A far-right and anti-Semitic Hungarian website that routinely attacks Israel, Jews and gay people has a surprising — and disturbing — Bay Area connection.
Although written and edited in Hungary, the 6-year-old website kuruc.info is registered to Béla Varga, a Healdsburg winemaker and shop owner.
The Athena Institute, a Budapest-based organization that monitors European extremists, called kuruc.info “the most active hate group operating in Hungary,” noting that it publishes material about Jews and others that “often qualifies as hate speech and [glorifies] fascist ideas.”
Last week, the nonpartisan Hungarian news website politics.hu identified Varga, 49, as kuruc.info’s owner.
In a Sept. 7 interview with the Healdsburg edition of Patch.com, Varga did not deny his connection to the domain name kuruc.info, but he said he had no control over the site’s content and was not the “owner.” Rather, Varga claimed, he simply had offered to help by registering the URL in the United States and opening a local bank account, which is used to deposit some of the site’s advertising revenue, according to the Athena Institute.
Referring to the website’s Hungary-based directors, Varga told Patch.com, “I helped them out in 2008 when the government [temporarily] closed them down.”
He was apparently more involved than that.
On July 22, the Jerusalem Post reported that kuruc.info was offering approximately $450 for information on demonstrators who had called for the trial of suspected Nazi collaborator Laszlo Csatary outside his house in Budapest the previous week.
According to the Post, translating kuruc.info, some $340 of that reward money was offered “by our Comrade Bela Varga who lives in America.” The website also wrote, “Good hunting,” according to the Post.
Hungarian authorities had just indicted Csatary, 97, for helping to send 15,700 Jews to their deaths in Auschwitz when he was police chief of Kosice. He was No. 1 on the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s list of Nazi war criminals still at large.
As of press time, the phone number for Varga’s Hungarian food and novelty store, the Red Paprika in Healdsburg, had been disconnected and the store’s website has been taken down; j. could not reach Varga for comment.
The word “kuruc” in Hungarian has strong resonance. The term goes back hundreds of years when the people of Hungary were divided between those loyal to the foreign-controlled Hapsburg Dynasty and nationalistic Hungarian patriots, or kuruc.
The website’s English language “About Us” page describes kuruc.info as a “patriotic Hungarian conservative, right-wing nationalist, fact-finding news site,” with between 50,000 and 80,000 unique readers daily.
It also claims to “fully comply with U.S. laws and the U.S. [C]onstitution … we do not instigate violence.”
The page makes numerous cutting references to Zionists, Israelis, Gypsies (Roma) and immigrant “mobsters,” as well as to the “so-called Hungarian Holocaust Museum, which was involved in massive embezzlement of millions of Hungarian taxpayers’ dollars.”
On the site’s masthead, dozens of staffers are named, including sales managers and administrators located in the U.K., Germany, Australia, the United States and “Palestine.”
Varga’s connection to kuruc.info became known Sept. 4 after a whistleblower wrote about him on a Hungarian website. According to politics.hu, because kuruc.info servers are located in the United States, Hungarian police can do nothing to shut down the site.
FBI spokesperson Julie Sohn said her agency would not investigate “organizations themselves. We look at criminal acts. Something has to rise to that. Our job is to make sure we uphold federal civil rights laws [including] hate crimes, and First Amendment rights. We are there to protect and defend those freedoms.”
Seth Brysk, the director of the Anti-Defamation League’s S.F.-based Central Pacific region, told j. his agency is well aware of kuruc.info.
“The ADL has been working with the Hungarian Jewish community for some time on [the site],” he said. “We’ve been working on strategies to combat anti-Semitic incitement, Holocaust denial and support for paramilitary organizations on this and other websites. Police investigations are ongoing in Hungary regarding these sites.”
He pointed to current articles on the site that tout Holocaust denial. He said one about Nazi death camps claimed “There is no evidence of gas chambers” and that the “so-called lethal chambers [were] really air defense shelters.”
With the complicity of Hungarian fascists, Nazi Germany decimated Hungary’s Jews. Some 565,000 died, most after the May 1944 invasion and deportations.
In another passage from kuruc.info, Brysk read, “It’s time to say that Jews in Hungary are foreign elements in the Hungarian body.”
Andras Szorenyi, the Washington, D.C.-based public affairs officer of the Embassy of Hungary, told j. that kuruc.info has been “on the radar of the Hungarian government and law enforcement authorities for some time because of its reprehensible language and goals.
“There is a small but very vocal minority which shares these ideas,” Szorenyi continued. “It’s not the opinion of the majority of the Hungarian population, [which] is very clearly against any kind of anti-Semitic approaches.”
Nevertheless, in recent years anti-Semitic hate speech, Holocaust denial and violence have increased in Hungary, threatening the country’s Jewish population, which today by many estimates numbers close to 100,000, one of Europe’s largest.
Holocaust memorials and Jewish graves in Hungary are routinely desecrated. An Israeli soccer team was subjected to cries of “Stinking Jews,” “Buchenwald” and other anti-Semitic slurs during the playing of “Hatikvah” at a match against a Hungarian team last month in Budapest.
The far-right, ultra-nationalist Jobbik Party, the country’s third largest, won 17 percent of the vote, or 47 out of 386 seats, in 2010 parliamentary elections. The party supports Iran and purports a theory of Hungarian racial purity, in which Jews and Roma have no place.
In June, leaders of the Hungarian government, including the Speaker of the National Assembly László Kövér and Jobbik leader Gábor Vona, participated in a ceremony honoring Josef Nyiro, a war-era fascist of the Hungarian Arrow Cross.
In response, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel angrily renounced his Grand Cross Order of Merit awarded in 2004 by the president of Hungary.
In June, 50 members of Congress signed a letter to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, urging him to condemn Jobbik’s “anti-Semitic and homophobic positions.”
The news site politics.hu reported that a month later Orbán asked Congress to “assist in terminating the anti-Semitic provocations in Hungary supported from the United States.”
According to the Athena Institute, among the editors and bloggers on kuruc.info are leading figures from the Jobbik Party, including Elöd Novák, who “recently gained a seat in the Hungarian Parliament.”
The Athena Institute further claims that kuruc.info is not registered as a corporation in either Hungary or the United States and “accordingly does not pay taxes.” Advertisers are instructed to send “bank transfers” to the Sonoma County bank account opened by Varga.
Meanwhile, with kuruc.info’s server based in the land of the First Amendment, no one seems able or willing to shut down the website.
“If the website is registered in the United States, for us it’s a very difficult situation,” said Szorenyi, the Hungarian Embassy spokesman.