Hungary award for 'racist' journalist sparks protests

The journalist Zsolt Bayer was one of several Hungarian  citizens handed an Order of Merit of the Knight\'s Cross by  President Janos Ader on Thursday, to mark one of Hungary\'s  national days.      

Published: 23rd August 2016 08:33 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd August 2016 09:51 AM   |  A+A-


BUDAPEST: A Hungarian state honour given to  a prominent journalist close to Prime Minister Viktor Orban  but seen by his critics as "racist" has prompted several dozen  recipients of the same award to return theirs in protest.       

The journalist Zsolt Bayer was one of several Hungarian  citizens handed an Order of Merit of the Knight's Cross by  President Janos Ader on Thursday, to mark one of Hungary's  national days.         

By late yesterday, according to Hungarian media, some 44  previous recipients of the decoration including scientists,  artists and academics, had declared they were returning their  own awards in protest.          

An occasional columnist for the right-wing Magyar Hirlap  daily, Bayer has often been photographed in Orban's company,  and co-founded a civil group that has organised massive  pro-government street demonstrations.      

He has in the past compared the Roma people, Hungary's  600,000- to 700,000-strong largest minority group, to  "animals", and written remarks deemed anti-Semitic in a  country with a Jewish community estimated at over 100,000.            

The head of Hungary's largest Jewish organisation  Mazsihisz, Andras Heisler, said he too was handing back his  award given to him in 2011 as he did not want to belong to the  same "group of people" as Bayer.            

The journalist "is a racist, an anti-Semite, who pollutes  Hungary with his incandescent Gypsy-hatred and  nation-destroying ideas," Heisler wrote in a Facebook message  yesterday.             

In 2013 the Magyar Hirlap newspaper was fined around USD  1,000 by Hungary's media regulator for publishing Bayer's  anti-Roma comments.        

"They are not suitable for being among people. Most are  animals, and behave like animals," the journalist wrote at the  time.          

Bayer's award was given for his work with a body  representing victims of Communism, Orban's office said in a  weekend statement, adding that there were no plans to withdraw  the honour.           

Bayer was also decorated however for his "exemplary  journalistic activity," according to the government's official  legal gazette Magyar Kozlony published late yesterday.     

Bayer himself said he didn't understand why other  recipients were giving up their awards and that his quotes  were misinterpreted and taken out of context.            

"I don't really get how people can be so shut off in  their own closed, narrow, sad worlds," he told a television  news programme in reaction to the protests.  


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