BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary’s Jewish community protested against plans to erect a statue to a politician who played a role in drafting anti-Jewish laws during World War Two, saying on Thursday that it would bring back the “dark and menacing shadow of anti-Semitism”.
The row over a statue to Balint Homan, who served as minister of religion and education twice between 1932 and 1942, broke out as Hungary grapples with its anti-Semitic past and the role it played in the Holocaust despite a thriving Jewish culture.
The right-wing government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party last year faced accusations of whitewashing its past when it erected another statue in Budapest depicting Hungarians as victims of World War Two.
A private foundation in Szekesfehervar, west of Budapest, wants to put up the statue in honor of Homan, a former historian and politician.
He was a member of Hungary’s parliament representing Szekesfehervar between 1932 and 1944, at a time when hundreds of thousands of Jews perished in concentration camps.
“Balint Homan was a decisive figure of the far-right politics that eventually contributed to the deportation of 600,000 Hungarian Jews,” the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz) said on Thursday.
“There are some (people) who want to bring the dark and menacing shadow of anti-semitism to this country,” it said.
Andras Heisler, chairman of Mazsihisz, said they had written to Prime Minister Orban, asking him to prevent the erection of the statue “with all possible legal means.”
“As Hungarian citizens, we protest against the erection of the statue of an anti-semitic politician in democratic Hungary,” Heisler said.
Homan was jailed for life after the war for backing the declaration of war on the Soviet Union and he died in prison in 1951. A Budapest court in March 2015 posthumously acquitted him of war crimes charges.
The foundation which initiated erection of the statue could not be reached for comment.
Szekesfehervar Mayor Andras Cser-Palkovics was quoted as saying that Homan was being honored because he had done a lot for the city’s development.
“Balint Homan’s activity and role cannot be regarded as faultless ... but it is also indisputable that his work, despite all the controversies and mistakes he made, brought a lot of positives in science, in education and also in the development of Szekesfehervar,” the mayor said on the city’s website.
“No one can be judged one-sidedly, as history is not black and white,” he said.
Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Richard Balmforth