Neo-Nazi attack at Jewish theater in Hungary renews fears

budapest, hungary | An attack at the Budapest Jewish Theater just before Rosh Hashanah has revived concerns about increasing anti-Semitism in Hungary.

The attack, which occurred after the premiere of “Gecy,” a provocative porn parody, is believed to be the first open, physical attack against Jews since the country’s democratic transition in 1989.

“Gecy” opened Sept. 27 at Siraly, this city’s trendy pub and cultural center in the area of the former Jewish ghetto. The next day, with the audience milling around the theater after the second performance, several masked neo-Nazis appeared on the street.

In what appeared to be a choreographed attack, one squirted acid from a water pistol at the director of the show, Ferenc Sebo, then spilled a bucket of pig feces over him.

People standing near Sebo were splashed and shot with acid. When Sebo threw his glass at one of the attackers, they ran into the pub to shoot acid at others. A bystander trying to help Sebo was beaten badly and remained in the hospital this week. Police arrived too late to catch the attackers.

“Extremist Web sites and blogs have been agitating against us in numerous threatening writings these past three weeks,” said Robert Vajda, the theater’s director. “Some of us got such threatening calls that the lead actor decided to withdraw from his role a week before the premiere.”

Adam Schoenberger, one of Siraly’s organizers, said the theater had requested police security for both nights, but only received it for the premiere.

The attack on the theater is the latest — and most aggressive — in a string of incidents raising alarm bells in the Hungarian Jewish community.

In the spring, a heated exchange between a customer and a clerk at a store in a Jewish neighborhood led to a Molotov cocktail being thrown at the store and calls for a mob action against it. Thousands of anti-fascists blocked the street on the day of the planned action. Among those who appeared to protect the store was Hungary’s prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsány.

Gyorgy Vari, a Jewish blogger and university lecturer, said the Siraly attack “was the first time since the change of the regime in 1989 when an openly anti-Semitic physical insult happened.” Schoenberger added, “This was a clear first step toward the direction when anti-Semites openly beat up Jews at Jewish places.”

The neo-Nazi reaction to the show — and the local media coverage it inspired — helped fuel its popularity, with additional performances scheduled this week. For Vajda, this kind of response confuses the extremists.

“We do stand up and show that we are not threatened,” he said. “The show must and will go on.”