Hungarian Neo-Nazi far-right group HVIM still plans to protest in the middle of the popular Sziget festival from 10 am to 10pm every single day between August 9 and 15 -despite the fact that their request for a protest permit was declined.
It is ironic that those who have the least respect for the rule of law and democratic institutions can be such loud champions of liberal rights when it comes to their own self-interest. Specifically, members of the neo-Nazi group do not simply want to protest on the premises of the internationally renowned Sziget festival – they demand free entrance to the event so that they can disrupt it, citing their right to free speech and “peaceful” assembly all along.
Upon finding out last Thursday about the decision of the authorities to refuse them a protest permit, HVMI, one of the most extreme neo-Nazi political movement in Hungary issued a “mobilization of national resistance” to its followers. As Zoltán Gyimesi, the main organizer of the protest, threatened in his announcement: should the organizers access their protest freely, “according to the Hungarian criminal code, they can punished individually by up to three years of imprisonment for interfering with the right to public assembly,” (read more in Hungarian here).
The story behind these absurd demands go back to January 17 of this year, when a “private individual” walked into a police station in Budapest to register his intention to protest against high gas prices. He wanted a permit to the “great lawn” of an island in the Danube, the same public park that has been leased for the last 18 years to the Sziget festival precisely during his requested dates.
In Hungary, there is no approval process for public assemblies; any protest must be registered with the police. A request for a protest permit is neither approved nor denied, normally; instead, it is automatically “registered.” The police received the registration request during a clever window of opportunity: with the previous lease for having expired, the festival’s organizers were in the middle of negotiations with city officials over next year’s rent amount. These negotiations take place periodically, whenever the lease agreement comes up for renewal – understandably, the city tries to squeeze as much out of the organizers as possible, and the media eagerly follows the bidding.
The “private individual” applying for the permit cleverly used this window of opportunity to register his protest during this period, and since no lease existed for the private use of the park during the dates requested, the police was not in a position to refuse registering the protest. Therefore, the private individual, who later announced himself to be a member of the radical neo-Nazi Hungarian group HVIM, walked out of the police station the next day with his protest successfully registered with the authorities.
The problem, however, was hardly the ideology of the group protesting, or the cause they embrace, not even if high gas prices are an interesting – and prescient – pick. It is certainly an open slight against environmentalists).
The situation was developing toward crescendo of announcement wars between the protest and the festival organizers, until the neo-Nazis themselves thought it better to modify their dates from August 1-20 to August 9-20. After all, early in August they themselves were organizers of the Magyar Sziget (or Hungarian Island), the now infamous neo-Nazi gathering where Chris Hurst was taped giving a Hitler salute to Saga, Anders Behring Breivik’s favorite bigoted singer. UK journalists were able to document booths packed with copies of Mein Kampf, T-shirts showing the entrance gates to Auschwitz, or buttons modeled on KFC’s logo, on which Hitler’s face replaces the Colonel’s in advertising “Dachau Fried Juden” at the festival. The same organization that requested the permit had its own gathering during the protest date, so they applied for modified data.
According to Hungary’s law regulating the right to free assembly, such protests have to be interpreted as if they were new request. This is the only reason HVMI’s protest permit was denied: the justification cites the fact that the public park serves as private property during the Sziget Festival, and as such, the police is in no position to register a protest on its premises.
This remains the standing legal decision on the matter, despite of cynical arguments by the neo-Nazis to the contrary. Later, TASZ (the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union) also humped into the frail by issuing a statement supporting HVIM’s right to free assembly. They argue that the police had no authority to retroactively annul the protest registration during the date modification request.
The Hungarian regulations regarding these situations like the above are mind-boggling. Or, one should rather say, non-existing. That is because, as a problem of jurisprudence, this is not solely a case about individual civil rights. In this case, rights come into conflict, and Hungarian laws on public assembly offers no resolution on how to prioritize between two equally valid right claims. This is a problem in general, and an important factor in the rise of the far-right in Hungary: there is no legal framework for ensuring that one’s exercise of civil rights does not prohibit another’s entitlement to rights just as fundamental. Exploiting this, the far-right is very successful in validating its rights while actively and intentionally trampling upon others’.
What is even stranger is the incoherence of the neo-Nazis’ argument that their right to free assembly would be met if they were only provided by free tickets to the event. Either the Sziget festival interferes with their right to free assembly (and once in front of the main stage, with their right to free speech, I would imagine), in which case they should appeal whatever legal maneuvers resulted in leasing the space to the Sziget festival after they had been issued a permit. But their problem is not with the Sziget festival per se – they were offered several opportunities to move, to comparable lawned areas, which for various reasons does not fit their purposes. If that is the case, however, it sounds like the Sziget festival is an important backdrop to their protest, that quite contrary to being an impediment, their protest is premised upon the festival taking place on the island.
Those familiar with the event’s organization also know why a “ticket,” rather than mere “access” to the area is what the protest organizers aim to get out of keeping this dispute alive. A ticket becomes an armband that would allow every participant to enjoy the festival once their “protest” is satisfactorily completed – a 45 euro/day value. Take notice, G-8 summit protesters, you might as well start demanding a free airplane ticket to Chicago for next year. Just make sure you mention that your protest could only be held any place else but not being close to the summit would “interfere” with your right to free assembly.
Absurd as all of this might seem, however, it is always good to keep in mind the civility, the respect and the peacefully co-operative tone that HVIM tends to hit with its political opponents. For a taste of seeing this civility in action, I therefore quote HVMI’s own call for action posted on their website in Hungarian:
“We would have listened to reason and strived to arrive at an agreement. But after having had a flood of filth thrown at us yet again, and after the chief organizer of the Sziget Festival had gone on to state, with the arrogance of the elites, that he would discuss this matter with anyone except with us, supposedly radical Hungarians, we have changed our minds. The last drop in the glass was when chief organizer Károly Gerendai threatened us very subtly that thousands of international far-left anarchists might attack the Hungarians gathering at the festival to protest. Just what is the elite of the last decade, kept on state money and fattened on tax dollars, thinking? They want to intimidate us, Hungarians, with their imported drug-addict mob? This really whets our appetite to exercise our lawful right and mobilize a national resistance for this lawfully registered protest. This is also a message to comrade Gerendai, who has used survy tricks against Hungarian Island [the neo-Nazi festival built around the same festival concept as the Sziget festival]. To their attention, I would like to recommend an old Hungarian adage: the welcome of your guests determines what they return to you!”
The “protest,” therefore, is on. This morning, the “private individual” whose protest permit was originally signed by the police, Zoltán Gyimesi showed up at the entrance of the festival – all by himself. He invoked his constitutional rights and went around the ticket inspectors to proceed toward the event.
The ticket inspecting spot and the actual territory of the festival are separated by a long bridge. As soon as Gyimesi reached the area of the private event, security guards – not the police – stopped him again. They turned him around and escorted him out of the event. Gyimesi told them he’s coming back – alone or with others, every day, sometimes several times a day.
UPDATE ON THE STORY: Protest announced for Friday, August 12 @ 6 p.m.
Related posts on the Hungarian extreme right:
Magyar Sziget (Hungarian Island), also organized by HVIM, features BNP’s Chris Hurst caught on tape handing his hand out in a Hitler salute. How many Hungarian Members of Parliament participated in the organization of this neo-nazi festival?
The psychology of voting for far-right party Jobbik in Hungary:
On the difference between Eastern- and Western-European extreme right parties, and how this supposed difference is exploited by Jobbik when its political agenda is likened to that of Norwegian mass murderer A. B. Breivik:
Electoral success of far-right Hungarian party Jobbik in the very town where their (illegal) paramilitary kept the Roma population under siege for several months during the spring:
How can far-right organizations like HVIM draw funds from the Hungarian state to finance its operations: