Anti-Semitism (illustration)
Anti-Semitism (illustration)Israel news photo: archive

Far-right and anti-fascist demonstrators on Sunday staged rival rallies outside a Budapest church where a bust of a Hungarian wartime leader was unveiled, the latest tribute to a man who was a close ally of Adolf Hitler.

AFP reported that around 500 protesters wearing yellow stars (a reference to the Stars of David Jews were forced to wear by the Nazis) chanted "Nazi mob!" across a police line at supporters of Miklos Horthy.

Meanwhile, the news agency said, several hundred of the ex-leader's supporters, gathered around the bust and shouted, "Long live Horthy!"

Horthy, an autocrat who ruled Hungary from 1920 to 1944, passed anti-Jewish  laws and oversaw the first wave of deportations of Hungarian Jews in 1944.

He is revered by some for saving Hungary after a short-lived communist revolution in 1919 and traumatic losses of territory following World War I.

"In my opinion, Horthy was a war criminal, directly responsible for the killing and destruction of 600,000 Hungarian Jews," one protester told AFP.

"This should not be happening at a Christian church," he added.

Marton Gyongyosi, a deputy of the far-right Jobbik party who has sparked controversy in the past with his anti-Semitic comments, called Horthy a "national savior" during a service at the church, Hungarian news agency MTI reported.

Last year, Gyongyosi released a statement saying that a list should be compiled of all of the Jewish members of government.

He was followed by Elod Novak, another member of Jobbik, who  called publicly for the resignation of a fellow MP who claimed to have Israeli citizenship.

Hungary has experienced something of a Horthy cult revival in recent years, with new statues dedicated to him and streets named after him.

A park has already been named after him in Gyomro, on the outskirts of Budapest. The mayor of Budapest recently ordered a review of a city hall decision to name a street after an anti-Semitic author who was favored by both Horthy and Hitler.

Sunday's unveiling, organized by a pastor with far-right links, marked the 75th anniversary of a wartime accord with Nazi Germany under which Hungary reclaimed territory lost under the 1920 Trianon Peace Treaty.

Anti-Semitism in Hungary has been on the rise over the past several years. Recent incidents include Hungary's chief rabbi being verbally abused on a Budapest street, anti-Semitic chants at a football match against Israel and pig's trotters being placed on a statue of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Budapest Jews in World War II.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has pledged to fight anti-Semitism, which he said was "unacceptable and intolerable."

The country’s Deputy Prime Minister, Tibor Navracsics, recently said that Hungary must acknowledge its role during the Holocaust, saying his country had "turned its back against its own citizens, and indeed took part in their elimination."

"Today's Hungarian democracy will protect all its citizens against those who want to incite hatred," Navracsics vowed during a two-day conference on anti-Semitism in early October.