’s Ambassador to Hungary, Ilan Mor, wrote an open letter to the editor-in-chief of Magyar Hírlap condemning the print daily for publishing the articles.

(In July this year Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó bestowed the Middle Cross of the Hungarian Order of Merit on Mor, perhaps to prevent an international scandal from erupting over the decision to award the Knight’s Cross to Zsolt Bayer-ed.)

Hate speech

What little remains of Hungary’s independent press responded to news of the award with shock and astonishment. News websites

444.hu and nol.hu both collected the most scandalous quotations of the publicist, most of which featured the colorful Hungarian expression “your whore mother”.  444.hu caustically reported the astonishing news with the headline: “Zsolt Bayer mistakenly awarded the Knight’s Cross instead of the Swastika.”

Nol.hu noted that in 2013 Bayer wrote that a large percent of Hungary’s Roma population is not suitable to live among people.

“These Roma are animals and behave as such,” he wrote. “They want to copulate with whomever they see, whatever the time. If they see resistance, they kill. They defecate wherever and whenever they wish to. If they feel hindered in their act, they kill. They want to take everything they see. If they don’t get it that instant, they take it and kill.” As Hungarian Spectrum’s Eva Balogh notes, the editorial goes on to suggest that Hungary’s 700,000 Roma population either be deported or exterminated.  Hungary’s media authority fined Magyar Hírlap for that little tidbit of hate speech as well.

Calls to rescind award

A member of the presidium of opposition party Together (Együtt) called on President Áder to withdraw Bayer’s award, claiming that the Orbán government has crossed yet another line by giving the honors to such an “undeserving figure”.

“It is disgraceful that a racist, xenophobic inciter of hatred like Zsolt Bayer can receive a state honor in Hungary,” he wrote.

The Hungarian Socialist Party (Magyar Szocialista Párt – MSZP) reacted to the news with only one word: “Shame!”.

444.hu asked the Office of the Prime Minister what made Bayer worthy of the honor.  To its credit, it denied the decision had anything to do with the publicist’s racist comments.

“Zsolt Bayer received his honor after a proposal by the community for commemorating those who died in the Gulags. As a journalist, he gave a true and worthy account of prisoners and their lives in the Soviet labor camps as well as the Hungarian minority in Transylvania, making him a worthy receiver of the Knight’s Cross,” wrote the Office of the Prime Minister.

Not the first time

Yesterday was not the first time a state award was given to a belligerent, pro-government journalist.  Three years ago, in a similar scandal Ferenc Szaniszló of radical Hungarian news channel Echo TV was asked to return his state honor. The journalist had been awarded the Táncsics award (Táncsics-díj) for journalists by Minister of Human Resources Zoltán Balog.

After the ceremony, members of the Hungarian press, politicians and human rights groups protested the decision to bestow the award on Szaniszló, who is well known for anti-Semitic and anti-Roma comments.  In fact, his one redeeming feature may be that he is not potty-mouthed like Bayer.

A few days later, Minister Balog asked Szaniszló to return the award.

Smells like partisan politics

In addition to publishing op-ed pieces excoriating national minorities, refugees, Brussels and anybody with the temerity to criticize Viktor Orbán or Fidesz, Bayer, along with Magyar Hîrlap owner Gábor Széler, has played an active role in the so-called Civil Unity Forum (CÖF), a government-funded NGO whose leader is the government official responsible for deciding which NGOs receive government funding.  Furthermore, Bayer is the host of the pro-government television talk show”Mélymagyar

(“Deep Hungarian”), revived in May this year after a three-year absence by Széles-owned EchoTV in an attempt to shore up Fidesz’s sagging popularity in the wake of a series of corruption scandal involving leading government officials.

(The Budapest Beacon’s managing editor has on one or two occasions been rather forthright in his criticism of Zsolt Bayer-ed.)