For the first time in its history, the Hungarian national football team was ordered to play its World Cup qualifier against Romania on Friday night (March 22) behind closed doors. It was punishment for Hungarian fans’ behaviour last August when they chanted anti-semitic slogans during a “friendly match” against Israel.
Ask many people on the streets of Budapest for their reaction to this, and they say it is a just punishment for outrageous behaviour. But there is an element here who are openly anti-semitic, sometimes encouraged by the rise of an extreme right-wing party, Jobbik, the third largest in parliament.
People have told me that some of their supporters are the same racist chanting football fans on the terraces of the national stadium, and, on occasions, it is alleged, they have been used to break up opposition rallies and demonstrations.
This is all happening as the populist right-wing Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, leader of the Fidesz party, pushes ahead with what EU and US officials fear are more attacks on democracy and liberty in Hungary.
Using his two-thirds parliamentary majority, Orban has curtailed the powers of the constitutional court, an irritant to his ambitions. He has appointed a political ally as head of the central bank, and pushed through legislation which critics say dilutes checks and balances on government power.
Orban – who relishes a fight, particularly with Brussels bureaucrats – claims he is simply shaking off the last shackles of Communism in Hungary. But others see his policies as a green light to extremism.
It would be wrong to claim that Hungary is alone in Europe in witnessing attacks on the Jewish Community, and Orban has condemned anti-semitism.
But anti-semitic remarks have also been made in parliament by Jobbik members and critics are now asking how it has become acceptable, to some, in a European country for such sentiments to be openly expressed.