By Stefan J. Bos, Worthy News Europe Bureau Chief reporting from Budapest
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (Worthy News) -- Hungary's Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany has urged all political parties to urgently implement strict legislation against hate speech amid concerns over far right groups in the country. He made the comments over the weekend in Budapest at an international conference on combating racism in Hungary and elsewhere in Europe.
Wearing uniforms and carrying banners used by Hungary's pro-nazi regime during World War Two, the Magyar Garda, or Hungarian Guard, has been busy inducting new members. The paramilitary group, known for its anti-Roma and anti-Jewish rhetoric, has even received support from several church leaders.
Pressured by Hungary's government, prosecutors managed to have the group banned this month, but the Magyar Garda has said it will appeal against the court's decision. Western concern over these and other groups was one of the reasons why Hungary's ruling Socialist Party was involved in organizing an international conference on racism here and across Europe.
Hungarian Prime Minister Gyurcsany admitted to delegates, he is concerned about an atmosphere of hatred in the country, which he claims is even present in Hungarian schools. "Recently my eleven-year old daughter Anna came home from school and said, 'There is a boy that shouts at fellow students in a negative way that they are Gypsies or Jews. Can you go to the school and intervene?'",the prime minister recalls.
He paused. "I told her that if it disturbs her that she should tell him. And she did." He said "the incident underscores that children do in school what they hear from their parents. They just repeat what the parents are saying."
Among those listening to the prime minister, was former Austrian chancellor Franz Vranitsky. He suggested that far right groups in Hungary and other European countries have used "a feeling of insecurity" among people to thrive and spread their ideas, particularly in difficult economic times.
Extremism has spread in Hungary and other Eastern European countries, especially since the collapse of Communism, exactly two decades ago this year, in part because people began testing how far freedom of speech can be permitted, according to analysts.
Hungarian Prime Minister Gyurcsany suggested at the conference that it was therefore time for tougher anti-hate speech laws. He accused the country's right wing and liberals of "attacking human rights" by blocking the government's attempts to implement the legislation.
However in Budapest people have different opinions about Gyurcsany's initiative. The 47-year old artist Maria Szakadati told Worthy News that anti-hate speech laws would only turn the clock back. "I think it is important to have freedom of speech, and I think that this kind of law will limit freedom of speech," she said. "Everybody should have the right to speak about their opinions and to voice them. If we have this kind of law it reminds me a little bit to the previous regime when we had an opinion, but didn't dare to talk about it," Szakadati adds.
Yet 55-year old Nora Welman, who works at a museum strongly disagrees. And, she is pleased that groups such as the far right Magyar Garda have been banned. "I absolutely agree with the prohibition of the existence of the Magyar Garda. They were also creating hatred in this society against different minorities who live in this country and against people who build up this country," she said. "I think these kind of organizations and these kind of ideas had to be wiped out from Hungarian society already a long time ago," Welman added.
So for now the debate continues. This weekend's international conference in Budapest's parliament building was just the beginning concerning of a discussion as to how far freedom of speech should go in European countries, where people increasingly seek scape goats for the continent's current economic difficulties.