November 4, 2013 -- Until recently, Csanad Szegedi was a founder and star spokesman of Hungary’s anti-Semitic far-right nationalist party. But then he discovered that his mother’s parents were Jewish Holocaust survivors and that much of his family had been murdered by Nazis at Auschwitz.
The reactions of most of Szegedi’s friends and associates were sadly predictable, making clear, as if clarity on this matter were ever lacking, the nature of bigotry based on race or ethnicity. Friends disassociated with him. One party member advised, “The best thing would be to shoot you now, then you would be reborn as a pure Hungarian.” Such is the obsession of his party with ethnic identity.
Needless to say, Szegedi had to reevaluate his life and his own identity. And he did right, in part. He acknowledged the damage he had done. “My hate speech about Jews and Roma [Gypsies] affected children who had done nothing wrong. They might have been very talented, they might have been able to make something of themselves, but I helped to block their path.” In these remarks Szegedi was rejecting discrimination based on accidents of birth, and acknowledging that each person is an individual who should pursue their own dreams, and that they should be judged as individuals.
But Szegedi also has decided to embrace fully his Jewishness, attending synagogue, learning Hebrew, studying the Talmud, and keeping the 613 Jewish religious rules.
One can appreciate Szegedi’s desire to understand the religion and traditions of his family. One can appreciate why he might find aspects of that culture agreeable and take them up; the exodus of the Jews from bondage in Egypt probably never actually happened, but celebrating it at Passover can be a reminder of the value of liberty for all, not just for Jews.
But it is doubtful that Szegedi thought critically about the 613 Jewish rules and said, “Each and every one of these makes perfect sense!” He admits, for example, the difficulty he has in keeping kosher, especially because Hungarian cuisine frequently features pork. One might think that Szegedi’s total embrace of a conservative and traditional form of Judaism is his way of bending over backwards to make amends for his past malicious misdeeds.
But it seems that Szegedi, while rejecting one form of racism, is wedded to the racist conception of human identity. Having Jewish roots apparently defines him which, in this case, he sees manifested in adherence to arbitrary rules. And in doing this he is perpetuating the root of the evil he is otherwise fighting against. In describing his past ideology, Szegedi explained, “First we would talk about ‘Gypsy crime.’ Then anti-Semitism. Then we started to hate Romanians and Slovakians. ... You end up hating the entire world. I hated all people because they didn’t fit one or other of my criteria.”
Szegedi does not want Hungarians, in their racial or ethnic identity, to classify non-members as enemies. And live and let live is a great ideal. But he must appreciate that one reason why Europe for centuries tore itself apart in ethnic and racial strife is because of the nature of group identity, of tribal thinking, of a form of nationalism that ties one’s sense of self-worth to adherence to one's origins rather than to what one makes of one’s self. Szegedi has come a long way in his personal journey away from anti-Semitism and toward toleration. But he will never overcome tribalism by better embracing his own tribe.
Hudgins is director of advocacy and a senior scholar for The Atlas Society.
For further information:
William Thomas, “ Nationalism: Will It Help a Country Thrive? ”
William Thomas, “ Objectivist View of Multiculturalism. ”