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Hungary Ambassador to Oslo persona non grata at the Oslo Holocaust Symposium

Hungarian Ambassador to Oslo, Géza Jeszenszky has been asked by the Norwegian Institute of Holocaust and Religious Minorities to stay away from the Tuesday's International Wallenberg Symposium due to his recent remarks he made during a university lecture tour on gypsies in Hungary. The management of the institution came to the conclusion that Jeszenszky's presence would jeopardize the outcome of the symposium. Jeszenszky's rebuff is all the more interesting because the Hungarian Embassy in Oslo is one of the organizers of the symposium. The management of the Norwegian Institute of Holocaust and Religious Minorities made known its decision soon after Jeszenszky's lecture notes appeared in the media in which he stated that inscestous relationship is an accepted practice among gypsies in Hungary (and everywhere in Eastern Europe): "The reason why many Roma are mentally ill is because in Roma culture it is permitted for sisters and brothers or cousins to marry each other or just to have sexual intercourse with each other" writes the ambassador.

Jeszenszky has rejected accusations of racism. In a statement, the diplomat said that "as a teacher, minister and ambassador" he has always supported cases of persecuted ethnic or religious communities.

He admitted that he was not an expert on Roma issues, and said that a 15-page chapter in his textbook on the community was based on other authors. "Not even a biased Roma civil rights activist could find fault with my handling of the subject; hundreds of Hungarian and foreign students have used my book and found it useful," he said.

Jeszenszky added that the issue of mental disabilities among the Roma are usually attributed to the community's closed nature and the resulting frequent marriage between brothers and sisters. Due to his assignment in Oslo, the seminar has not been advertised for two years and the textbook did not go to bookstores, he added.

On Tuesday, the Hungarian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Jeszenszky had written his remarks as a university teacher rather than as Hungary's ambassador. The statement said that though the contested remarks "could be misunderstood", Jeszenszky's life achievement and his latest publications all demonstrate that he is committed to minority rights and cannot be charged with prejudice.

In a telephone interview to commercial TV channel ATV on Tuesday evening, the ambassador said that if he were to publish his textbook now, he would consider how to quote the contested sentence, if at all. He insisted that it had been a direct quote from medical papers.Jeszenszky said that the chapter in question attempted to present "the real weight of the problem" and that it suggested his "understanding for the Roma", the author's desire to improve their situation. The ambassador said he was sorry if any readers found his lines offensive, but said that not only the contested passage but the whole chapter or the entire book should be read.

Source: index.hu; MTI

Last Updated on Friday, 30 August 2013 09:11

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