antisemitism,  Europe

Not yet rotten to the core

Cross-posted from Julia Lévai on the Hungarian blog galamus

Translated by Karl Pfeifer

People adapt themselves to circumstances. Sooner or later everyone is forming a strategy how do deal with today’s continuous anti-Semitism and anti-Ciganism.

Somebody opens his mouth and you do not want to believe your ears. That’s what started about seventeen years ago. You’re shocked and try somehow to straighten things out. When you succeed you’re calm and in times like these you are having a good one or two-liner ready for any eventuality. And sometimes you can even shame the foul-mouthed fellow and leave him perplexed and speechless.

Say you go to the coffeehouse and see a table where they’ve made anti-Semitic remarks for quite a time. The people look so cheerful and happy that you’d almost like to be part of them. They might even push out a chair with a spontaneous inviting move.

So you interrupt and state calmly: Please be so kind to stop the anti-Semitic remarks, this is a public space and we’re in Europe.

Until now this trick has just failed once. When somebody asked me, pointing to the cover of a magazine: Is this journalist a Jew?– and I asked reflexively whether he was registering Jews, to which he menacingly replied “yes”, which is the conviction of a man who has just found his vocation. I was at loss for words. He won. But that’s the only exception to the rule.

However now we seem to have entered the phase of apathy.

It happened in the changing room of a swimming pool – now shared between men and women, with little cubicles for the ultimate change of clothes. There is always a slightly frivolous atmosphere. A woman in a bikini feels naked amid men with scarves and overcoats. While I redid my eye makeup I saw about seven-eight men getting undressed and chatting at both ends of a long bench. They could have come from the same place of work; they could have been an organized group.

I received some appreciative looks for the makeup of my left eye, but more exciting was the amusing short aen who talked to them. A story about himself in the supermarket where he could not pay for the goods.

“They have stolen my whole wallet. With money, credit card, with everything from my side-pocket.”

He does not need to change his underpants for he has already put the swimming trunks at home.

“In the supermarket?”

“No, on the tram. They could have taken it out of the inner compartment. They are very well trained. Dirty gypsies.”

He just puts away his swimming cap and his towel and he starts to put things into the closet.

“Have you seen them?”

“Nope! I would have served them well if I had seen them. These damn gypsies should be shot into the Danube like the Jews at the time. Then we would have order here.”

The communication of an almost naked man with moles in the warm, always steamy and snug dressing room.

This is not anti-Semitism and not anti-Ciganism, this is something very different, something I can’t classify. While it is true that you can make anti-Semitic, anti-Gypsy remarks openly and with impunity, the direct wish to kill is shocking.

I have no one or two liners to deal with it. The best I could muster in such situations was a “stop it!” but what should the man stop? His wish to kill? But I feel as ridiculous dumbly standing there.

Interestingly all the others are silent too. Nobody is curious what happened to his full shopping-basket, how he solved the problem of payment.

The storyteller has finished with his dressing and goes to the pool. He stands up with some difficulty, he has a stick with him.

“Kiss your hand, see you again,” he greets me in passing. Then he walks past the dressing-room attendant.

A young boy who sighs deeply, and then says to the short fellow and to nobody in particular: “And the time has come”– the slogan of the Fidesz party that just won the election.

Our country is not yet rotten to the core.

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