Officials in Hungary united this week to condemn ongoing ethnic violence and anti-Semitic attacks, including an assault on the former Chief Rabbi on 5 June. But a cause for further soul-searching has emerged: a scientific scandal recalling discredited notions of racial purity.
Hungary’s Medical Research Council (ETT), which advises the government on health policy, has asked public prosecutors to investigate a genetic-diagnostic company that certified that a member of parliament did not have Roma or Jewish heritage.
The MP in question is a member of the far-right Jobbik party, which won 17% of the votes in the general election of April 2010. He apparently requested the certificate from the firm Nagy Gén Diagnostic and Research, which rents office space at the prestigious Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest. The company produced the document in September 2010, a few weeks before local elections.
The certificate — with the MP’s name blacked out — emerged on the web last month and was seized on by the Hungarian media. One of Nagy Gén’s financial partners, Tibor Benedek — a three-time Olympic water-polo gold medallist and a member of a prominent Jewish family — immediately pulled out of the company.
The ETT’s secretary, József Mandl, chair of medical chemistry at the Semmelweis University in Budapest, says that the certificate is “professionally wrong, ethically unacceptable — and illegal”. The council discussed the issue on 7 June and concluded that the genetic test violates the 2008 Law on Genetics, which allows such testing only for health purposes.