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Mezei, Ernő

(1851–1932), politician, journalist, writer, and member of the Hungarian parliament. The younger brother of Mór Mezei, Ernő Mezei studied law in Pest and worked as a journalist from the time of his youth. His original family name was Grünfeld, which he changed in 1875 together with the rest of his family (his brother Mór had already taken this step in 1860). By the age of 20 he was already working as a political analyst for the opposition newspaper Ellenőr. Three years later, when Egyetértés, the leading daily of the constitutional opposition (Independence Party, the most nationalistic of the liberal parliamentary parties) was founded, Mezei joined its staff as an editorial writer. During the period 1875 to 1877, he published several booklets on contemporary political issues (on government activity, civil marriage, and the like). He had therefore already established himself as a known publicist in the capital before embarking on a political career in 1881.

According to his official biography, even three years earlier Mezei had made an unsuccessful run for a seat at the suggestion of Lajos Kossuth, perhaps the most influential Hungarian of the time. Although Mezei’s parliamentary career was limited to a single term, he was the only Jewish member of the House on the side of the radical opposition in the 1880s–1890s. He was the most active of the Jewish representatives in fighting emerging political antisemitism. Mezei was also a founder of Egyenlőség (Equality), the leading journal of Hungarian Jewish history. He took to parliament the effort launched by Egyenlőség’s editorial staff to take the infamous Tiszaeszlár blood libel case out of the hands of the provincial judicial organs. However, the most important parliamentary speech he gave was probably the one he presented in the debate over the so-called Jewish–Christian marriage bill in 1883, in which he pointed out the inconsistency and irrationality of contemporary antisemitic and racial thinking in a pioneering way.

Mezei remained a member of the staff of Egyetértés for 37 years, until its dissolution in 1910. After that he worked for another important Budapest daily, Pesti Hírlap, and the following year he was elected an honorary member of the Association of Journalists. As a result of his long-lasting literary activity (he published work, including poetry, regularly), in 1906 he entered the highly esteemed Petőfi Association, a writers’ organization that promoted Hungarian literature, named for the popular romantic poet Sándor Petőfi. Throughout the rest of his life, Mezei published articles in a number of newspapers and journals, both Jewish and general.

Suggested Reading

Árpád Welker, “Between Emancipation and Antisemitism: The Jewish Presence in Parliamentary Politics in Hungary, 1867–1884,” Jewish Studies at the Central European University 2 [1999–2001] (2002): 239–269.