A Hungarian member of parliament has requested and actually received a certificate stating that his ancestry is neither Jewish nor Roma. According to the report in Nature, the MP in question remains anonymous but a redacted version of his certificate was published on the web in May.
He belongs to "The Movement for a Better Hungary," also known as "Jobbik," which is a play on words meaning roughly "the right choice." The party has been called "neo-fascist" and "far-right" and "xenophobic." Although its leaders, including the personable Kristina Morvai, deny being "fascist," it has been "linked to numerous homophobic, anti-Semitic and anti-Roma incidents." Hungary's economic troubles seem to have encouraged extremism.
Genetic analysis of political candidates has been discussed for some time, often in the context of medical records. In 2008, Harvard's George Church told the Wall Street Journal:
I would be shocked if Americans and people in other countries don't want this type of [medical genetic] data. It is not like we are collecting horoscope data or tea-leaf data. These are real facts, just as real as bank accounts and the influence of political action committees or family members.
But the first attempts to apply genetic technology to politics were not what Church anticipated. In 2009, a Turkish politician demanded that their President take a genetic test to "prove" that he is not Armenian. In 2010, French authorities were accused of genetic discrimination against Roma, and several right-wing Europeans made genetic claims about Africans, Basques and Jews. Indeed, some Israelis were attached to the idea of "Jewish genes" and that concept of genetic identity remains controversially attractive.
The Hungarian MP apparently got his certificate in September 2010, and it's not clear why he didn't boast about it; perhaps wiser colleagues suggested he keep it quiet. If so, they were right: When it leaked, a firestorm of negative publicity broke out. One of the testing company's financial backers quit, and the Hungarian Society of Human Genetics condemned the idea. Its vice-president is quoted in Nature as saying:
This test is complete nonsense and the affair is very harmful to the profession of clinical genetics.
Which is certainly true, and the European Society of Human Genetics is also on record condemning the test. But this kind of abuse is the obvious and perhaps inevitable corollary to years of over-promising the predictive possibilities of genetics. Is anyone really surprised that when it comes to politics, racism has made it to the finish line before medicine?
Previously on Biopolitical Times:
Posted in Personal genomics, Pete Shanks's Blog Posts, Race, Sequencing & Genomics
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