As a rising star in Hungary’s far-right Jobbik Party, Csanad Szegedi was notorious for his incendiary comments on Jews: He accused them of “buying up” the country, railed about the “Jewishness” of the political elite and claimed Jews were desecrating national symbols.
Then came a revelation that knocked him off his perch as ultra-nationalist standard-bearer: Szegedi himself is a Jew.
Following weeks of Internet rumors, Szegedi acknowledged in June that his grandparents on his mother’s side were Jews — making him one too under Jewish law, even though he does not practice the faith. His grandmother was an Auschwitz survivor and his grandfather a veteran of forced labor camps.
Since then, the 30-year-old has become a pariah in Jobbik and his political career is on the brink of collapse. He declined to be interviewed for this story.
At the root of the drama is an audiotape of a 2010 meeting between Szegedi and a convicted felon. Szegedi acknowledges that the meeting took place, but contends the tape was altered in unspecified ways; Jobbik considers it real.
In the recording, the felon is heard confronting Szegedi with evidence of his Jewish roots. Szegedi sounds surprised, then offers money and favors in exchange for keeping quiet. Under pressure, Szegedi resigned last month from all party positions and gave up his Jobbik membership. That was not good enough for the party: Last week it asked him to give up his seat in the European Parliament as well. Jobbik says its issue is the suspected bribery, not his Jewish roots.
Szegedi came to prominence in 2007 as a founding member of the Hungarian Guard, a group whose black uniforms and striped flags recalled the Arrow Cross, a pro-Nazi party that briefly governed Hungary at the end of World War II and killed thousands of Jews.
In all, 550,000 Hungarian Jews were killed during the Holocaust, most of them after being sent in trains to death camps like Auschwitz.
The Hungarian Guard was banned by the courts in 2009.
By then, Szegedi had already joined the Jobbik Party, which was launched in 2003 to become the country’s biggest far-right political force.
He soon became one of its most vocal and visible members, and a pillar of the party leadership. Since 2009, he has served in the European Parliament in Brussels as one of the party’s three EU lawmakers, a position he says he wants to keep.
The fallout of Szegedi’s ancestry saga has extended to his business interests. Jobbik executive director Gabor Szabo is pulling out of an Internet site selling nationalist Hungarian merchandise that he owns with Szegedi. Szabo said his sister has resigned as Szegedi’s personal assistant.
In the 2010 tape, former convict Zoltan Ambrus is heard telling Szegedi that he has documents proving Szegedi is Jewish. The right-wing politician seems genuinely surprised by the news — and offers EU funds and a possible EU job to Ambrus to hush it up.
Ambrus, who served time in prison on a weapons and explosives conviction, apparently rejected the bribes.
He said he secretly taped the conversation as part of an internal Jobbik power struggle aimed at ousting Szegedi from a local party leadership post. The party’s reaction was swift.
“We have no alternative but to ask him to return his EU mandate,” Jobbik president Gabor Vona said. “Jobbik does not investigate the heritage of its members or leadership, but instead takes into consideration what they have done for the nation.”