The daughter of late, Hungarian-born US Congressman Tom Lantos is returning a distinguished state award to Hungary to protest the bestowing of the same award to journalist and writer Zsolt Bayer who has made anti-Semitic and racist references in his articles.
Katrina Lantos Swett, who received the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit in 2009, joined over 100 other recipients in returning their awards.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington earlier called on Prime Minister Viktor Orban and President Janos Ader, who respectively nominated and granted the award to Bayer to “immediately” rescind it. Ader’s office told news website hvg.hu that based on current laws the award couldn’t be recalled.
Lantos Swett was honored for her work in setting up the Budapest-based Tom Lantos Institute, which focuses on minority rights. Tom Lantos, a California Democrat who died in 2008, was the only Holocaust survivor in the US Congress. Lantos Swett said that she had hoped to leave the award to her children, but felt Bayer’s distinction had “sullied” the Knight’s Cross.
“Mr. Bayer’s despicable record of overt and hateful anti-Semitism and racism is beneath contempt. He deserves censure, not honor, for his loathsome writings and speech,” Lantos Swett said in a statement, adding that she was sure her father “would call on Hungary to restore the honor and virtue of this award by stripping Mr. Bayer of this unmerited recognition.”
Daily newspaper Magyar Hirlap was fined by media authorities in 2013 and earlier this year for hateful remarks about Roma and Muslims in Bayer’s columns.
In 2013, writing about a New Year’s Eve bar fight in which several people were seriously injured and some of the attackers were identified as Roma, Bayer wrote: “A significant part of the Roma are unfit for coexistence. They are not fit to live among people. These Roma are animals and they behave like animals.”
In a November 2015 column about the migrant crisis and extremism, Bayer said all Muslims older than 14 were “potential murderers.”
Bayer, a member of Orban’s governing Fidesz party, was distinguished with the Knight’s Cross on Aug. 20 for his writings about the Hungarian minority in Transylvania, the fates of Hungarian prisoners in the Soviet Gulag prison system and for his “exemplary journalistic activities.”
Bayer told website Mandiner.hu that receiving the award required him to be more restrained and, for example, abandon the foul language he often uses in his columns. Last year, he also said he regretted using some of the phrases deemed to be racist or anti-Semitic.
The Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities issued an ironic statement saying that the government had given Bayer the award to cheer up the “unsuccessful and grumpy” journalist, since his “frustrated cursing, and monotonous, hysterical and pitiful hatred harms not only he himself but the public mood, as well.”
Several earlier recipients of state awards, including Miklos Haraszti, a former OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, were planning to auction off their medals on Sunday in benefit of destitute children and families, but the event was canceled.
Auction sponsor Klubradio, which the Orban government tried for years to ban from the airwaves, said it was called off because organizers of a street festival where the auction would have been held asked for its cancellation because of its political nature.