BUDAPEST, Hungary — More than a dozen Hungarians auctioned off their state awards on Monday, saying they no longer wanted them after a journalist and writer known for his anti-Semitic and racist references was granted a similar distinction last month.
Jeno Kaltenbach, a former ombudsman for minority rights, was the first to announce he was giving up his Cross of the Order of Merit after the award was given to Zsolt Bayer.
His act of protest was imitated by more than 100 others, including politicians, scientists, musicians, philosophers, writers, artists, journalists and filmmakers, though only a few joined the charity auction.
“Surrendering the award was a spontaneous reaction … and a moral obligation,” Kaltenbach said at the auction. “There has been no genuine reaction from the government, but that was to be expected.”
Bayer, a member of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party, received the award on Aug.20, granted by President Janos Ader in part for his “exemplary journalistic activities.”
Daily newspaper Magyar Hirlap has been fined twice by media authorities for publishing columns by Bayer including hateful remarks about Roma and Muslims.
Miklos Haraszti, a former OSCE representative on freedom of the media, said Bayer’s prize reflected Orban’s style of politics, combining populism and authoritarianism.
“It is a symptom of the expansion of Orbanism,” said Haraszti, whose award received in 2005 from President Ferenc Madl was to first to go under the hammer. “The latest is that it is spreading and conquering across Europe.”
Katrina Lantos Swett, daughter of the late, Hungarian-born U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos, a Holocaust survivor, said she would return her Knight’s Cross received in 2009 for her work in setting up the Budapest-based institute named after her father and focusing on minority rights.
Organizers said auction proceeds of the equivalent of more than $9,000 would be used to assist poor children and families.