Jewish writer Ákos Kertész, 80, winner of Hungary’s prestigious literary award the Kossuth, arrived with his wife in Montreal last Wednesday, saying he was seeking asylum in Canada because of a “political campaign” against him, Reuters reports.
According to Reuters, last August Kertész condemned Hungary’s role in the Holocaust. In response, “a political campaign was mounted against him, not only by the Budapest city hall but also from within the government and parliament,” a statement he released said Sunday.
“Following the political campaign by the pro-government press, Mr Kertesz suffered threats and harassment, he felt his life was in danger,” the statement added.
Eva S. Balogh, who fled Hungary to Canada after the failed 1956 anti-Soviet revolt, writes that Kertész is actually Catholic: “His father, because of the numerus clausus that restricted the number of Jews allowed to enroll in Hungarian universities, couldn’t continue his studies. Thus he attended “free university” courses where he met Vilmos Juhász, a historian and journalist and a Catholic convert from Judaism. Under his influence Kertész’s father converted and the two of them started an organization called Hungarian Holy Cross Assocation that represented Jewish converts from the early 1930s until 1945.”
Nevertheless, Balogh adds, “Whether a believing Catholic or not, the elder Kertész was considered to be a Jew and taken to a series of labor camps.”
Balogh describes the Kertész affair:
What did Ákos Kertész do that upset the Hungarian right so much? He wrote an open letter to László Bartus, editor-in-chief of American-Hungarian Népszava, the oldest Hungarian-language paper in the United States, in which he bitterly complained about Hungarians who are “genetically servile” and who therefore allow the dictatorial Viktor Orbán to rule over them. He said a few harsh things, no doubt about it. He compared his fellow Hungarians to pigs who for the slop the farmer puts in front of them happily grunt, not realizing that they will be killed.
Balogh says the question of Ákos Kertész’s letter became a topic of parliamentary discussion, when on September 12 an MP the Hungarian political undersecretary of the Ministry of National Resources, whether the government was contemplating stripping Kertész of his Kossuth Prize. The answer was that Kertész should apologize; if not, “he is not worthy of it.”