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Extremist decorated, recipients reject awards in protest

Awards

wikimedia commons / andor elekes

As of today, a running roll-call on Index.hu shows that 69 Hungarians awarded the Knightʼs Cross of the Order of Merit, a recognition bestowed by the government, have returned their awards in protest after Zsolt Bayer (pictured), a pro-government journalist known for his extreme opinion pieces, received the accolade on August 20.

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Andor Elekes)

Bayer, whose strident opinion pieces have incurred a number of fines for the newspapers to which he contributes, has repeatedly propagated anti-Semitic, anti-Roma and anti-Muslim views. Hungarians awarded the same accolade have been returning their Knightʼs Crosses to President János Áder as a way of showing their disagreement with Bayer being awarded such a high honor, as well as to indicate their desire not to appear on the official list of recipients together with him.

However, online news portal Index.hu noted that although many recipients had decided to return their awards (57 at time of writing), no actual legal basis exists for them to do so, adding that under the law the accolades cannot be withdrawn or returned. In this way, the portal noted, the protesting recipientsʼ gesture is only symbolic, and their names will remain on the list of recipients of the Knightʼs Cross alongside Bayer.

Despite the wave of protest, the Hungarian government has unequivocally defended Bayer’s award. The Prime Minister’s Office, headed by Minister János Lázár, sent a statement yesterday to online news daily hvg.hu, saying that Bayer was awarded with the honor for his work in uncovering and representing several Hungarian national issues and interests, as well as for the portrayal of Hungarians in Transylvania and convicts in gulags.

As reported by hvg.hu yesterday, Lázár told Hungarian commercial TV channel RTL Klub that “naturally everybody’s career can be criticized and obviously mistakes can occur,” but that Bayer’s career so far contains more that is worthy of recognition than mistakes.

Bayerʼs writing has nevertheless shocked on many occasions for an aggressive tone and use of profanity hitherto little seen in the Hungarian press. In one article in Magyar Nemzet Online in 2006, Bayer suggested: "Anyone in this country who runs over a Gypsy child will be doing the right thing if they do not even think of stopping. When running over a Gypsy child, we should put our foot on the gas." Another article for Magyar Hírlap in 2013, in which he described Roma as "animals" unfit for cohabiting in human society, incurred the newspaper a fine of HUF 250,000.

More recently, in November 2015, Bayer suggested that every migrant over the age of 14 is a potential murderer - incurring another fine for Magyar Hírlap of hUF 250,000 for incitement to hatred.

On August 1 this year, in response to a statement from Pope Francis that there are followers of all religions who espouse violence and that it is an error to single out Islam, Bayer wrote: "The Pope is either a demented old man entirely unfit to fill the papal post, or a scoundrel."

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