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Yad Vashem chair: Orban’s race comments evoke ideologies behind Holocaust

Hungary’s PM defends remarks as misundertood, asserts he was referring to ‘a cultural standpoint’; Austrian chancellor says issue has been resolved ‘amicably’

Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan (Alex Kolomoisky/Yad Vashem)
Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan (Alex Kolomoisky/Yad Vashem)

Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan strongly criticized Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Thursday over the premier’s remarks earlier this week that Hungarians “do not want to become peoples of mixed race.”

In the statement, Dayan labeled Orban’s comments “all too reminiscent of ideologies associated with the horrible atrocities of the Holocaust.”

He added: “Yad Vashem calls on the Government of Hungary to honor its declared commitment to genuinely remember the Holocaust and effectively combat antisemitism and racism.”

Orban defended his comments to reporters on Thursday, saying they represented a “cultural” standpoint: “It happens sometimes that I speak in a way that can be misunderstood… the position that I represent is a cultural… standpoint.”

Orban sparked a storm of criticism after he warned against mixing with “non-Europeans” in a speech in Romania’s Transylvania region, home to a Hungarian community, on Saturday.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said in a joint press conference with Orban that the issue had been “resolved… amicably and in all clarity,” adding his country “strongly condemned… any form of racism or antisemitism.”

Hungary’s Prime Minister Victor Orban attends a joint press conference with Austria’s Chancellor Karl Nehammer at the Federal Chancellery during Orban’s official visit to Austria in Vienna, Austria, July 28, 2022. (Alex Halada/AFP)

The International Auschwitz Committee has urged the European Union — and Nehammer specifically — to distance themselves from “Orban’s racist undertones.”

Austria is the first EU country to host Orban for talks since he won a fourth straight mandate in an April landslide.

Besides the race row, the two leaders discussed migration and energy security amid tensions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Vienna sees itself “as an honest broker” and is anxious not to sideline Hungary, an Austrian official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Jewish community representatives voiced alarm after Orban, an ultra-conservative known for his anti-migrant policy and virulent rhetoric, made the “mixed-race” remarks.

The 59-year-old also seemed to allude to the Nazi German gas chambers when criticizing a Brussels plan to reduce European gas demand by 15 percent following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Victor Orban attends a joint press conference with Austria’s Chancellor Karl Nehammer (right) at the Federal Chancellery during Orban’s official visit to Austria in Vienna, Austria, July 28, 2022. (Alex Halada/AFP)

Hungary was the only EU member to oppose the plan, which passed on a majority vote this week.

“I do not see how it will be enforced – although, as I understand it, the past shows us German know-how on that,” Orban said then.

An adviser to Orban, Zsuzsa Hegedus, resigned on Tuesday, slamming his speech on races as “a pure Nazi text.”

In response, Orban stressed his government’s “policy of zero tolerance when it comes to antisemitism and racism,” according to a letter made public.

“I am proud of the results which Hungary achieved against racism in recent years,” Orban told reporters on Wednesday.

Both Orban and Nehammer said they would not support any embargo on Russian gas, on which their countries are heavily dependent, with Orban describing any such embargo as a “wall.”

“My advice to the European Union is not to hit this wall,” said the Hungarian, who recently slammed the EU’s sanction policy against Russia as “Europe shooting itself in the lungs.”

He added that he wished Brussels would come up with a new “strategy that is good for the Ukrainians, good for us, good for the European economy, and good for the households that have to pay the price of energy.”

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