The second season of patrolling in Hungary

2011-05-04

Background

Far-right organisations closely resembling the banned, Jobbik-close Hungarian Guard (Véderő, Betyársereg, Szebb Jövőért Polgárőr Egyesület) have been marching for weeks in Gyöngyöspata, Heves County in Hungary. On April 26, 2011 there was a violent confrontation between the guards and the Roma population resulting in four injuries. In response, the government promised police reinforcement and tighter regulations. On May 2 Parliament passed the government's motion amending the Penal Code (with a four-fifth majority and rejected by Jobbik). With the bill the government hopes to facilitate action against uniformed organisations.

Key Findings

  • All talk envisioning a state of war between the Roma and the majority population in Gyöngyöspata is an overstatement, even as similar local conflicts primarily in the northern and eastern regions of the country cannot be ruled out.
  • At the local level Tamás Eszes (running for the office of mayor in Gyöngyöspata and one of the leaders of ‘Véderő’, a paramilitary group) has made political mileage and at the national level Jobbik benefited from recent events. After its election to Parliament, the far-right party lost momentum and starting in late 2010 it returned to the Roma issue in an effort to consolidate its base. It is plain to see that creating tensions serve the political purposes of Jobbik and other far-right organizations loosely tied to the party.
  • The key aspects of the series of events played out in Gyöngyöspata are not unique to Hungary or the region: in the past four-five years a number of similar incidents took place in Eastern Europe. The underlying causes are (1) the low-level integration of the Roma population, (2) rural poverty, steadily deteriorating public order resulting in rising anxiety, (3) citizens’ loss of confidence in law enforcement, (4) legislators’ hesitation in handling paramilitary organizations, and (5) far-right attempts to make political hay out of the current situation.
  • The events generate intense international attention because West European countries, the United States and Canada worry about being drawn into the problem of Roma integration (see reactions to the migration of Romanian Gypsies to France in 2010). As the West looks at the Roma migration following the Gyöngyöspata incident with concern, international forums will place increasing pressure on East European countries to accelerate Roma integration. The Roma-integration program to be adopted by the end of the Hungarian EU-presidency serves this purpose as well.
  • Radicalization is not limited to one side; faced with constant provocation some Gypsy groups react with increasing aggression, while the majority’s anti-Roma sentiment is also on the rise.
  • The ideology of Jobbik and the new organisations formed along the Guard-model combine anti-Roma prejudice with traditional, classic anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.In their view, Jews and Israel deliberately stoke the fire of the Roma-non-Roma confrontation to realise their “colonising”, conquering” schemes. While the immediate threat of far-right activism is the escalation of the Roma-non-Roma conflict, their actions may also promote political anti-Semitism in public discourse and public opinion.

Statements of some players of the far-right on the Gyöngyöspata affair

 

Mrs. Lóránt Hegedűs, a Jobbik MP, May 1, 2011 “The time has come to state it clearly: Israel is bent on conquering Hungary. This is a fact; as evidence, it is enough to look at the all but total monopoly of Israeli investments and real estate developments. And the Gypsies are a kind of biological weapon in this strategy. They are used as a means against the Hungarians just as, to use a simple analogy, a snow plough is hitched to a truck.”
Zsolt Tyirityán, leader of the ‘Betyársereg’ active in Gyöngyöspata, April 15, 2011 ”Currently in this country we are witnessing what happened in the U.S. in the 1960s; various Zionist circles incite the Gypsies against the majority population, just as they did in the 1960s in respect to the blacks in the U.S. And, as a result of this goading, the Gypsies, an alien race, try to occupy living-space against which we have to react in the spirit of healthy self-protection”.
Tamás Eszes, commander of ‘Véderő’ active in Gyöngyöspata, mayoral candidate in Gyöngyöspata,April 28, 2011 “It is impossible fight against the powers behind politics. As soon as I start to talk about the Jews I am immediately labelled as a Nazi”.

 

Political background


 

Local context

  • Following the formation of the Hungarian Guard in the summer of 2007, Political Capital already warned that “it may induce violent conflicts between the gipsy and non-gipsy population even in the short run by strengthening present ethnic tensions. Since 2007 this has come to pass on several occasions; i.e., Gyöngyöspata is but one stage in a series of incidents taking place over several years.
  • Events in Gyöngyöspata and in a number of other municipalities follow a similar scenario: purportedly coming to the rescue of local governments losing control over deteriorating social and public safety issues, far-right paramilitary groups show up in towns and villages bent on generating violence and end up aggravating local problems. Their obvious aim is to build local party chapters and reap political benefits. Initially, in early March members of Jobbik-affiliated ‘Szebb Jövőért Polgárőr Egyesület’ (‘brighter future civil guard society’) started to patrol in Gyöngyöspata, and offshoots of the legally disbanded Hungarian Guard appeared in other towns (often at the invitation of local Jobbik politicians). Subsequently, ‘Véderő’ (an organization emphasizing its independence from Jobbik) and members of the ‘Betyársereg’ (outlaws’ militia, associated with László Toroczkai) started “patrols” in the village.
  • Moreover, events in Gyöngyöspata also involve local political interests; in response to recent incidents the mayor of the village resigned and one of the leaders of ‘Véderő’ immediately announced his candidacy for the office.

 

 

National context

  • One cannot talk about nationwide ethnic conflicts in connection to the events in Gyöngyöspata. In all cases tensions arise at the local level, primarily in regions facing dire economic and social problems.
  • At the same time, conflicts developing in specific villages are closely tied to party politics; the number of conflicts has increased since the beginning of the year when Jobbik refocused on the Roma issue and made it the centrepiece of its policy. With this the party losing momentum after entering Parliament returned to its strategy applied successfully in the past. Support for the party is currently on the rise.

 

 

  • As in the past few years, the political environment is inauspicious. From the point of law and order the government’s hasty criminal-law measures are insufficient in themselves as the legislation doesn’t automatically guarantee  consistent and decisive action on the part of law enforcement agencies, the police and the courts. Moreover, the Roma issue, far from being a simple law-enforcement question, is an economic and social problem requiring long-term solutions. And in this context, a number of measures aimed at stabilizing the budget in the Széll Kálmán Plan (e.g., the reform of communal work, welfare cuts) will only deepen conflicts mainly in regions suffering from high unemployment.

Social background

  • According to Political Capital's Demand for Right-Wing Extremism Index, DEREX published in 2010, social demand has played an important role in the institutionalization of far-right politics in Hungary. In the age group over 15, between 2002 and 2009 the rate of those sympathizing with far-right ideas increased from 10 to 21% in Hungarian society, representing an all but unprecedented increase by international standards. The collapse of confidence in democratic institutions has been a major contributing factor in this process, which also led to a significant rise in prejudices. Looking at specific social categories, people living in rural communities and those with less education are more susceptible to far-right ideology. The index’ aggregate score is particularly high in the northern-Hungary region, which provides fertile breeding ground for a political rhetoric built on ‘Gypsy crime’.
  • This rhetoric has been given free rein in Hungary. For years, prominent public figures have left public discussion and the shaping of public opinion on the Roma issue to forces representing radical and extremist political organizations. This continues to exacerbate problems, eliminating all possibilities for a dialogue, consolidating the far right and increasing the potential for future violent conflicts.

The Guard-phenomenon in Eastern Europe

The guard-phenomenon is not intrinsic to Hungary; it represents a form of organization typical of the far right in Eastern Europe. East European guards share the following features:

  1. Paramilitary-type organizations evoking the militaristic traditions of the far right.
  2. Policy built primarily on anti-Roma prejudice.
  3. Questioning the state’s law-enforcement monopoly.
  4. Closely tied to party politics: they are created by parties and play a major role in party building. (This is also why it is a mistake to compare the guards to neo-Nazi paramilitary organizations as the latter reject the entire political system and have no party affiliations, i.e., their political role is marginal).

Guards in Eastern Europe – an Overview

Slovakia - The Slovak Brotherhood (Slovenská pospolitosť) was established back in 2003. In November 2008, the Interior Ministry in Bratislava disbanded the anti-Hungarian, anti-Roma and anti-Semitic organization (sporting uniforms closely resembling that of the Slovak Fascist party active in World War II). In 2009 the country’s High Court overruled the order claiming that the required conditions for disbanding did not obtain at the time. The former leader of the organization, Marián Kotleba was charged with displaying the Nazi salute and making racial slurs (during the 2009 election campaign he promised to “eliminate legal preferences enjoyed by Gypsy parasites”). The court dropped all the charges and stopped the investigation. In the spring of 2010, Kotleba established the “Our Slovakia People’s Party” (Ľudová strana Naše Slovensko). In parliamentary elections the party won 1.33% of the votes. The latest public opinion surveys show a 0.7% support among decided voters with a party preference. “The elimination of the Gypsy problem” is one of the major objectives of the party and the organization.

Czech Republic – In the summer of 2007, the far-right National Party (Národní strana) established the National Guard. At the time the party’s president, Petra Edelmannová, justified the establishment of the Guard claiming the police had been unable to guarantee public safety and the majority lived in fear of the minority. In 2007 the party initiated a “final solution” for the Roma issue, proposing the evacuation of the Roma population to India. In the 2009 ET election the party achieved 0.26% (receiving 6 263 votes) and it did not even run in the 2010 general election. Currently neither the party nor the Guard are active. A similar organization, the ultra-right Workers Party was banned by the government after the party's guard-like militant organization demonstrating against “Gypsy terror” clashed with the police protecting the population in the Roma neighbourhood of Litvínov.

Bulgaria - In 2007, Boyan Rasate established that far-right Bulgarian National Union – Guard (BNS/Gvardia) stating that the Bulgarian society has “suffered enough under Gypsy terror of the past 17 years” as subsequent governments and the police watched the unfolding events passively. The formation of the Bulgarian guard was preceded by massive riots by the Roma population in a Sofia District (Kraszna Poljana). The National Guard is blamed for a number of violent attacks against the Roma living in the district. Rasate has been repeatedly charged with racism, xenophobia, as well as racial and ethnic discrimination. He was arrested in 2008 for throwing a Molotov cocktail at the first gay parade held in Bulgaria. In 2009 he described the Roma population as “Gypsy parasites”, “making a living from robbery and prostitution” and “killers of several Bulgarians”. In May 2009, the Bulgarian High Court cancelled the party’s registration.

Romania – While a guard organisation similar to the ones described above has not emerged, earlier the radical right played a crucial role in Romanian domestic politics on several occasions. Following its formation the anti-Hungarian Greater-Romania Party has regularly passed the parliamentary threshold, although it failed in the 2008 general election. The reincarnation of a legionnaire’s movement active between the two world wars, Noua Dreapta (New Right – ND, established in 2000) currently plays a more important role, targeting almost exclusively the Gypsies and the gay community, and its members often parade around in uniforms. The organization stands up for religious values and its events are often attended by the clergy from the Orthodox Church.

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