It was not at all the turnout they had hoped for: only 60 to 70 neo-Nazis showed up to force their way into the Sziget festival in the hopes of holding a protest in front of the main stage against rising gas prices on Friday, August 12.
Scroll down for updates on Jobbik’s unwillingness to distance itself from Zagyva at the end of this post.
Around 19:30 p.m. 25-30 members of the neo-Nazi group HVIM, led by Gyula Zagyva, member of parliament for the Hungarian far-right party Jobbik, stormed the entrance and engaged in a fight with security. At approximately 21:00, MP Zagyva called for another attack, forestalled yet again by security. The police then proceeded to disperse the group, while some of the “protesters” left on their own. At 22:00 p.m. a smaller crowd made a final attempt to charge at the gates. Reportedly these men wore T-shirts of Betyársereg. (For those keen on distinctions, there is a difference between these two groups: Betyársereg’s leader gave a lecture recently on how important it is to be prepared to pull the trigger of a rifle on the sight of a person whose skin color is any shade darker than white. While HVIM’s leader gave the lecture in which, on occasion of the Norwegian massacre, he stated that it would have been a great favor to Hungarians if its previous [socialist] prime minister had already been shot dead while he had been in youth camp).
In the end, 10 of the protesters were arrested, among them Hungarian Member of Parliament Gyula György Zagyva, who has since invoked his political immunity in order to obtain immediate release from police custody.
The lengthy legal saga of the protest started on January 17, 2011, when Zoltán Gyimesi requested a protest permit for the hours of 10 am to 10 pm between August 1 and 20 on the same open territory that serves as the main stage of the internationally renowned Sziget festival.
According to Hungarian law, the police must “register” such protests. Only two circumstances may prevent the issuance of a protest permit requested at least three days in advance: the protest’s interference with the performance of government functions, or blocking public routes. Not being problematic on any of these two counts, a permit was issued for the protest. In January, the Sziget festival was still in the middle of negotiating this year’s lease of the territory from the city of Budapest, as media outlets reported frequently at the time.
However, due to reasons no one quite understands (but which may have to do with the fact that they did not show up for their protest on August 1), the organizers returned to the authorities to request a modification to their protest permit on August 4. By this time, their protest permit failed a formal requirement of permitting: as of April, the public park that houses the Sziget festival had been leased to the festival’s organizers. Therefore, in a decision that superceded the previous one, the neo-Nazi group was not granted permission to hold a protest on the Sziget festival.
Though the police had already denied their protest permit, and though they would have had recourse to appeal the decision had they been concerned about the infringement of their civil rights, the neo-Nazis showed up at the gates of the festival intead. Waiving their first (and at this point invalid) permit, they gathered to demand entry to the festival so that they can hold their protest.
Some of them did in fact manage to infiltrate the event. A few of the group decided to invest in daily tickets – these persons were allowed on the premises just like any other ticket holder. It must have been the Prodigy concert held on the main stage that kept them so mesmerized that nobody ever heard of their dislike for high gas prices ever again.
According to the recordings of the disturbance, the “protesters” voiced anti-semitic remarks (“you dirty Jew”), some verbal abuse took place, and various provocations were recorded (“you hit me and you’ll pay tens of millions”). Amongst themselves, members of the far-right like to refer to the Sziget festival as “Zsiget,” a combination of the Hungarian word “zsidó” (Jew) and “sziget” (island). This is because the internationally renowned festival is well-known for its multi-culturalism, which is very, you know, “jewish.”
When approached by reporters, Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party said that Gyula Zagyva participated in this event representing not Jobbik, but HVIM. For this reason, the party “is not planning on taking any measures” in response to his behavior, according to their spokeswoman Dóra Dúró. The spokeswoman does not mention what an extreme right news portal reports: that Jobbik’s legal aides were present throughout the “protest” to assist its participants.
It is true that Zagyva is simultaneously the “honorary president” of HVIM while also serving as Jobbik’s party representative (he has been HVIM’s member since 2002, its vice president since 2003, and president since 2006). But this only begs the question of why Jobbik delegates someone with leadership responsibilities for a neo-Nazi, racist and anti-semitic organization which regularly incites to violence as its representative to the Hungarian parliament. Zagyva was not elected by a constituency – he arrived to parliament on Jobbik’s party line. Adding insult to injury, since February of 2012, Jobbik has also asked him to represent them in the Parliament’s Committee on Human Rights, Minority Affairs, Civil Rights and Religious Affairs.
Before becoming Jobbik’s MP, Zagyva was well-known in his home town as a skinhead. He is proud of the fact that he took his parliamentary oath in Doc Martens boots [skinhead gear for kicking one’s target once he/she has succumbed to the ground]. Early into his days as a parliamentary politician, he once threatened a representative who engaged in a dispute with him “to take it outside.” Zagyva is the only Hungarian MP to be banned entry from a neighboring country “for political reasons” (after all, HVIM is an irredentist group: they demand the annexation of territories from every single country situated around Hungary). Jobbik is fully responsible for the fact that he holds political office. In fact, no one except Jobbik is in a position to recall him.
Jobbik is also wrong to believe that Zagyva did not appeal to his status as member of parliament when demanding entrance to the Sziget festival. Videotapes of the protest show him stating several times to the police that he is a delegate of the Hungarian parliament prevented in exercising his constitutional right.
As for this “constitutional” right, Zagyva and his fellow neo-Nazi mates probably mean their right to free (and peaceful) assembly. This is not only a constitutional right of all citizens in Hungary, but their human right as per the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But if this is indeed what they have in mind, they are evoking the right to assemble with fellow-minded persons so that they can collectively express their views or promote their interests. The fundamental right to free assembly means that, should any group wish to advocate for any political cause whatsoever, neither the state nor their fellow citizens can stop them from joining one another in this advocacy.
It does not mean that they are protected by the constitution in holding a protest whenever and wherever they please. As is the case in practically all countries that do in fact grant this right to their citizens, in Hungary too the logistic details of the protest permitting process are set not by the constitution, but in laws with lower legal standing. The neo-Nazis organized into HVIM may have been failed by this lesser law. But let us not have pretensions that this lesser law was used against them to prevent them from exercising their constitutional rights. In fact, the group could not have been courted more by the authorities intent to facilitate their protest.
The protest organizers had been offered an alternative venue, but they countered this with demands of free tickets to the music festival. Everybody willfully overlooked the fact that the group had failed to comply with the legal process prescribed for situations of this sort: that they never submitted an appeal of the decision, in which the responsibility would have been theirs to convince the courts that they should be entitled to hold a political protest in the middle of a privately-held music festival. Everybody went on pretending that the group had every reason to be surprised by this time conflict. As if the group did not try to secure a 20-day window for their protest, and as if a music festival had not been held on the territory they requested in every single August for the last 18 years.
If anything, HVIM and other neo-Nazi organizations have been overserviced with their constitutional rights. They can meet and organize themselves freely (the group Betyársereg, for example, recruits members for its militia openly on the internet). They have their own media organizations. They have their own festival, and they protest regularly – often to the chagrine of those whom they deliberately go out of their way to offend, humiliate or intimidate. And to top it all off, they share in the political offices held by the third largest party in the Hungarian parliament.
At some point, perhaps common sense is going to stop its retreat from these unfounded and ludicrous demands. I agree with those who think that this protest was a minor event (especially compared to the greater damage these organizations have caused in Hungary’s political life), but this farce is nevertheless symbolic of how an entire society seems to be held hostage by the cynical and legalistic equivocations of these pseudo-civil rights experts.
What the neo-Nazi protesters really wanted was for the authorities to cover the expenses incurred by their members in “accessing” their protest site. And they do not seem to be alone in thinking that it is their constitutional right to be provided with a ticket to a music festival. “This was a registered protest, and the responsibility lies with the police and the organizers of the festival for not negotiating with these protesters,” Dóra Dúró, Jobbik’s spokesperson stated. What is next? Demanding that the state buy cushier chairs for the publishers of neo-Nazi outlet kurucz.info – because that would make them better able to exercise their constitutional right to free speech? A luxury building for their radio station Szent Korona Rádió, so as not to prevent them for becoming much more capabke of free expression at their current location? Or perhaps free beers from a bar of their choice during HVIM’s next political meeting?
To be sure, and reality-bound, five of the protesters were removed from the protest because they blocked the entrance to the Sziget festival – which is not a right protected by the consitution. Another five members of the group were taken into custody for the possession of illegal drugs. According to Hungarian law, the latter in itself would have been enough for the authorities to invalidate the group’s protest permit.
Update on Zagyva’s political immunity:
While MP Zagyva was glad to use his immunity so that he would be set shortly after his arrest on Friday, on Sunday he made a public a press release in which he wants the relevant committee of the Parliament to suspend his immunity, so that the investigation may prove that his rights were violated during the treatment he suffered during the event. Zagyva’s immunity had already been suspended once, in relation to reports that he used a bullwhip, foul language and threats of sexual abuse to threaten journalists at last year’s Magyar Sziget festival (which is HVIM’s own version of the Sziget festival).
Update – 08/16/2011:
Though Zagyva is Jobbik’s representative, he is not officially a member of the party. He was featured on the party’s list because of a 2009 “informal oral agreement” between Jobbik and the irredentist neo-Nazi organization HVIM. Jobbik’s party chairman, Gábor Vona, called a press conference for this afternoon to discuss their stance on HVIM’s storming of the Sziget and on Zagyva’s participation in it.
Update after the “press conference” (all three minutes of it) – 08/16/2011: The press conference was a token exercise in mending damaged public relations. Gábor Vona, chairman of Jobbik, said that, neither humanly nor politically can they identify with hateful remarks made by Zsolt Tyirityán, the leader of Betyársereg, earlier this month. Tyirityán happens to cultivate “comradely” relationships with Zagyva (citing such comraderie, Zagyva refused to condemn Tyirityán’s lecture), but other Jobbik MPs, such as Zsolt Németh, also appeared at lectures together with Tyirityán in the past. Without even mentioning Zagyva or the Sziget protest, Vona told reporters he considered the press conference finished. To a question from a reporter as he was leaving the room about Zagyva, Vona only said that they are not going to exclude him from their caucus.