Is it going to have any retroactive impact on how we might remember the events of the spring – during which zealous neo-nazi militias patrolled the streets of Gyöngyöspata as part of a campaign of intimidation directed at the town’s Roma population - that this weekend the village elected a neo-nazi mayor?
On Sunday, the candidate of Jobbik, Hungary’s far-right political party won the special elections held for Gyöngyöspata’s mayoral position. The mayor of the town resigned this April, citing health reasons, though when asked whether months of being in front and focus in Hungary’s political life had influenced his decision, he said “maybe.” Since March of 2011, Gyöngyöspata’s siege by volunteer militias created a volatile situation which threatened to escalate into violent ethnic conflict on more than one occasion.
This weekend’s special election was widely considered to be a referendum on the co-existence of Hungarians and Hungarian Romas – in this specific town, as well as in other Hungarian villages facing unemployment, deep poverty, and an atmosphere of hatred leading to the scape-goating of the Romas for the country’s economic troubles. Jobbik’s supporters are not advert to admitting that their ultimate goal is to “convince” the Romas residing in the village to leave. Jobbik’s local leader, who was personally responsible for inviting, hosting and organizing the militant far-right thugs occupation of the town is now going to have considerable means as mayor of the village to achieve this.
If Jobbik’s militias descended on Gyöngyöspata for the calculated gain of increasing the party’s popularity, they certainly managed to hedge their bets right. Less than a year after the regularly scheduled municipal elections their candidate, Oszkár Juhász, won the election by a commanding lead: he received 433 or 33.8% of the votes cast. In October of last year, the same candidate was fourth in a competition of four candidates, with only 68 or 5.81% of the votes. Juhász campaigned for “public safety” and “safety of possessions,” a thinly veiled reference to Jobbik’s assessment that the village’s plight is due to criminal acts committed by Roma residents. Having invited militias to patrol the village and ensure its public safety, however, it is not exactly for his political rhetoric that he is being rewarded now by the residents of the village.
The village’s interim mayor finished in second place, with 26% of the votes, while the only Roma candidate withdrew from the race on the day before the voting, in the hope that his supporters could boost the numbers cast for a non-Jobbik candidate.
This spring, Gyöngyöspata was the site of the longest-lasting show of force by volunteer “civil guards” (which are connected to the far-right Jobbik movement, a political party that currently holds over 15% of the seats in the Hungarian legislature). In spite of their documented abuses of the Roma population, the Hungarian police did not consider their activity illegal. Hungary does not currently have hate crime legislation, and racism (which in an almost all-white society is unleashed almost entirely on the Roma minority) is wide-spread.
This blog is currently putting together a three piece history of the events that took place in Gyöngyöspata. Accounts of the events are available in English-language at the blog Gyöngyöspata Solidarity here.
Related: on some of the means mayors might employ now and in the near future to “motivate” Romas to find residence in a different municipality, see this blog’s report on the forced labor which the Hungarian government expects from its unemployed (for a payment lower than the minimum wage) here.