Nearly 50 laureates of one of Hungary’s highest honors handed back their awards after a “racist” journalist was decorated with the same honour.
According to the official gazette Magyar Kozlony, Zsolt Bayer, a founding member of the ruling Fidesz party, received the Order of Merit of the Knight’s Cross on the weekend for his “exemplary journalistic work.”
Bayer, a close ally of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, was repeatedly censured for inciting hatred against refugees, Jews and the Roma.
By late on Monday, as Hungarian media reports, some 44 previous recipients of the decoration including scientists, artists and academics, had declared they were returning their own awards in protest.
Among those, who handed back their awards, was Andras Heisler, the head of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary. He said he didn’t want to be “in the same community with a person who is racist, antisemitic, and whose display of ardent hatred for the Roma is contaminating Hungary.”
Bayer has been repeatedly fined by Hungary’s media regulator for antisemitic and racist comments. A publicist referred to the Roma as “animals who are unfit for coexistence”
from whose “animal skull only inarticulate sounds come out and the only thing he understands is brute force.”
He has also attacked Member of European Parliament Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Hungarian politician Andras Schiffer, who are Jewish, writing that “unfortunately they weren’t all buried up to their necks in the Orgovany woods.”
The comment was a reference to a 1919 killing of dozens of people suspected of being communists, many of whom were Jews.
Bayer rejected the criticism of his detractors. "I don’t really understand how some people can be so locked up in their closed, narrow, and sad world,"
Bayer told commercial TV station RTL Klub, in reaction to others handing back their awards.
Despite the growing scandal around Mr. Bayer’s award, the Hungarian government has no intention to rescind it. Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office János Lázár remarked that Mr. Bayer has earned his medal. “There is much more that is worthy of recognition in Zsolt Bayer’s career than that which are mistakes,”
said Mr. Lázár.