Peter Becskehazy, U.S. Foreign Service, Ret.
Can historical shocks from earlier centuries explain the rise of extremist populist movements in Europe? Recent elections in Poland and Hungary reveal that mainstream parties may have co-opted the rhetoric of extreme right-wing parties. Is this due to parallel historical phenomena? What possible role does anti-Semitism now play in their political agendas? By asking these questions, Mr. Becskehazy will discuss how Hungary and Poland fit into the new direction of European politics.
Poland and Hungary shared a border for centuries but never engaged each other in hostilities. Starting in the 10th Century, Jewish settlers in both countries set down roots but sometimes experienced brutal discrimination. Both nations repeatedly suffered from invasions and lengthy occupations. Major territorial losses and border changes were thrust on both nations after WWI. Then the Third Reich and the Soviet Union invaded Poland in 1939. Poland lost 90% of its Jewish population in the Holocaust. Hungary was occupied only in 1944 but lost 2/3 of its Jewish population. After WWII the Soviet Union co-opted both Hungary and Poland into the Warsaw Pact, but after the Fall of the Wall, both nations joined NATO and the EU. Voters in both Hungary and Poland elected small, right-wing political parties to Parliament but recently large, very conservative parties have embraced populist, anti-immigrant, illiberal, anti-EU policies. Their equation of Christianity with nationality disturbs their Jewish citizens and excludes Muslim immigrants. Some of these trends reverberate in other European nations as well. By outlining these polemical issues, Mr. Becskehazy hopes to engage his audience in a lively discussion.
Having served in central Europe for many of his over thirty years in the U.S. Foreign Service (1970–2003), Mr. Becskehazy has acquired in-depth knowledge of the region.
Written by Maria Dobozy, Academy Village Volunteer