Marching in uniform, as part of a paramilitary formation, is no longer illegal in Hungary. As far-right internet portals report with glee – in posts dated Jan 27, though the judgment is from December – the Budapest Court of Appeals issued a clarification of the legal arguments behind the dispersal of the New Hungarian Guard, one of the paramilitary arms of Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party. What is at issue in the judgment, eventually, is the question of what makes the activities of the paramilitaries illegal, and, by extension, punishable by law: a previous interpretation of the law assumed that wearing the uniform of the dispersed organization and restaging the military formation characteristic of the group would also carry legal consequences.
The case under appeal concerns a fine of 20,000 Hungarian forints (less than 90 USD) set for an individual previously cited for illegal activities while “participating in the activity of a dispersed social organization.” However, the verdict of the Budapest Court of Appeals states that neither wearing a paramilitary uniform nor marching in formation constitutes illegal activity in and of itself. It goes on to say that there would be no basis for finding persons engaged in these activities in violation of the law even if the two were done in conjunction. Instead, the activities of extremist paramilitaries are illegal due to the “cumulative effect” of the following cited in the verdict: “of the marching, the choice of location, the content of the speeches given there,” “moreover the one-sidedness of the problems treated in general;” as well as that it would be “impossible for the community thereby targeted to avoid these.”
The verdict gives support to the claims of the New Hungarian Guard that they are not engaged in illegal activities when wearing their paramilitary uniforms; at least not in places where one would not expect the presence of uniformed guard members – lined up in military formation and acting on orders – to result in intimidation. To quote the commentary issued by Jobbik’s legal center, which played a crucial role in the legal victory, the verdict dispels the misconception that the New Hungarian Guard should be prevented from being present at the celebration of a national holiday or on account of similar occasions, except if the march takes place “in locations where the ethnicity concerned as regards criminality resides in masses.”
Yet again, the Hungarian courts were able to uphold the constitutional rights of extreme right groups (compare this with the lack of protection afforded to victims of hate crimes – examples just on this blog: here and here). It is already quite telling that targeting a specific community is not in itself against the law, unless in cases in which it is already impossible for the community to escape being subjected to such targeting. Hardly is it surprising therefore that the far-right is joyous over the verdict. The cumulative definition of illegal paramilitary activity, if it remains the legal basis for the prosecution of guard activities, is especially convenient: militias could march with impunity at a location where the targeted group cannot avoid them if they do not give a speech, for example (since their actions would fail to have the cumulative effect described above), or they could give a speech but in court they could argue that it was not one-sided, etc.
The judgment (which may be read on the most popular far-right internet portal of the Hungarian far-right) engages in distinctions as subtle as marching in “open” and “closed” military formation. The former has every visual characteristic of a military formation but it does not keep step. The suggestion is that marching in “open” military would fail to meet the criteria of “marching” (in the illegal sense – guardists have argued before that if the opposite were the case, kids “marching” in kindergarten would have to be considered an illegal social organization and should be dispersed as well).
It was no surprise, therefore, that many proud members of the New Hungarian Guard were seen this weekend in uniform at Jobbik’s “season-opening” party convention. The emphasis in the 1.5 hour speech given to the audience of several thousands by party chairman Gábor Vona was also noticeably on the themes of armed conflict and violent self-defense.
“Someone finally has to declare that the crisis in which we live is not only an economic crisis, but also the crisis of liberal democracies. It is a crisis of political platforms that are built on manipulation, on ever lowering standards of living, on the dumbing down of the people and on maintaining them in a state of financial dependency,” Vona told his audience.
Jobbik, therefore, is not a democratic party on today’s definition of the word. “We are not communists, because our spiritual center is not class domination. We are not fascists, because our spiritual center is not state domination. We are not national socialists, because our spiritual center is not racial domination. But it is also very important for everyone to understand this correctly: we are not democrats either, in the sense [this word] has come to acquire by today, because money and profit is not in our spiritual center either,” Vona stated. Jobbik’s spiritual center is the Holy Crown that embodies Hungarian statehood, he added; Jobbik does not only want to feed every Hungarian person, but to exert a “binding force on politics” through this form of thinking.
Vona was thoroughly critical of Hungary’s governing party, Fidesz, “an extreme liberal party” which has shown such dilettantism that its fight for economic independence has remained a struggle at the level of rhetoric only. He thought that Hungary needs “social solidarity,” though the term is not to be understood as a collective march, e.g. the unification of the government’s march for peace and the opposition’s rally outside of the Opera, but a principled stand on behalf of an economic struggle for independence by society as a whole.
The speech contained verbal insults for the previous Socialist prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsány (he is “unscrupulous, power-hungry, cynical, ultra-liberal, a liar, a traitor and not entirely sane”) as well as homophobic remarks. At the beginning of his speech, for example, after previously referring to the Mayan end times prophecy, Vona noted that Budapest’s hosting of the Gay Games in the summer of 2012 “amounts to the end of the world.” Vona also addressed what he called “porontybusiness” (the business of offsprings: bearing children in order to receive social benefits), stating that child benefits should be limited to the first two children of each family, though his party supports tax breaks for families raising more than two children.
Vona thinks that Hungary’s sovereign debt must be renegotiated. This is not the same as refusing to pay the country’s debt, he insisted. A way nevertheless must be found for this repayment to be tolerable for the country.
Vona also spoke of the turn his party would seek in the country’s foreign policy. Hungary’s potential markets are in the East, and the European Union is a “warming-shelter led by helpless and hydrocephalus Brussels bureaucrats” (which hardly conveys the richness of the Hungarian phrase “nyámnyila, vízfejű brüsszeli bürokraták által vezetett melegedő”).
Just as during the EU flag-burning protest, the Jobbik chairman called for a popular referendum on Hungary’s EU membership, and he argued that belonging to the EU is altogether disadvantageous for Hungary (considering, for example, the loss of customs duties, and given the free flow of capital, as well as the subjugation of Hungary’s national economy to western interests). Vona pointed out that in the future Hungary will be further weakened by these processes, so much so that it no longer would be able to stand on its feet and quit the organization.
At the same time, the Jobbik party-chairman advocated maintaining friendly relations with the EU, so that Hungary could reassert “classical European values” there while conducting a foreign policy of its own and making an opening toward the east – to Russia and Turkey in particular. The relationship with these world powers would be mutually advantageous: “we could give them, they could give us, therefore we could form an alliance of mutual benefit.” Vona does not want Hungary to participate in the oil embargo against Iran, but all in all he thinks that Hungary’s battle is not against the EU, but against the IMF. Diplomats from the Russian, Croatian, Polish, Lebanese, Syrian, Indian and Indonesian embassies accepted invitations to the event. The ambassadors of Iran, Brazil, Malaysia and Azerbaijan, the Bulgarian consul, and the President of the Turkish-Hungarian Chamber of Commerce were also present at the event.
“I do not mean to scare anyone, but I consider a serious armed conflict in the world within a decade or two unavoidable,” the party chairman told his audience. “Jobbik, beyond its duties as a parliamentary party – which require giving answers to the country’s problems in the form of a program, and acquiring adequate support for it – has an obligation to help, support and develop society’s self-defense [emphatic pause], self-organization, and self-sufficiency.”
According to the most recent poll, 22% of Hungarian voters with a party preference would vote for Jobbik, which makes the far-right party the third most popular political force in Hungary (the Hungarian Socialist would have received 26%, and Fidesz 39%, of the votes in mid-January); though these numbers do not include the party preference of 57% of the Hungarian population who say that they have turned away from politics altogether.
“We are the grandchildren of Attila, and we are not afraid of anything! Go away robbers! This is our country,” said Vona in conclusion of his speech.